The latest news stories from the major news organizations in Cebu and Manila in the Philippines, the US and other countries.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 17, 2010 Major News Stories

Chevron hikes oil prices

Major oil player Chevron Phil. announced on Tuesday that it would increase the prices of all its products effective Wednesday.

At 12:01 a.m., Chevron will raise the prices of diesel, gasoline, kerosene and fuel oil by P0.50 per liter, said communications manager Toby Nebrida.

LTFRB checks earnings of taxi operators

MANILA, Philippines - The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board on Tuesday said it is asking taxi operators to submit their financial statements to justify a petition to increase the taxi flagdown rate from P30 to P40.

AMID PROTEST: Seismic survey off Camotes Island for petroleum exploration program

NorAsian Energy Philippines, Inc., service contractor of the Department of Energy for Service Contract 69 in Camotes Island will conduct a 2D marine seismic survey at the area starting this week until the end of the month.

2.8M Filipinos jobless in January; unemployment rate eases

About 2.8 million Filipinos were jobless in January, slightly lower than the 2.9-million estimate last year, the government said on Tuesday.

Don't use magic sugar—health chief

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral has cautioned the public against the use of magic sugar allegedly being smuggled into the country.

"From what I hear, magic sugar is being smuggled in from Indonesia to the southern provinces," Cabral said.

Cabral was in Bacolod City for the groundbreaking of the Bacolod Heart, Lung and Kidney Center at the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital compound on Monday.

She described magic sugar as an artificial sugar also called sodium cyclamate that could cause dizziness, vomiting and stomach ache.

Cabral said the magic sugar has not been registered as a food by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It is banned in the United States because of some studies that show that it increases the incidence of cancer, such as urinary bladder cancer," she said.

The Bureau of Food and Drugs, in its advisory, said "magic sugar as food sweetener is prohibited due to its evidence of carcinogenicity in animals."

Meanwhile, Cabral said the El Niño dry spell has not really caused a lot of health problems in the country.

"We have the usual summer diseases like measles, chicken pox, prickly heat. And we are watching out for paralytic shellfish poisoning in areas where there are algae blooms, such as red tide," she said.

Cabral also warned of diarrheal diseases caused by spoiled food.

"In the summer when it is very warm. Food spoils very quickly so we need to make sure that the food that we eat is not spoiled," she said.

Measles cases have more than tripled early this year - DOH

(Updated 3:50 p.m.) Confirmed cases of measles in the Philippines have more than tripled, already resulting in six deaths, the Department of Health reported. Cases have reached a record 742 from January to February this year, 234 percent higher than last year's 222 cases, said a report from the Disease Surveillance and Informatics Division.

Storm with Ondoy's strength can solve Mindanao's water, power shortage

A storm with the magnitude of Ondoy - which submerged three-fourths of Metro Manila - will immediately solve Mindanao"s water and power shortages, Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) chief Prospero Pichay Jr. said on Tuesday.

58 lose homes in Talisay City fire

A fire hit a neighborhood in Talisay City destroying nine houses, damaging three others and leaving 58 persons homeless shortly before noon Tuesday.

Fire investigator SFO1 Cesar dela Serna said the fire started at the ceiling of the two-story house owned by George Flores in Sitio Crusher, Lawaan Tres at 11:55 a.m. on Tuesday.

The fire immediately spread to the nearby houses built alongside the Mananga River, Talisay City, 2.8 kilometers south of Cebu City, and mostly made of light materials.

Flores' wife Amelita told investigators that she was with her seven-month-old daughter on the ground level of the house doing laundry when she noticed a thick smoke coming out from the ceiling of the second floor.

Dela Serna said Amelita failed to save her belongings because she had to leave the house to secure her daughter.

Dela Serna said the fire could have been caused by electrical misuse. He said an electrical wire in the ceiling might have sparked the fire.

He pegged the damage at P180,000. The fire was placed under control after seven minutes.

Village chairman Delia Ybañez of Lawaan III said the 12 families displaced by the fire would each receive P17,000 in assistance from the Talisay City government, including P10,000 worth of housing materials.

The victims stayed with their relatives or were housed temporarily in an abandoned warehouse near the fire scene.

57 more fires hit CV in 2009; 13 lose homes in Talisay City

THE Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas reported an increase in fire incidents by 57 cases, up 12 percent, in 2009 compared to 2008.

Public urged to be extra cautious to prevent fires

The scorching heat of the sun brought about by El Niño is a big factor in the ignition of fires, Cebu City Fire Marshal Esmael Codilla said yesterday.

