Friday, April 22, 2011

Penn research using frog embryos leads to new understanding of cardiac development

During embryonic development, cells migrate to their eventual location in the adult body plan and begin to differentiate into specific cell types. Thanks to new research at the University of Pennsylvania, there is new insight into how these processes regulate tissues formation in the heart. A developmental biologist at Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine, Jean-Pierre Saint-Jeannet, along with a colleague, Young-Hoon Lee of South Korea's Chonbuk National University, has mapped the embryonic region that becomes the part of the heart that separates the outgoing blood in Xenopus, a genus of frog.

Xenopus is a commonly used model organism for developmental studies, and is a particularly interesting for this kind of research because amphibians have a single ventricle and the outflow tract septum is incomplete.

In higher vertebrates, chickens and mice, the cardiac neural crest provides the needed separation for both circulations at the level of the outflow tract, remodeling one vessel into two. In fish, where there is no separation at all between the two circulations, the cardiac neural crest contributes to all regions of the heart.

"In the frog, we were expecting to find something that was in between fish and higher vertebrates, but that's not the case at all," said Saint-Jeannet. "It turns out that cardiac neural crest cells do not contribute to the outflow tract septum, they stop their migration before entering the outflow tract. The blood separation comes from an entirely different part of the embryo, known as the 'second heart field.'"

"As compared to other models the migration of the cardiac neural crest in amphibians has been dramatically changed through evolution," he said.

Saint-Jeannet's research will be published in the May 15 edition of the journal Development.

To determine where the neural crest cells migrated during development, the researchers labeled the embryonic cells with a fluorescent dye, then followed the path those marked cells took under a microscope. "We label the cardiac neural crest cells in one embryo and then graft them onto an embryo that is unlabeled. We let the embryo develop normally and look where those cells end up in the developing heart," said Saint-Jeannet.

Knowing these paths, and the biological signals that govern them, could have implications for human health.

"There are a number of pathologies in humans that have been associated with abnormal deployment of the cardiac neural crest, such as DiGeorge Syndrome," said Saint-Jeannet. "Among other developmental problems, these patients have an incomplete blood separation at the level of the outflow tract, because the cardiac neural crest does not migrate and differentiate at the proper location."

DiGeorge syndrome is present in about 1 in 4,000 live births, and often requires cardiac surgery to correct.

"Xenopus could be a great model to study the signals that cause those cells to migrate into the outflow tract of the heart,' said Saint-Jeannet. "If you can understand the signals that prevent or promote the colonization of this tissue, you can understand the pathology of something like DiGeorge syndrome and perhaps figure out what kind of molecule we can introduce there to force those cells to migrate further down."

Signaling pathway reveals mechanism for B cell differentiation in immune response

An article in Science Signaling by researchers at the RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology (RCAI) has clarified for the first time the mechanism governing differentiation of B cells into antibody-producing plasma cells. The finding establishes a role for the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway in B cell differentiation, a key step toward the development of B cell-targeted drugs for treatment of autoimmune diseases and allergies. As the only cells in the body that produce antibodies, B cells play an essential role in the immune system's defense against bacteria and viruses. Differentiation of B cells into antibody-producing plasma cells is central to this role, initiating the production of antibodies whose targeted binding mechanism enables the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects. The mechanism underlying this differentiation process, however, remains unknown.

To better understand this mechanism, the research group focused on the signaling of the extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK), intracellular signaling molecules known to play an important role in the cell cycle and survival of immune cells. Hoping to glean insights into the role of ERKs in B cell differentiation into plasma cells, the researchers generated mice deficient in two different ERKs, ERK1 and ERK2, and studied the effect of this deficiency on the fate of B cells.

What they found confirmed that ERKs are in fact essential to B cell differentiation: B cells in mice without these key molecules were unable to form plasma cells (Figure 1). The researchers further traced this observation to a gene called Prdm1 encoding the protein BLIMP-1, increased expression of which leads to differentiation and proliferation of plasma cells in B cell immune response (Figure 2). ERKs, they discovered, phosphorylate the transcription factor Elk1, which leads to expression of Blimp-1

By elucidating the role of ERKs in B cell differentiation, the current research provides valuable insight into a little-understood area of immune response, promising advances in drug discovery and offering hope to autoimmune disease and allergy sufferers around the world.

