Geo News 16th June 2012 - Latest Geo updates 16th June 2012 Live
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ISLAMABAD: From 5 to 15 percent above normal rainfall is expected during the ensuing monsoon season as comparing to previous season, Director General Meteorological department Arif Mehmood said Friday.
Addressing a press conference he urged the provincial governments and National Disaster Management Authorities to intensify the preparations to prevent the losses of lives and properties of the people.
The above normal rains are expected in vulnerable areas including some areas of Southern Punjab, lower Sindh and some districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said.
Due to global warming, he said the frequency of rains would be more due to the expected cloud bursting, elaborating he said due to variety of reasons 250 to 300 ml rainfall is expected within a few hours which is likely to cause the flash flooding.
Arrangements are in place to convey to predictions of the rainfall to Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and relevant departments before five to seven days before the occurrence of rains, he said.
Pakistan Meteorological department has latest equipments and there is a very rare chance of proving wrong information, he told a questioner.
KARACHI: One man was killed and at least five people were injured when unknown motorcycle riders opened firing near Civic Centre, Geo News reported.
According to police, the incident took place in front of Aziz Bhatti Police Station. The assailants fled the scene soon after the incident.
TAKEBI, Myanmar: This village in northwest Myanmar has the besieged air of a refugee camp. It is clogged with people living in wooden shacks laid out on a grid of trash-strewn lanes. Its children are pot-bellied with malnutrition.
But Takebi's residents are not refugees. They are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim people of South Asian descent now at the heart of Myanmar's worst sectarian violence in years. The United Nations has called them "virtually friendless" in Myanmar, the majority-Buddhist country that most Rohingya call home. Today, as Myanmar opens up, they appear to have more enemies than ever.
Armed with machetes and bamboo spears, rival mobs of Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists this month torched one another's houses and transformed nearby Sittwe, the capital of the western state of Rakhine, into a smoke-filled battleground. A torrent of Rohingyas has tried to flee Rakhine into impoverished Bangladesh, but most are being pushed back, a Bangladeshi Border Guard commander told Reuters on Thursday.
The fighting threatens to derail the democratic transition in Myanmar, a resource-rich nation of 60 million strategically positioned at Asia's crossroads between India and China, Bangladesh and Thailand. With scores feared dead, President Thein Sein announced a state of emergency on June 10 to prevent "vengeance and anarchy" spreading beyond Rakhine and jeopardizing his ambitious reform agenda.
Reuters visited the area just before the unrest broke out. The northern area of Rakhine state is off-limits to foreign reporters.
Until this month, Myanmar's transformation from global pariah to democratic start-up had seemed remarkably rapid and peaceful. Thein Sein released political prisoners, relaxed media controls, and forged peace with ethnic rebel groups along the country's war-torn borders. A new air of hope and bustle in Myanmar's towns and cities is palpable.
But not in Rakhine, also known as Arakan. It is home to about 800,000 mostly stateless Rohingya, who according to the United Nations are subject to many forms of "persecution, discrimination and exploitation." These include forced labor, land confiscations, restrictions on travel and limited access to jobs, education and healthcare.
Now, even as the state eases repression of the general populace and other minorities, long-simmering ethnic tensions here are on the boil - a dynamic that resembles what happened when multi-ethnic Yugoslavia fractured a generation ago after communism fell.
SUU KYI 'TIGHT-LIPPED'
Even the democracy movement in Myanmar is doing little to help the Muslim minority, Rohingya politicians say.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi last week urged "all people in Burma to get along with each other regardless of their religion and authenticity." But she has remained "tight-lipped" about the Rohingya, said Kyaw Min, a Rohingya leader and one-time Suu Kyi ally who spent more than seven years as a political prisoner. "It is politically risky for her," he said.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win wouldn't comment on Suu Kyi's position, but said: "The Rohingya are not our citizens." Suu Kyi is now on a European tour that will take her to Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991.
The violence could disrupt Myanmar's detente with the West, however. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 11 called for "Muslims, Buddhists, and ethnic representatives, including Rohingya . . . to begin a dialogue toward a peaceful resolution."
The United States suspended some sanctions on Myanmar, including those banning investment, in May as a reward for its democratic reforms. But the White House kept the framework of hard-hitting sanctions in place, with President Barack Obama expressing at the time concern about Myanmar's "treatment of minorities and detention of political prisoners."
The European Union, which also suspended its sanctions, said on Monday it was satisfied with Thein Sein's "measured" handling of the violence, which the president has said could threaten the transition to democracy if allowed to spiral out of control.
Rohingya activists claim a centuries-old lineage in Rakhine, which like the rest of Burma is predominantly Buddhist. The government regards them as illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. "There is no ethnic group named Rohingya in our country," immigration minister Khin Yi said in May.
Communal tensions had been rising in Myanmar since the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman last month that was blamed on Muslims. Six days later, apparently in retribution, a Buddhist mob dragged 10 Muslims from a bus and beat them to death.
