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Muslims Protest Wikipedia’s Depictions of Muhammad

An article about the Prophet Muhammad in the English-language Wikipedia has become the subject of an online protest in the last few weeks because of its representations of Muhammad, taken from medieval manuscripts.

In addition to numerous e-mail messages sent to Wikipedia.org, an online petition cites a prohibition in Islam on images of people.

The petition has more than 80,000 “signatures,” though many who submitted them to ThePetitionSite.com, remained anonymous.

“We have been noticing a lot more similar sounding, similar looking e-mails beginning mid-January,” said Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco, which administers the various online encyclopedias in more than 250 languages.

A Frequently Asked Questions page explains the site’s polite but firm refusal to remove the images: “Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.”

The notes left on the petition site come from all over the world. “It’s totally unacceptable to print the Prophet’s picture,” Saadia Bukhari from Pakistan wrote in a message. “It shows insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and should be removed immediately.”

The site considered but rejected a compromise that would allow visitors to choose whether to view the page with images.

Mired in Crisis, Italy Veers Toward Elections

Italy seemed headed toward elections after the Senate president said Monday that he could not find enough support in Parliament to form a temporary government that would fix the nation’s flawed electoral law.

The failure to form an interim government — and thus to find a quick fix for the nation’s political crisis — seemed a victory for Silvio Berlusconi, the nation’s richest man, who has served two terms as prime minister and is aiming at a third one. Leading in the polls, he and his allies on the center-right told the Senate president, Franco Marini, in meetings early in the day that the only solution was to go to elections with the current law.

“We affirmed that the best thing for the country is to immediately give Italy a government legitimated by a popular vote,” Berlusconi told reporters after the meeting with Marini. He said he hoped to win election, then start negotiating about any changes.

Last week the nation’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, asked Marini to try to find multiparty support for a government to make reforms in the electoral law.

There is wide consensus in Italy that the law, pushed through Parliament by Berlusconi before the last elections in 2006, causes instability by favoring small parties. The law uses a complex region-by-region formula that is intended to reward political coalitions but instead has made it more difficult to form a clear majority in the upper house, the Senate.

Extending HIV Mothers’ Drugs May Help Nursing Infants

Over recent years, giving an antiretroviral drug to a woman infected with the AIDS virus in labor and to her baby at birth has reduced the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby.

Yet many babies born uninfected go on to acquire HIV, the AIDS virus, in the lengthy period of breast-feeding because of contamination of the mother’s milk.

Researchers have found for the first time that the incidence of the virus among breast-fed infants can be significantly reduced by extending antiretroviral drugs for much longer periods, up to six months, according to a number of studies reported on Monday at a scientific meeting here.

“Making breast feeding safe is an urgent need,” Dr. Taha Taha, a researcher from Johns Hopkins who led a study in Malawi, said at a news conference.

Breast feeding accounts for up to 48 percent of HIV infections among infants in developing countries, researchers said.

The findings open the way for new prevention strategies in areas where infected mothers cannot avoid breast-feeding for a number of reasons. They include lack of access to formula, strong cultural traditions of breast-feeding and reluctance to use formula for fear of being stigmatized as being infected, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Florida Insurers Defend Increases in Home Rates

Facing accusations that they have been gouging customers, executives from one of Florida’s largest homeowners’ insurance companies told a special state Senate committee on Monday that they had been forced to raise rates to offset losses and prepare for the possibility of more frequent hurricanes in the future.

The company, Allstate Floridian Insurance, “faces the very real risk of being wiped out in the event of a bad hurricane season,” said Joseph Richardson Jr., chairman and chief executive. Allstate Floridian is a subsidiary of the Allstate Insurance Co.

The testimony came on the first day of a two-day hearing into the soaring costs of Florida hurricane insurance, which has become one of the most pressing concerns for homeowners here.

Executives from Nationwide Insurance Co. of Florida also appeared before the Senate panel, the Select Committee on Property Insurance Accountability, and officials from two other companies were scheduled to testify on Tuesday.