Researchers create functioning synapse using carbon nanotubes

Engineering researchers the University of Southern California have made a significant breakthrough in the use of nanotechnologies for the construction of a synthetic brain. They have built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron, the building block of the brain. The team, which was led by Professor Alice Parker and Professor Chongwu Zhou in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, used an interdisciplinary approach combining circuit design with nanotechnology to address the complex problem of capturing brain function.

In a paper published in the proceedings of the IEEE/NIH 2011 Life Science Systems and Applications Workshop in April 2011, the Viterbi team detailed how they were able to use carbon nanotubes to create a synapse.

Carbon nanotubes are molecular carbon structures that are extremely small, with a diameter a million times smaller than a pencil point. These nanotubes can be used in electronic circuits, acting as metallic conductors or semiconductors.

"This is a necessary first step in the process," said Parker, who began the looking at the possibility of developing a synthetic brain in 2006. "We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses per neuron?"

Parker emphasized that the actual development of a synthetic brain, or even a functional brain area is decades away, and she said the next hurdle for the research centers on reproducing brain plasticity in the circuits.

The human brain continually produces new neurons, makes new connections and adapts throughout life, and creating this process through analog circuits will be a monumental task, according to Parker.

She believes the ongoing research of understanding the process of human intelligence could have long-term implications for everything from developing prosthetic nanotechnology that would heal traumatic brain injuries to developing intelligent, safe cars that would protect drivers in bold new ways.

For Jonathan Joshi, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student who is a co-author of the paper, the interdisciplinary approach to the problem was key to the initial progress. Joshi said that working with Zhou and his group of nanotechnology researchers provided the ideal dynamic of circuit technology and nanotechnology.

"The interdisciplinary approach is the only approach that will lead to a solution. We need more than one type of engineer working on this solution," said Joshi. "We should constantly be in search of new technologies to solve this problem."

PGI to Get a New Director by Month End

The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) is all set to get a new institute director. The Institute Body (IB) has forwarded names of Dr.Y K Chawla, Dr. Amod Gupta and Dr. Raj Bahadur to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) which is headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The decision will be taken in the 29th April meeting of the committee.

The meeting of the special selection committee under the chairmanship of Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was conducted on Thursday which finalized on the 3 names. The PGI Governing Body will also finalize the promotion and selection of the Institute's faculty members.

The tenure of present PGI director, Prof KK Talwar will be completed on 30th April. If the final decision does not come before this month end, the senior most faculty member will hold the charge for sometime. This would either be the dean, Dr. Amod or Dr. V. Sakhuja (head of the nephrology department).

Gather Bit-by-bit Info on Breast Cancer Treatment

A recent study has found that women who gather bit by bit information about breast cancer treatment and take some time to decide about the treatment regime are more likely to take wiser decisions than those who end up making all decisions in haste.

Researchers studied whether asking women to make a series of simpler choices instead of one complex decision would help them understand when aggressive post-surgery therapies like chemotherapy would actually yield larger benefits.

The researchers found that the women who were not good with numbers got confused when offered with as few as four treatment options at once. They chose chemotherapy regardless of whether their benefit would be 1% or 5%, while women who were good with numbers made a smarter choice. Professor Zikmund-Fisher added, "Even women who are good with numbers benefit from having information presented piece-by-piece because they can better understand how much benefit comes from each treatment option." These findings clarify about physician-patient communication.

Seaweed shake may help you lose weight: Study

London: Want to shed those extra kilos? Have a glass of seaweed shake every morning, as scientists say it will suppress your hunger pangs and help you feel full for a long period.

Researchers at the Unilever Research & Development inVlaardingen, the Netherlands, found that adding the seaweed extract alginate to a chocolate milkshake reduces hunger of study participants by nearly 30 per cent.

Harry Peters, who led the research, said: "Many differentdiets and diet programmes can be effective in reducing weight.

