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FDA advisers back limits on asthma drugs

WASHINGTON: Government health advisers recommended restrictions yesterday on some long-acting asthma drugs, although not Advair, a top-selling medication. Outside experts advising the Food and Drug Administration said Foradil and Serevent no longer should be used for asthma. But they said the benefits of the more widely used Advair and Symbicort clearly outweigh the risks. Each contains an ingredient that relaxes muscles around stressed airways, which may mask symptoms that can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. Advair and Symbicort contain a second ingredient that reduces inflammation inside breathing passages and may help patients avoid such problems. Patients should not stop taking any of the medications without first consulting their doctors, said Dr. John Jenkins, head of the FDA's new drugs office.

Congress approves business pension relief

WASHINGTON: In one of its final acts of the year, Congress relieved businesses yesterday of paying billions of dollars in required contributions to their pension plans in the coming year. Companies say they need the cash to stay afloat in a worsening recession. The legislation has been a priority of business groups, which contend some companies will have to freeze pension plans, lay off workers or even go bankrupt without the relief. A voice vote in the Senate sent the measure to President George W. Bush. The House approved the bill late Wednesday. Many businesses with defined-benefit plans have absorbed a double blow: abiding by a 2006 law that they fully fund their plans and seeing the value of the plans eroded by declines in the markets where the pension funds are invested. The measure does not erase funding obligations but does adjust some payment schedules set up in the 2006 law, in light of the economic downturn.

Pakistan moves against charity tied to attacks

MURIDKE, Pakistan: Pakistan moved aggressively yesterday against an Islamic charity with links to militants suspected in the Mumbai attacks, freezing the group's assets, putting its leaders under house arrest and padlocking its offices. The moves against Jamat-ud-Dawa could help convince India and the United States that Pakistan is cracking down on militants blamed for the Nov. 26-29 assaults in India's financial capital, but it also risks igniting Muslim anger at its already shaky, secular government. The action came a day after the United Nations listed Jamat-ud-Dawa as a front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was blamed for the strikes. Pakistan has already announced the arrests of 20 militants - including two alleged by India to have masterminded the attacks - and has vowed to cooperate with its neighbor.

Senate probe blames top officials for abuses

WASHINGTON: A bipartisan Senate report released yesterday concludes that decisions made by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were a "direct cause" of widespread detainee abuses and that top Bush administration officials were to blame for creating a legal and moral climate that contributed to inhumane treatment. The report, endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the most forceful denunciation to date of the role that Rumsfeld and other top officials played in the prisoner abuse scandals of the past five years. In several of its key findings, the document also challenged the frequent assertions of senior Bush administration officials that the most egregious cases of prisoner mistreatment were isolated incidents of appalling conduct by U.S. troops. A series of high-level decisions in the Bush administration "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody," the report said. :

Calif. adopts sweeping global warming plan

SACRAMENTO, Calif.: California air regulators adopted a sweeping new climate plan yesterday that would require the state's utilities, refineries and large factories to transform their operations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to adopt the nation's most comprehensive global warming plan, outlining for the first time how individuals and businesses would meet a landmark 2006 law. At the heart of the plan is the creation of a carbon-credit market designed to give the state's major polluters cheaper ways to cut the amount of their emissions. That market and the many other strategies referenced in the plan will be fleshed out and adopted over the next few years.

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