World briefs Nov. 29

Millions of Muslim pilgrims, many wearing surgical masks, jostled together shoulder-to-shoulder furiously casting pebbles at stone walls representing the devil Saturday — the hajj ritual of highest concern to world health authorities watching for an outbreak of swine flu.

H1N1 a concern during Hajj

MINA, Saudi Arabia — Millions of Muslim pilgrims, many wearing surgical masks, jostled together shoulder-to-shoulder furiously casting pebbles at stone walls representing the devil Saturday — the hajj ritual of highest concern to world health authorities watching for an outbreak of swine flu.

The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws 3 million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world and an ideal incubator for the H1N1 flu virus.

So far, only around 60 flu cases have been uncovered, but health officials warn it is likely spreading silently among pilgrims — and the true extent of the push that hajj has given to the virus won’t be known until later, after the faithful have returned to their home countries around the world.

Saudi officials, along with American and international health experts, have geared up here to try to limit any outbreak. But they also are using the pilgrimage as a test case to build a database, watch for mutations and look for lessons on controlling the flu at other large gatherings like the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa.


Albinos flee, in hiding after killings

NAIROBI, Kenya — The mistaken belief that albino body parts have magical powers has driven thousands of Africa’s albinos into hiding, fearful of losing their lives and limbs to unscrupulous dealers who can make up to $75,000 selling a complete dismembered set.

Mary Owido, who lacks pigment that gives colour to skin, eyes and hair, says she is only comfortable when at work or at home with her husband and children.

“Wherever I go people start talking about me, saying that my legs and hands can fetch a fortune in Tanzania,” said Owido, 36, a mother of six. “This kind of talk scares me. I am afraid of going out alone.”

Since 2007, 44 albinos have been killed in Tanzania and 14 others have been slain in Burundi, sparking widespread fear among albinos in East Africa.

At least 10,000 have been displaced or gone into hiding since the killings began, according to a report released this week by the International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies.

East Africa’s latest albino murder happened in Tanzania’s Mwanza region in late October, when albino hunters beheaded 10-year-old Gasper Elikana and chopped off his leg, the report said. The killing left Elikana’s father, who tried to defend his son, seriously injured.

Albinism is a hereditary condition, but occurs only when both parents have albinism genes. All six of Owido’s children have normal skin colour.

African albinos endure insults, discrimination and segregation throughout their lives.


Three killed, four injured in crash

SHANGHAI, China — A Zimbabwe cargo plane crashed as it took off from Shanghai’s main airport Saturday, killing three American crew members and injuring four other employees after it veered off the runway and burst into flames.

Three Americans on the seven-member crew died and a fourth American was injured, U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said. He did not know the injured person’s condition.

Shanghai television showed what it called a 61-year-old American co-pilot in a hospital bed, conscious and saying “Thank you” to staff.

The TV report said the other crew were from Indonesia, Belgium and Zimbabwe.

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