"However, many subjects fail to adhere to these diets andthe reduction in weight is therefore not achieved or maintained," Peters was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail. "Delaying the return of hunger after consumption can potentially increase consumer satisfaction with weight control programmes and reduced-energy food products and encourage long-term compliance with a reduced-energy diet."

For the study, the researchers recruited a group of 23 healthy volunteers who consumed the drink containing various levels of alginate in place of a meal and reported their levels of hunger and fullness over the next five hours.

The volunteers who had the highest amounts of the alginate-based drink for breakfast felt up to 30 per cent less hungry five hours later than those who had a normal milkshake. And the alginate did nothing to alter the flavour of the shake, with the participants saying it was just as pleasant as the real thing.

According to the researchers, the form of alginate used turns into a gel in the acidic environment of the stomach, and the calcium adds to the gel's thickness.

This creates a feeling of fullness, as well as holding food in the stomach for longer, they said.

The scientists, who detailed their study in the journal Obesity, said their findings pave the way for a range of foods that keep us feeling fuller for longer and make it easier to resist snacks between meals.

The research, however, did not look at whether those who drank the alginate shakes ate less for lunch.

Mallika Sherawat's Tea With President Obama

Bollywood's sex symbol Mallika Sherawat met with US President Barack Obama on Thursday in Los Angeles. Mallika was invited to have tea with the US President.

According to reports, President Obama has asked Mallika to invite him to the premiere of her soon-to-release film Politics of Love, Barack, a rom-com on the 2008 presidential elections.

Mallika had shifted her base to Los Angeles to try her luck in Hollywood, the Murder girl has now returned to Bollywood and will be seen in Dhamaal 2.

Samsung files lawsuits against Apple

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. said it is suing Apple Inc. for patent rights violations, only days after Apple sued Samsung for the same reason.

Samsung is accusing Apple of violating its rights to 10 smartphone and computer patents. The company filed lawsuits Thursday in Seoul, Tokyo and Mannheim, Germany.

The lawsuits come only days after Apple sued Samsung in a California court. Apple alleges Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones and tablet computers copy Apple’s popular iPad and iPhone.

The lawsuits are the latest in a long string of patent disputes among phone makers. In recent years Apple, Microsoft Corp., Nokia Corp., HTC Corp. and others have taken legal action to protect their intellectual property rights.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Apple, Google, and Location: Is It All About Advertising?

Politicians and privacy experts demanded answers of Google and Apple Friday following the discovery that smartphone software from the tech giants regularly transmits information about a user's whereabouts back to the companies.

Both Google and Apple remained mum about why the data is sent. But Apple may already have tipped its hand in explaining one reason the iPhone phones home: advertising.

The company's iAd network, launched last July, quite regularly receives location data from its gadgets, stores it in massive databases -- and uses the information to send just the right ad to your cellphone.

"Information is transmitted securely to the Apple iAd server via a cellular network connection or Wi-Fi Internet connection," explained a letter Apple sent to U.S. Rep Edward Markey, D-Mass., on July 12 in response to his request for information. "The latitude/longitude coordinates are converted immediately by the server to a five-digit ZIP code."

"Apple then uses the ZIP code to select a relevant ad for the customer," the letter explains.

But many remain concerned that the information isn't being kept confidential -- or even kept safe at all.

Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden discovered that the operating system powering the iPhone and iPad stores a file of everywhere you go -- every trip to the park, family vacation and more.

"It became clear that there was a scary amount of detail on our movements [in the iPhone]," they said, data that could be used by "anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements."

Google Android phones collect location every few seconds and transmit that data to company servers at least several times an hour, according to research by security analyst Samy Kamkar.

Google purchased mobile-advertising provider AdMob in November 2009 for $750 million dollars. It's possible the company uses this information for similar purposes. But regardless, this isn't new information, said Iain Gillott, president of wireless industry analysis firm iGR. It's gone on for ages, in fact.

"I don't think there's anything too sinister going on," Gillott told

"The iPhone forever and a day has tracked location and stored it on the phone. It puts it in a locked file that's buried within the operating system. That’s not new. It's done that for years," he told

Gillott speculated that Apple may be using this information for network regulation, as well as advertising.