Violence then erupted on June 9 in Maungdaw, one of the three Rohingya-majority districts bordering Bangladesh, before spreading to Sittwe, the biggest town in Rakhine. Scores are feared dead, and 1,600 houses burnt down.
One measure of the pressure the Rohingya are under is the growing number of boat people. During the so-called "sailing season" between monsoons, thousands of Rohingya attempt to cross the Bay of Bengal in small, ramshackle fishing boats. Their destination: Muslim-majority Malaysia, where thousands of Rohingya work, mostly illegally.
Last season, up to 8,000 Rohingya boat people - a record number - made the crossing, says Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group based in Thailand. She has studied their migration patterns since 2006.
BANNED IN BANGLADESH
The violence in Rakhine could cause a surge in Rohingya boat people when the next sailing season begins in October, Rohingya leaders say. "The amount of boat people will increase and increase," said Abu Tahay, chairman of the National Democratic Party for Development, a Rohingya political party.
In what could be the start of a regional refugee crisis, many Rohingya are already attempting the shorter voyage to neighboring Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, like Myanmar, disowns the Rohingyas and has refused to grant them refugee status since 1992. Now, according to a Bangladeshi commander, hundreds have been turned away.
At Shah Pari, a Bangladeshi island on the Naf River dividing Bangladesh and Myanmar, Lieutenant Colonel Zahid Hassan of the Bangladesh Border Guard said the force has sent back 14 wooden country boats since the violence flared in early June, bearing a total of some 700 men, women and children.
Hassan said the boat people were given food, water and medicines before being turned back. His men are now holding back local Bangladeshi villagers and limiting how far fishermen can go out into the river to prevent them from helping would-be "illegal intruders." Peace has been restored since Myanmar imposed its state of emergency, he said, and his men are telling the boat people it is safe to return.
Asked to explain why majority-Muslim Bangladesh did not feel an obligation to take the Rohingyas in, he said: "This is an over-populated country. The country doesn't have the capacity to accommodate these additional people."
WAITING FOR DEMOCRACY
Government officials say they already harbor about 25,000 Rohingyas with refugee status, who receive food and other aid from the United Nations, housed in two camps in southeastern Bangladesh. Officials say there are also between 200,000 and 300,000 "undocumented" Rohingyas - with no refugee status and no legal rights. These people live outside the camps, dependent on local Bangladeshis in a poverty-plagued district for work and sustenance.
Among them is 48-year-old Kalim Ullah, a Rohingya father of three living in an unofficial camp where children bathe in a chocolate-brown pond. He fled here in 1992, after violence that followed the watershed 1990 vote won by Suu Kyi and overturned by the military. He holds up a hand to show a half-stump where his thumb had been before he says it was shot off by a Myanmar soldier.
"They tortured me and I was evicted from my house so we came to Bangladesh," he said. "Now I am waiting for repatriation, I am waiting for democracy in my own country."
Myanmar's neighbors have quietly pressed the country to improve conditions in Rakhine to stop the outflow of refugees. Perhaps as a result, Thein Sein's government this year began easing some travel restrictions, says Rohingya leader Kyaw Min. But these small gains look likely to be suspended or scrapped after the recent bloodshed.
The Rohingya in Myanmar are usually landless as well as stateless, and scratch a living from low-paid casual labor. Four in five households in northern Rakhine State were in debt, the World Food Program reported in 2011. Many families borrow money just to buy food.
Food insecurity had worsened since 2009, said the program, which called for urgent humanitarian assistance. A 2010 survey by the French group Action Against Hunger found a malnutrition rate of 20 percent, which is far above the emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.
UNDER THE 'NASAKA'
The Rohingya are overseen by the Border Administration Force, better known as the Nasaka, a word derived from the initials of its Burmese name. Unique to the region, the Nasaka consists of officers from the police, military, customs and immigration. They control every aspect of Rohingya life.
"They have total power," says Abu Tahay, the Rohingya politician.
Documented human-rights abuses blamed on the Nasaka include rape, forced labor and extortion. Rohingya cannot travel or marry without the Nasaka's permission, which is never secured without paying bribes, activists say.
The former military government has in the past called these allegations "fabrications."
"There are hundreds of restrictions and extortions," says Rohingya leader Kyaw Min. "The Nasaka have a free hand because government policy is behind them. And that policy is to starve and impoverish the Rohingya."
Burmese officials say the tight controls on the borders are essential to national security. Speaking in Myanmar's parliament last September, immigration minister Khin Yi made no mention of alleged abuses, but said the Nasaka was vital for preventing "illegal Bengali migration" and cross-border crime.
At Takebi's market, an agitated crowd gathered before the violence erupted to tell a reporter of alleged abuses by the authorities and ethnic Rakhine: a Rohingya rickshaw driver robbed and murdered, extortion by state officials, random beatings by soldiers at a nearby army post. The stories couldn't be verified.
