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Monday, December 17, 2012

Nick Clegg Defends Lib Dems’ Relevance in Coalition Government

U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Glegg marked his fifth anniversary as leader of the Liberal Democrat party with a defiant speech claiming the centre ground in national politics. Echoing Margaret Thatcher’s seminal “the lady’s not for turning” speech of 1980, Clegg said that “both the Conservatives and Labour try to occupy the centre ground. Both get pushed off it by their tribal politics. But the Liberal Democrats are not for shifting. We know that the centre ground is what the people of Britain want their government to occupy”. He also claimed the Lib Dems’ presence in the coalition government effectively prevented more deeper welfare cuts than those carried out, saying he had agreed to only £3.8 billion of the proposed £10 billion in cuts sought by Tory extremists. Part of Clegg’s speech was clearly aimed at stopping the party’s slip down the polls, with some numbers suggesting that it is now fourth behind the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), which seeks withdrawal from the European Union.

Syrian Jets Bomb Palestinian Refugee Camp

Syrian fighters bombed a Palestinian refugee camp on Sunday, home to more than 150,000 people, part of a government offensive to beat back rebels forces rapidly encroaching on the capital Damascus. A video published to YouTube purportedly showed the grounds of a mosque within the Yarmouk camp strewn with body parts. The opposition-backed Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that eight civilians were killed during the bombing, while other activists pegged the death toll at 25. The Syrian government seemed to confirm the attack when its Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the Palestinian refugees should not offer “shelter or assistance to terrorist groups” in the refugee camp, according to Syrian state television. His comments came after a UN spokesman said the Secretary-General had been concerned at the first reports of the bombing. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would soon be toppled. “I think that the end is nearing for Bashar al-Assad, even the Russians are considering it”, said Fabius during an interview with RFI radio.

Landmine Kills 10 Afghan Girls Collecting Firewood

Ten girls were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday when a mine exploded while they were gathering firewood near Dawlatzai village in Nangarhar province. “The girls were collecting firewood and they were digging the ground with axes when the blast happened” said Dawlatzai District Governor Mohammad Sediq. The girls, all aged between nine and 11, had their bodies recovered from the blast zone by their relatives. “I was having a breakfast when I heard a bang. I came out of my house to see what had happened”, said villager Jan Mohammad when interviewed by the Reuters news agency. “Nearby children asked me to bring some bedspreads, then I got back home and took my car. Later I carried three of the wounded children to the public health centre.” Women and children are often victims of landmines left after decades of fighting in the country, with the Human Rights Watch NGO estimating that landmines and other unexploded ordinance contaminate at least 724 million square meters of land in Afghanistan.

Japan Shifts to the Right as LDP Returns to Power

Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the country’s election on Sunday, gaining 300 seats and setting course for an absolute majority with Komeito, a centre-right junior coalition party. Incoming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had previously quit the same post in 2007 after a troubled year in office, said on Monday that the victory “does not mean trust in the Liberal Democratic Party has been completely restored, rather, it was a decision by the public that they should put an end to the political stagnation and confusion over the past three years, caused by the Democratic Party’s misguided political leadership.” The Chinese government reacted immediately to his election victory, saying that Japan “must show sincerity and take practical steps to appropriately deal with the present situation and work hard to resolve the issue and improve relations between the two countries”, in the words of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying. The two countries have been at odds since September, when Japan bought a set of disputed islands in the East China Sea from a private Japanese owner. Called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, the islands have sparked fears of a conflict between the two countries.

Venezuelan Ruling Party Sweeps Regional Elections

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) won the vast majority of Sunday’s state elections in the country, taking 20 of the 23 state governorships in Venezuela. “That was the people’s present for their commander, painting the country red”, said the party’s national election coordinator Jorge Rodríguez to the Reuters news agency. Some analysts say the sweeping victory was largely the result of a sympathy vote for the cancer-stricken Chávez, still recuperating from surgery in Cuba. His main rival in last October’s presidential elections, Henrique Capriles, retained the governorship of Miranda state, bordering the capital Caracas. He acknowledged the results were damaging to the opposition. “We Venezuelans pray for the president’s health, but he is in Cuba and Venezuela’s problems need answers”, said Capriles. while also accusing the ruling party of misusing federal resources and pushing the sympathy vote. Meanwhile, former Cuban president Fidel Castro sent a letter to the Venezuelan government, read by Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro on state television, saying that Cuban doctors were fighting for his recovery “with optimism towards this goal”.

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