Indeed, countless apps use location information in a variety of ways. Check-in apps such as Foursquare use your location -- and send it to other people. Google Maps relies on your location. Mobile games, productivity tools, restaurant recommenders and more all need to know where you are to give you data.

"The issue is how aware we are as consumers of what we're trading and what we get in return," Noah Elkin, senior analyst at eMarketer, told

And that's where the two companies have gotten into hot water.

Both companies have explicit policies and mechanisms to turn off the tracking, of course. But Google's mobile privacy policy is almost stunningly vague. "If you use location-enabled products and services, such as Google Maps for mobile, you may be sending us location information. This information may reveal your actual location, such as GPS data, or it may not, such as when you submit a partial address to look at a map of the area."

Google and Apple are racing to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via their cellphones, the Wall Street Journal reported. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services -- expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner.

Anyone who collects location information wants to do so ultimately with the idea of better targeting location and marketing," Elkin said.

But it's not all about location. Pairing that information with other customer data could allow a company to build massively detailed profiles of who you are and where you are.

"Just because you know I'm in Austin doesn't tell you anything about me," Gilliott said. But pull all the other activity and everything else I do and you can build a really good profile of me.

"Location is an enabler. It makes information about you hugely more useful," he said.

Amazon failure takes down sites across Internet

NEW YORK — struggled Friday morning to restore computers used by other major websites such as Reddit as an outage stretched beyond 24 hours.

Though better known for selling books, DVDs and other consumer goods, Amazon also rents out space on huge computer servers that run many websites and other online services.

The problems began at an Amazon data centre near Dulles Airport outside Washington early Thursday. On Friday morning, Amazon's status page said the recovery effort was making progress, but it couldn't say when all affected computers would be restored.

Most of the sites that were brought down by the outage on Thursday were back up on Friday, but news-sharing site Reddit was still in "emergency read-only mode," and smaller sites were still reporting trouble.

Location-sharing social network Foursquare and HootSuite, which lets users monitor Twitter and other social networks more easily, appeared to have recovered.

Many other companies that use Amazon Web Services, like Netflix Inc. and Zynga Inc., which runs Facebook games, were unscathed by the outage. Amazon has at least one other major U.S. data centre that stayed up, in California.

It's not uncommon for Internet services to become inaccessible due to technical problems, sometimes for hours or even days. But the outage is notable because Amazon's servers are so commonly used, meaning many sites went down at once.

Amazon, which had not responded to requests for comment, has not revealed how many companies use its Web services or how many were affected by the outage.

No one knew for sure how many people were inconvenienced, but the services affected are used by millions.

Amazon Web Services provide "cloud" or utility-style computing in which customers pay only for the computing power and storage they need, on remote computers.

Seattle-based Amazon has big plans for AWS. Although it now makes up just a few percent of the company's revenue, CEO Jeff Bezos said last year that it could eventually be as large as Amazon's retail business. Competitors include Rackspace Hosting Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s Azure platform.

Some people consider cloud computing more reliable than conventional hosting services in which a small company might rent a handful of computers in a data centre.

If one of them malfunctions, the failure can take down a website. But "clouds" like AWS use vast banks of computers. If one fails, the tasks that it performs, such as running a website or a game, can immediately be taken over by others.

When a company needs more capacity, maybe because of a surge in visitors to its website, it only takes minutes to rent more computers from Amazon.

But cloud computing isn't immune to failure, either.

Lydia Leong, an analyst for the tech research firm Gartner, said that judging by details posted on Amazon's AWS status page, a network connection failed Thursday morning, triggering an automatic recovery mechanism that then also failed.

Amazon's computers are divided into groups that are supposed to be independent of each other. If one group fails, others should stay up. And customers are encouraged to spread the computers they rent over several groups to ensure reliable service. But Thursday's problem took out many groups simultaneously.

Outages with Amazon's services are rare but not unprecedented. In 2008, several companies lost access to their own files for about two hours when one of Amazon's data centres failed. The companies included DigitalChalk Inc., which delivers multimedia training over the Web.