Some Burmese officials have betrayed bias against the Rohingya in public statements. Rohingya people are "dark brown" and "as ugly as ogres," said Ye Myint Aung, Myanmar's consul in Hong Kong, in a 2009 statement. He went on to extol the "fair and soft" complexions of Myanmar people like himself.
Last week, the state-run New Light of Myanmar published a correction after referring to Muslims as "kalar," a racial slur.
The sectarian hatred in Rakhine towns and villages is echoed online. "It would be so good if we can use this as an excuse to drive those Rohingyas from Myanmar," one reader of Myanmar's Weekly Eleven newspaper comments on the paper's website.
"Annihilate them," writes another.
A nationalist group has set up a Facebook page called the "Kalar Beheading Gang," which has almost 600 "likes."
Meanwhile, the Kaladan Press, a news agency set up by Rohingya exiles in the Bangladesh city of Chittagong, blamed the violence on "Rakhine racists and security personnel."
BOUND FOR MALAYSIA
Not far from Sittwe is Gollyadeil, a fishing village with a jetty of packed mud and a mosque that locals say dates back to the 1930s. The stateless Rohingya villagers here face fewer restrictions than their brethren in the sensitive border area to the north. They can marry without seeking official permission and travel freely around Sittwe district.
Even so, jobs are scarce and access to education limited, and every year up to 40 villagers head out to sea on Malaysia-bound boats. They each pay about 200,000 kyat, or $250, a small fortune by local standards. But the extended Rohingya families who raise the sum regard it as an investment.
"If they make it to Malaysia, they can send home a lot of money," says fishmonger Abdul Gafar, 35.
Many Rohingya in Myanmar depend upon remittances from Malaysia and Thailand. A Takebi elder with a white beard tinged red from betel-nut juice said he gets 100,000 kyat ($125) every four months from his son, a construction worker in Malaysia.
Remittances have lent a deceptive veneer of prosperity to Takebi, where a few houses have tin roofs or satellite dishes.
Ask shopkeeper Mohamad Ayub, 19, how many villagers want to leave Gollyadeil, and he replies, "All of us."
For every Rohingya who makes it to Malaysia, hundreds are blocked, or worse.
Many are arrested before even leaving Myanmar waters. Others are intercepted by the Thai authorities, who last year were still towing Rohingya boats back out to sea, Human Rights Watch reported, "despite allegations that such practices led to hundreds of deaths in 2008 and 2009."
"When someone tries to enter the country illegally, it's our job to send them back," says Major General Manas Kongpan, a regional director of Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command, which handles the boat people. "Thailand doesn't have the capacity to take them in, so people shouldn't criticize so much."
Sayadul Amin, 16, set sail in March 2012 in a fishing boat crammed with 63 people, a third of them boys and girls. The weather turned bad, and Sayudul's boat was pounded by waves.
"I felt dizzy and wanted to throw up," he said.
By day five, they ran out of water and his friend, also a teenager, died. They prayed over his body, he said, then tossed it overboard.
The boat eventually ran aground somewhere on Myanmar's Andaman coast, where local villagers summoned the authorities to arrest the boat people.
The adults were jailed in the southern Myanmar town of Dawei, while immigration officials escorted Sayadul and the other minors back to Sittwe by bus. The journey took several days and he saw more of Myanmar than most Rohingya ever do. "There were satellite dishes on all the houses," he said with wonder.
On her historic visit to Myanmar last year, Hillary Clinton praised the country's leaders for trying to resolve decades-old wars between government troops and ethnic rebel armies. But the Rohingya stir far greater nationalist passions that could prove even more destabilizing and intractable than conflicts in Kachin State and other ethnic border regions.
Rohingya leaders have long called for the scrapping of the 1982 Citizenship Law, which was enacted by the former dictatorship and rendered stateless even Rohingya who had lived in Myanmar for generations.
"We are demanding full and equal citizenship," says Kyaw Min, the Rohingya leader.
Judging by the inflammatory rhetoric pervading Myanmar, that demand is unlikely to be met before next year's potentially controversial census.
The last one, in 1983, left the Rohingya uncounted.(Reuters)
NEW DELHI: Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, under fire for his handling of the faltering economy, is to step down after being named on Friday as the ruling coalition's candidate for president.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by Mukherjee's Congress Party, announced that the 77-year-old would be its nominee for the largely ceremonial post, which falls vacant in July.
The choice of who will succeed the incumbent president, Pratibha Patil, has exposed fresh cracks in the increasingly fractured coalition, with its partners clashing over which candidate to put forward.
"The UPA appeals to all political parties and all members of parliament and members of state legislative assemblies to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee," Congress Party supremo Sonia Gandhi said in a statement.
The nomination means Mukherjee, a political troubleshooter whose popularity cuts across party lines, will have to resign as finance minister, with television reports suggesting he might do so on June 24.
Although the president is India's titular head of state, real executive power resides with the prime minister and the cabinet.
