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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Syrian Regime Ready to Use Chemical Weapons

U.S. officials have told NBC News that the Syrian military is prepared to target its own people with chemical weapons and is awaiting orders from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to take action. The military is reported to have begun preparing aerial bombs with payloads of deadly sarin nerve gas. These weapons could then be loaded onto fighter jets, but had not yet been mounted according to U.S. sources. “There’s little the outside world can do to stop it” once the order to mount them is given, said one of the officials. Syria is one of only seven nations to not have ratified the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, the agreement that outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Dublin on the sidelines of a meeting on European security to discuss the Syrian situation. Analysts took this as sign that Russia’s support for al-Assad might be softening amidsts rumours of a potential Latin American exile option.

Northern Ireland Suffers Second Day of Violence over Union Flag

Northern Ireland suffered another night of sectarian violence following a decision by Belfast City Council to no longer fly the Union flag every day above its building in the city’s centre. A loyalist mob set fire to an Alliance party office in Carrickfergus in County Antrim on Wednesday and the home of two Alliance councillors in Bangor, County Down, was also attacked. The party, which is neither nationalist nor unionist, holds the balance of power in Belfast City Council and came up with a compromise to flow the Union flag only on designated days. “Clearly we do have paramilitaries involved, some are involved as individuals, some are involved within their communities but we will be looking very carefully indeed to see whether there has been any conspiracy and a degree of orchestration,” said the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Matt Baggott. “I call on people to take a step back – there is far too much at stake for the future and for the here and now”, he added. The violence comes at an important week for the province as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive on Friday.

A Third of Patients Wait More Than Four Hours for Treatment at A&Es

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of health and social care services in England, has revealed that waiting times at NHS (National Health Service) accident and emergency (A&E) departments are getting longer. In its fourth national A&E survey, carried out at 147 NHS trusts in the country, the CQC has found that 33 percent of respondents said they spent more than four hours waiting to be treated at A&E. This is up from the 23 percent registered in 2004 and the 27 percent recorded in 2008. Of those that travelled to hospital in an ambulance, 24 percent said they had to wait for more than 15 minutes with the ambulance crew before being transferred to the care of hospital staff. Almost half of those responding said that they did not feel their home or family situations were considered before being discharged. Christina McAnea, head of health at the Unison union, said that the survey “shows that Tory claims that they are protecting our health service are worthless. Now we know that A&E waiting times are rising – this is deeply worrying. It means patients are suffering”.

White Plumes Spark Evacuations Across Buenos Aires

An acrid-smelling cloud caused panic on Thursday in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Plumes of white smoke rose above the city after a shipping container in the port area was set on fire. It was said to mostly contain refuse, but also an unknown quantity of chemical pesticides and insecticides. City and federal officials decided to order the evacuation of government buildings in the city centre as well as an ocean liner at dock, the city’s bus terminal, the main train station, schools and most buildings in the immediate vicinity of the port of Buenos Aires. The head of the city’s Environmental Protection Agency, Javier Corcuera, later explained that the “what has been hovering over the city centre shouldn’t worry anyone, it does smell bad, but it is so diluted that it is no longer toxic”. He added that officials were still trying to get to the container to ascertain “exactly what it is that caught on fire”.

Oscar Niemeyer, Modernist Architect, Dead at 104

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, winner of the 1988 Pritzker Prize, died late on Wednesday night in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 104. Designer of sweeping buildings such as the French Communist Party headquarters in Paris, the Copan building in São Paulo, the headquarters of the Mondadori publishing company in Milan and most of the buildings in the Brazilian capital, Brasília, Niemeyer fought against the hard angles and straight lines that he saw as inherently authoritarian. “I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man,” he once said. “I am attracted to free-flowing sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman.” He will be laid in state at the Presidential Palace in Brasília and his burial is scheduled for Friday in Rio de Janeiro.

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