In general, Amazon Web Services have been more reliable and, above all, cheaper than many other hosting systems, said Josh Cochrane, vice president of product development at Palo Alto Software in Eugene, Ore.

But the firm's websites and Web-based applications that create business plans were all brought down by Thursday's crash.

"It's a pretty vulnerable feeling," he said. "This is a really big message to us that we need to revisit our strategy."

That might include spreading the applications more widely over Amazon's network, so that problems at one data centre won't bring down everything, he said.

Amazon engineers struggled throughout the day to rectify the problem. Leong said the problems are of a type that's not covered by Amazon's money-back guarantees.

Amazon shares rose $2.02, or 1.1 percent, to close Thursday at $185.89.

Central bank rider to Enam-Axis deal

RBI objects to Bhansali’s induction to the bank’s board

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has approved, in principle, Axis Bank’s acquisition of select businesses of Enam Securities, but objected to the induction of Vallabh Bhansali, co-founder and chairman of the broking company, on the bank’s board.

Bhansali’s induction on the bank’s board as an independent director was a part of the deal.

“Other terms of the RBI’s in-principle approval include the stipulation that no shareholder of Enam Securities acquiring shares of Axis Bank under the scheme of arrangement would be eligible for being a director on the board of the bank,” the bank said in a statement.

Axis Bank’s Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer, Somnath Sengupta, said the bank had not decided if Bhansali would be included in the bank in any other role.

“The bank is in the process of examining the implications of the conditions laid down by the RBI, and is reviewing the scheme of arrangement in order to proceed with the completion of the transaction,” he said.

The central bank also asked Axis to revise the scheme of accounting and the eventual structure of the business proposed to be acquired.

Sengupta said the acquisition was expected to be completed in a couple of months. He dismissed reports that the RBI had raised objections on the valuation of the deal.

In November, Axis Bank had said it would merge the equities and investment banking businesses of Enam Securities. The deal size is estimated to be Rs 2,067 crore. Shareholders of Enam are to get 5.7 shares of Axis Bank for every share held in the broking company.

Toyota's auto production to recover by year-end

TOKYO,   -- Toyota Motor Corp. announced Friday that its production levels would begin to approach optimal levels by November or December.

The world's largest automaker has been severely hamstrung following the March 11 quake and tsunami damaging the automaker's facilities in Japan and power shortages forcing its factories to slash electricity usage.

Toyota stated that levels of production in Japan will normalize around July and their overseas operations in August, with efforts to get production back on track completed by the end of the year.

"I visited the affected areas several times," said Toyota President Akio Toyota at a press conference Friday announcing the normalization timeline. "I saw people's efforts first hand, and I was filled with confidence that their hard work would make possible a quicker recovery of production."

Toyota has resumed production at all its plants in Japan and said that supply chain disruptions were being resolved steadily, however production in plants in China and North America will still be adversely affected by some parts supply snags, the automaker said.

Reliance net up 25 % at Rs.20,286 crore

Reliance Industries has reported a net profit of Rs. 20,286 crore for the year ended March 31, 2011, against Rs. 16,236 crore in the previous year, a rise of 25 per cent.

For the fourth quarter ended March 31, 2011, the company reported a 14 per cent rise in net profit at Rs. 5,376 crore against Rs. 4,710 crore in the year-ago period.

The board of directors has recommended a dividend of Rs. 8 per share of Rs. 10 each, aggregating Rs. 2,772 crore, including dividend distribution tax.

The turnover for the year ended March 31, 2011, was Rs. 258,651 crore, an increase of 29 per cent over the previous year. Exports were higher by 33 per cent at Rs. 146,667 crore against Rs. 110,176 crore in the previous year.

Consumption of raw materials increased by 31 per cent to Rs. 193,234 crore mainly on account of higher crude oil prices as well as higher volume of crude oil processed in the SEZ refinery.

Staff costs were Rs. 2,624 crore for the year against Rs. 2,350 crore, reflecting increased benefits to personnel. Other expenditure increased by 27 per cent from Rs. 12,563 crore to Rs. 15,965 crore due to lower capitalisation of pre-operative expenditure, higher selling expenses on additional volumes primarily from the SEZ refinery, royalty on higher oil and gas production and higher shutdown expenses in refining and petrochemicals.

