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DIPLOMATIC EXIT? UKRAINE PLAYERS CONVERGE ON PARIS

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 06:20 Published in National News

PARIS (AP) — Top diplomats from the West and Russia trying to find an end to the crisis in Ukraine are gathering in Paris on Wednesday as tensions simmered over the Russian military takeover of the strategic Crimean Peninsula.

A team of international observers headed to Crimea, Europe debated the size of its aid package to the nearly bankrupt Ukraine, and NATO prepared to take up the issue directly with Russia in an extraordinary meeting of the military alliance originally created as a counter to the Soviet Union.

The envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Britain and France are not necessarily all at the same table, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said everyone has been working non-stop for a diplomatic solution.

"We have a principle of firmness but at the same time of searching for dialogue," Fabius said as he stood alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, making his first trip abroad in the new post.

Ukraine has accused Russia of a military invasion after pro-Russian troops took over Crimea on Saturday, placing forces around its ferry, military bases and border posts. Moscow does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev that ousted the pro-Russian president.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Spain ahead of meetings planned with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, warned against Western support of what Moscow views as a coup. If you did that, he said, it would encourage government takeovers elsewhere.

"If we indulge those who are trying to rule our great, kind historic neighbor, we must understand that a bad example is infectious," Lavrov said.

Wednesday's gathering, originally scheduled to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, came after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to step back from the brink of war, but the crisis is far from resolved.

"This is my first trip to such an important venue where the Ukrainian future, maybe the future of the region, will be decided," Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's foreign minister, said of the meetings in Paris. "We want to keep neighborly relations with the Russian people. We want to settle this peacefully."

On the flight from Kiev to Paris, Deshchytsia told reporters that Ukraine was unlikely to go to war to prevent Russia from annexing Crimea but said doing so wouldn't be necessary because Russia would be unwilling to suffer the resulting economic penalties and diplomatic isolation.

Ukraine is near bankruptcy, and the European Union's executive arm was supposed to decide Wednesday on a package of support measures to add to the $1 billion energy subsidy package aid promised by the U.S. Russian troops remain.

Russia has suggested that it will meet any sanctions imposed by Western governments with a tough response, and President Putin warned in a press conference on Tuesday that those measures could incur serious "mutual damage."

On Wednesday, members of Russia's upper house of parliament told state news agency RIA Novosti that they had introduced a bill that would freeze the assets of European and American companies working in Russia in reaction to any sanctions.

___

Associated Press writers Laura Mills in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Lara Jakes and Greg Keller in Paris, and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed.

STUDIES SHOW BIG PROMISE FOR HIV PREVENTION DRUG

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 06:16 Published in Health & Fitness

Exciting research suggests that a shot every one to three months may someday give an alternative to the daily pills that some people take now to cut their risk of getting HIV.

The experimental drug has only been tested for prevention in monkeys, but it completely protected them from infection in two studies reported at an AIDS conference on Tuesday.

"This is the most exciting innovation in the field of HIV prevention that I've heard recently," said Dr. Robert Grant, an AIDS expert at the Gladstone Institutes, a foundation affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

"Both groups are showing 100 percent protection" with the drug, Grant said of the two groups of researchers. "If it works and proves to be safe, it would allow for HIV to be prevented with periodic injections, perhaps every three months."

Until a vaccine is developed, condoms are the best way to prevent infection with the AIDS virus and many other sexually spread diseases. But not everyone uses them, or does so all the time, so public health officials have pursued other prevention options.

A drug used to treat people with HIV - Gilead Science's Truvada - also is used to help prevent infection in people who don't have the virus. A big study in gay men a few years ago found it could cut this risk by up to 90 percent, depending on how faithfully people take the daily pills.

The new research tested something that could make this type of prevention much more practical - a long-acting experimental drug made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC. The studies tested it in macaques exposed to a human-monkey version of HIV.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave six monkeys shots of the drug every four weeks; six others got dummy shots. All were exposed to the virus twice a week for 11 weeks.

The monkeys who got the fake treatment were readily infected "but the animals that received the long-acting drug remained protected," said study leader Gerardo Garcia-Lerma of the CDC.

The results mirror what was seen in the CDC's early research in monkeys on Truvada, the pill that's available for HIV prevention now.

