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WHO Raises Pandemic Alert Level


SWINE FLU: The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert level for the deadly swine flu virus, signaling that the infection is spreading among humans in community-level outbreaks. Meanwhile, the death toll has risen in Mexico, where the outbreak originated. Mexican health officials announced late Monday that 152 people are now believed to have died from swine flu, while 1,600 others have been sickened. The updated death toll came hours after WHO officials raised its alert level (one step to Phase 4 -- two steps below the full-blown pandemic phase). The United States says it is responding to the outbreak as if it will grow into a full pandemic.

MEXICO - SWINE FLU: Health officials in Mexico say there are signs the virus that causes swine flu is spreading, and government efforts to control it are not working. The officials say the early cases of the disease in Mexico were limited to the central part of the country. But there are now cases being reported all across the nation. There is concern that large border cities, like Juarez, where people are crowded together in poor neighborhoods could be particularly susceptible to the flu. Health officials are urging people to seek medical attention if they develop severe flu symptoms.

SOMALIA - PIRATES: A Spanish warship has captured nine suspected pirates believed to be the gunmen who attacked an Italian cruise liner. Officials in the Seychelles islands say Spanish forces handed the suspects to the Seychellian coast guard after catching them in the Indian Ocean on Monday. Seychellian officials say the pirates may be put on trial locally. Pirates tried to hijack the Italian cruise ship Melody as it sailed north of the Seychelles on Saturday, with about 1,500 on board. Crew members and security forces repelled the attack using guns and a fire hose.

VENEZUELA - PERU: Venezuela has recalled its ambassador to Peru after Lima granted political asylum to Venezuela's opposition leader who is wanted on corruption charges in his home nation. Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde announced Monday that Venezuela's opposition leader Manuel Rosales would be granted asylum in accordance with Peru's commitment to international law. Garcia said he hoped the decision would not strain relations with Venezuela. Venezuelan authorities said Interpol had issued an alert for Rosales' arrest, saying he had failed to appear at a court hearing to face the charges against him.

THAILAND - VIOLENCE: Thai police say suspected Muslim insurgents in Thailand's restive south have killed nine people in a flurry of attacks ahead of key anniversary. Police say that in the deadliest incident at least six gunmen stormed into a house in Yala province late Monday, opening fire on a Muslim family of five, killing four of them including a 16-year-old girl. Police believe the same group of men also killed two other Muslim men found dead at a nearby mosque. Authorities say they believe that insurgents are trying to stir up tensions between Muslims and Buddhists in southern Thailand.

CHINA - VIETNAM: China has lashed out at a decision by Vietnam to appoint an official to run a disputed island group in the South China Sea, calling it an illegal and invalid move. Last Saturday, Vietnam appointed Dang Cong Ngu to be chairman of the People's Committee of the Paracel Islands (Hoang Sa in Vietnamese), which it claims as part of its territory. In a statement released Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu re-asserted Beijing's claim to the Paracel islands (Xisha in Chinese), arguing that China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters.

INDONESIA - SUSPECT: A Singaporean man who says he met with Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday for killing an Indonesian teacher and plotting an attack on a bar frequented by non-Muslims. Mohammad Hasan bin Saynudin was defiant as he was led into the South Jakarta District Court and boasted about his exploits. As the judge read his verdict, Saynudin yelled "God is great, God is Great!" He told reporters afterwards that he should be given a medal instead of being thrown into prison. Saynudin was arrested with nine other Islamic militants on the island of Sumatra last July.

OBAMA RACE RELATIONS: A new public opinion poll indicates African-Americans are feeling more optimistic about the state of race relations in the United States, nearly 100 days after Barack Obama was sworn in as the first black president. A survey conducted by The New York Times and CBS News shows 59 percent of blacks and 65 percent of whites say relations between the two races are good. A poll taken about six months ago showed just 29 percent of African-Americans had positive feelings about race relations.

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