Codilla explained that the increasing level of heat kindles fire faster, which is most likely the reason why there have been numerous fires in the city and rest of the province since the start of 2010.

Codilla said this is aside from the fact that most of the causes of the fires are faulty electrical wirings, something that owners of households should prevent by constantly checking their connections as often as possible.

He said some households also have "octopus" connections, which is very dangerous, just like other illegal connections such as illegal tapping and the so-called "flying connections."

Codilla said the danger of illegal connections such as these is the reason why the fire department constantly reminds the public to ensure that their lines are safe and properly operating by regular checking of electric lines and to immediately change their connection to maintain the standard.

The fire chief also said that for their part, they are also persistently making inspections all over the city especially in apartments, boarding houses and buildings and continually have fire drills to ensure preparedness on the part of the public.

Codilla said they need the help of the public in preventing more fires and more loss of lives. He said these can be prevented if the public would remain cautious, especially in using materials that easily catch, start or spread fire.

Codilla said they appreciate the help they are getting from major establishments that have agreed to share water if the Bureau of Fire Protection needs it when responding to fires.

As for other facilities, Codilla said that they "do not have but could still manage."

Meanwhile, an expert in the study of earthquakes, Gus Ouano, recommended during the weekly 888 news forum at Marco Polo Plaza Hotel that the city government acquire equipment or heavy machinery that could help take away big pieces of rubble in the event of a strong earthquake.

Ouano said heavy equipment would be very useful, considering that Cebu has many concrete buildings, even more than those in Haiti where lots of residents died following the 7.0 magnitude quake that hit the place.

Ouano said it is better to be ready, especially that there is yet no equipment that can detect if an earthquake is coming.

SPLIT OF BARANGAY GUADALUPE: Court subpoenas papers on barangay boundaries

After issuing a 20-day Temporary Restraining Order to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on the holding of a plebiscite on the proposal to split barangay Guadalupe, the court has subpoenaed the secretary of the Sangguniang Panglungsod to bring all documents related to the split to the next hearing on Friday.

AIRPORT EXPANSION : MCIAA says no flights will be affected

Expansion of the domestic and international passenger terminals of the Mactan – Cebu International Airport amounting to at least P178 million is now underway, the Mactan - Cebu International Airport Authority announced yesterday.

Balili probe out this week

RESULTS of the Balili executive committee investigation will be out this week if the body will have a quorum today, said National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 7 Director Medardo de Lemos yesterday.

Automation allows bets to concede early: Comelec

by by Danny Buenafe, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau
MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections said the automation of the May 10 elections could lead to the faster proclamation of the winning candidates, which will positively contribute to the country's political stability.

2 presidential bets face disqualification over billboards

Presidential bets Bro. Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas) and Sen. Richard Gordon (Bagumbayan) have been asked to remove their "illegal" billboards placed on some of Luzon"s major thoroughfares or face sanctions - including disqualification - from the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Seniors, disabled to be given priority during election day

Senior citizens, pregnant women, and disabled persons will be given priority by all Commission on Elections (Comelec) personnel come election day, the poll body said.

First poll machines to be shipped out Wednesday

The Kalayaan Islands in western Philippines will be the first area to receive the machines that will be used in the first ever nationwide automated elections on May 10.

Namfrel: Number of flying voters higher than Comelec estimate

The Commission on Elections recently revealed that there were around 700,000 double or multiple registrants on the national voters' list.

Comelec to "strengthen" indelible ink

Recognizing the weakness of the indelible ink used in previous polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Tuesday that it is thinking of increasing the nitrate content to make it harder for people to remove the mark right after voting.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez explained that the indelible ink — which indicates if a person has already voted — has two parts: the indigo dye and the silver nitrate.

He said the dye stays the same and it is the silver nitrate that burns into the finger of the voter, staying for about two to three days. But he said some people have figured out that if you wet the finger with the old indelible ink with acetone right away, the dye washes off, though the stain remains.

"The stain which is the burn, that's what's harder (to remove), that's what we're gonna increase," Jimenez said.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that in previous elections, the nitrate concentrate on the indelible ink is just about five percent. Now they have increased it to seven percent. He said that they plan to increase it more if possible.

"We're thinking of increasing it (more), we will be increasing it... we just want to make it more stronger, more concentrated," said Larrazabal, who heads the steering committee on poll automation.