Indian presidents are selected by an electoral college comprising MPs from both houses of parliament and state legislatures.
The election will be held July 19.
Mukherjee's nomination comes at a time of growing criticism of his stewardship of Asia's third-largest economy, which has slowed dramatically at a time of stubbornly high inflation and a depreciating rupee.
"I don't think that I am the depository of all knowledge and and expertise in our government. In our party there are a number of people who can handle the difficult economic situation," Mukherjee told reporters after his nomination.
"The prime minister himself (Manmohan Singh) is an eminent economist and under his stewardship we will overcome the temporary crisis."
In the January-March period, the economy grew just 5.3 percent, its slowest quarterly expansion in nine years.
Earlier this week, Standard & Poor's warned India could be the first of the BRIC emerging economies to lose its investment-grade rating unless the Asian giant revives its growth and spurs reforms.
In April, the firm changed India's credit outlook to negative from stable, maintaining India's rating at "BBB-" but warning it faced at least a one-in-three chance of losing its status if its public finances worsened.
"BBB-" is just one notch above "junk", which carries an increased risk of default and would see India having to pay higher interest rates on its public borrowing. (AFP)
HONG KONG: Asian markets were mostly up on Friday amid hopes that the US Federal Reserve will embark on a fresh round of economic stimulus and Greece will return a pro-austerity government in weekend polls.
However, with Spain's borrowing costs hitting another record high despite a $125 billion bank bailout, traders remain on edge.
Tokyo shares rose 0.14 percent, Hong Kong climbed 0.62 percent, Sydney advanced 0.10 percent and Shanghai was 0.38 percent higher but Seoul slipped 0.95 percent.
In the United States weekly initial jobless claims rose more than expected. Consumer prices fell in May for the first time in two years, driven by falling gasoline prices, but core inflation rose 0.2 percent for the third straight month.
The numbers sparked speculation that the US central bank would start a third round of stimulus known as quantitative easing in a bid to kickstart the world's biggest economy.
"Hopes for more easing steps bolstered risk appetite" in New York, said Takashi Hiroki, Monex Inc. chief strategist in Tokyo. "Market sentiment is brighter," he told Dow Jones Newswires.
On Wall Street the three main indexes advanced on hopes for more cash flooding into the market. The Dow gained 1.24 percent, the S&P 500 climbed 1.08 percent and the Nasdaq added 0.63 percent.
"Sentiment seemed to strengthen on hopes that underwhelming data might compel the Fed to implement another round of quantitative easing when they meet next week," said Briefing.com.
In Britain finance chief George Osborne and Bank of England governor Mervyn King said they would flood banks with cheap funds in a bid to jump-start lending to households and businesses and to fend off a potential storm from Europe.
But while investors absorbed the possibility of fresh cash in the system Europe's troubles tempered sentiment.
TOKYO: The dollar weakened against the yen in Asian trade on Friday while the euro was mixed ahead of weekend elections in Greece that are widely seen as a referendum on its future in the eurozone.
The greenback was changing hands at 79.04 yen from 79.34 yen in New York late Thursday, while the euro bought $1.2632 and 99.87 yen, from $1.2630 and 100.21 yen in US trade.
A Bank of Japan decision Friday morning to keep interest rates unchanged at zero to 0.1 percent had little immediate impact on rates, dealers said.
"Ahead of Geece's election, there is no sense of direction in the currency market," Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Barclays Capital, said in a note to clients.
Traders were closely watching the BoJ for signs of fresh easing as well as key US economic data later Friday, but "the sensitivity of the market to these events will be lower" than usual because of the Greek elections, he added.
Polls show Greek voters split between supporting pro-bailout parties and the leftist Syriza party which wants to renegotiate an EU-IMF bailout, warning it was ready to tear up the agreement.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has set a 10-day deadline to renegotiate the bailout deal, which he claims is killing the country's hard-hit economy.
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LONDON: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga suffered a miserable third round exit from Queen's Club on Thursday as the world number five was beaten 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) by Croatia's Ivan Dodig and suffered a serious finger injury in the process.
With top seed Andy Murray, fourth seed Gilles Simon and four-time Queen's champions Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt already eliminated from the grass-court event, it seems Tsonga had a golden opportunity to go all the way.
But the Frenchman, seeded second, produced a lethargic display and world number 69 Dodig took full advantage to claim one of the best wins of his career.
Tsonga reached the final here last year, losing to Murray, and became the first player ever to beat Roger Federer from two sets down at a grand slam in the Wimbledon quarter-finals a few weeks later.
With that kind of pedigree on grass, Tsonga was the clear favourite. But he was out-played by Dodig and to make matters worse, he slipped and fell on his right hand in the final set, causing damage that could rule him out of Wimbledon.
"I think it's serious. I didn't do an exam for the moment, but it sounds very bad," Tsonga said.
"Of course it's not a good day. It's important to play many matches and to get ready for Wimbledon. It affects my confidence a bit."
