- - Thursday, February 24, 2011


Project to study biosecurity threats

MILAN, Italy | The threat is all too real, researchers say: foreign insects introduced in an area with no natural defenses with the aim of destabilizing the economy, food supply or both.

An $8.2 million project funded by the European Commission will study how to prevent and respond to biological threats to the world’s crops and forests.

The five-year project will bring together researchers from eight nations, including Italy, the United States, Israel and Turkey. It began operations on Feb. 1, but was launched officially Thursday in Turin.

The Plant and Food Biosecurity project, based at the University of Turin, is not meant to create alarm. Many of the responses that will be studied also can be used to prevent and identify the natural but potentially destabilizing migration of insects and pests, said Director Maria Lodovica Gullino.


March 4 trial set for accused U.S. spy

HAVANA | Cuba on Thursday set a March 4 trial date for U.S. contractor Alan Gross, whose prolonged incarceration on charges of spying has become a major sticking point in efforts to normalize bilateral relations.

Mr. Gross, a 61-year-old State Department contractor, was arrested in December 2009 on suspicion that he was a U.S. spy who was distributing cell phones and laptops to opponents of President Raul Castro’s communist regime.

Cuba drew a furious response from the Obama administration when Havana announced this month that it would seek a 20-year prison term for Mr. Gross, who Washington says has been detained unjustly for 14 months.

The trial date was announced on the Cuban government’s official website.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley responded to the announcement in a Twitter message Thursday. “We hope he receives a fair trial and is allowed to come home. What he did is not a crime,” he said.


Zimbabwe eyed as uranium source

VIENNA, Austria | Iran is expanding its covert global search for the uranium it needs for its nuclear activities and a key focus is Zimbabwe, says an intelligence report acquired by the Associated Press.

The report is in line with international assessments that Iran’s domestic supplies cannot sustain its nuclear program that could be turned toward making weapons.

An intelligence report from a member country of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - shared with the AP by an official from that nation - says Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met secretly last month with senior Zimbabwean mining officials “to resume negotiations … for the benefit of Iran’s uranium procurement plan.”

“This follows work carried out by Iranian engineers to map out uranium deposits in Africa and assess the amount of uranium they contain,” said the two-page intelligence summary.

The report - confirmed independently by an official from another IAEA country - was shared as an Iranian delegation led by the head of the Cooperative Ministry, Abbas Johari, was meeting Thursday with “agriculture and mining interests” in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.


Karzai seeks calm after civilian deaths

KABUL | President Hamid Karzai is trying to calm the fears of Afghans rattled by a spate of violence that has killed scores of civilians across the nation.

In an address Thursday on Afghan radio, Mr. Karzai boasted of his government’s efforts to seek peace with insurgents and criticized the U.S.-led NATO coalition.

Mr. Karzai claimed that 150 civilians had been killed in recent days by militants, as well as international troops who were employing what he called an “unsuccessful” war strategy.

Afghan tribal leaders said more than 50 civilians were killed in coalition operations in Kunar province in northeastern Afghanistan. NATO contested the claim, saying that video of operations on Feb. 17 showed troops targeting and killing dozens of insurgents, not civilians.

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