In a separate interview, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento suggested that the nitrate concentration be increased to at least 20 percent.

"Sa India 25 percent yung nitrate, dito 7 percent lang ... dapat siguro dagdagan (In India, they used 25 percent, here we use seven percent ... maybe we should increase it)," he said.

Jimenez said that they are already testing by how much they can increase the nitrate concentrate, taking into consideration the voter.

"We're balancing that with the physical integrity of the tao, ayaw naman nating maging painful yung burn (person, we don't want the burn to be painful). If more than seven percent becomes intolerable, then we will adjust accordingly," he said.

But he said that as of the moment, 7 percent is "tolerable." Larrazabal added that indelible ink with seven percent nitrate concentrate cannot be washed off with acetone.

Larrazabal said the orders for the indelible ink have yet to be awarded to any bidder. He said that poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM did not bid for the indelible ink because it was "not their line."

Gordon promises to pay nurses, doctors well

To discourage doctors and nurses from leaving the country, they should be compensated well, Senator Richard Gordon said Tuesday.

Aquino: I will run after tax cheats and corrupt officials

Liberal Party standard bearer Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III vowed, on Tuesday, to recover P280 billion in uncollected taxes and revenues lost to corruption if elected president in the May polls.

Estrada to Aquino: Get elected first before passing judgment on pardon

Former president Joseph Estrada said Senator Benigno Aquino III should first get himself elected to the presidency before making comments on whether it was proper to pardon the ousted leader of his conviction for plunder.

Estrada: Aquino commission may become another graft-ridden PCGG

Former president Joseph Estrada has dismissed as a potential failure Sen. Benigno Aquino III's idea to form a commission that would investigate the alleged crimes of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her nine-year regime.

Aquino accused of posturing on land reform issue

Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano on Tuesday accused Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of merely posturing when he promised on the first day of the campaign to distribute his family's Hacienda Luisita sugar estate if he wins in May.

NP accuses Noynoy of 'political double-speak'

MANILA, Philippines - The Nacionalista Party (NP) on Tuesday urged Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to once and for all settle the "Hacienda Luisita controversy" amid a New York Times story quoting his cousin that the Cojuangcos will never give up the disputed land.

The NY Times story quoted Aquino's cousin, Fernando Cojuangco, as saying: "No, we're not going to." Cojuangco was identified in the story as the chief operating officer of the holding company that owns the plantation.

"I think it would be irresponsible because I feel that continuing what we have here is the way to go. Sugar farming has to be; it's the kind of business that has to be done plantation-style," the NY Times story quoted Cojuangco.

Special en banc session set on CJ issue

The Supreme Court will hold a special en banc session on Wednesday to tackle the petitions seeking to stop the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) from submitting to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the list of aspirants to take over the post of Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

SC upholds suspension of 'Ang Dating Daan'

The Supreme Court upheld a three-month suspension imposed on the religious television program, "Ang Dating Daan," back in 2004 for the use of offensive and obscene language by its evangelist-host Eliseo "Brother Eli" Soriano.

Asian journalists ask Arroyo to stop killings of journalists

Senior journalists from the Asia-Pacific region have expressed their deep concern over the killings of 31 colleagues in the Maguindanao massacre in the Southern Philippines in November 2009, and asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to put a stop to violence against members of the media.

AFP chief: Intensify operations vs Abu Sayyaf in next 60 days

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Delfin Bangit ordered on Tuesday the implementation of a 60-day intensive operation against the Abu Sayyaf.

AFP official unhappy about being bypassed for Army chief

A senior military official admitted on Tuesday that he was not happy being bypassed in the selection of the new commanding officer of the Philippine Army.

Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Army's Eastern Mindanao Command, said that while he and other ranking military officials respected the decision of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to name Major General Reynaldo Mapagu as Army chief, they were "not clapping our hands nor celebrating."

"But we're not questioning the prerogative of the President," Ferrer told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

"It's the prerogative of the President to appoint military officers whom she trusts, in key positions," he added.

Ferrer, the administrator when martial law was declared in Maguindanao following the November 23 massacre of 57 people in the province, appeared at the witness stand at Tuesday's hearing of the rebellion case against the Ampatuans in Camp Crame.

Asked what he felt after he was apparently snubbed by Arroyo, he said: "I will just do my job. As a soldier, I will follow orders. I respect the prerogative of the President."

Police academy topnotcher vows to fight terrorism

For 23-year old Caesar Ian Binucal, joining the police force is not just a profession but a way of serving the country.

