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Densely packed slums, rampant mosquitoes and a history of rapidly spreading infections make Asia particularly vulnerable to the devastating Zika virus, posing a massive challenge for the region, health experts warn.

Thailand confirmed Tuesday that a man contracted the mosquito-borne infection, blamed for a surge in the number of brain-damaged babies in South America, while Indonesia has also reported a domestic case.

The cases in Asia come as top US health authorities confirmed this week a patient in Texas contracted the Zika virus through sexual transmission, fuelling fears the disease may spread rapidly.

Officials in India worry it could be next, noting that the Zika and dengue fever-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito thrives in the high-density communities of its teeming cities, where sanitation is often poor.

"In India particularly there is a great threat of the Zika virus spreading quickly given the presence of the Aedes mosquito and favourable environment," said Om Shrivastav, an infectious diseases specialist.

 

"It would definitely be a big challenge for Asian countries to control the spread of the virus... considering high population in the region," added Shrivastav, who is based in Mumbai, home to Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum.

More than half of Mumbai's 20 million inhabitants live in slums -- at least one million reside in Dharavi alone -- enduring cramped conditions, poor ventilation and a lack of toilets.

Every summer monsoon, heavy rains lash Mumbai for four months, flooding parts of the city, including the slums' maze of alleyways, which become fertile breeding grounds for mosquitos and lead to a massive spike in tropical diseases.

Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research, warned against panicking but said a surge of dengue cases worldwide recently, was a cause for concern.

"(Because of) the way dengue has spread over the last several years across continents and across countries, (and with) Zika being a mosquito borne illness, there is a potential for spread," she told Indian news channel NDTV.

 

Zika, which was first identified in Uganda in 1947, causes relatively mild flu-like symptoms and a rash.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) said it "strongly suspected" the Zika virus of being responsible for a rapid rise in cases of microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain.

Latin American countries, particularly Brazil, have reported a leap in cases of microcephaly since the Zika outbreak was declared in the region last year.

The UN-body has declared the situation a "public health emergency of international concern" and has created a global Zika response unit to contain the virus.

WHO expert Anthony Costello has stressed there is no reason to believe the crisis would remain limited to Latin America, where 25 countries so far have reported Zika cases.

 

 

 

 

A new coffee diet claiming to help lose weight and improve IQ is gaining a major following in the United States -- and raising eyebrows among doctors skeptical of its benefits.

Dave Asprey, the founder and CEO of the "Bulletproof Diet," pulls no punches when making claims for his radical health recipe, cup of coffee in hand.

"You become a better employee, better parent, better friend, better person," said the former Silicon Valley entrepreneur now living in Canada. "My energy changes, my brain changes. I can pay attention, I can follow through."

The cornerstone of Asprey's diet is a drink called Bulletproof Coffee, a modified version of the caffeinated beverage which uses beans stripped of mycotoxins -- essentially mold that forms during the fermentation process.

Add to that butter from grass-fed cows and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil.

The ingredients are blended together to produce a creamy, naturally sweet beverage a bit like a milkshake, taken at breakfast in lieu of a meal.

"So you drink a couple of these and all of a sudden you don't care about food for a very long time," said Asprey. "Your brain has energy that doesn't come from sugar, you didn't want sugar in your coffee and you lose the craving and you sort of have freedom."

Asprey used to weigh 300 pounds, and spent much of his life battling to lose weight.

The coffee diet idea came to him during a trip to Tibet in 2004. He was weak with altitude sickness while traveling in the mountainous region -- until he drank yak butter tea.

Asprey was so impressed by the energetic effect of the drink that he tried to reproduce it at home.

After years of trying all kinds of ingredients and combinations, he unveiled a patented formula in 2009 through his blog and on social media, claiming the coffee and an associated health regimen helped him attain a "bodybuilder" physique.

 

 

 

Holocaust survivor Ruth Klueger on Wednesday lauded Germany for keeping its doors open to thousands of war refugees, calling Chancellor Angela Merkel's "we can do it" slogan "heroic".

