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Investigators look beyond birds for origin of flu strain

BEIJING — China is investigating four possible cases of human-to-human transmission of a deadly bird flu that has killed 17 people, but so far there has been “no sustained” evidence of transmission between people, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Three families in Shanghai and two children in Beijing were being examined as possible examples of human-to-human transmission, Gregory Hartl, the spokesman for WHO in Geneva, said in a telephone interview.

“Even if two family members are positive, it is not necessarily the case they got it from each other,” Hartl said. “They may have gotten it from the same bird.”

As investigators looked at the possibility of human transmission, there was mounting concern that the new virus, known as H7N9, may not originate in birds but in other animals and in environmental sources, he said.

To that end, a team of international influenza experts from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva and a regional office in Manila and scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control who were invited by China to help investigate the virus, arrived in Beijing Thursday. The experts would be looking at possible sources for the virus other than birds, Hartl said.

—Jane Perlez, The New York Times

Opponents of Ke

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Hundreds of people braved heavy snow and wind Thursday, streaming into this central Nebraska town to speak out on the Keystone XL pipeline at what might be the final public hearing on the project.

The hearing, conducted by the State Department, drew hours of emotional testimony, mostly from opponents of Keystone XL, who whooped and applauded when anyone from their ranks spoke, and solemnly hoisted black scarves that read “Pipeline Fighter” during comments by the project’s supporters.

“The Keystone Export pipeline is not in the national interest, and it is most certainly not in Nebraska’s interest,” said Ben Gotschall, a young rancher, one of the first speakers at the hearing, which was held in a large events hall at the state fairgrounds.

“Our landowners have been left to fend for themselves against an onslaught of dishonest land agents and corporate bullies,” Gotschall said.

Nebraska has been a rallying point for environmental groups, landowners and ranchers who oppose the 1,700-mile proposed pipeline, which would carry diluted bitumen from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

—Dan Frosch, The New York Times

Cyprus bailout wins easy approval from Germany

BERLIN — Germany’s lower house of Parliament approved the bailout package for Cyprus on Thursday, bringing an end to months of debate in Berlin.

Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, warned lawmakers before the vote that despite its tiny size Cyprus could still endanger the broader economy of the European Union if its troubles were ignored.

Schauble said that allowing Cyprus to go bankrupt would create a “significant risk” for Greece and other vulnerable countries in the eurozone.

As expected, a clear majority — 487 of 602 lawmakers — voted in favor of the package, which includes nine billion euros, or $11.8 billion, in contributions from European Union members. The International Monetary Fund was to contribute an additional one

—Melissa Eddy, The New York Times