Tsonga must have hoped his experience would prove decisive when the first set went to a tie-break.
Instead, the former Australian Open finalist produced an error-strewn effort that allowed Dodig to secure the lead.
Faced with the prospect of a surprise exit, Tsonga finally began to find his touch and he unfurled some sumptuous winners to break for a 4-3 lead in the second set.
One more break from Tsonga levelled the match at one-set all, but Dodig dug deep in the decider and saved two break points at 2-3 before Tsonga was forced to save one himself with a flashing winner at 5-5.
Again it needed a tie-break to seperate them and on match point Tsonga paid the price for a loose forehand that flew long and gifted the win to Dodig.
Dodig will face 2010 Queen's winner Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals after the American defeated Julien Benneteau 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Earlier, South Africa's Kevin Anderson advanced to the last eight for the first time after defeating Spanish fifth seed Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (12/10), 7-6 (9/7).
Anderson, seeded ninth, had never been past the last 16 in his previous four visits, but he finally broke that sequence with an impressive victory over world number 17 Lopez.
Lopez has solid grass-court pedigree, reaching the Queen's semi-finals in 2010 and the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, but he fell behind against Anderson as the 26-year-old broke for a 3-1 lead.
Anderson's nerve failed him as he served for the set and Lopez took advantage to break back.
It took an epic tie-break to settle the set and Anderson's composure held this time as he saved three set points before finishing it on his third set point.
The second set followed the same pattern and again it required a tense tie-break.
After missing his first match point, Anderson finally ended Lopez's resistance to set up a quarter-final clash with Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov.
Dimitrov ended giant-killer Nicolas Mahut's hopes of emulating his 2007 Queen's final appearance with a 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 victory.
Mahut had shocked world number four Andy Murray in the second round on Wednesday, but the Frenchman, who defeated Nadal en route to the final here five years ago, suffered a let-down against Dimitrov. (AFP)
HALLE, Germany: Newly-crowned French Open champion Rafael Nadal made a winning return to grass courts on Thursday, defeating
Slovakia's Lukas Lacko 7-5, 6-1 in the second round of the Halle ATP tournament.
The Spanish world number two, playing at the German venue for the first time since 2005, will tackle German eighth seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarter-finals.
Kohlschreiber, the defending champion, made the last eight with a 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-3 win over Poland's Lukasz Kubot.
Nadal, who captured a record seventh Roland Garros title on Monday, has won all his eight career meetings with the German.
"In the second set, I served better, the forehand had more control, I played more aggressive. I'm happy to be through," said Nadal.
"I haven't played here for a long time. As I said, every hour I spend on the court works for me on the grass because I haven't had a lot of time to adapt. Tomorrow is a big challenge because Philipp is the defending champion.
"He's a very complete player. He does everything well."
Top-seeded Nadal last played this tournament seven years ago, fresh from his first French Open title but suffered a rude awakening on his debut on grass, losing in the first round to Alexander Waske.
Nadal took just 75 minutes to complete his fourth win against Lacko, who is one of the few players on tour to have won a set to love against the Spaniard, achieving the feat in Doha earlier this year. (AFP)
LOS ANGELES: The third animated "Madagascar" film stampeded past sci-fi thriller "Prometheus" to top U.S. and Canadian box office charts with nearly $60.4 million in ticket sales over the weekend.
"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" also performed well in its debut in 28 international markets, bringing global ticket sales to $135.8 million in its opening weekend, according to distributor Paramount Pictures.
Anne Globe, chief marketing officer with the film's production company DreamWorks Animation, said the family-friendly movie attracted many young viewers with over a quarter of tickets sold for children under 12 years of age and more than half its total audiences comprised of viewers under 25.
The "Madagascar" franchise about the wacky misadventures of escaped zoo animals has grossed more than $1 billion around the world since the first film debuted in 2005.
Paramount had projected a $45 million U.S. and Canadian opening for "Madagascar 3," and it roundly beat that forecast. But the new sequel's debut fell slightly short of the last "Madagascar" movie, which opened in November 2008 with $63 million from U.S. and Canadian theaters.
Still, it has received more critical praise than the previous two "Madagascar" films, racking up a 76-percent positive rating on critic aggregation site Rottentomatoes.com.
When asked about the possibility of a fourth installment in the series, Globe said DreamWorks was too busy enjoying its current success to give much thought to the future.
"It's too early to tell. There hasn't been a lot of discussion about that," she said.
In the new film, the animal pack joins a European traveling circus to try to get back to New York. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer provide voices for the lead characters. The 3D movie cost $145 million to make.
In second place, "Prometheus" starring Charlize Theron, pulled in $50 million. The 3D effects-filled film from "Alien" director Ridley Scott tells the story of a team of explorers who discover a clue to the origins of mankind. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender also star.
Ahead of the weekend, Fox projected a $30 million domestic opening for "Prometheus," which cost $130 million to produce.
Chris Aronson, executive vice president for domestic distribution at Fox, said he was surprised at the film's success.