Ex-general pleads not guilty to money laundering

Former military comptroller Carlos Garcia has pleaded not guilty to the money laundering charge of the Office of the Ombudsman filed last year against him and his family for spending allegedly illegally acquired assets.

Filipino transexuals nabbed for illegally entering Japan

TOKYO - Three Philippine nationals have been arrested in western Japan for entering the country on forged women's passports after undergoing sex change operations, local media reported on Tuesday.

The three had the illegal passports made by forgers in the Philippines using women's identification so that they could live in Japan as the "wives" of Japanese men they had met, Kyodo News said.

While working at nightclubs in Fukuoka, they secured spouse visas from local authorities, said Kyodo and other news reports, quoting local immigration authorities.

They were quoted as telling investigators they wanted to live as women and lead their lives with their loved ones, Kyodo said.

"They looked female. We could not tell they are men," an immigration official said, according to the Nishinihon Shimbun.

Peso ends at 45.72 against the dollar

The peso moved sideways Tuesday, closing just half a centavo weaker than the previous day's finish.

Thai protests turn bloody -- but not violent

BANGKOK—Protesters spilled their own blood at the gates of Thailand's government headquarters Tuesday in a colorful act of political theatre designed to propel their fugitive hero back to power.

Riots rock Jerusalem as Hamas calls for new 'intifada'

JERUSALEM—Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces across east Jerusalem on Tuesday in the worst rioting in years as a senior Hamas leader called for a new "intifada," or uprising.

Confessors can't turn in paedophile priests: Vatican official

VATICAN CITY - A Roman Catholic confessor can do no more than absolve a sinner, even one who confesses to paedophilia, a Vatican official said Tuesday as a string of predator priest scandals rock the Church.

The confessor is not required to "ask the sinner to turn himself in to the authorities," Gianfranco Girotti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

Girotti, a bishop responsible for one of the Vatican's three courts, said: "The only possible outcome of confession is absolution."

Asked about the paedophilia scandals, he said: "It is not up to the confessor to make (confessions of paedophilia) public, nor to ask the repenter to turn himself in to his superiors."

Girotti argued: "For one thing, the seal of the (confession) sacrament is inviolable, and for another we must not engender mistrust among penitents."

When a sinner approaches the confessional he "must expect only absolution from the confessor, and surely not a judgement or an injunction to confess his crime in public."

Paedophile priest scandals have rocked several churches in Europe since the Irish government released two explosive reports in November.

Revelations followed in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Austria and Germany -- the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI.

The latest churches to become mired in scandal are that of Brazil, where three priests in northeastern Arapiraca have been removed for suspected paedophilia, and Spain, with the jailing in Chile of a Spanish religious instructor for possession of pornographic images of children.

Earlier scandals shocked Catholics in the United States, Canada, Australia and Mexico.

Mayweather Jr. claims Pacquiao one-dimensional fighter

Boxing pundits were nearly unanimous in praising Manny Pacquiao's total domination of Joshua Clottey Saturday night.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., however, was unimpressed, claiming that Clottey 'exposed' Pacquiao as a one-dimensional fighter when the Filipino ring icon beat him and retained his World Boxing Organization welterweight crown.

"Personally, I think Pacquiao got exposed in that fight for being one-dimensional," Mayweather told Tom Jenkins of

"You can have all [the] offense ability in the world but with no defense you're not going to last long against a good counter puncher such as myself.

"Look at the way Clottey was getting through. Each time he threw something it landed. Then at the end Pacquiao's was all busted up. When's the last time you've seen my face all messed up like that? That's the difference between an amateur and a true pound for pound boxer."

The unbeaten Mayweather, of course, was deemed to be world No. 1 until he retired and Pacquiao bamboozled the opposition. Mayweather even made his comeback announcement last May 2, the day Pacquiao demolished Briton Ricky Hatton in two rounds. Even when he returned and beat Juan Manuel Marquez last September, however, Mayweather never reclaimed his lofty position from Pacquiao.

Perhaps envious of the success Pacquiao has attained, Mayweather has always found a way to criticize the lone fighter to become a seven-time champion in as many divisions.

This time, Mayweather dared to criticize the way Pacquiao fights, conveniently forgetting that the Filipino superstar is hailed as a livewire and is largely considered as the most exciting boxer ever.

"I think Pacquiao gave the fans a boring fight, he was punching his arms for all 12 rounds. At least when you watch Floyd Mayweather you know you'll be seeing non-stop action for 30 minutes straight and that's what you'll see on May 1st.''