"This country, which was responsible for the worst crimes of the century, has won the applause of the world today," the 84-year-old scholar told the German parliament in an address as part of commemorations for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"I am one of the many outsiders who has gone from surprise to admiration," Klueger said, describing Merkel's rallying call of "We can do it" as a "simple but heroic slogan".

Merkel has repeated the mantra over recent months as she has resisted fierce opposition -- even from within her conservative camp -- to reverse her policy towards refugees.

Klueger, who now lives in the United States, said it was precisely Merkel's approach toward those fleeing war and misery that had moved her to accept the German parliament's invitation to speak on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp.

 

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed landed in Britain on Thursday, his aide told AFP, after the Indian Ocean islands' government granted him prison leave for urgent surgery.

 

"We have just landed," said Sabra Noordeen, who was travelling with Nasheed, whose conviction last March on terror-related charges has been widely criticised.

A smiling Nasheed, who wore a suit and tie, later walked into the terminal at Heathrow Airport and was met by his British lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of Hollywood star George Clooney, an AFP photographer saw.

He left the Maldives on Monday for Sri Lanka after resolving a last-minute legal dispute with the government over his 30-day release for the spinal cord surgery in the UK.

He then left for Britain on Thursday.

The Maldives government said Nasheed was travelling under what diplomatic sources described as a deal brokered by India, Sri Lanka and Britain.

But Nasheed refused a government request to leave a relative behind to act as a guarantor liable to prosecution if he failed to return to serve the rest of his sentence.

 

 

Spain's Princess Cristina, the sister of King Felipe VI, and her husband will go on trial Monday for corruption in a high stakes case likely to further damage the monarchy's image.

The highly anticipated trial of the royal couple and 16 other accused will run until June at a court in Palma, on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, where the Spanish royal family has a seaside holiday home.

Cristina, 50, will be the first direct member of the royal family facing criminal charges since the monarchy was reinstated following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

The case is centred on the shady business deals of the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation based in Palma which her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, chaired from 2004 to 2006.

As a result of their indictment, last year, King Felipe VI, who took over from his father Juan Carlos in June 2014, stripped Cristina and her husband of their title as Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, in a bid to undo damage to the monarchy's image ahead of the trial.

 

Juan Carlos had given the couple the title when they married in 1997 in a lavish ceremony at the height of the popularity of the Spanish royals.

"Felipe VI cannot allow there to be the slightest doubt over the rigour of his sister's trial," historian Pilar Urbano, who has written extensively about the royal family, told AFP.

The trial must be "exemplary, the opposite would hurt him," she added.

 

 

 

Parisians bid goodbye to a year of unprecedented terror attacks when clocks chimed midnight Friday, as thousands of defiant revellers thronged the Champs-Elysees for New Year's Eve celebrations.

While the traditional fireworks display was cancelled this year over fears of a terrorist attack, crowds still filled the iconic boulevard lined with trees donning sparkling garlands to welcome 2016.

"It's New Year. We wanted to have fun as usual, in spite of everything, so we came on the Champs as this is the perfect place for it," said Joy along with her friend Rebecca, in their 20s, who came for the celebrations.

"I'm not particularly scared," said Joy. "An attack can happen anywhere at any time. But that can't stop us from living."

Behind her, Western tourists uncorked a bottle of wine while some Asian visitors took a photo and several older couples danced.

The festivities are the largest public gathering since jihadists killed 130 people in Paris in November in a wave of gun and suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group.

"After what our city has lived through, we have to send a signal to the world," said Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, promising a "sombre and dignified show".

In the Place de la Republique square in central Paris, visitors flocked to an open air shrine for the victims of the November 13 attacks.

Lila Rehane, a 49-year-old from the southern French city of Marseilles who came to pay homage at the site, said she wanted to see peace return in 2016 after a year of "anguish".

