Crosby has 2 goals, 2 assists in NHL return after long recovery from concussion

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins would have accepted an average Sidney Crosby in his first game in nearly 11 months – a routine performance, a regular night at the office.

Instead, they got the extraordinary.

Crosby scored the game’s first goal on his first shot since Jan. 5, scored again in the third period and added two assists during the NHL’s most-awaited comeback game since Mario Lemieux’s return in 2000 as the Pittsburgh Penguins roughed up the New York Islanders 5-0 on Monday night.

Choose an adjective befitting the superlative, and it worked on this special night: Dazzling, exceptional, brilliant.

No one in the hockey world knew exactly what to expect as Crosby, hockey’s biggest star, played his first game in 321 days following his prolonged layoff with a concussion that caused him considerable discomfort for months. But few probably expected him to be this good, this fast, this dominant.

This much like the Sidney Crosby of old.

Even the score was the same as when Lemieux returned from a 44-month retirement to collect a goal and two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000, in the last NHL comeback to generated this much interest.

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The Penguins, already one of the NHL’s top teams, now have a superstar looking just like the player who was dominating the NHL scoring race at this time a year ago, when Crosby was on pace for the league’s highest scoring total in 15 years before he was hurt.

Crosby showed not a speck of rust from his extended absence and was the fastest player on the ice from the very start of a memorable night. He helped set up a Chris Kunitz shot off the crossbar on his very first shift – shades of Lemieux getting an assist only a half-minute into his comeback – and was a motivated and driven player from the start.

And who could have scripted this any better – Crosby grabbed a Pascal Dupuis pass in stride on his third shift, accelerated to the net and, while fending off defenceman Andrew MacDonald, lifted a hard backhander under the crossbar only 5:24 into the game. Islanders rookie Anders Nilsson, making his first NHL start, never had a chance.

It never got any better after that for the Islanders, who dropped their 12th game in their last 14 overall and their 13th in a row in Pittsburgh, a city that isn’t very hospitable to them even when Crosby isn’t playing.

Now Crosby is back and, based on Monday’s game, appears to have the same form that saw him to score 32 goals and pile up an NHL-leading 66 points in 41 games before he sustained a concussion in early January.

For Crosby, the first-place Penguins and the league that has long awaited the return of its signature star, it couldn’t have gone much better than this.

He also took a few hard hits – the kind that can’t be handed out in practice – with Travis Hamonic shoving him in the end boards during the first period. Crosby quickly jumped up, not shaken a bit.

The standing-room crowd of 18,571 in Consol Energy Center was predictably loud and supportive, holding up Welcome Back Sid: signs by the thousands while chanting “Crosby, Crosby” as a huge No. 87 was displayed on the scoreboard before the opening faceoff.

There were signs everywhere – one read “Merry Sidmas” – from a crowd that came prepared to welcome back Crosby no matter how well he played, and was rewarded with a performance that bordered on the otherworldly.

During the morning skate, Penguins forward Steve Sullivan warned it might take any player coming off an extended layoff a few games to regain his timing, his top speed and his game legs, even if he managed to play a game or two on adrenalin.

Crosby looked as if he hadn’t missed a shift, much less half of one season and one quarter of another. He showed his playmaking abilities as he set up the Penguins’ second goal following a four-minute break between shifts late in the first period. His backhander from the left wing boards found defenceman Brooks Orpik at the point for a one-timer that beat Nilsson to the stick side at 16:29.

The score was only 2-0 but, given the emotion and the energy generated by the Crosby comeback, it was all but over.

It was a difficult assignment from the star from Nilsson, whose only previous NHL playing time was a 40-minute stint during a 6-0 loss to Boston on Saturday night. Crosby’s comeback didn’t make it any easier.

Neither did the Penguins’ third goal, scored by Evgeni Malkin on a power play with Crosby assisting 3:17 into the second period. Crosby drove hard to the net after coming off the bench and was turned aside by Nilsson, but got the puck back and fed it to Kris Letang at the point, who in turn sailed a hard pass to Malkin near the left post for his 10th goal.