"It's just blown away our expectations," he said, attributing the performance to "word of mouth (publicity), a great film by Ridley Scott and a terrific (advertising) campaign."
The film also garnered more female viewers than expected, Aronson added, with women filling 43 percent of theater seats.
"Prometheus" opened overseas one week ago and picked up $39.2 million in international markets this weekend. The movie's global total ticket sales now stand at $141.5 million.
Last week's box office winner, action-filled "Snow White and the Huntsman," slipped to third place with $23 million. The dark take on the classic fairy tale, also starring Theron, has pulled in $83.5 million around the world since its debut.
Rounding out the top five on domestic charts were the third "Men in Black" comedy, which took in $13.5 million, and Marvel superhero hit "The Avengers," which brought in $10.8 million.
News Corp unit 20th Century Fox distributed "Prometheus" while "Snow White" was released by Universal Studios, a unit of Comcast Corp. Sony Corp's movie studio released "Men in Black 3," and Walt Disney Co distributed "The Avengers."
NEW YORK: Actor Matthew McConaughey and Brazilian model Camila Alves tied the knot on Saturday in an intimate wedding at the couple's home in Austin, Texas, according to media reports.
The wedding incorporated the couple's roots with an "island beach meets Texas" theme that included Brazilian food, celebrity news outlet Entertainment Tonight reported on Sunday.
A Texas native, McConaughey announced at the Texas Hall of Fame gala in March that he and Alves were relocating from California to Texas to raise their almost 4-year-old son, Levi, and 2-year-old daughter, Vida.
Alves is a model and handbag designer originally from Brazil where she spent much of her childhood on the beaches of the country's Bahia state.
A representative for McConaughey told People magazine that Alves will take the actor's last name, becoming Camila McConaughey.
McConaughey, 42 and Alves, 30, met in 2006 at a bar in Los Angeles and have been dating ever since.
McConaughey announced the couple's engagement on December 25, 2011, via his WhoSay web page, where he posted a picture of the couple kissing with the message, "just asked camila to marry me, merry Christmas."
"Magic Mike," McConaughey's latest film in which he plays a strip club manager, is set to hit theaters on June 29.
NEW YORK: For millions of heart patients, a pair of new blood thinners have been heralded as the first replacements in 60 years for warfarin, a pill whose hardships and risks have deterred many from using the stroke-prevention medicine.
But growing complaints of risks and deaths tied to the new crop of drugs have made some top U.S. cardiologists hesitant to prescribe them. Some are proposing a more rigorous monitoring regimen for when they are used.
Most concerns revolve around Pradaxa, a twice daily pill from Boehringer Ingelheim that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2010 to prevent strokes in patients with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. It was the first new oral treatment for that use since warfarin was introduced in the 1950s.
"The good news is you now have an alternative to warfarin," said Dr. Alan Jacobson, director of anti-coagulation services at the Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare system in Loma Linda, California. "The bad news is you can kill a patient as easily with the new drug as you could with the old drug" if it is not handled properly.
"The average patient doesn't understand anything about the new drug, or what the risks are, or what other medicines he can or can't take," said Jacobson, citing interactions with common painkillers and other drugs that can alter Pradaxa blood levels.
Xarelto, a once daily pill that Johnson & Johnson developed with Bayer AG, was approved last November for atrial fibrillation. The condition affects about 3 million Americans, causing blood to pool in a storage chamber of the heart, where it can clot and travel to the brain.
Both new drugs were designed to sidestep risks of warfarin, including brain hemorrhages and other dangerous bleeding, and become mainstays of a new therapeutic market worth at least $10 billion a year. Patients taking warfarin require close monitoring and regular blood tests as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.
Doctors have less data and familiarity with Xarelto, which is still being rolled out.
But Jacobson and another dozen physicians interviewed by Reuters expressed similar concerns about both Pradaxa and Xarelto.
They say that real world use of Pradaxa and Xarelto, which do not require regular blood monitoring or frequent doctor follow-up, raises concerns about the risk of stroke, serious bleeding and blood clots if not taken properly, particularly in patients with poor kidney function.
The nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices estimated last month that 542 reports of deaths associated with Pradaxa were reported to the FDA in 2011, topping all other medicines, including warfarin, with 72 deaths. Adverse event reports on Xarelto were not available.
A case study published in March raised alarm in particular, showing an elderly Utah patient on Pradaxa developed a massive brain hemorrhage and died after a minor fall.
European regulators have instructed Boehringer Ingelheim to add warnings about the bleeding risk to Pradaxa's package insert. Almost two dozen U.S. federal lawsuits have been filed against Boehringer Ingelheim alleging harm from Pradaxa.
Boehringer declined to comment on the lawsuits. The German company also declined to comment about the deaths, but said the number of reports of bleeding with Pradaxa were within Boehringer's expectations, given the incidence of bleeding seen in the drug's largest study.