The operating profit, before other income and depreciation, increased by 25 per cent from Rs. 30,581 crore to Rs. 38,126 crore. Other income was higher by 24 per cent at Rs. 3,052 crore against Rs. 2,460 crore primarily due to higher average cash balances. Depreciation (including depletion and amortisation) was higher by 30 per cent at Rs. 13,608 crore against Rs. 10,497 crore mainly on account of higher depletion charge in the oil and gas business and incremental depreciation due to the SEZ refinery.

Interest cost was higher at Rs. 2,328 crore against Rs. 1,997 crore due to lower capitalisation of interest charges.

Basic earnings per share (EPS) for the year stood at Rs. 62 against Rs. 49.70. Outstanding debt as on March 31, 2011 was Rs.67,397 crore against Rs.62,495 crore as on March 31, 2010.“Reliance had a record year with strong financial and operating performance. Global economic growth, emerging markets demand and tightness in the markets led to recovery in refining margins and record petrochemical earnings. Reliance also entered into a strategic partnership with BP to exploit the full potential of its domestic upstream portfolio. Joint ventures in shale gas diversified our portfolio and are creating new competencies. Our committed investments in core business and new initiatives are expected to result in sustained earnings growth,” said Mukesh D. Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of the company.

India And China Are Rising: Obama

Washington : US President Barack Obama today said that America needs to adapt to a changing world wherein countries like India and China are rising and areas like the Middle East are becoming less stable.

“We were seeing changes around the world—countries like China and India rising; areas like the Middle East becoming less stable; the world shrinking because of technology, much of it invented right here in this region,” Obama said in his remarks at a fund raising event in San Francisco.

“So I think we understood that we were going to have to adapt in some fundamental way in order to make sure that our kids and our grandkids ended up inheriting the kind of America that we inherited,” he said.

Noting that there are moments in history that are inflection points, Obama said he understood this in 2008 that the US was entering into one of those periods.

“Domestically, we had gone through a decade in which the economy was growing but it was growing on top of a bubble.  And people at the very top were doing very well, but the wages and incomes of ordinary families had flatlined, and we were starting as a government to live beyond our means with tax cuts and two wars that weren’t paid for,” he said.

“So I think people understood even before the recession hit that somehow the way our economy was operating was not conducive to long-term sustained economic growth or making sure that everybody had a chance at the American Dream,” Obama said.

Soon thereafter his speech was interrupted by a group of people attending the fundraising. Through a song they protested against the alleged mistreatment of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning.

Earlier this week, Obama created controversy by targeting “cheap health care” in countries like India and Mexico arguing that Americans should avail of “high quality” treatment available here.

“My preference would be that you don’t have to travel to Mexico or India to get cheap health care. I’d like you to be able to get it right here in the United States of America that is high quality,” Obama said at a community college in Virginia.

Earleir, Obama’s remarks on American companies outsourcing jobs to Indian firms had stirred a controversy in India. PTI

US To Give Pak 85 Mini-Drones

Islamabad   The United States will provide Pakistan with 85 small ‘Raven’ drone aircraft, a U.S. military official said on Thursday.

This is supposed to be a key step to meeting Islamabad's calls for access to U.S. drone technology.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to disclose the cost or model of the non-lethal, short-range aircraft, which are manufactured by the U.S.-based AeroVironment Inc.

Meanwhile, in another fresh Drone attack on early Friday morning, a US Drone killed at least seven people after it fired five missiles at a compound housing Taliban militants in Spinwam, 40 km northeast of Miranshah in North Waziristan.

Obama Approves Use Of Armed Drones In Libya

Washington:  President Barack Obama has approved the use of armed drones in Libya, authorizing U.S. airstrikes on ground forces for the first time since America turned over control of the operation to NATO on April 4.It also is the first time that drones will be used for airstrikes since the conflict began on March 19, although they have routinely been flying surveillance missions, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Thursday.