Crosby didn’t figure in Pittsburgh’s fourth goal, scored by Sullivan off Malkin’s set-up only 2 ½ minutes later. The big lead allowed coach Dan Bylsma to start trimming Crosby’s ice time a bit, given the Penguins play three more times in the next five days.

Not that Crosby was done.

He finished off the unforgettable night with his second goal, slamming a hard backhander off defenceman Steve Staios and by Nilsson after carrying the puck from behind to net to along the right-wing boards 2:06 into the third period.

With so much attention on Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury quietly went about putting together his 21st career shutout and second of the season, stopping 29 shots as the Penguins won their sixth in a row at home and improved to 12-6-4.

Now, for Crosby, it’s one game down, two goals scored and the rest of the season to go.

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Occupy Calgary protesters cool to city deal, ask for electric hookups

CALGARY – Talks between Occupy Calgary and city officials went cold Saturday as protesters wavered on a deal that would see them vacate Olympic Plaza.

Despite facing temperatures below minus 20 degrees, the campers vowed to continue their occupation. Protester Aaron Doncaster read the city’s proposal out loud during a general assembly on Saturday.

“Personally, if I had my own choice, I would light this on fire,” Doncaster said, holding a copy of the city’s offer.

Last Thursday, city officials presented protesters with an informal proposal that would allow them to host several public forums and establish an information booth somewhere near the plaza in exchange for the group leaving the park.

But protesters balked at the offer, citing several concerns including the proposal’s informal nature. Doncaster invited Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other city officials down to the camp for further discussions.

“They won’t even come down to our (general assemblies) and recognize us,” he said. “That is an open line of communication that needs to be acknowledged.”

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Saturday marked the fifth week the group has occupied Olympic Plaza. The city previously ticketed and threatened to evict the protesters, but has since taken a more neutral stance, citing constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

The movement seems to be waning in several Canadian cities. Protesters in Vancouver have been given until Monday to pack up and camps in Regina and Victoria have already been dismantled.


“Calgary’s said from the get-go we’re looking for a peaceful resolution,” said Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services.

Several protesters called for access to electrical services before they’d continue talks with the city. Bruce said there is no plan to offer power to the camp.

“That’s not on the table from the city’s side,” he said. “Realistically, we’ve cautioned them about the weather.”

The idea of continuing without power didn’t sit well with all the occupiers. Anthony Hall, a University of Lethbridge professor who recently joined the movement, said they have the right to use electrical devices, such as laptops.

Hall would like to see city hall engage the group in a respectful discussion on the matter.

“We’re human beings,” he said. “He (Bruce) deals with bylaws and animals, and he’s dealing with us like we’re animals. We’re humans. It’s winter in Canada.”

Protesters say they hope to make a formal counter-offer to the city by next Saturday.

“The city is missing the point in that they don’t seem to understand that the way this group operates isn’t through demands or proposals,” said protester Arran Fisher.

However, Fisher didn’t have a solution as to how the two parties could reach a deal.

“I can’t think of an appropriate response apart from just letting it happen.”

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Mayor says his 5% tax plan is doable

CALGARY – Mayor Naheed Nenshi has released a roadmap to stick with a five-per-cent tax increase for 2012 by the end of this week’s budget debates, but he likely lacks the support to get there.

He is confident the police chief can handle 45 fewer officers at community and district desks and in other support services, feels transit won’t suffer with fewer service hours, and thinks less money for parks maintenance will prompt more efficient delivery of the service.

“On the face of it and on the facts, there is no reason we can’t do it,” Nenshi said of his tax plan.

He’s going to have a tough job convincing others on council.

At least one councillor who reluctantly joined Nenshi’s push to keep property tax hikes to the rate of population and civic cost growth now wants to go higher – six per cent, perhaps – to prevent service reductions for police, transit or snow clearing.

“We’re going to have to add. I just don’t see places where we can cut,” Jim Stevenson said Sunday, the day before council begins a likely marathon stretch of hearings and debates on the 2012-2014 city fiscal plan.

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When council gave city managers pre-budget direction on taxes in June, Stevenson was one of nine members who initially backed finance committee chairman Councillor Gord Lowe’s plan for an eight-per-cent increase in 2012, and six points in the next two years.

