World briefs 4/21/05

Thursday, April 21, 2005

All samples of killer flu virus outside U.S. found

GENEVA -- All samples of the killer influenza virus sent outside the United States have been destroyed except for one in Lebanon, the U.N. health agency said Wednesday. The sample that had gone missing in Beirut "was found at the airport," said Maria Cheng, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization. Previously unaccounted for samples sent to Mexico and South Korea already have been destroyed, she said. Dr. Walid Ammar, director general of Lebanon's Health Ministry, said in Beirut that the sample was being kept "in a safe place" until the ministry was instructed on whether to destroy it or send it back to the College of American Pathologists. Because of fears of a global pandemic should the virus be released, WHO has been urging destruction of the 50-year-old H2N2 virus. The kits were sent to 61 laboratories in 18 countries outside the United States.

Ecuador's president removed by Congress

QUITO, Ecuador -- Lawmakers in Ecuador voted Wednesday to remove embattled President Lucio Gutierrez from office after a week of escalating street protests demanding his ouster, and they swore in Vice President Alfredo Palacio to replace him. In Brazil, that country's Foreign Ministry said in statement Wednesday night that Gutierrez, a close U.S. ally, was in the Brazilian Embassy in Quito and has asked for political asylum. The statement said the Brazilian government is taking the necessary steps to grant asylum. The protests were fueled by allegations that Gutierrez meddled with the courts in a move to amass power. Demonstrations surged over the past week and late Tuesday night 30,000 marched on the palace, demanding his ouster.

Cannabis-based painkiller for MS approved in Canada

TORONTO -- Canada has become the first country in the world to approve a cannabis-based painkiller for patients suffering multiple sclerosis, a move applauded by those with the disease and proponents of medical uses for marijuana. Health Canada, the federal agency that oversees medical care for Canadians, announced on Tuesday it had approved the prescription painkiller Sativex, made from components derived from the cannabis plant that have been shown to ease pain. In 2001, Canada became the first country to adopt a system regulating the medicinal use of marijuana for people suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions.

Italy's premier resigns, plans Cabinet reshuffle

ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi, faced with mounting criticism over Italy's sluggish economy and its involvement in Iraq, resigned Wednesday as premier but vowed to quickly form a stronger new Cabinet to restore confidence in his leadership. Resigning and then immediately shuffling the Cabinet is an old trick of Italy's complicated political system, and has been used by premiers to strengthen faltering coalitions. Berlusconi, who had presided over Italy's longest-serving government since World War II, had so far resisted the move, sensing it would dent his image as a new-style politician.

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