Peacekeeping leadershiphanded over to Germany
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Germany took control of the 22-nation peacekeeping force charged with keeping order in the Afghan capital, replacing Turkey in a ceremony today.
The new commander, German Lt. Gen. Norbert van Heyst, said the mission of the 4,800-strong International Security Assistance Force -- which has helped bring a measure of stability to the war-ruined capital -- will remain the same.
"Though the name and face of the commander of ISAF may change, ISAF's purpose and commitment will not," Heyst said.
Heyst received command from Turkish Maj. Gen. Hilmi Akin Zorlu during a ceremony at a secondary school auditorium in the capital. On hand were Afghan President Hamid Karzai, German Defense Minister Peter Struck and other dignitaries.
In December, Germany doubled to 2,500 its contingent in the peacekeeping force and extended its participation by a year. The Turkish contingent, now about 1,400, will likely be reduced to 160 men, Zorlu said.
Muslim pilgrims arrivefor hajj prayer ritual
MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia -- Nearly 2 million Muslim pilgrims converged on Mt. Arafat today for a solemn prayer ritual that is the highlight of the hajj, a centuries-old pilgrimage to the birthplace of Islam.
After dawn prayers at the nearby valley of Mina, where most pilgrims spent the night in white fireproof tents, they began the short trek to Arafat, a gentle plateau from which a small and rocky hill known as the Mountain of Mercy rises.
Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it is required to perform the hajj at least once in a lifetime.
The annual ritual, which begins in the nearby holy city of Mecca -- birthplace of Islam and its seventh-century prophet Mohammed -- is a spiritual journey that, according to Islamic teachings, cleanses the soul and wipes away sins.
Jackson: A good parent?
LONDON -- Michael Jackson is set to release a video of the journalist who made a controversial TV documentary about the King of Pop, showing the reporter praising Jackson's skills as a parent.
Jackson last week said he felt "more betrayed than perhaps ever before" by journalist Martin Bashir, who expressed concern about Jackson's treatment of his three children in voice-overs in the documentary. The film showed Jackson dangling his infant son over the fourth-floor balcony of a hotel in Berlin, Germany.
The 90-minute program also caused controversy because Jackson said he sometimes lets children sleep in his bed.
A statement released in London on Jackson's behalf late Sunday by Bell Yard Communications said Bashir was filmed during the making of the documentary.
"The film shows extraordinary scenes of Martin Bashir praising the way Michael treats children and commenting on how good a father he is," the statement said.
Stem cell research
Scientists working with human embryonic stem cells have for the first time successfully spliced out individual genes from the medically promising but politically contentious cells and substituted different genes in their place.
The work is a step toward the biomedical goal of being able to rebuild or regenerate parts of the human body by transplanting either stem cells or tissues grown from stem cells into patients, scientists said. Precise genetic changes in those formative human cells might enhance their therapeutic potential or make them more compatible with patients' immune systems.
Some scientists suggested the success might someday make it unnecessary to pursue "therapeutic cloning," in which cloned embryos would be created as a source of therapeutic tissues that match the genetic signature of the patient.
But the work could escalate concerns among those who fear that stem cell technology will lead to the creation of "designer babies."