He was then one of the three councillors who switched their stances after Nenshi pitched hikes of 5.0, 5.1 and 5.5 per cent in successive years.

Lowe plans to bring back his eight-point tax proposal, and colleagues have eyed many department budgets to shore up.

A plan to add no new transit routes outside the west LRT corridor and cut $1 million in transit service in 2013 has won few fans other than the mayor, who argues the new LRT line will offset the need for more bus service.

The police commission has many members in their corner – including Stevenson – calling to reverse the planned elimination of 45 officers this year, and hire additional police.

“I’m so happy with what (Chief) Rick Hanson has done over the years. I just don’t agree we should hamstring them,” the Ward 3 member said.

Nenshi supports the idea for new officers as the population grows but will ask council to await word on possible aid from the Redford government.

Many also oppose a $5.7-million clawback to parks maintenance over three years, and there’s apparent unanimity against a $3.5-million cut to the roads budget that would end the newly upgraded plowing strategy for side streets.

To staunch that problem, Nenshi will propose taking $7 million from the rainy day reserve to start a snowy-day fund so the city can draw from it in tough winters, and add to it in lighter winters.

Civic Camp, a group of urban activists which Nenshi helped form, will appeal today for the higher tax hike that Lowe endorses and the mayor is against.

There’s streamlining to be done, but even the city’s own pre-budget consultations showed Calgarians favour enhanced services, Civic Camp organizer Peter Rishaug said.

“They are willing to pay more for certain services, if they are reliable and improve quality of life,” he said.

There will also be public speakers coming out for operational dollars to further the cycling strategy, which got short shrift in a budget that cuts back in most areas.

“It will result in savings that exceed its costs many times. The benefits include improved health, long term transportation cost savings, more vibrant street life and increased tourism,” said Bike Calgary’s letter to Nenshi and council last week.

For support on a more modest tax hike, Nenshi can likely count on Councillors Dale Hodges and Andre Chabot, as well as Peter Demong, who wants a four-per-cent hike. But they’re aware of the long odds.

“I don’t think council will have the intestinal fortitude to get it below six per cent,” Chabot said.

On top of tax rates and service levels, council will also tackle user fees. Many members will try to alter the draft plan to hike the senior’s annual transit pass to $55 next year and $96 by 2014, from the present deeply discounted $35 (low-income seniors would still pay $15 a year).

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RioCan and U.S.-basedTanger to buy Cookstown mall in southern Ontario

RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (TSX:REI.UN) and U.S. mall owner Tanger Outlet Centers Inc. have signed a deal to establish their first location under a joint venture announced earlier this year.

RioCan and the North Carolina-based retailer have agreed to buy the Cookstown Outlet Mall in southern Ontario for about $62 million and turn it into the first Tanger shopping centre in Canada.

The pair will develop the mall, about 50 kilometres north of Toronto in the town of Innisfil, Ont., into the first full-scale Tanger Outlet Center operation in Canada.

The partners also said they have struck a deal to acquire 50 acres of land (20 hectares) in Kanata, an Ottawa community, and develop it into a Tanger Outlet Center.

“We are very pleased to be able to jump start our co-ownership with Tanger and bring our collective expertise to a very well established, well located property and make it a key destination outlet shopping centre for Toronto and the surrounding area,” said Edward Sonshine, president and CEO of RioCan.

“Our site in Ottawa, represents an exciting opportunity to expand our co-ownership platform beyond Toronto, into other key Canadian retail markets.”

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Steven Tanger, president and CEO of the North Carolina-based mall developer, said the Cookstown deal “accelerates our plans with RioCan for outlet centre development in Canada.”

“The addition of the site in the Ottawa market puts us well on the way to the establishment of a Canadian outlet shopping platform,” he added.

Tanger, based in Greensboro, N.C., owns or has stakes in 38 upscale outlet shopping malls in 25 U.S. states coast to coast.

Tanger and RioCan, Canada’s largest retail landlord, signed a deal earlier this year to develop 10 to 15 outlet shopping centres across Canada in the next five to seven years.

Under the agreement, Tanger will be in charge of leasing and marketing services, while RioCan will handle property management.