The 33-year-old Mayweather is slated to do battle with fellow American Shane Mosley on that date for the World Boxing Association welterweight crown. Originally, Mayweather was supposed to fight Pacquiao on March 13, but negotiations fell through when Team Mayweather insisted on Olympic-style drug testing.

Mayweather also downplayed the 50,994 attendance posted by the Pacquiao-Clottey tussle, saying that he had drawn more in the past and generated a (gate) revenue of $2.5 million for one fight.

As to Pacquiao's immense popularity, Mayweather said: ``The only reason why he's popular is because he's an ethnic minority and from the Philippines so it's something special. If he was from Africa he would be just another boxer.''

Pressure now on Floyd Jr to beat Mosley

Now the pressure is on Floyd Mayweather Jr. With Manny Pacquiao getting past Joshua Clottey Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in their welterweight title fight, the fighter now known as "Money" is hard pressed to beat "Sugar" Shane Mosley on May 1 if only to get their potentially blockbuster showdown still on track.

Orcollo, Alcano to join Damas World 8-ball

MANILA, Philippines -- World-renowned pool players Dennis "Robocop" Orcollo and Ronnie "Volcano" Alcano will spearhead the country's campaign in the 2010 Damas World 8-ball Championships in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates this April.

Barako"s PBA franchise to go on sale, says team exec

Barako Coffee, Photokina Marketing"s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) franchise, is willing to sell its spot in Asia"s first play-for-pay league according to board representative Raffy Casiao.

Tiger Woods returning for Masters

ORLANDO—Tiger Woods will make his return to competitive golf in April at the Masters, the world's top golfer said Tuesday, ending a hiatus of nearly five months in the wake of a sex scandal.

Agassi apologizes for poking fun at Sampras

INDIAN WELLS, California - Andre Agassi told he was "out of line" and apologized for poking fun at Pete Sampras during a charity match last week.

'Lola' tops Miami fest

Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza's "Lola" won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Competition of the 27th Miami International Film Festival held in the US city on March 13.

Charice defends Arnel Pineda

by By Reyma Buan-Deveza,
MANILA, Philippines - International singing sensation Charice defended Journey's Filipino vocalist Arnel Pineda, who is now under fire for his wrong rendition of "Lupang Hinirang."

No buyers of Pacquiao-Clottey bootleg DVDs

MANILA,Philippines - Two days after the match, sellers of pirated DVDs are complaining that bootleg copies of the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight are not selling as much as DVDs of previous Pacquiao fights.

Pacquiao's official earnings: $27.5M in last 2 years

MANILA, Philippines – Even before his successful defense of his title against Joshua Clottey, 7-division champ Manny Pacquiao had officially earned a total of $27.5 million or P1.2 billion in the last 2 years.

Based on records of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Pacquiao earned $3 million against Juan Manuel Marquez in March 2008; $3 million against David Diaz in June 2008; $6.6 million against Oscar de la Hoya in December 2008; $7.4 million against Ricky Hatton in May 2009; and, $7.5 million against Miguel Cotto in November 2009.

The total amount of $27.5 million does not include Pacquiao's pay-per-view earnings from these fights.

In his fight against Cotto, Pacquiao reportedly got a $10 million share from the 1.25 million pay-per-view buys the fight generated.

The bigger draw

Against Clottey, the former donut vendor from General Santos City reportedly stands to receive a total of $12 million, according to boxing analyst Ronnie Nathanielsz.

"[Base sa] lahat ng information galing sa States, mga total take home ni Pacquiao baka mga $12 million," he said.

He stressed that it was Pacquiao who attracted the most boxing aficionados into the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas last March 13.

"Clottey is not such an exiting fighter. Pacquiao is the main draw. Pacquiao is the one who brought almost 51,000 people into that venue," said Nathanielsz.

Pacquiao is set to earn more if the anticipated fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. pushes through.

The fight between the pound-for pound kings could give Pacquiao $40 million to $50 million in total earnings.

The Pacquiao-Mayweather bout, however, was shelved because of Mayweather's demand for Olympic-style drug testing procedures.

"I want also that fight," said Pacquiao in an interview by ABS-CBN's Dyan Castillejo. "But I don't think he wants [it]."

The Filipino champ thinks Mayweather bought time to prepare for their much-awaited clash.

"Nagretire siya, nagcomeback siya tapos lalaban kaagad siya ng malaking laban. Hindi siya ready masyado. Kelangan siguro niya ng ibang laban bago fight with me," said Pacquiao.

