Friday, April 19, 2013

Kerry disappointed with recent talks with Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Secretary of State John Kerry says the failure of recent negotiations between six world powers and Iran over its disputed nuclear program was disappointing, but he called for patience with upcoming elections in Tehran.

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday he is not expecting "anything dramatic" to happen over the next two months prior to the elections with a power struggle in Iran.

Members of Congress, including committee Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, have pushed hard for tough sanctions on Iran. Kerry urged caution and said the State Department would prefer to work with lawmakers on the timing of any additional steps.

Kerry, the former Massachusetts senator, was testifying for the first time since his confirmation before the panel that he once chaired.


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Thursday, April 18, 2013

NZealand is 13th country to legalize gay marriage

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) ? Hundreds of jubilant gay-rights advocates celebrated at New Zealand's Parliament as the country became the 13th in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage.

Lawmakers voted 77 to 44 in favor of the gay-marriage bill on its third and final reading Wednesday night. People watching from the public gallery and some lawmakers immediately broke into song after the result was announced, singing the New Zealand love song "Pokarekare Ana" in the indigenous Maori language.

"For us, we can now feel equal to everyone else," said bank teller Tania Penafiel Bermudez, who said she already considers herself married to partner Sonja Fry but now can get a certificate to prove it. "This means we can feel safe and fair and right in calling each other wife and wife."

In one of several speeches that ended in a standing ovation, bill sponsor Louisa Wall told lawmakers the change was "our road toward healing."

"In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal ? it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person," she said. She added that "nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill."

Most political party leaders had encouraged lawmakers to vote by their conscience rather than along party lines. Although Wall is from the opposition Labour Party, the bill also was supported by center-right Prime Minister John Key.

"In my view, marriage is a very personal thing between two individuals," Key said. "And, in the end, this is part of equality in modern-day New Zealand."

Since 2005, New Zealand has allowed civil unions, which confer many legal rights to gay couples. The new law will allow gay couples to jointly adopt children for the first time and will also allow their marriages to be recognized in other countries. The law will take effect in late August.

"This is really, really huge," said Jills Angus Burney, a lawyer who drove about 90 minutes to Parliament to watch the vote with her partner, Deborah Hambly, who had flown in from farther afield. "It's really important to me. It's just unbelievable."

Burney, a Presbyterian, said she and Hambly want to celebrate with a big, traditional wedding as soon as possible.

The change in New Zealand could put pressure on its neighbor. In Australia, there has been little political momentum for a change at a federal level and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has expressed her opposition to same-sex marriage. Some Australian states, however, are considering gay-marriage legislation.

Rodney Croome, the national director for the lobbying group Australian Marriage Equality, said that since Friday, 1,000 people had signed an online survey saying they would travel to New Zealand to wed, though same-sex marriages would not be recognized under current Australian law.

"There's this really big, pent-up demand for this in Australia," Croome said. "New Zealand is just a three-hour plane ride away, and many couples are going to go to New Zealand to marry. They are just so sick and tired of waiting for the government to act. I think it's going to spark this big tourism boom."

Many people in New Zealand remain vehemently opposed to gay marriage. The lobbying group Family First last year presented a petition to Parliament signed by 50,000 people who opposed the bill. Another 25,000 people have since added their signatures to that petition.

"Historically and culturally, marriage is about man and a woman, and it shouldn't be touched," said Family First founder Bob McCoskrie. "It doesn't need to be."

McCoskrie said same-sex marriage should have been put to a public referendum rather than a parliamentary vote. That might not have changed the outcome, however: Surveys indicate that about two-thirds of New Zealanders favor gay marriage.

The change was given impetus last May when U.S. President Barack Obama declared his support for gay marriage. That prompted Prime Minister Key to break his silence on the issue by saying he was "not personally opposed" to the idea. Wall then put forward the bill, which she had previously drafted.

Same-sex marriage is recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a law last week that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign. Nine states and the District of Columbia in the U.S. also recognize such marriages, but the federal government does not.

In his speech before Wednesday's vote, lawmaker Tau Henare extended a greeting to people of all sexual identities and concluded with a traditional greeting in his indigenous Maori.

"My message to you all is, 'Welcome to the mainstream,'" Henare said. "Do well. Kia Ora."


