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Friday, November 30, 2012

UN General Assembly Votes to Upgrade Palestinians’ Status

The UN General Assembly held a historic vote on Thursday to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to that of a “non-member observer state”, the same position held by the Vatican. The upgrade allows the Palestinians to participate in General Assembly debates and opens the possibility of membership at different UN agencies and also at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The resolution to upgrade the PA passed with 138 votes in favour to 9 against, with 41 abstentions. The “no” votes were Israel, the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called it “a historic day” where the PA had “really taken a step on the path to Palestinian independence”. The move was greeted with incredulity in Israel. Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli public radio that the vote had violated previous peace agreements and this violation meant that “Israel can also take unilateral initiatives such as applying Israeli sovereignty in the territories”, implying that the country could move towards a de facto annexation of the West Bank.

Egypt Swept by Protests After Constitution Pushed Through

Egypt’s Islamist-led constituent assembly sped through the approval of country’s new constitution at a marathon session that ended this morning. The assembly approved all of the document’s 234 articles, which will now be sent to President Mohammed Morsi for ratification before it can be submitted to a referendum. The ruling Islamist coalition in the constituent assembly pushed the document through because it saw its own existence threatened by the ongoing dispute between Morsi and the country’s judicial branch, which could choose to shut down the legislative body before a constitution was drawn up. The opposition, composed of liberals, leftists and Christians, left the chamber in protest against the move. Thousands of Egyptians took the to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria on Friday to protest against the measure, singing “the people want to bring down the regime”. “We fundamentally reject the referendum and the constituent assembly because they do not represent all sections of society”, said Sayed el-Erian, an opposition party member, to the Reuters news agency.

Eurozone Unemployment Hits Consecutive Record High

The 17 members of the eurozone hit another record unemployment rate in October, pushing the figure to 11.7 percent in comparison to September’s previous record of 11.6 percent. The figures published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, show that unemployment in the eurozone rose by 107,000 to 18.7 million people without a job. The wider European Union, which includes those countries not members of the monetary union such as the U.K. and Poland, registered an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent, up from 10.6 percent in September. In terms of youth unemployment, defined as those persons under 25 years of age without a job, Greece led the way with a rate of 57 percent, with Spain trailing closely with 55.9 percent. The rise in unemployment figures from September was expected in light of the eurozone’s return to recession in the third quarter. A spokesman for the European Commission described the level of unemployment as “unacceptably high”.

U.S. to Have an ‘Enduring Presence’ in Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says that the U.S. should maintain “an enduring presence” in Afghanistan to keep on fighting Al-Qaeda in the years to come. “Although we clearly have had an impact on their presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up and intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to get into Afghanistan as well”, said Panetta. He added that this was “something we just have to be continually vigilant in terms of protecting against”. His remarks come as the U.S. ponders what the size of its military contingent in the country should be after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, even if there is no set deadline for a decision to be made. The country currently has 66,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, but that number could decrease to less than 10,000 after 2014.

Stem Cells Can Be Generated From Blood

A team from the University of Cambridge has published a study detailing a process where a patient’s blood could be used to make personalised stem cells. Described as a “beautiful work” by Prof Chris Marson, an expert on regenerative medicine at University College London, the team at Cambridge tracked blood samples for a kind of cell that travels in the bloodstream repairing damage to the walls of blood vessels. These repair cells were then converted into stem cells. Experts have described this technique as a better method than trying to take samples from a patient’s skin. They also appear to be safer to use than skin samples. “We are very excited to have developed a practical and efficient method to create stem cells from a cell type found in blood. Tissue biopsies are undesirable, particularly for children and the elderly, whereas taking blood samples is routine for all patients”, said Dr Amer Rana, who led the research team.

Weekend Read: Giving New Life to Mumbai’s Vultures

Mumbai’s Parsi community wants to build two aviaries at one of its sacred sites so that vultures, in keeping with Zoroastrian tradition, can once again dispose of the bodies of their dead. In The New York Times.

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