In the second study, Chasity Andrews and others at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York gave eight monkeys two shots of the drug, four weeks apart, and dummy shots to eight others. The animals were exposed to the virus weekly for eight weeks. Again, all animals given the fake treatment were quickly infected and those on the drug were all protected.

To see how long a single shot would last, they did a second study. The single shot protected 12 monkeys for about 10 weeks on average.

The dose used in a single shot corresponded to what people would get from a shot every three months, researchers said.

"This is really promising," said Dr. Judith Currier, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The research "supports moving this forward" into human testing, she said.

Currier is on the program committee for the meeting in Boston where the studies were presented - the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The New York study also was published online by the journal Science.

Grant said the long-acting drug is chemically similar to certain AIDS medicines sold now that are "extremely safe, well tolerated and extremely potent." A mid-stage trial testing the long-acting shots in people as a treatment, not a prevention, is already underway, he said.

---

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/MMARCHIONEAP

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Blues rally past Lightning 4-2

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 23:27 Published in Sports
 
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In both of Ryan Miller's starts with the St. Louis Blues, they've faced two-goal deficits. Both times, they've rallied to win.
 
Though they're still learning what type of player Miller can be, it took no time at all to pick up on the calming influence projected from the man in net.
 
"His disposition and the way he carries himself has a professionalism to it that I think over time just rubs off on everybody," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Coaches, players - from the time he comes into the building, the way he carries himself has a positive effect on everybody."
 
Alexander Steen got the go-ahead goal early in the third period in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Miller, who got a huge ovation during player introductions, made sure it stood up in his first home start since the Blues acquired him from Buffalo.
 
"I don't think it was just another game," Miller said. "My sports psychologist will probably get mad at me for saying it's just another game.
 
"It was special. It's nice to get the win at home."
 
T.J. Oshie's short-handed goal tied it in the second period and he assisted on Steen's 29th of the season for the Central Division leaders. Patrik Berglund started the comeback with his third goal in two games and Vladimir Tarasenko's empty-net score cinched it with a half-minute to go.
 
Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson gave Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, a St. Louis native and former Blue, an early cushion against an opponent that's had to come from behind in all four games since the Olympic break.
 
"I would have liked to have done a little better," Bishop said. "It's one of those things where it's nice to play in front of family and friends, and it would have been nice to get the W."
 
Miller made his second career appearance in St. Louis and faced just 17 shots against a team playing on the road for the eighth time in 10 games. He made a nice glove save on Martin St. Louis with just under two minutes to play.
 
The Blues also rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Phoenix 4-2 on Sunday. They're 19-4-2 against the Eastern Conference, including 11-0-1 at home.
 
Tampa Bay is 3-7 in its last 10 games and was 1-3 on a four-game trip.
 
"We had multiple-goal leads in three of the four games and we led in every single game, but if you're going to sit here and take 16 shots in one game, 17 shots in another game, 21 shots in another game and expect to win games, it's not going to happen," coach Jon Cooper said. "Unacceptable."
 
Oshie slipped past St. Louis in front of the net and then beat Bishop with a backhander for the Blues' third short-handed goal of the season at the midpoint of David Backes' minor slashing penalty. Backes dropped his gloves preparing to fight after trading hacks with Hedman. But Hedman backed off and the Blues captain was cordoned off by a linesman before skating off in anger.
 
Backes threw his helmet down the corridor on his way to the locker room, and didn't play the rest of the period while getting medical attention from a blow to the jaw.
 
"He might have me by 30 pounds and I've had my nose fixed before, but at that point in the game I was trying to get a little bit of a spark and try to get the guys going," Backes said. "I don't really want to take a two-minute penalty there, but to get a short-handed goal on that sort of penalty makes you feel a little bit better."
 
Killorn capitalized on a giveaway by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in the St. Louis zone for his 15th goal. Johnson scored on a power play for his 18th of the season and first in eight games with Brenden Morrow off for high-sticking at 14:49.
 
Notes: The Lightning play the next six games at home starting with Thursday against Buffalo. ... Tampa Bay C Valtteri Filppula returned after missing four games with a non-displaced right ankle fracture and played 22 minutes with one shot. ... Steen earned his 200th career assist on Oshie's short-handed goal. ... The Blues are 23-5-3 at home but fell about a thousand shy of a sellout. ... The Blues have scored three or more goals in their last 10 meetings against Tampa Bay, going 8-2.

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