He said the U.S. will provide up to two 24-hour combat air patrols each day by the unmanned Predators.Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the drones can help counteract the pro-Gaddafi forces' tactic of traveling in civilian vehicles that make it difficult to distinguish them from rebel forces.

"What they will bring that is unique to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on targets that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions," Cartwright said. "They are uniquely suited for urban areas."He added, "It's very difficult to pick friend from foe. So a vehicle like the Predator that can get down lower and can get IDs better helps us."

Gates rejected the notion that the approval of drone strikes means that the U.S. will slowly get pulled back into a more active combat role, despite Obama's promise to merely provide support for NATO.

U.S. forces played a lead role in the early days of the conflict, launching an onslaught of cruise missiles and bombs on Gaddafi's surface-to-air missiles sites and advancing regime troops.

But with American forces stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the humanitarian operations in Japan, the Pentagon turned the mission over to NATO, saying it would only do limited airstrikes to take out air defenses. The U.S., said Obama, would no longer do airstrikes to protect the civilian population.Gates said that bringing in the Predators will give NATO a critical capability that the U.S. can uniquely contribute.

"I think this is a very limited additional role on our part, but it does provide some additional capabilities to NATO," said Gates. "And if we can make a modest contribution with these armed Predators, we'll do it. ... I don't think any of us sees that as mission creep."He said Obama has been clear that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground and that the main strike role would belong to the allies.

The first Predator mission since Obama's go-ahead was flown Thursday but the aircraft -- armed with Hellfire missiles -- turned back due to poor weather conditions without firing any of its munitions, Cartwright said.

Gates, who publicly expressed skepticism about getting involved militarily in Libya before Obama endorsed the limited intervention, said "the real work" of overthrowing Moammar Gaddafi will have to be done by the Libyans themselves.

While he acknowledged the conflict "is likely to take a while," Gates also said the ongoing sanctions, arms embargo and NATO-led offensive have weakened Gaddafi's military and eaten away at his supplies and cash. Over the long term, Gates said, that will hurt the regime's ability to strike back at oppositions forces, if they rise up again in other cities.

At the same time, however, Gates said the administration's decision to provide $25 million in nonlethal military assistance to the rebels did not signal a deeper U.S. commitment to anti-Gaddafi forces whose makeup, objectives and motives are still not fully understood in Washington.

The aid, he said, is not high-end military equipment but rather a hodge-podge of things like uniforms and canteens."I'm not worried about our canteen technology falling into the wrong hands," he joked.Asked how long he believes it will take the NATO-led air campaign to succeed, Gates replied, "The honest answer to that is, nobody knows."

In other comments, Gates did not rule out major military program cuts to meet Obama's goal to slash another $400 billion from the country's national security spending over the next 12 years. But he laid out some programs he believes are vital, including the new Air Force refueling tanker and the replacement of some Navy ships.

"The worst of all possible worlds, in my view, is to give the entire Department of Defense a haircut -- basically (saying) everybody is going to cut X percent," Gates said, adding that he's had one meeting with staff on the issue.

Instead, he said the Pentagon must lay out options and the risks involved if particular cuts are made and how they would affect military missions.He added that he does not know how much of the cut the Pentagon will be expected to take.AP

Draft Lokpal Bill Expected To Be Ready By June 30: Moily

Bangalore  : The government intends to complete the draft of the Lokpal Bill by June 30 and table it in the monsoon session of parliament, Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily said today.

With allegations levelled against some civil society members of the joint committee on the Lokpal bill, Moily said “we should not give more credence to such allegations.  Arguments and counter-arguments should not dilute such an important step”.

“What is important is the dedication, willingness and determination to table the important bill. When the government is determined to table the bill, all others should cooperate”, Moily said.

To another question, Moily said the draft bill would be formulated by all the members of the joint committee. “All their views will be taken into account and the bill will be formulated through a consensus”.

He said even though social activist Anna Hazare did not indicate the deadline for drafting the Lokpal Bill, “suo moto we want to complete it (drafting) by June 30 and we aim to introduce the bill in the monsoon session of parliament”.

