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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

U.K. Prime Minister Begins Mid-Term Cabinet Reshuffle

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron began his mid-term cabinet reshuffle by sacking ministers who failed to deliver on his policies, denoting further movement to the right. The three senior cabinet positions were unchanged, with his Lib-Dem coalition partner Nick Clegg remaining as Deputy Prime Minister, George Osborne maintained as Chancellor of the Exchequer and William Hague staying on as Foreign Secretary. Among the raft of changes is the replacement of Andrew Lansley by Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary. Lansley was replaced after failing to explain and push through a health bill intended to reform the country’s National Health Service (NHS). Ken Clarke became a Minister Without Portfolio after leaving the Ministry of Justice and it is thought he will have some input on the government’s economic policies. Anti-Heathrow runway champion Justine Greening was replaced at the Ministry of Transport, prompting Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, to say that the government had ditched its promises and will now “send yet more planes over central London with more traffic, more noise and more pollution”. More changes were expected throughout the day.

Syria Calls Up Reserves, Record Number of Refugees Flee Civil War

Syria is calling up reservists to bolster the number of active army soldiers in a sign that it is straining to contain the popular uprising against the Assad regime. Fleeing reservists and an active army officer told Reuters that thousands of men had been called up in the past two months to bolster the armed forces, but that many of them are failing to report for duty, with as many as half deciding to flee the country. Syrian legislation demands that able-bodied males serve in the armed forces for two years after turning 18 or after finishing their undergraduate studies. All conscripts are entered into the reserves after serving. The news came as the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said that 100,000 refugees had fled the country in August, making it the highest monthly total since hostilities began 18 months ago. “It points to a significant escalation in refugee movement and people seeking asylum, and probably points to a very precarious and violent situation inside the country”, said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming in Geneva. Meanwhile, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday to discuss the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” and the difficulties which the ICRC faced in helping people affected by the civil war. No further details were given about the meeting.

Bahrain Upholds Jail Sentences For Opposition Figures

A Bahraini court upheld sentences against 20 leaders of last year’s pro-democracy uprising, with some members having their life terms confirmed. The decision could further inflame tensions in a country that has been gripped by political instability since the rise of a protest movement dominated by the country’s majority Shia Muslims in February 2011. The ruling Sunni Muslim royals, the Al-Khalifa family, put down the uprising by imposing martial law and accepting the aid of troops from Saudi Arabia and police officers from the United Arab Emirates. Eight of the 20 men received life sentences, including activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa, who called for the downfall of the monarchy and the installment of a republic. Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, called the decision “outrageous”. “Today’s court decision is another blow to justice and it shows once more that the Bahraini authorities are not on the path to reform, but seem rather driven by vindictiveness”, said Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

British Christians Ask European Court of Human Rights to Defend Their “Beliefs”

Four British Christians who said they were fired from their jobs because of religious discrimination jointly entered a plea at the European Court for Human Rights. Nadia Eweida, a worker at British Airways, was dismissed after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross. Shirley Shaplin, a nurse, was moved to a desk job at a hospital in Devon for a similar reason. Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, was sacked because he proffered his objection to giving sex therapy advice to gay couples. Lilian Ladelle, a registrar, was cautioned after refusing to conduct a same-sex civil partnership ceremony in North London. All four had already lost their cases in British employment tribunals. A lawyer for the British government, heard by the BBC, said that “other rights, other interests are in play and are to be respected”. The ruling is not expected for several weeks.

Settlers Vandalise Christian Monastery in the West Bank

Vandals set fire to the doors of a Christian monastery in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and wrote pro-settler slogans on its walls as a possible retaliation for the eviction of families from a nearby settlement on Tuesday. Among the phrases scribbled on the 19th century Latrun Monastery walls was “Jesus is a monkey” in Hebrew. Israeli police said it was worried that the vigilante settler group known as “Price Tag” might make more attacks as retaliation for Sunday’s eviction of 50 settler families from Migron, in another part of the West Bank near Ramallah.

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