The two will each own a 50 per cent stake in the properties, which will be likely be located in suburban areas near Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, Sonshine said.

Tanger outlet centres have a wide variety of major tenants, including luxury leather goods retailer Coach, fashion retailer Polo Ralph Lauren and gourmet food store Harry and David.

Outlet malls are big business, with shoppers willing to drive hundreds of kilometres to snap up designer goods at discount prices.

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Tyson Foods 4th-quarter profit falls as costs erase gains from higher sales and meat prices

ST. LOUIS – Tyson Foods’ net income for the fourth quarter was less than half of what it was last year, the meat producer said Monday, with higher grain costs offsetting better prices and revenue, particularly in its chicken business.

While there were operating income declines of $3 million and $12 million for beef and pork, respectively, that metric tumbled $223 million for chicken, meaning that an operating income of $141 million last year in chicken turned into an operating loss of $82 million in the final quarter of the year.

President and CEO Donnie Smith pointed to the overall results for the year in which the company operated in a tough environment.

“In fiscal 2011, we produced record sales and our second best EPS in company history despite record input costs, which included $675 million in additional feed and ingredient costs in our chicken segment,” Smith said.

All segments are profitable midway through the first fiscal quarter, Smith said.

Tyson posted a net income of $97 million, or 26 cents per share for the final quarter of the year, compared with $213 million, or 57 cents per share, a year ago.

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The results fell short of the 31 cents per share that analysts had expected, according to a survey by FactSet. Revenue climbed 13 per cent to $8.4 billion, beating expectations for revenue of $8.2 billion.

The company increased prices sharply, with chicken up 5 per cent, pork up 13 per cent, and beef up 19 per cent. Still, profit margins remain under pressure because of higher costs at Tyson, based in Springdale, Ark.

That was a shift from previous years, as recently as 2008, when feed costs rose but Tyson was unable to pass along those costs to consumers because of weak demand.

Yet margins are under pressure. The company said its fourth-quarter operating income was 2 per cent, compared to 5.3 per cent the year before. For the full year, operating income fell to 4 per cent from 5.5 per cent.

Tyson Foods said its net income for the full 2011 fiscal year fell slightly from the year before, in part because of a $675 million jump in feed and ingredient costs.

Grains and beans to feed animals are the most expensive cost to raise chicken, pigs and cattle. Corn hit record highs this summer and other crop prices have shot up as well.

Tyson Foods said it earned $750 million, or $1.97 per share, compared to $780, or $2.06 during the same period last year.

Annual net income was below analyst expectations for net income of $2.01 per share.

Revenue was $32.27 billion, compared with $28.43 billion the year before.

Tyson reported adjusted net income for the year, excluding gains from tax provisions and equity sales, of $1.89 per share. That was below analyst expectations of $1.95 per share.

Tyson said it expects revenue to remain flat during its current fiscal 2012 year. The company forecast sales of roughly $32 billion.

But profits might improve during 2012. Tyson said it expects U.S. meat supplies to fall between 2 per cent and 3 per cent during the fiscal year, which will help the company raise prices further. Tyson expects to spend between $800 million and $850 million to update its facilities to make them more efficient.

Shares of Tyson Foods Inc. have traded between $15.46 and $20.12 over the past 52 weeks and closed at $19.45 Friday.

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Saturday Night Live pokes fun at Toronto school’s ball ban

TORONTO – The news that a Toronto school is no longer allowing children to play with most balls during recess has gone international.

Over the weekend, Saturday Night Live, poked fun at the ball ban during the Weekend Update segment.

They joked that the Principal had also asked that a “hinge be installed in the see-saw.”

Earl Beatty Public School sent a letter to student’s homes informing them of the decision to ban most balls from use on school grounds.

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According to the letter, over the past few weeks, there have been “a few serious incidents of parents, staff and students being hit by a hard ball or nearly being hit by a hard ball” in the school-yard.

The students are still allowed to play with “nerf balls or sponge balls.”