- 'Crappy year' -

 

 

At least 24 people were killed when a passenger bus plunged into a ravine after a head-on collision with a truck in northern Afghanistan, officials said Friday, in the latest deadly road accident.

Women and children were among those killed in the accident Thursday on a major highway in Samangan province.

"The crash happened when the bus carrying more than 50 passengers was travelling from Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif," said Sarajuddin Fitrat, the governor of Hazrat Sultan district where the accident occurred.

"Twenty four people were killed and 17 others were injured."

The defence ministry in Kabul gave a much higher death toll of 43.

The injured were rushed to hospital while police and a rescue team retrieved the bodies.

 

 

 

New Yorkers doing some last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve left their winter coats at home Thursday as temperatures soared to record highs.

The mercury hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) in the morning, prompting some people in the Big Apple to head out in T-shirts even though skies were overcast.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures could soar to 74 degrees Fahrenheit in the city's iconic Central Park later in the day -- that would be a first for the date since weather record keeping began in 1871.

The previous record for December 24, 63 degrees, dates back to 1996.

 

JPMorgan Chase & Co has agreed to pay $150 million to resolve a securities fraud lawsuit by investors suing the bank over its "London Whale" trading scandal, which caused a $6.2 billion loss.

The settlement was disclosed in papers filed on Friday in federal court in Manhattan and would resolve a class action lawsuit filed in the wake of the scandal that emerged in 2012.

The lawsuit stemmed from oversight by JPMorgan's Chief Investment Office of a synthetic credit portfolio that caused the $6.2 billion loss and was linked to traders in the bank's London office including Bruno Iksil, the so-called London Whale.

Shareholders accused JPMorgan of knowingly hiding increased risks at the Chief Investment Office, including on an April 13, 2012, conference call when JPMorgan Chase & Co Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon called reports about the synthetic portfolio a "tempest in a teapot."

 

From London and Paris to New Delhi and Sao Paulo, traditional taxi drivers united worldwide against Uber in 2015, a year that saw riots, legal battles and even a kidnapping in protest against the startup.

 

Since first winning customers in San Francisco five years ago, Uber has enjoyed spectacular global growth by allowing customers to hail drivers using a smartphone app and bypass traditional taxi services.

But the company, now operating in 58 countries and valued at more than $50 billion, has suffered a bumpy ride on the road to success, infuriating conventional cab firms and battling regulators across numerous nations.

The firm's safety standards have also been called into question after Uber drivers were accused of abduction and sexual attacks of female passengers in India and the United States.

In New Delhi authorities attempted to ban the firm, after it was accused of failing to conduct adequate background checks on a driver who last month was jailed for life for the rape of female passenger in his car. But Uber has flouted the ban much to the outrage of traditional car services.

In many countries, cabbies say Uber represents unfair competition because its drivers are not subject to the often-strict rules and restrictions that govern conventional firms.

Their anger boiled over in 2015, notably in Paris where rioting by heavily unionised taxi drivers and the arrest of Uber executives in June led the startup to suspend its low-cost UberPOP service -- six months after it was banned.

 

Licensed cabbies, who in some countries must undergo hundreds of hours of training, accuse Uber of endangering their jobs by flooding the market with cheaper drivers who only need a GPS to get around.

- 'Pushed to the brink' -

"Taxi drivers, alright -- they've got big mouths -- but normally they're not aggressive," said Malia, who has driven a taxi in Paris for three years said of the riots in the city, which included torching of cars.

"But these guys have families to feed, debts. They've been pushed to the brink."

Uber does not employ drivers or own vehicles, but instead uses non-professionally licensed contractors with their own cars, allowing them to run their own businesses.

In London, 1,500 of the city's iconic black cabs blocked streets in September, while Mayor Boris Johnson raised drivers' ire after calling those opposed to new technology "Luddites".

 

Black cabbies spend three years studying for "The Knowledge", a gruelling test that requires them to memorise every street in London before gaining a licence, a tradition dating back to the 1800s.

They say they are being squeezed by the popular, cheaper Uber.