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News Briefs

Albright Warns Indonesia About Economic Reprisals


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, supported by officials of more than a dozen Asian nations, warned Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Abdullah Alatas on Monday that his government risks the loss of crucial IMF and World Bank credits unless it starts protecting refugees from East Timor.

Albright told Alatas that Indonesia must rein in militias that are terrorizing refugees who fled to West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia. Other Asian foreign ministers, from countries as diverse as New Zealand and Vietnam, added their criticism of Indonesia during a breakfast hosted by Albright, a senior State Department official said.

Alatas insisted that the “horror stories” had been exaggerated, said the official, who attended the meeting. The foreign minister did not directly answer complaints that the Indonesian military has been cooperating with anti-independence militias in the wake of East Timor’s overwhelming vote for independence Aug. 30, said the official. An Australian-led force has since been dispatched to East Timor to keep peace.

Describing the tone of the breakfast session, the official said: “It was civilized. It wasn’t an angry exchange. At the same time, I think it was -- as they say in diplomatic parlance -- frank.”

Researchers Say Heart Drug Can Slow Inherited Blindness


A widely used heart drug can sharply slow the progression of an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa, according to experiments in mice reported Tuesday by French researchers.

This has the potential to be the first effective treatment of retinitis pigmentosa, commonly called RP, which afflicts as many as 200,000 people in the United States, according to the researchers.

The drug, called diltiazem, could be useful in about 10 percent of those patients with the most aggressive forms of the disorder, experts said. And because the drug has already been shown to be safe in treating heart problems, clinical trials in humans could begin early next year.

The mice used in the studies have a form of RP in which a specific genetic defect allows calcium and sodium to flow into eye cells through passageways called calcium channels, poisoning the cells. Diltiazem is a calcium-channel blocker that closes those pathways.

“It’s not surprising that it works, but it’s very exciting and could be very important,” said Dr. Richard L. Hurwitz of the Baylor College of Medicine.

The results, reported in Tuesday’s Nature Medicine, are “proof of principle” that targeting genetic defects in RP can be successful, and may thus lead to other treatments as well, added Tom Hoglund of the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Separately, researchers at the California Institute of Technology report in Tuesday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that another heart drug -- an experimental compound known as BQ788 -- can suppress skin cancers in mice and may have potential for treating prostate and ovarian tumors as well.