Watch the video below: 

Transcript of the Letter:

Dear Parents/Guardians:

These past few weeks, we have had a few serious incidents, staff and students being hit by a hard ball or nearly being hit by a hard ball in our schoolyard. Despite attempts to control the use of soccer balls, footballs, volleyballs and tennis balls and several requests to our students to be careful and mindful of bystanders, we have not been able to ensure the safety of all students and adults.

As a result, starting today, Monday, November 14, 2011, students are not going to be allowed to bring or play with any kind of hard ball to school. Any balls brought will be confiscated and may be retrieved by parents from the office. The only kind of ball allowed will be nerf balls or sponge balls.

We regret that we have had to resort to this measure. We hope that this move will make our schoolyard a safer place to be.

Thank you for your cooperation.


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More needed to help Canadian men who have been sexually abused, experts say

Recent allegations of child molestation against a former Penn State University assistant football coach have again cast a spotlight on the tortured legacy of sexual-abuse victims.

Jerry Sandusky, 67, was arrested earlier this month on 40 counts of molesting eight boys over a 15-year period.

Such stories don’t stop at the border. There have been cases across this country of abuse by Catholic priests, as well as more recent allegations involving Scouts Canada. Hockey players have stepped forward to tell their harrowing tales of abuse, including allegations by former NHL star Theo Fleury.

In fact, thousands of men across Canada -an estimated one in six – have been victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18.

These men are haunted; some have uncontrollable fits of rage; and a disproportionate number of them are believed to be filling this country’s prisons.

But despite the toll such abuse has taken, victims and experts say there is still a lack of resources directed toward men, and that male victims face a unique stigma.

“I’ve been in an emotional prison for 25 years, and I will be for the rest of my life – there’s nothing that’s going to change that,” Jason Davies told Postmedia News.

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Like many young boys who are targets of sexual predators, Davies says he was quiet and shy as a youngster. He said he was vulnerable because his parents both struggled with alcohol abuse and he said they saw Richard Turley – Davies’ Boy Scout leader – as a positive influence.

In 1996, Turley was convicted of assaulting four boys, three of whom were Scouts, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Speaking from his Vancouver home, Davies, who is now 37, said that from the age of seven, he was afraid every day. After five years of consistent sexual abuse, Davies ran away from home, at age 12, to live on the streets of Victoria. He stayed there for two years.

Flashbacks of his abuse still haunt him. He’s on daily medication for clinical depression. Sometimes, he has panic attacks twice a day. He says he can’t trust anybody, “which makes it impossible to have relationships.”

Although research on the long term consequences of child sexual abuse on men is limited, experts agree many trends are clear.

The majority of prison inmates across Canada have been physically or sexually abused, experts say.

Many men and women turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain, or to stop the memories. For many, it can be difficult to hold down a job or to maintain intimate relationships.

For men in particular, promiscuity, uncontrollable rage and aggressive behaviour are common coping mechanisms as they attempt to overcompensate for what they experience as the emasculating effect of sexual abuse at the hands of an older man, said Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, who has studied the long-term effects of sexual abuse on men.

Many who suffer from mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, have a history of sexual abuse. And, the destruction doesn’t stop in the mind.

The body’s immune system, the stress-response system and brain function are all damaged by trauma during childhood, Hopper said.

“Relative to girls, boys are socialized to not be aware of, to not express, and to not have empathy for vulnerable emotions,” said Hopper. “So, when you’re abused, you’re hit with these overwhelming emotions, and, as a male, you’re conditioned not to be able to deal with them.

“This makes it incredibly hard for them to report it, initially, and then to seek help,” said Hopper who says that despite the obvious uphill battle, men who have had unwanted sexual experiences can heal with appropriate therapy.

But, the road is long. And every victim’s healing process is different.

Rick Goodwin, of The Men’s Project, says there is no “cure” for the effects of childhood abuse. Trauma therapy “can be a hellish process, but we see guys finish this program in much stronger shape.” He said therapy programs give men tools to cope with what, for many, is a lifelong process.

Above all, Goodwin said the work is not short-term. “It requires a pretty informed plan of treatment to address these deep and looming issues that the guys carry – resources that, in Canada, are few and far between.”