“Emotions aside, all of us need to work together to bring out a strong Lokpal Bill”, he said responding to a query on the threat by Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, a committee member, that he was contemplating to quit the panel as he was fed up with the allegations  against its members.

Refusing to comment on the sense of hurt expressed by Hegde over Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s statements, Moily said “people are entitled to their emotions. I would not like to comment on this. However, what is important is the implementation of a strong Lokpal Bill”. PTI

Polling Begins For Second Phase In West Bengal

Kolkata : Polling began this morning in 50 constituencies for the second of the six-phase Assembly elections in West Bengal in which an electorate of 93.33 lakh will decide the fate of 293 candidates.  Tight security arrangements are in place for peaceful polling in 22 constituencies in Murshidabad, 17 in Nadia and 11 in Birbhum, having a total of 11,531 polling stations.

Some of the prominent candidates whose fortunes will be decided are Abhijit Mukhkerjee, son of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee from Nalhati seat, Panchayat minister and CPI(M) leader Anisur Rahaman, former High Court Judge Nure Alam Chowdhury, a Trinamool Congress candidate contesting from Murarai and Rukbanur Rahman, brother of late computer graphics teacher Rizwanur Rahman from the Chapra constituency.

BJP has fielded candidates in all seats, followed by CPI(M) in 31, Trinamool Congress in 29, BSP in 27 and Congress in 21 seats.Police said 480 companies of central para-military forces have been deployed in the three districts.The six-phase election is scheduled to end on May 10.PTI

Rajesh Talwar 'Misled' The Judiciary, CBI Tells Apex Court

New Delhi : In another twist to the Aarushi -Hemraj double murder case, the CBI has accused dentist Rajesh Talwar of forging documents, concealing facts and misleading the Supreme Court to get relief from prosecution in the trial court.

In an affidavit filed before the apex court, CBI’s superintendent Neelabh Kishore alleged that Rajesh, in his appeal against the trial court, had deliberately taken a false plea that he was released on bail in July 2008 which was totally contrary to facts.

A bench of justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar which took on record the affidavit after it was mentioned by the CBI counsel said it would take up the issue on Monday when the matter would come up for hearing.  The CBI clarified that Rajesh was released after the agency did not seek extension of his judicial custody as at that time the investigators did not find sufficient material against him.

Seeking dismissal of the plea by Rajesh and his dentist wife Nupur challenging the criminal proceedings initiated against them for the murders, the CBI alleged the bail application annexed along with the appeal was forged as no such document existed.

Contrary to the dentist’s claim that he had moved a bail application under Section 437 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the CBI said that the trial court had ordered Rajesh’s release after the agency filed an application under Section 169 of CrPc.

The agency had then told the special court that it did not have sufficient evidence against him at that stage.  The CBI further pointed out that Rajesh’s bail claim was not mentioned in Nupur’s separate appeal, challenging the same criminal proceedings against the Talwars.  The CBI while referring to the “discrepancy” said Nupur had stated clearly that her husband was set free after CBI did not seek his further remand.

According to the agency the trial court on March 3 issued bailable warrants that were executed against the couple on March 10, but the Talwars did not disclose this fact before the SC.

“It is a settled law that at the stage of taking cognisance, sufficiency of evidence for conviction is not to be considered at that stage. It is further submitted that it is settled law that even at the stage of framing of charge, which is subsequent to the summoning of accused, truth, veracity and effect of the material is not to be judged”, the CBI said seeking dismissal of the appeal.  The agency said Rajesh was accorded an opportunity to present his case by filing a protest petition, though it wasn’t required under the law.

On March, 19 the Supreme Court despite it being a public holiday held an urgent hearing at 7 pm and stayed the Allahabad High Court order that had refused to set aside a special Ghaziabad CBI court direction, summoning the dentist couple in the murder case.

The HC had dismissed their plea, seeking quashing of the proceedings initiated by the lower court which not only refused to accept the closure report of the CBI but also summoned the couple as accused in the case.

14-year-old Aarushi was found dead with her throat slit at her Noida residence on the outskirts of Delhi on May 16, 2008 and the body of their domestic help, Hemraj, was found on the terrace the next day. PTI

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