Shares rally on US fiscal deal
News of a short-term deal to avert the U.S. fiscal cliff has boosted share prices across Europe and the U.S. The first trading session of 2013 saw strong gains for the main European indices, with London’s FTSE 100 having risen by over two percent by lunchtime today and the Dax, Dow Jones and Nasdaq indices seeing similar rises. The fiscal cliff deal, announced early on Tuesday morning, enabled the U.S. economy to avoid reaching the government debt ceiling and triggering fiscal measures worth $600 billion. The measures – tax rises worth $536 billion and spending cuts of $109 billion – would have automatically come into effect at midnight on Monday had the deal not passed a U.S. senate vote. The fiscal cliff deal however has not ended debates over the economy and must still go before the House of Representatives. Negotiations over budget cuts have in effect been postponed, with a further debate over government spending and the raising of the debt ceiling expected to happen in February.
Dozens killed in airstrike near Damascus
An airstrike on a petrol station in the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus, is claimed to have killed dozens of people. Unverified reports from activists indicate that around 30 people may have been killed by the strikes, with one activist group suggesting the death toll may be as high as 70. According to one account the petrol station was hit by a single missile during the arrival of a fuel consignment, with the resulting explosion engulfing a line of vehicles waiting to buy fuel. A United Nations report published today suggests that over 60,000 people have been killed during the Syrian conflict, 15,000 more than previously estimated. In other Syrian news, fighting has intensified around the Taftanaz airbase in northern Syria. According to a Reuters report rebel fighters, including the The al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, attacked the base this morning, firing machine guns and mortars at grounded helicopters. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the attack was the latest of several attempts to capture the base.
Venezuela’s Chavez ‘conscious’ says VP Nicolas Maduro
Venezuela’s Vice President Nicolas Maduro has attempted to quell rumours of President Hugo Chavez’s deteriorating health. In an interview in Havana this morning, Maduro stated that Chavez is conscious and is aware of “the complexity of his post-operative state.” The Venezuelan leader is in Cuba undergoing treatment for cancer and has reportedly been experiencing complications, including respiratory problems, since an operation on December 11. Maduro, who Chavez designated as his successor last month, had traveled to Cuba along with Chavez’s wife, Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores. He is said to have met with Chavez twice during his stay, reportedly discussing the state of the economy and the recent swearing-in of newly elected governors. Maduro’s comments have been suggested to be an attempt to reassure the Venezuelan people of Chavez’s ability to lead the country, ahead of his re-inauguration as President, scheduled for January 10. According to a Reuters report, opposition leaders have claimed that postponing the ceremony would signal that Chavez is not fit to govern.
Burma targets Kachin rebels
The Burmese government confirmed today that it had carried out airstrikes earlier this week against rebels in northern Kachin state. Footage given to the BBC by a humanitarian group appears to show Burmese military jets and helicopters attacking rebel positions. The Burmese government has reportedly acknowledged that “training jets” were used against the rebels in response to attacks by the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation. Government officials had previously denied carrying out an offensive in rebel-held territory. Fighting has been on-going between the government and the rebels since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011. Tens of thousands of people have reportedly been displaced since the violence began. The ethnic Kachin groups that make up rebel forces are demanding greater autonomy in the province and an end to alleged government repression. Observers have advised that the fighting could undermine the country’s on-going political reforms.