Today, while there are 39 centres for female victims of abuse in Ontario alone, there are only four agencies across Canada devoted to counselling men who have been victims of sexual abuse – The Men’s Project in Ottawa, Criphase in Montreal, Victoria Men’s Trauma Centre in B.C., and Vancouver’s B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse.

Goodwin said the future of The Men’s Project, which is funded through the Attorney General of Ontario, is unclear as funding past March 2012 still hasn’t been guaranteed. “If we lose that core funding, and can’t find another donor, we’ll have to close our doors,” he said.

And, that, Goodwin said, will leave many men out in the cold. “We fail to recognize that children become adults, boys become men, and after age 18, all the social safety supports are missing from 48 per cent of the population,” said Goodwin, “I think we’re still up against a lot of social denial that we’ve got to really think about what we do as a society if we want to make it healthier.”

For his part, Davies is not enrolled in any treatment plan. He used to see a psychiatrist, but now he breeds exotic birds such as macaws, Amazons and African greys, and plans to start a business where he will set a third of them free in Brazil. “It’s very calming,” he said, “that’s what works for me.”

Davies said coming forward – and going public – with the story of his abuse has made some of his symptoms worse. “My doctor just upped my anti-depressant dose.” But, he said, if his voice helps just one young person, it will be worth it.

“Parents, and caring adults, need to watch their children closely for signs of potential abuse,” he said.

He warns that a child who is emotionally distant, one who stares out the window for hours or who has violent outbursts out of the blue, could be suffering, and they need to be approached delicately.

“Don’t get angry,” said Davies. “That’s exactly what stops a child from coming forward. Just tell the child that anything they want to say is OK. Talk to your kids.”

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Jordan’s King Abdullah II pays rare visit to West Bank, in nod to Palestinian president

Jordan’s King Abdullah II paid a rare visit to the West Bank on Monday to show support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as the two moderate leaders try to engage with previously shunned Islamists now on the rise in the region.

Abbas is holding power-sharing talks later this week with Khaled Mashaal, the top leader of the rival Islamic militant group Hamas. The two will try to end a bitter split caused by Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 that left Abbas’ government in control only of the West Bank. Mashaal is also set to pay an official visit to Jordan, his first since the movement was expelled in 1999.

Abdullah and Abbas have met frequently in Jordan, which serves as the Palestinian leader’s second home base.

The king’s visit Monday to the West Bank is only his third in 12 years as monarch – and first in more than a decade. It’s seen mainly as an acknowledgment of Abbas as the sole legitimate Palestinian leader and an attempt to forestall any negative fallout from Mashaal’s upcoming Jordan trip.

A rapidly changing regional constellation has forced Abbas and Jordan’s king to reach out to former Islamist foes.

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Asked about Mashaal’s upcoming visit, the kingdom’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh insisted that Jordan keeps channels of communication “open with everyone.”

Abbas later praised the king’s visit as a “generous initiative,” in remarks carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. On the issue of Jordan-Hamas rapprochement, Abbas said he closely co-ordinates with the king and supports whatever Abdullah decides to do for the benefit of his country.

Abbas and Abdullah have been among the staunchest proponents of a peace deal with Israel.

However, there’s little chance of reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks. Negotiations broke down three years ago, in part because Abbas does not believe he can reach a deal with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to halt settlement expansion on occupied lands.

Meanwhile, Islamist movements have been gaining ground across the region amid the Arab Spring uprisings, which have brought down pro-Western dictators in Egypt and Tunisia.

Abdullah – whose country signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994 – was not visiting Israel on Monday, and Israeli officials had no comment on his visit to the West Bank.

Abbas is due to meet Mashaal in the Egyptian capital Cairo later this week to try to give a new push to inter-Palestinian power-sharing talks. The two reached a reconciliation agreement in principle earlier this year, but talks stalled over the composition of an interim unity government.

After meeting with Abbas, Mashaal will travel to Jordan for his first official visit since he and other Hamas leaders were expelled more than a decade ago.

Hamas’ parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has gained influence across the region as part of the anti-government protests. Jordan’s own Brotherhood has led pro-democracy demonstrations across the kingdom in recent months.