"Research has shown that the number of reported adverse events for a drug peaks during its first few years on the market," when doctors are most likely to file voluntary reports to regulators and drugmakers, company spokeswoman Emily Baier said.
Dr. Robert Temple, a top official in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said few doctors notify the agency about incidents from warfarin because its risks are already well known. So the lopsided number of Pradaxa reports compared with warfarin may not indicate an elevated risk, he said.
"We don't necessarily believe it is real," he said. "But we're watching it. We can't help but notice it."
A SHIFT IN PRACTICE
The makers of Pradaxa and Xarelto say it takes time for doctors to get up to speed on new types of treatments and how to best administer them outside the controls of clinical trials.
"This is a shift in medical practice," said Dr. John Smith, senior vice president for clinical development at Boehringer. "Individual physicians have to determine what the follow-up plan will be, to use common medical-sense judgment."
Dr. Peter Wildgoose, a senior director of clinical development at J&J, said the company has not provided special advice on follow-up care for patients on Xarelto.
"There's nothing more than for any other drug that people regularly take," he said, adding that most atrial fibrillation patients probably see their doctors on a regular basis. "These drugs have been tested long term, for several years at a time, with very good outcomes."
Boehringer Ingelheim and Johnson & Johnson officials stressed there was far less evidence in trials of brain bleeding - the most worrisome side effect of anti-coagulants - in patients taking Pradaxa and Xarelto than those taking warfarin.
In the meantime, warfarin is holding its own, with 33 million U.S. prescriptions filled for atrial fibrillation and other uses last year, according to IMS Health, a healthcare information and services company. Some 2.2 million prescriptions were filled for Pradaxa.
About 130,000 U.S. prescriptions were written for Xarelto in the first three months of 2012. Pradaxa and Xarelto each cost about $3,000 a year, versus just $200 for generic warfarin.
Prominent U.S. heart doctors stress that neither new drug has a known antidote for a bleeding emergency, as warfarin does.
They also say that patients using them should undergo testing ahead of time to ensure good kidney function, be carefully taught potential pitfalls of the drugs and be seen by doctors periodically, especially after a switch is made.
"I have received a dozen phone calls from local colleagues in the last couple of months about bleeding on Pradaxa and have yet to find a single case where that bleeding was not related to improper use of the drug," said Dr. Sanjay Kaul, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Kaul found that many of the doctors failed to test patient kidney function before prescribing Pradaxa, though 80 percent of the drug is excreted in that organ. Weak kidneys allow the medicine to build to unsafe levels in the bloodstream. About two thirds of Xarelto is eliminated by the kidneys. Other doctors failed to ask patients whether they had a history of gastrointestinal bleeding, which raises the risk for Pradaxa.
"What really compounds the matter is the lack of a specific antidote to reverse life-threatening bleeding" from Pradaxa, said Kaul, who served on independent panels that advised the FDA on both new medications. Kaul said he had written only one prescription for Pradaxa and none for Xarelto.
Boehringer Ingelheim said it is working on an antidote, but declined to elaborate. Johnson & Johnson said it is not developing an antidote, but is monitoring early efforts by other drugmakers to come up with one. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, which is developing a blood clot drug called Eliquis that is similar to Xarelto, declined to comment on the antidote issue.
HOPES FOR A THIRD NEW DRUG
Warfarin thins the blood by blocking Vitamin K, while Pradaxa directly inhibits thrombin - a protein involved in clotting. Xarelto and Eliquis - which Bristol-Myers is developing with Pfizer Inc - interferes with a protein called Factor Xa.
Richard Purkiss, an analyst with Atlantic Equities, sees the new blood clot drugs reaching combined global annual sales of $10 billion for stroke prevention and other uses, with Eliquis commanding up to a 60 percent market share, based on data showing it was more effective and safer than warfarin, including less bleeding and risk of death from all causes.
Neither Pradaxa nor Xarelto were able to claim both superiority and better safety than warfarin, or reduced risk of death.
Eliquis is eliminated mainly by the liver, which some doctors say could make it more appropriate than Pradaxa or Xarelto for older patients and those with kidney problems. The FDA is expected to make a decision on Eliquis by June 28.
Michael Liss, portfolio manager at American Century Investments, predicts Eliquis will overtake Pradaxa and Xarelto within six months after it is introduced. He expects it to capture peak annual sales of up to $4 billion, with Pradaxa and Xarelto dividing up another $3 billion.
Dr. Kenneth Bauer, head of hematology for the Veterans Administration health system in Boston, said the FDA should never have approved Pradaxa and Xarelto for patients with severe kidney dysfunction, since such patients were excluded from large studies. Nor should the agency have approved an untested 75-milligram half dose of Pradaxa for such patients, he said.
"These are people whose kidneys are already damaged ... and even at the smaller dose (of Pradaxa), you risk overdosing yourself," Bauer said.
The FDA said it routinely approves adjusted doses of medicines, and noted that patients with severe liver dysfunction were included in smaller studies of Xarelto and Pradaxa.