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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

China eyes ConocoPhillips' Kashagan stake-Kazakh minister

By Raushan Nurshayeva

ASTANA (Reuters) - China has shown an interest in buying the stake of U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips in a multinational consortium developing Kazakhstan's giant Kashagan oilfield, Kazakh Oil & Gas Minister Sauat Mynbayev said on Tuesday.

"Kazakhstan has not yet taken such a decision, but there is such a possibility," Mynbayev told reporters. He declined to say which company or government body represented China in talks with Kazakhstan over Kashagan.

Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest oil producer and the second-largest post-Soviet producer after Russia, has the pre-emptive right to buy out the 8.4-percent stake owned by ConocoPhillips in Kashagan.

ConocoPhillips, which has been shedding overseas assets to cut debt and increase its investment in lower-cost domestic shale oil and gas, has said it intends to sell its Kashagan stake to India's state-run oil and Natural Gas Corp for about $5 billion.

Kazakhstan has until late May to decide whether to buy out the stake of ConocoPhillips, and Mynbayev said that further options would depend on the terms to be proposed by other parties also wishing to own this stake.

He declined to speculate whether India or China would have a better chance of owning the stake.

"If the terms offered by one side are significantly better than those of the other potential buyer, then the logic (of choice) of the authorities of Kazakhstan will be crystal-clear," Mynbayev said.

Kashagan, the world's biggest oilfield discovery in more than 40 years, holds an estimated 30 billion barrels of oil-in-place, of which 8 billion to 12 billion barrels are potentially recoverable, with first production expected in the middle of this year.

Kazakhstan, a vast nation of 17 million, is home to 3 percent of the world's recoverable oil reserves. It has moved in recent years to exert greater management control and secure bigger revenues from foreign-owned oil and gas developments.

Kazakh state oil firm KazMunaiGas first entered the Kashagan consortium in 2005 as a shareholder in 2005 and later doubled its stake to 16.81 percent.

Identical stakes are held by Italy's Eni , U.S. major ExxonMobil , Royal Dutch Shell and France's Total . Japan's Inpex owns 7.56 percent.

(Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Maya Dyakina and Mark Potter)


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Toh Kay: With Any Sort Of Certainty

This is, as animator Scott Benson puts it, "A story about not being OK, and trying to be." But who's to say what constitutes OK? Is it akin to childhood innocence—that which, once stripped, can never be revived? Or is it a more transient state of being, countering the gnawing pain of regret and self-doubt? More »


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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Know the Difference Between Whole Wheat and Enriched Wheat

When you want healthier, nutrient-rich grain products, whole wheat is the way to go. Chances are, however, that you'll find "enriched" wheat products that sound just as good if not better. In reality, they're not worth your money. Alanna Nu?ez, writing for Yahoo, explains why.

Whole grains can be part of a healthy diet, providing essential nutrients such as fiber and minerals, but unless that package of bread you're holding has "100 percent whole-grain" listed as the first (and ideally only) ingredient, it probably only includes a a few whole grains mixed in with enriched wheat flour as the main ingredient.

"The key word to watch out for is 'enrichment'," Dr. [Christine] Gerbstadt says. "The means niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, and iron are added after these and other key nutrients are stripped out in the first place during the refining process, whether it's wheat, rye, or other grains."

Enriched bread offers benefits over your standard white bread, so it's not some awful mess of food science, but if you're looking for a healthier option you should stick with whole wheat. If you want to learn more about what food labels mean, check out our guide.

9 Ingredients Nutritionists Won't Touch | Yahoo! Shine

Photo by Boston Public Library.


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Monday, April 15, 2013

Exclusive: Thermo Fisher nears $12 billion-plus Life Tech deal

By Soyoung Kim and Greg Roumeliotis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc is close to buying genetic testing equipment maker Life Technologies Corp for more than $12 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

An acquisition of Life Technologies would boost Thermo Fisher's presence in scientific research, genetic analysis and applied sciences and make it a major player in the genetic sequencing market, creating a healthcare technology giant with annual revenues of over $16 billion and some 50,000 employees.

Also it would be by far its biggest deal since the $12.8 billion merger in 2006 of Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific International that created the world's largest maker of scientific equipment and laboratory instruments.

