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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Obama Defends Free Speech, Warns Iran at the U.N.

U.S. President Barack Obama, addressing world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, presented a forceful case for free speech as he asked young Arab democracies to embrace tolerance and freedom of religion. “Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred belief,” Obama said, ostensibly responding to the violent, even deadly protests that swept the Muslim world after the release of a U.S.-made video that ridicules Prophet Muhammad. “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents,” he continued. Obama also warned Iran against pushing its nuclear program too far.  The “United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he cautioned. He also said that the time for finding a political solution to this issue “is not unlimited.” For weeks, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been calling for the U.S. to set an ultimatum for Iran, something the Obama administration said it isn’t prepared to do. Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday, speaking to reporters before his main speech at the U.N., Israel’s fate is to be “eliminated.”
CORRECT: a previous version of this item incorrectly stated Ahmadinejad had spoken about Israel before the U.N. Hemicycle. 

U.K. Banking Lobby May Lose Libor Oversight

The British Bankers’ Association (BBA), the U.K.’s bank lobby group, may lose oversight of Libor, the interest rate that serves as a benchmark to $360 trillion in financial tools worldwide. This is according to someone close to the investigation led by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the nation’s banking regulator. Lack of supervision made it possible for Libor to be rigged by employees at some of the submitting banks, either to favor their traders’ positions or to obscure the financial health of the banks. The misconduct went on between 2005 and at least 2009, evidence has shown. FSA Managing Director Martin Wheatley, who has been tasked with reforming the way Libor is set, will announce his proposals on Friday. The BBA said in a statement today it is prepared to step aside should new oversight of the interest rate be advised: “[If] Mr Wheatley’s recommendations include a change of responsibility for LIBOR, the BBA will support that.” So far, only Barclays bank has been fined for its involvement, but today, new reports showed managers at Royal Bank of Scotland condoned and took part in the manipulation of the rate.

Protesters Surround Spanish Parliament, Demand its Resignation

Two days before the Spanish government is due to announce its budget for 2013, protesters surrounded the parliament in Madrid, demanding its resignation. They were demonstrating against what is expected to be a new round of austerity measures designed to reduce the country’s debt, a move that is thought to signal a request for help in the form of a bailout package from the European Union and the European Central Bank. Spain, where a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, is mired in a recession. Austerity contributed to stunting growth, and four Spanish regions have asked the central government for a financial rescue. After Murcia, Valencia, and Catalonia, Andalucia said today it is considering a €4.9 billion ($6.3 billion) package. Meanwhile, Catalonia President Artur Mas called an early election for November 25, heeding calls for more independence for the region, often described as the country’s economic engine.

U.S. Economy Shows Signs of Picking Up

Consumer confidence in the U.S. rose in September to its highest point in seven months. The Conference Board sentiment index showed today Americans were more optimistic about their prospects of finding a job within six months. Separately, a report showed the real estate market strengthened 1.2 percent in the 12 months to July, the most in two years. The increase in prices for single-family homes benefited especially the lower end of the property market, the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index showed. The news comes just over a month before the presidential elections, prompting some analysts to say incumbent President Barack Obama may enjoy a boost in the polls as a result.

China Launches New Aircraft Carrier Amid Maritime Tensions with Japan

China launched its first functional aircraft carrier today, a refurbished Ukrainian ship, amid maritime tensions with Japan over small islands both countries say belong to them. China’s Defense Ministry said of the carrier, named Liaoning, that it will “raise the overall operational strength of the Chinese navy.” Representatives of the Japanese government at the United Nations General Assembly in New York reiterated today Japan bought the uninhabited islands specifically to avoid a controversy with China. The governor of Tokyo had initially planned to buy them and develop them, which the Japanese authorities thought would have set off China’s ire. Taiwan also laid claim on the islands, and a Japanese coast guard ship tried to turn away a Taiwanese fleet made of fishing boats and an armed coast guard vessel by spraying water on them.

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