Jordanian officials have said Mashaal’s visit might include a meeting with the king but that a date has not been set. The officials insist Jordan would not allow Hamas to reopen its offices in the kingdom, but that the visit would mark an end to the Jordan-Hamas estrangement.

After Jordan expelled Mashaal and four other Hamas leaders in 1999 for activities deemed harmful to the state, Mashaal set up camp in exile in Syria, from where he heads the militant Palestinian group’s political bureau. Jordan also blacklisted Hamas after an alleged weapons cache was discovered in the country five years ago.

Since then, Mashaal was allowed to enter Jordan twice on humanitarian grounds – in August 2009 to attend his father’s funeral, and again last month to visit his ailing mother. Jordan’s newly appointed Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh said recently that expelling Mashaal, who holds a Jordanian passport, was a “legal and constitutional mistake which must be fixed.”


Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.

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Doctors warn of potentially fatal complications in fertility treatments

Women in Canada undergoing fertility treatments should be aware of a rare but potentially life-threatening complication, according to new guidelines being issued for the nation’s doctors.

Injectable drugs used to stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce multiple eggs for fertilization can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome – a condition in which the ovaries swell and fluid leaks into the abdominal cavity and chest.

Most cases of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS, are mild. But deaths have been reported in severe cases, according to guidelines published this week by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, and the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society – the group representing Canada’s fertility specialists.

The goal is to provide doctors who suddenly encounter a case with guidelines on how to quickly recognize and manage the condition, said Dr. Paul Claman, principal co-author and medical director of the Ottawa Fertility Centre.

The syndrome only occurs “about a week after the eggs have been popped,” Claman said. That can create problems when patients live far from the treating fertility clinic.

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“When it comes to the management of OHSS – which, thank God, is quite uncommon nowadays because of the tricks we have – often you’ll have patients come from a small town, have treatment, return to their small town and get sick a week after they return.”

He said he once had a patient who lived a two-hour drive from Ottawa who developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome on a weekend. The gynecologist at the local emergency department thought she had an ovarian tumour; he operated and took her ovary out.

Mild forms of ovarian hyperstimulation occur in up to one-third of every cycle of IVF, or in-vitro fertilization, in which a woman’s eggs are retrieved from her uterus, mixed with sperm and the resulting embryos transferred back.

Severe forms occur in about two per cent of IVF cycles. Last year, 11,718 cycles of IVF were performed by Canada’s 28 fertility clinics.

But IVF is only one concern. More infertile Canadians are resorting to a fertility treatment that does not have the success of IVF but that costs thousands of dollars less: ovarian stimulation with artificial insemination.

With intrauterine insemination, or IUI, women inject themselves in the stomach or leg with the same hormonal drugs used in IVF, a class called gonadotropins. Unlike IVF, there is no way of tracking how many cycles of IUI are being performed in Canada, said Dr. Carl Laskin, past president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society and a founding partner of LifeQuest Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Toronto.

Irregular ovulation accounts for one of the most common fertility problems. Sometimes a simple pill called Clomid helps. “But a good 20 to 30 per cent of women who don’t ovulate aren’t going to ovulate on Clomid,” Claman said.

If they don’t, gonadotropins are used. The drugs are prescribed by gynecologists and sometimes by family doctors. Frequent blood tests and ultrasounds are needed to measure the number and size of the egg-containing follicles.

With hyperstimulation, the ovaries keep expanding, growing fat and swollen. They leak fluid into the pelvis and abdomen. Fluid has to be drained via a needle in the abdomen or vaginally. If fluid keeps building up and starts collecting above the diaphragm into the chest, blood clots can form because the red blood cells become concentrated and the blood thickens. Clots can break off and travel to the lung.

Critics have argued that doctors should be less aggressive with ovary-stimulating drugs. The ovaries can go into overdrive, churning out 20, 30 or more eggs. The move has been for milder stimulation using newer medications, so that women produce far fewer eggs.

But it’s controversial. Laskin said pregnancy rates among doctors performing “IVF-lite” are significantly lower than in those doing more standard stimulations.

The risk of hyperstimulation is highest in younger women, who have more egg follicles than older women. “It’s very rare to get 30, 40 follicles to grow in a 40-year-old,” Claman said. “In a 30-year-old that’s very possible.”

