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Saudis Work to Head Off Swine Flu Fears Before Pilgrimage

Every year, the single largest gathering in the world is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca: 2.5 million people from 160 countries packed into a small city in Saudi Arabia for five days.

This year, some will be bringing swine flu.

The Saudi authorities, fearing that the pilgrimage, or hajj, could turn their holy city into a petri dish for viral mutations and a hub for spreading a new pandemic wave around the world, are working hard to head that off. They have asked some worshipers, including pregnant women and the elderly, not to make this year’s trip, which is scheduled for the last week of November.

Although the Saudis have turned to the World Health Organization and other health agencies for help in previous public health threats to the hajj, this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is more deeply involved because it has so much experience with this new flu strain. Consultants for the centers have gone back and forth to Riyadh, flu experts at American medical schools have been called in and the U.S. Navy’s medical laboratory in Cairo is preparing to help with any complex flu testing that is beyond what Saudi laboratories can do.

Fdic Chief Criticizes Financial Reform Plan

Senior regulators and some lawmakers clashed once again with the Obama administration on Thursday, finding fault with central elements of the White House’s latest plan to unwind large financial companies when their troubles imperil the financial system.

Describing the details of the legislation to the House Financial Services Committee, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner emphasized that it would give officials the tools to more tightly supervise the largest financial companies and that government would have the authority to order companies to shed risky assets or limit trading activities if they pose a threat to the companies’ stability.

But after he completed his testimony, significant parts of the plan were challenged by Sheila C. Bair, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. She raised numerous objections about the structure of a proposed council of regulators, and said that it would fall short of its goal of protecting the system from the shock of a large failure.

The legislation comes in response to the public outcry over taxpayer bailouts of some of the nation’s biggest financial companies, including Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the American International Group, Citigroup and Bank of America.

Pakistan Pursuing Taliban Deeper into Mountains

Here in the distant dun-colored hills of South Waziristan, the Pakistani army pushed toward a special lair of hard-core Taliban on Thursday, sending artillery and jet fighters to break the back of the militants, who in turn, have brought the war to where it really hurts, the nation’s cities.

The offensive launched by the army in South Waziristan nearly two weeks ago has turned into a battle of wills between the army, the custodian of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and accustomed to facing archenemy India, and insurgents from the Taliban and al-Qaida, who are determined to bring down the state.

In retaliation, the insurgents have struck with ferocity at Pakistan’s urban centers and military installations using sleeper cells and commando fighters to wreak havoc and fear, killing large numbers of civilians as never before.