Friday, September 9, 2016
US, Russia reach Syria deal; MasterCard faces $19bn lawsuit; Robot operates inside the eye
1 US, Russia reach Syria deal (James Landale on BBC) Russia and the US have announced an agreement on Syria starting with a "cessation of hostilities" from sunset on Monday. Under the plan, the Syrian government will end combat missions in specified areas held by the opposition. Russia and the US will establish a joint centre to combat so-called Islamic State and al-Nusra fighters.
The announcement follows talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. The opposition had indicated it was prepared to comply with the plan, he said, provided the Syrian government "shows it is serious".
The accord also provides for humanitarian access. Seven days after the start of the cessation of hostilities, Russia and the US will establish a "joint implementation centre" to fight the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda-allied Nusra fighters.
The deal is hugely complex. It requires an awful lot of people to do an awful lot of things at the right time at the right place. The United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the agreement and said the UN would exert all efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said conditions in Aleppo had become appalling: "Eastern Aleppo is at the apex of horror, where anyone of us if we were there would find life barely possible, let alone tolerable."
The US and Russia support opposite sides in the conflict that began in 2011: Washington backs a coalition of rebel groups it describes as moderate, while Moscow is seen as a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
2 MasterCard faces $19bn lawsuit (San Francisco Chronicle) MasterCard is being sued for 14 billion pounds ($18.6 billion) on behalf of British consumers for allegedly charging excessive fees on millions of transactions over a 16-year period.
The suit, which is the latest in a string of legal cases around the world over card companies' fees, could bring a payout to 46 million British MasterCard users, the law firm filing it says. The firm, Quinn Emanuel, says the claim is the largest in British legal history.
The suit alleges that MasterCard charged stores unlawfully high fees on credit and debit card transactions between 1992 and 2008, which were passed on to consumers in the form of inflated prices for goods and services.
MasterCard and its larger competitor Visa have been embroiled in legal battles with merchants over their fees for decades. A $6 billion class-action lawsuit in the US, which involves merchants suing Visa and MasterCard, is currently being appealed in US courts. There's also a legal battle between Visa and retail giant Wal-Mart, which involves what are known as "chip and sign" transactions.
MasterCard Inc., based in Purchase, New York, said in a statement that "we continue to firmly disagree with the basis of this claim and we intend to oppose it vigorously." The tribunal will rule late this year whether the case can proceed, the law firm said. If so, it is expected to go to court in 2018.
3 Robot operates inside the eye (The Guardian) British surgeons have successfully performed the world’s first robotic operation inside the eye, potentially revolutionising the way such conditions are treated. The procedure was carried out at John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, where surgeons welcomed its success.
On completing the operation, Professor Robert MacLaren said: “There is no doubt in my mind that we have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future. “Current technology with laser scanners and microscopes allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but the things we see are beyond the physiological limit of what the human hand can operate on.
Patient Father William Beaver, 70, an associate priest at St Mary the Virgin church in Oxford, said his eyesight was returning following the procedure, having previously experienced distorted vision similar to “looking in a hall of mirrors at a fairground”.
The procedure was necessary because the patient had a membrane growing on the surface of his retina, which had contracted and pulled it into an uneven shape. The membrane is about 100th of a millimetre thick and needed to be dissected off the retina without damaging it.
Surgeons normally attempt this by slowing their pulse and timing movements between heart beats, but the robot could make it much easier. Experts said the robot could enable new, high-precision procedures that are beyond the abilities of the human hand.
This is the first time a device has been available that achieves the three-dimensional precision required to operate inside the human eye. The robotic eye surgery trial involves 12 patients undergoing operations with increasing complexity. Experts said this could lead to use of the robot in retinal gene therapy, a new treatment for blindness which is currently being trialled in a number of centres around the world.