Life Technologies' board, which met on Saturday to review three takeover offers, chose Thermo Fisher as the top bidder after the world's largest maker of laboratory equipment raised its bid on Friday to the low $70 per share range, or more than $12 billion, the people said.

A deal could come as soon as Monday, but terms of the agreement are being finalized and the negotiations still could fall apart, the people said.

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher and a private equity consortium, as well as Sigma-Aldrich Corp, a maker of chemicals for research laboratories, submitted another round of bids on Friday after Life Technologies asked for "best and final" offers, the people said.

The people asked not to be named because the matter is not yet public. Thermo Fisher, Life Technologies and Sigma-Aldrich did not respond to requests for comment. Blackstone Group LP, Carlyle Group LP, KKR & Co LP and Temasek Holdings, which are part of the buyout consortium, could not immediately reached for comment.

Carlsbad, California-based Life Technologies, which has a market value of $11.6 billion and debt of about $2.4 billion, sought a higher price from bidders after receiving committed offers on Tuesday, the people familiar with the matter said.

The private equity consortium also raised its offer on Friday from $65 to about $67 per share, short of Thermo Fisher's bid, one of the people said. The price and structure of the offer from Sigma-Aldrich, which has a $9.2 billion market value and has been working with Morgan Stanley on the offer, could not be obtained. Morgan Stanley declined to comment.


Thermo is already a world leader in scientific equipment and laboratory instruments, from the most basic test tubes to advanced mass spectrometry equipment used to determine the chemical structure of molecules.

Thermo also sells chemicals, agents and antibodies used in the manufacturing and research of biotech medicine, and has enhanced its portfolio of environmental safety products for testing air and water quality and food safety in recent years.

The acquisition of Life Technologies will catapult it into the field of genomic-based medicine, in which researchers, drugmakers and doctors are uncovering the genetic underpinnings of disease to better tailor a treatment to the patients most likely to benefit.

Thermo Fisher has been quite acquisitive in recent years, buying Phadia for $3.5 billion in 2011 and Dionex for $2.1 billion in 2010.

Life Technologies is also the product of the combination of two companies - Invitrogen, a maker of cultures used in the manufacture of biotech medicines, and the genetic testing company Applied Biosystems.

Life Technologies said earlier this year that it was undergoing a strategic review and that all options were on the table. But the sale of the company has appeared to be the most likely outcome for months.

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Diane Craft)


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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tears flow as 13 Serbian shooting victims buried

VELIKA IVANCA, Serbia (AP) ? Mourners wailed and church bells tolled Friday in this Serbian village as hundreds came to bury 13 people shot dead by a man some called a quiet, helpful neighbor.

Ljubisa Bogdanovic, a 60-year-old veteran of the Balkan wars, went on a pre-dawn, house-to-house rampage Tuesday in Velika Ivanca, before turning the gun on himself and his wife, police said. The 13 victims included his mother, his son and a 2-year-old boy who was his cousin.

On Friday, the dead lay in coffins ? a dozen brown wooden ones and a small white one for the boy ? all lined up on a red carpet before a small church near the village cemetery. Mourners, many dressed in black, crowded the small graveyard, just a few kilometers (miles) from the scene of the shootings.

Two women, relatives of the boy's family, fainted when his coffin was lowered into the grave.

"Sometimes humans do evil that would shame the devil," Serbian Orthodox Church Bishop Jovan said in a eulogy. "No knowledge can explain why this happened in this quiet village."

The gunman died Thursday in a Belgrade hospital. His 60-year-old-wife is still hospitalized, recovering from shoulder and head wounds.

Police say they do not yet know what motivated Bogdanovic, who had no criminal record or recorded history of mental illness. He fought in the Balkan wars in the 1990s and lost his wood factory job a year ago.

Residents of the village 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Belgrade have expressed deep shock at the rampage.

"I never could have expected this to happen," said Radoslav Stekic, whose mother was killed. "Look around you, there's nobody left here to even say hello to. Look at our village, it has been closed down completely."

The suspect's wife, speaking to doctors from her hospital bed, said Bogdanovic had "a bad temper" and used to beat her and their 42-year-old son who lived with them.

Serbian officials said the killings showed the government must pay more attention to gun control, medical screening for war veterans and other social problems. Police said Bogdanovic had a license for the handgun he used.

No burial plans have been announced for the shooter.


Associated Press correspondent Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.


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