Pacman rules out retirement

Pacquiao said he will be focusing on his political career in the coming weeks as the May 10 elections approaches.

The pound-for-pound king is vying for the lone congressional seat in Sarangani Province against Roy Chiongbian, younger brother of incumbent Sarangani Gov. Erwin Chiongbian.

When asked if he plans to retire if he becomes a member of the House of Representatives, Pacquiao replied, "Hindi naman," implying that he might fight later this year.

He admitted that he has had to face more difficult fighters as he prolongs his professional career.

"Alam mo, habang patagal ng patagal, pahirap ng pahirap sa akin 'yung boxing. Dati parang easy lang sa akin, sandali ko lang natatalo ang kalaban," said Pacquiao.

Kris Aquino to announce decision on Thursday: report

MANILA, Philippines – Will Kris Aquino leave "The Buzz" or not? During her emotional defense of herself on "The Buzz" last Sunday, Aquino disclosed that she is contemplating of leaving the entertainment talk show amid harsh criticisms against her.

Is Cristine Reyes going sexy again?

by by Napoleon Quintos,
MANILA, Philippines - One of the sexiest females in Philippine showbiz, Cristine Reyes, will topbill yet another major ABS-CBN teleserye titled "Kristine." "Kristine" is based on the popular Precious Hearts Romances (PHR) pocket books.

Abba joins eclectic Rock Hall of Fame batch

NEW YORK—Veteran Swedish pop group Abba was to share the limelight Monday in New York with punk band the Stooges and reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, Genesis and The Hollies in joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

AP source : Jackson in $200M-plus recording deal

LOS ANGELES - The estate of Michael Jackson has landed the late King of Pop the biggest recording deal in history: a $200 million guaranteed contract with Sony Music Entertainment for 10 projects over seven years, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The record-breaking contract could be worth up to $250 million if certain conditions are met. One of the albums will be of never-before-released Jackson recordings that will come out in November, the person said.

World's shortest man dies aged 21

by Reuters
BEIJING - The world's shortest man, China's He Pingping who was just over 74 cm tall (29 inches), has died at the age of 21 from apparent heart complications, the Guinness World Records book said.

Arteries improve after smokers quit, study finds

Quitting smoking can turn back time.

A year after kicking the habit, smokers' arteries showed signs of reversing a problem that can set the stage for heart disease, according to the first big study to test this.

The improvement came even though smokers gained an average of 9 pounds after they quit, researchers found. Their levels of so-called good cholesterol improved, too. 

"A lot of people are afraid to quit smoking because they're afraid to gain weight," said the study's leader, Dr. James Stein, a University of Wisconsin-Madison cardiologist.

The new research shows these people gain a health benefit even though they pick up pounds that hopefully can be shed once they've gotten used to not smoking, he said.

Smoking is one of the top causes of heart disease, and about one third of smoking-related deaths in the US are due to heart disease. A heart attack often motivates longtime smokers to give it up. 

Quitting is known to lower the risk of developing or dying of lung cancer. This is the first major clinical trial to show it quickly improves artery health. Results were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and presented at the group's annual conference on Monday. 

In the study, 1,500 smokers were given one of five methods to help them quit — nicotine patches; nicotine lozenges; the drug bupropion, sold as Wellbutrin and Zyban; or a combination of patches and lozenges or the drug and lozenges. A sixth group received a dummy treatment. 

After one year, 36 percent had quit, and it made no difference which method they used, Stein said. 

Before the study started and one year after smokers quit, doctors did ultrasound tests to see how well blood vessel linings relaxed and handled blood flow. Hardening of the arteries is an early step to heart disease. Using a tourniquet, they stopped blood flow in the forearm for a few minutes, then measured how a major artery responded when the flow was restored. 

"It's a valid test" and is considered a good sign of how healthy the heart arteries are, said Dr. Alfred Bove, a Temple University heart specialist and president of the cardiology group.

Doctors found that artery function improved 1 percent in the quitters. 

"That may not sound like much," but research shows that translates to a 14 percent lower risk of developing heart disease, Stein said.

"It's a small improvement at one year. The question is, do these folks keep getting better?" Bove said. 

The study is continuing another two years to give an answer, Stein said.

London-based GlaxoSmithKline PLC provided smoking cessation medicines for that part of the study, and several authors have research funding from the company. Federal government grants paid for the artery study.

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