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Monday, December 10, 2012

Egyptian Military Given New Powers Ahead of Referendum

The Egyptian government has granted the army the authority to arrest civilians ahead of a constitutional referendum planned for next Saturday. President Mohammed Morsi said the move was intended to maintain order during the vote, but Amnesty International described the move as “worrying”. A military source interviewed by the Reuters news agency said that the law will be in forced “during the referendum” only and that “the armed forces secured polling stations during previous elections when it was in charge of the country”, referring to the 16 months of military rule following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. “Now the president is in charge. In order for the armed forces to be involved in securing the referendum, a law had to be issued saying so”, continued the source. The law granting the army police powers comes after a weekend of protests in Cairo against the draft constitution, which government opponents say infringes on freedoms and fails to protect the rights of women and minorities.

U.K. Prime Minister Opposed to Decriminalising Drugs

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected calls for a royal commission to consider decriminalising illegal drugs. His reaction comes after a report highlighting the Portuguese approach, where people found with drugs are not always prosecuted. “Drugs use is coming down, the emphasis is absolutely right, and we need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference”, said Cameron. “I think we should continue with that rather than have some very, very long-term royal commission”, added the Prime Minister. A royal commission is a public enquiry created by the Queen into a defined subject, overseen by a commissioner with quasi-judicial powers. The report issued by the home affairs committee stated that “although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration”. A statement from the Home Office countered that “our current laws draw on the best available evidence and as such we have no intention of downgrading or declassifying cannabis”.

Italy Set for Fresh Elections After Monti Quits

Italy began preparing for early elections after Prime Minister Mario Monti said he would resign as soon as the country’s parliament approved next year’s budget, which could set a vote for as early as February. “I am quitting, it is impossible to carry on like this”, said Monti according to Italian daily Corriere della Sera. He said he decided to leave after Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party decided to withdraw its support for the government last week. Berlusconi, after announcing his intention to run once again despite pledging not to after renouncing in November 2011, said he was in it “to win”. “When I did sport, when I worked and studied, I never entered into a competition to be well-placed, but always to win”, said Berlusconi. Italian stocks fell sharply on Monday in reaction to the news, with Milan’s stock market falling by 3.1 percent. “Monti is the one who managed to stabilise Italy and stop the contagion from Greece and his surprise resignation brings back the political risk in the equation, something we had forgotten about”, said David Thebault, a trader at Global Equities, during an interview with BBC News.

Chávez Leaves Venezuela for New Cancer Treatment in Cuba

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez left for Cuba on Monday morning for a second round of cancer surgery, two days after taking to the nation’s airwaves saying that new exams had shown “malignant cells” reappearing in the same area where he had undergone surgery in June 2011. “It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention”, he said. He told viewers that his medical team had done the best possible planning ahead of the surgical intervention, but that nothing was guaranteed and that his supporters should back Vice-President and Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro in case anything happened. “Comrade Nicolás Maduro, a true revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, of a great dedication to work, and a great capacity to conduct groups, to manage difficult situations. I have seen him do it”, he said. It was the first time Chávez talked publicly about a possible successor, prompting analysts to suggest that he believes himself terminally ill.

British Team to Search for Microbial Life in Antarctic Lake

A team of British researchers are preparing to drill into two miles of ice to reach the waters of Lake Ellsworth, in Antarctica, to see if organisms have survived in extreme isolation for up to a half million years. The attempt comes after a Russian team probed a much larger Antarctic lake, Lake Vostok, and extracted samples. The team, led by Prof Martin Siegert of Bristol University, told BBC News that he first thought of the experiment 16 years ago. “We’re very excited about this work and we’ve very much looking forward to doing science that has taken us so long to plan”, said Siegert. All of the components that go into the drill have to be sterilised so that any life beneath the ice is not contaminated by organism from above. The team will use melted and sterilised snow from the site, injected as a high-pressure stream of near-boiling water at the tip of the drill, to create a hole wide enough to accommodate sampling devices and HD cameras. The team will present the initial findings from Lake Ellsworth in a week’s time.

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