The situation can become critical if a woman gets pregnant because the hormones of pregnancy further stimulate the ovaries. In cases of IVF, the embryo transfer is cancelled.

“If we see somebody who had an unusual response, or they just got away from you in terms of the stimulation, we shut them down,” says Laskin. Drugs are used to effectively shut down the woman’s ovaries. “The cycle is cancelled, you emphasize to them how important it is to avoid intercourse, how important it is to avoid pregnancy,” Laskin said.

Even then some women are willing to risk having the embryos transferred.

“When you’ve got couples that are driven by having a baby, all the bad stuff gets minimized or denied,” Laskin said. “And you can understand why.”

But, “You have to keep them safe,” he said. “My response is, ‘You may be willing to take that chance, but I’m not, because I know what you’re in for and you don’t.”

According to the guidelines, “women undergoing gonadotropin ovarian stimulation should be considered at risk for OHSS” and every centre that offers assisted reproduction should provide written information about the potential risks, signs and symptoms, such as bloating, weight gain and less frequent urination.

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Detained imam wants support for Canadian pilgrims

EDMONTON – An Edmonton imam who was “strangled” by religious police and jailed for 36 hours during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia wants the federal government to ensure the future safety of the 10,000 Canadians who make the annual trek.

Usama Al-Atar, who is also a researcher at the University of Alberta, said many countries form delegations to provide support to residents making the pilgrimage to Mecca, and to ensure their safety. He wants Canada to do the same, he said at a Sunday press conference, and has offered to help establish such a delegation.

Al-Atar returned home to friends and family Friday – his wife Dhamya is expecting the couple’s second child within days – after finally completing a traditional Islamic pilgrimage undertaken by millions of Muslims around the world known as the hajj.

If the Canadian government had support staff in the city for visitors, Al-Atar believed his time in custody would’ve been far shorter. They could’ve immediately begun working on his release, he said.

“Had there been a hajj delegation present in the city of Medina during my ordeal I would have been released almost instantaneously.”

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His ordeal began on the morning of Oct. 30th when Al-Atar was approached by religious police as he recited prayers to a group of 15 Canadian and British Muslims. Members of the religious police are from a particular sect of Islam that is considered extreme, but Al-Atar said he’d never encountered problems on eight previous visits.

“I was told to leave, basically,” Al-Atar said. “And I said: ‘Look, we’re visitors here and we’re only here for a couple of days. There’s a big group with me here that is not fluent in Arabic and cannot conduct these (prayers) on their own. We’re not intending any harm.’”

The police started to shout at Al-Atar, and the harassment quickly escalated to physical force.

“I was strangled,” he said, adding he offered no resistance.

He said although there was a group of officers it was one in particular who assaulted Al-Atar while the rest watched. He was taken to a small kiosk located outside the mosque and confined for 20 minutes before being handed over to the Medina police, whom he characterized as “professional and polite.”

He was arrested and charged with assault. That charge was subsequently dropped.

He was essentially severed from the outside world during his time in jail and passed the time with prayer. He shared a single cell with about 40 other people detained for a variety of reasons. He was surprised after his release to learn his story had been told by press across North America. He credited “media pressure” with his eventual release and felt Canadian officials were slow to react.

Al-Atar said he received a phone call from a Canadian Embassy official in Riyadh after he was released.

“I said to him, ‘I expected you guys to be there sooner,’ and his reply was that they couldn’t find a plane to get them the 800 kilometres from Riyadh to Medina because it’s the season of hajj,” Al-Atar said. “I was surprised at this answer, especially them being the Canadian government. I’m not sure how much effort was put into my release.”

He is now just glad to be home with family as he anticipates the arrival of his second child.

Next year, though, he plans to return to Medina and perform the annual pilgrimage.

“Oppression is very bitter,” says Al-Atar. “It has a very bitter taste. It made me feel how people in the world who are less fortunate would feel when they have no means of expressing themselves. Luckily, I’m a Canadian and luckily the media took up my cause, but there are many people in the world who are not as fortunate as I am, so I am really blessed to be here.”

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