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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

U.K. Economy Is Struggling, Says Chancellor

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne admitted during his Autumn Statement that the U.K. economy was struggling and that austerity measures will be extended to 2018. His speech is one of the two major statements he delivers to Parliament every year, with the main one being the annual Budget in April. “Turning back now would be a disaster”, he said. Economic growth is predicted to be -0.1 percent for 2012, down from the 0.8 percent predicted earlier. For the years ahead, the chancellor quoted 1.2 percent growth in 2013, 2 percent in 2014, 2.3 percent in 2015, 2.7 percent in 2016 and 2.8 percent in 2017. Osborne also announced more funding for roads, schools and an extension to London Underground’s Northern Line, but warned local councils that more cuts were to come. Welfare benefits will be cut and income tax personal allowances will rise, with no taxes paid on earnings under £9,440. The government’s plans were attacked by the opposition. “Today after two and a half years we can see, and people can feel in the country, the true scale of this government’s economic failure”, said Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. The debate had to be broken up several times by Speaker John Bercow, who at one point chided Dan Byles, a Conservative MP, for his behaviour. “I thought you were normally a model of restraint and civility. Good heavens, man! I do not know what has come over you. Calm yourself—take a pill if necessary, but keep calm. Take up yoga”, said the speaker.

Greece ‘Most Corrupt’ Country in the EU, Says Survey

Transparency International published its Corruption Perceptions Index on Wednesday and among its highlights is the fact that those countries most hit by European financial crisis are also those perceived as being the most corrupt. Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain had the lowest scores among western European countries. The Corruption Perceptions Index measures perceptions of corruption in the public sector. “Greece, at place 94, is the lowest state in the European Union. It’s ranked lower than countries like Colombia, Benin and Zambia, which gives you pause for thought”, said Huguette Labelle, chair of the transparency NGO. Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia were ranked bottom overall, with Denmark, Finland and New Zealand considered the least corrupt countries.

Key Index Signals Prolonged European Recession into 2013

An index that measures services and manufacturing activity published on Wednesday suggested that the rate of contraction in Europe eased slightly in November, but pointed to more recession into 2013. The Markit Flash Eurozone Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to 46.5, where a figure below 50 indicates a contraction. Although the figure was higher than expected, Markit’s chief economist said there were few signs the region would see an improvement soon. “Despite the easing in the rate of decline, the region still looks set for further contraction in the early months of 2013, as weak consumer demand in many countries combine with low levels of business confidence and falling global trade”, said Chris Williamson during an interview with the BBC. Of the eurozone countries, only Ireland registered a growth in its business activity, with an index score of 55.3.

Syrian President Considers Asylum in Latin America

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is considering claiming political asylum for himself, his family and close associates in Latin America if he is forced out of office. His Deputy Foreign Minister travelled to Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela with confidential letters written by Assad to the leader of each country and also held meetings with local officials. The Arab League had offered Assad a safe passage out of Syria last July while Tunisia had made the same offer earlier in February. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when asked about the possibility of Assad leaving Syria as a condition for the end of hostilities, hinted that he should still be prosecuted. “Whoever commits a gross violation of human rights must be held accountable and should be brought to justice. This is a fundamental principle”, said Ban.

EU and U.S. Team Up to Combat Peadophile Networks

The European Union (EU) and the U.S. have launched a global alliance aimed at combating child sexual abuse online. Composed of 48 countries in total, the alliance seeks to identify and protect child victims, investigate cases and prosecute offenders, increase the awareness of online risks for children and reduce the availability of child pornography on the internet. At least one million images of child pornography are now on the internet and 50,000 more are added each year. “Behind every child abuse image is an abused child, an exploited and helpless victim. When these images are circulated online, they can live on forever. Our responsibility is to protect children wherever they live and to bring criminals to justice wherever they operate. The only way to achieve this is to team up”, said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that the global alliance “will build on the success of previous cross-border police operations that have dismantled international paedophile networks“.

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