Boehringer Ingelheim's Smith said the FDA cleared the lower dose of Pradaxa after conducting its own analysis of how it performs in the bloodstream.
FRAIL ELDERLY 'CANARY IN COAL MINE'
Almost 15 percent of Americans over the age of 80 are believed to have atrial fibrillation and face a fivefold higher risk of stroke if untreated.
Dr. Richard Besdine, director of the Center for Gerontology at Brown University, said he had switched only two of his approximately 100 elderly patients from warfarin. He is unlikely to switch many others for at least a few years.
"If there's an adverse event lurking in the closet for a new drug, it's most likely to come out in patients that are old and frail and taking multiple medications. They're the canary in the coal mine," he said.
Even so, Besdine - like many other doctors now on the sidelines - believes the new drugs may eventually displace warfarin as doctors become familiar with them.
Others note that warfarin's disadvantages have led as many as 70 percent of prospective patients to refuse to take it, leaving plenty of room for the new drugs.
Dr. Robert Califf, a Duke University cardiologist who headed the largest study of Xarelto, noted warfarin is still one of the biggest causes of U.S. emergency room fatalities.
"We shouldn't lose sight of what warfarin is like in the real world," he said. (Reuters)
N'DJAMENA: A frail 65-year-old woman sitting under the mango trees in a rural village in Chad suffers from a tropical disease that eats into the brain, and the locals blame on witchcraft.
"I've been suffering for more than two months now. I have headaches, fever, and I just feel very tired," said Lea Sadene, who has just been tested and diagnosed.
She has Human African trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness, which is transmitted by tsetse flies found in 36 sub-Saharan African countries.
Sadene is in the first phase of the often fatal illness. Without treatment in four months to a year, "the parasite penetrates into the brain, causing serious neurological symptoms, until death," said Doctor Benedict Blaynay, head of neglected tropical diseases at French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi.
"The symptoms can cause a change in personality, mental deterioration, leading to a long sleep or coma," which gives the illness its name, he said.
Chadian health officials say around 3,300 people were infected between 2001 and 2011 in several areas of the landlocked central African nation, one of the poorest in the world.
"With more than 100 cases per year Chad is considered an endemic country," said Doctor Peka Mallaye, who is in charge of the national programme to fight against sleeping sickness.
In Kobitoi in southern Chad recently, village women lined up with their children, many with swollen bellies, in the scorching sun as temperatures hit 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) to undergo tests for the disease organised with Sanofi.
The team found 14 cases of sleeping sickness out of 120 people examined, Mallaye said.
"This village is located next to a forest where the tsetse flies live. During the rainy season, people pass through the forest to go fishing or hunting," he said.
Fighting the disease, however, takes more than testing and drugs. For the people living in Chad's rural communities, the strange symptoms of sleeping sickness have long been shrouded in superstition about witchcraft and demonic possession.
"Before we didn't know that it was the disease that was killing people. People died like flies, they blamed witches," said Alngar Legode, a village mother trying to comfort her eight-month child still crying after being pricked for the blood test for the disease.
"Witchcraft is seen as a real phenomenon in traditional societies," said sociologist Serferbe Charlot. "They think that a man or a woman suspected of witchcraft is eating away at a person's soul."
In the advanced stages of the disease the infected person experiences severe neurological problems.
"When this disease reaches the brain, the patient loses control of his life, he even becomes violent. That is when the villagers believe that the sick person is possessed by evil spirits," said Charlot.
"It is up to the health specialists to prove" to the population that it is not witchcraft, he said, adding: "The fight against sleeping sickness calls for raising awareness."
But the World Health Organisation says it is not a losing battle.
After continued control efforts, the most recent statistics available show the number of cases in 2009 dropped below 10,000 for the first time in 50 years, and the trend continued in 2010 with 7139 new cases reported, the WHO reported on its website.
WHO estimates the number of actual cases is currently 30,000. The most affected country has been the Democratic Republic of Congo, which declared 500 new cases in 2010.
The WHO has established public-private partnerships with Sanofi and also Bayer Healthcare to create a surveillance team and provide support to endemic countries in their control efforts as well as a free supply of drugs to treat the sick.
Diagnosis should be made as early as possible before the disease reaches the neurological stage, which calls for more complicated and risky treatment.
The chief executive of Sanofi, Christopher Viehbacher, said the main challenge ahead "is to keep up the expertise in diagnosis and treatment in the medical centres, so that the monitoring for sleeping sickness is maintained."
Sleeping sickness figures on the WHO's list of 10 neglected tropical diseases. In January in London, the UN health agency brought together the US, British and United Arab Emirates governments along with 13 pharmaceutical companies and international organisations like the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make a new push to eliminate these diseases by the end of the decade.
"If we keep doing the right things better, and on a larger scale, some of these diseases could be eliminated by 2015, and others by 2020," WHO Director General Margaret Chan has said.