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Monday, November 13, 2006

Building Bridges

UN tries to heal West-Muslim divide
BBC News

Mr Annan in Istanbul, where he received the reportHeld in Istanbul, Turkey, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been presented with a plan of action to ease increasing polarisation of Muslim and Western societies today.

A cross-cultural group of 20 prominent world figures, including Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and ex-Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have been brought together under the United Nations initiative, the Alliance of Civilisations.

They have been meeting over the past year to examine the root causes of the increasing divide between the Muslim world and the West.

Their mandate was to propose a concrete plan of action to bridge the gap and overcome mutual feelings of fear and suspicion.

They say the chief causes of the rift are not religion or history, but recent political developments, notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq.

"Moreover, the perception of double standards in the application of international law and the protection of human rights is increasing resentment and the sense of vulnerability felt by many Muslims around the globe," the report said.

The UN initiative was co-sponsored by the prime ministers of predominantly Catholic Spain and Muslim Turkey.

And while European Union and North African states are set to meet in Istanbul on Tuesday for a Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference on boosting women's rights and the role of women in society, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Turkey at the end of November - his first visit to a predominantly Muslim country, which many hope will not be overshadowed by a row over remarks he made about Islam.

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US 'open to Iran talks on Iraq'
BBC News

'Much of Bush's swagger is gone'As a UK probe continues into the death of four British servicemen killed in an attack on a patrol boat in southern Iraq, the White House has indicated it will consider talking to Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq.

Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who heads the Iraq Study Group, is leading a delegation to the White House for talks with President Bush.

The cross-party panel, due to give its recommendations by the end of the year, is believed to favour renewing contacts with Tehran and Damascus.

The White House chief-of-staff has said Mr Bush will look at all the options.

Speaking on ABC's This Week programme, Josh Bolten said "a fresh approach" was clearly needed on Iraq.

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Yusuf's return to musical roots
BBC News

Stevens' hits included Morning Has Broken and Moon ShadowThe BBC News website profiles the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, who is returning with an album of new songs - An Other Cup (sic) - 28 years after he left the music industry.

As folk musician Cat Stevens he had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s, including such contemporary classics as Moon Shadow, Peace Train and Morning Has Broken.

But since his conversion to Islam in 1977, the artist now known as Yusuf Islam has taken a different path.

Born Steven Demetre Georgiou in July 1947, Stevens was the son of a Swedish mother and a Greek Cypriot father.

Islam has a Turkish wife, and took the Turkish version of the name Joseph - Yusuf.

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Stem cells: Hope or hype?
By Rebecca Morelle
Health reporter, BBC News

Stem cells can transform into any other cellGetting stem cells into the clinic is seen as the Holy Grail of medicine.

Injections of these cells, which have the special ability to transform into any other cells, have been paraded as the panacea for diseases, from Parkinson's to diabetes.

However, Professor Anne McLaren, a developmental biologist from Cambridge University suggests that while there has been much progress, there has also been a lot of hype.

Dr Hüseyin Mehmet, from the US-based Merck Research Laboratories, agrees.

"I do not doubt that stem cell transplantation will be a therapy of the future, but I don't think we know anything near enough about how we can control what our stem cells do in the test tube, the animal and the patient.

"I think we are so far away from knowing that, that I would be loathe to start sticking stem cells willy-nilly into patients."

Slowly but surely, it seems that stem cell research is progressing, and scientists agree it is indeed an exciting and promising area.

But, initially, the biggest advances may be in understanding how these special cells work, working out how they can be controlled and harnessed, and using them to explore our basic biology before they will find a permanent home in the clinic.

Pictures courtesy of BBC News online.

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