In the News

WORLD

BANGKOK, Thailand – Retired army commander Gen. Surayud Chulanont was sworn in Sunday as Thailand’s interim prime minister, saying he wanted to settle a bloody Muslim insurgency and heal a country divided by the policies of his predecessor.

The ruling military council running Thailand since a Sept. 19 coup appointed Surayud after ousting Thaksin Shinawatra.

“It was injustice that caused problems in politics and the south,” Surayud said referring to divisions over Thaksin’s rule and to a Muslim insurgency in south Thailand. “I urge everybody to help solve the two problems and unity is needed to deal with them.”

While Surayud endorsed elections scheduled for next year, a temporary constitution announced Sunday still reserved considerable powers for Thailand’s coup leaders, which is expected to unnerve rights activists.

Under the new interim constitution, approved by the king, the military council gave itself the power to remove Surayud and his Cabinet, approve the selection of a National Assembly speaker and have final say on a 100-member committee that will write the next constitution.

The interim document, which replaces the 1997 charter abolished when military officers seized power from Thaksin last month, also gives “complete immunity” to the coup leaders for overthrowing the government.

NATIONAL

SAN FRANCISCO – Relieved farmers say they are heartened by the government’s announcement that it’s safe to eat most spinach, but they feel uneasy about their industry’s future, knowing it may take time to win back public confidence.

During the two-week warning about E. coli in fresh spinach, growers said they re-examined the safety of their operations, anguished over the suffering of the 187 people sickened and one who died, and weathered significant losses as they watched crops go to waste.

It’s too early to tell how hard the industry was hit, but agriculture experts said unprecedented economic damage was likely.

In California, where three-quarters of all domestically grown spinach is harvested, farmers could endure up to $74 million in losses, according to researchers working with Western Growers, which represents produce farmers in California and Arizona.

Last year’s spinach crop in California was valued at $258.3 million, and each acre lost amounts to a roughly $3,500 hit for the farmer.

The government gave a partial endorsement to the industry on Friday, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announcing that most spinach is now “as safe as it was before this event.”

STATE & LOCAL

RICHMOND – Virginia is creating a central network to recycle wheelchairs, canes and walkers that often are trashed when no longer needed, costing the state millions of dollars.

State health officials will link charity groups already recycling so-called assistive technology through an online database, helping get things like costly power scooters to people who cannot otherwise afford them.

A large percentage of those items are purchased with public dollars, said Ken Knorr, director of the Virginia Assistive Technology System. He said the recycling effort should be in place within three years, the time it will take to compile a list of existing programs, create new ones and secure funding.

In fiscal year 2006, Virginia Medicaid covered $55.2 million in durable medical equipment needs-including AT devices-for non-managed care patients. In the Richmond area alone, Goodwill of Central Virginia distributed more than $360,000 in discarded AT items last year.

They include manual wheelchairs and power scooters that can range in price from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000, depending on fittings. Refurbished items go mostly to the uninsured and underinsured, Knorr said.

Right now there are dozens of churches, charities and other nonprofits gathering, refurbishing and distributing used items, Knorr said.

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