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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

U.K. Government Seeks Further Spending Cuts

The U.K. government has asked its departments for further austerity cuts, with all expected to save an extra 1% in 2013 and an additional 2% in 2014. The only sections shielded from the cuts are health, education, HM Revenue and Customs and nuclear decommissioning. The government intends to invest the £5 billion saved through the effort to “kickstart growth” and make the country “work better”. The decision for further cuts comes after a mid-term spending review carried out by the Treasury. It found that departments have under-spent by £3 billion over the last two yers, convincing the government that it would be possible to funnel the extra funds into more valuable areas. “Let’s put that money into things that will make a difference in our country and in our economy – more roads, more school buildings, more infrastructure to make our economy work better”, said Prime Minister David Cameron. Labour leader Ed Miliband countered that “if you’ve been trying an approach for two and a half years and it hasn’t worked, you don’t just keep ploughing on regardless”.

At Least 80 Dead as Super Typhoon Slams the Philippines

At least 80 people have died in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Bopha ripped through Mindanao, the second largest island in the country’s archipelago. It brought driving rain and gusts of wind of up to 210 kilometres an hour, toppling trees and power lines, causing floods and forcing the evacuation of more than 50,000 inhabitants to emergency shelters. Flash floods swept away an army base and triggered mudslides in New Bataan, killing 43 people in that community. “There was a sudden huge blast of water from the mountains, which we didn’t expect”, said regional governor Artury Uy. “I need helicopters here, I call on whatever assistance possible, we need rescue equipment”, he added. The tragedy was compounded because some evacuation centres on the island collapsed because of the force of the storm. By early evening Bopha had weakened as it tracked north towards the South China Sea. Government officials fear the the death toll could rise sharply once rescue efforts begin clearing up the debris left by the storms.

UN, EU Cite Security Concerns and Scale Back Syrian Operations

The United Nations has suspended operations in Syria and is in the process of evacuating all non-essential staff from the country, citing the “prevailing security situation”. “The situation is significantly changing and there is an increased risk for humanitarians as a result of indiscriminate shooting or clashes between the parties”, said Sabir Mughal, the UN’s chief security advisor in the country. The UN’s decision to evacuate all non-essential staff is the only step preceding a full-scale evacuation of all personnel, a measure not yet taken during the 20 months of conflict in Syria. The European Union also announced it would scale back its activities in the country. “The EU delegation has decided to reduce activities in Damascus to a minimum level due to current security conditions”, said an EU foreign policy spokesman.

EU Fails to Agree on Banking Supervision

European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a new system to supervise banks across the bloc, delaying decisions to a new meeting to be held next Wednesday. The Cyprus Minister of Finance, Vassos Shiarly, said that an agreement should only be “a question of a little bit more time”. He listed the issues to be resolved before the Single Supervisory Mechanism can come into effect, namely that a division of responsibilities should be agreed between the European Central Bank (ECB) and national banks, that there should be a fine-tuning of the separation of roles within the ECB regarding the management of banking supervision and monetary policy, and that participants still have to come to an agreement as to how the system should be phased in. There were also discrepancies in the weighing of the votes of those countries within the eurozone and those outside it. “Nothing is insoluble”, said French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici.

Iran Announces Drone Capture, U.S. Says All Accounted For

Iran announced late on Tuesday that it had captured a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf within Iranian airspace. Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said that “such drones are usually launched from large warships” and that the vehicle had made several reconnaissance flights over the area in the past few days. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Bahrain said that the U.S. Navy had “fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognised water and air space”. The announcement comes exactly a year after Iran announced it had captured another U.S. drone, which the Iranian state-run Fars news agency described as a “setback and a fatal blow to the stealth drone program”. Mohammed Khazaee, the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, had complained to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in November about U.S. drone flights over Iran, calling them “illegal and provocative acts”.

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