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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spain Unveils Emergency Budget Measures, Imposes Further Austerity

Deputy Spanish Prime-Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria announced emergency budget measures to be undertaken by the country. During a press conference in Madrid on Thursday, the government unveiled €39 billion (US$50 billion) worth of savings, tax rises and structural reforms. Government spending would be cut by 12 percent, public sector salaries will be frozen for the third consecutive year and a tax rise, mainly in the country’s sales tax (IVA), would add another €15 billion (US$19 billion) in revenues. “This is a budget in a time of crisis designed to get out of this crisis”, said Saenz de Santamaria. The new budget measures would also prepare Spain to seek an eventual Eurozone bailout in a better fiscal position. The move comes a day after protesters and police clashed in Madrid in anticipation of these austerity measures.

Greek Ruling Coalition Strikes Deal on Cuts, Submits Plan to Troika for Review

The three-party Greek governing coalition reached a basic agreement on a €13.5 billion (US$17.4 billion) savings and revenue plan after weeks of negotiations and will now hope to gain approval for the plan from international creditors as well as the Greek parliament. “There was an agreement on the basic points. There are still some outstanding issues”, said Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left party. The deal was reached before the weekend visit of the troika to Athens, the group made up of inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The inspectors will review the plan and determine whether Greece will receive a second tranche of its €173 billion (US$222 billion) bailout fund.

Sudan, South Sudan Sign Agreements to Restart Oil Exports, Boost Trade and Secure Borders

Sudan and South Sudan signed deals on Thursday to secure borders and boost trade after four days of talks between the former civil war enemies, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan. The agreements should also pave the way for the newly-independent South Sudan to resume the sale of its oil using Sudan’s pipelines. Officials on both sides refused to spell out the details of the talks, but spokesmen for both countries said that a demilitarised border buffer zone would be established, with troops withdrawing to a 10 kilometer demarcation line from the actual frontier line, but no agreement was reached on the disputed and oil-rich Abyei border region. South Sudan had halted its oil exports after Sudan began demanding high export fees in January. The country, independent since July 2011, relies on oil exports for 98 percent of its income.

Syrian Refugee Exodus Set to Quadruple as Violence Increases

The United Nations’ Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Thursday that up to 700,000 refugees may flee Syria by the end of the year, a figure almost four times higher than the prediction it offered in June. The UNHCR’s new estimate reflects the spiralling violence in the conflict between the Bashar al-Assad regime and the Syrian rebels, marked by aerial bombardments and artillery strikes. Almost 300,000 refugees have already escaped the country in the 18 months since the conflict started, crossing into neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. “This is a significant outflow taking place, 100,000 people in August, 60,000 in September and at the moment 2,000 to 3,000 per day or night”, said Panos Moumtzis, regional refugee coordinator for the UNHCR in Geneva. In his address to the U.N. on Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron had said that the violence in Syria was a “stain on the reputation of these United Nations”.

U.K. Prime Minister Fails Impromptu Quiz on British Topics on David Letterman

British Prime Minister David Cameron followed his address to the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York with a guest appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. He is the first sitting British Prime Minister to appear on the show and was at the receiving end of some “dumb American questions”, as host Letterman described them. The first question, if the Prime Minister knew the composer to Rule Britannia, was met first with a blank stare and shortly afterwards a wrong answer. Later Cameron was asked if he knew what the term Magna Carta meant. Another blank. “Oh, it would be good if you knew this. We’ll find it”, retorted Letterman. Some U.K. analysts said that the Prime Minister’s appearance was an attempt to curb the popularity of his main rival in the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who had appeared on the show in July.

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