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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

U.K. Government to Set 45p Minimum Alcohol Price

U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed in a statement to the House of Commons that a minimum price of 45p per unit will be set for alcohol, which could reduce the £42 billion spent yearly in alcoholic drinks in England and Wales by approximately 3 percent. The government also estimates that the set price would cut crime figures and prevent 714 alcohol-related deaths every year. The Home Secretary also seeks an end to the “buy one, get one free” offers in supermarkets, an attempt to curb binge drinking by teenagers who drink cheap alcohol before a night out. “We are consulting on these measures because too many of our high streets and town centres have become no-go areas on a Friday and Saturday night. Just under half of all violent crimes involve alcohol and a great deal of antisocial behaviour is alcohol-fulled”, said May. The measure will likely be challenged in courts by the drinks industry under EU competition legislation.

Car Bombs Kill at Least 34 in Damascus

Two car bombs exploded in the Jaramana neighbourhood of the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 34 people and injuring dozens others, according to both state media channels and opposition activists. Jaramana is home to a Christian and Druze community seen as supportive of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and had been targeted repeatedly in recent months. One 50-year-old man at a local business said glass windows had to be replaced three times in recent months due to the explosions. “I don’t see the point of replacing it anymore”, he said. The bombs were set off within five minutes of each other near the morning rush hour. Passers-by who reacted to the first explosion by trying to rescue those injured were hit by the second blast, said Ismail Zlaiaa, a 54-year-old resident, according to the Associated Press. “It is an area packed with rush-hour passengers. God will not forgive the criminal perpetrators”, he said.

Sea Levels Rising 60 Percent Faster than Projected

A study issued during UN climate talks in Qatar said sea levels are rising 60 percent faster than previous estimates. “Global warming has not slowed down, nor is it lagging behind the projections”, said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Sea levels had been rising by 3.2 mm a year according to satellite data gathered for the study, more than the 2 mm annual rise projected by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The last report issued by the IPCC estimated sea levels to rise between 50 cm and a metre this century, versus the 17 cm registered during the last century, not taking into account the possible acceleration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. “Unless we reduce our carbon pollution rapidly, this study clearly shows we are heading for the nightmare world at the top end of the IPCC predictions”, said Prof Mark Maslin of University College London.

Saudi King Emerges from Surgery to Quell Health Speculation

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has appeared on Saudi state television for the first time after undergoing 10 hours of back surgery to secure a loose vertebra, according to Saudi officials. It was the third time the king underwent back surgery in as many years. Rumours began to spread about the health of the 87-year-old monarch after he failed to emerge in public after an 11-day absence from state duties. The footage aired by Saudi state television showed Abdullah sitting down in a hospital suite in the capital Riyadh with members of the royal family surrounding him and kissing his hand. The images appeared to be directed at quieting the rumours. A small item published by the Saudi Press Agency stated his appearance should “reassure” any doubters. Saudi Arabia holds more than a fifth of the world’s oil reserves and is a key U.S. ally in the region.

Cubans to Pay Taxes for the First Time in 54 Years

New Cuban regulations set to come into effect on January 1 will bring back comprehensive taxation for the first time in 54 years. The Cuban Revolution abolished almost all taxes after the overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959. The new tax code covers 19 taxes, including inheritance, environment, sales, transportation and farm land, license fees and even social security contributions. Income taxes, adopted in 1994, will be applied on a sliding-scale, from 15 percent for annual earnings of more than 10,000 Cuban pesos (US$400) to 50 percent for earnings over 50,000 pesos (US$2,000). They are applied on the self-employed, on small businesses and farms. The government will eventually apply the income tax to all workers, but the measure is suspended “until conditions permit” their collection. Isabel Fernandez, an economist in Havana interviewed by Reuters, said that tax collection is normal around the world, “but here we face two problems. On the one hand we are not used to paying for anything and on the other hand wages are so low we can’t spare a single peso”.

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