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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron Promises Referendum on EU Membership

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged an in/out referendum on British membership of the European Union if his Conservative party wins the next general elections in 2015, with a vote to be held in 2017. “Democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer thin. Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain’s place in the European Union. But the question mark is already there and ignoring it won’t make it go away”, said Cameron. His speech was met with derision by opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour party. “My position is: ‘No, we don’t want an in/out referendum.’ He is going to put Britain through years of uncertainty, and take a huge gamble with our economy. He’s given in to his party and he can’t deliver for Britain.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was prepared to seek a compromise that would keep the U.K. in Europe. “Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the European Union. We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must find a fair compromise.”

Netanyahu Wins Narrow Victory in Israel, Country Shifts to the Centre

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged as the narrow victor in Israel’s elections on Wednesday morning. Political analysts expect him to serve a third term, but the emergence of the centrist Yesh Atid party in the second spot at the polls with former news anchor Yair Lapid at its helm brought issues like education and housing to the fore. The results suggest a centrist tilt in Israeli politics. “The citizens of Israel today said no to the politics of fear and hatred”, said Lapid once results were announced. “They said no to the possibility that we might splinter off into sectors, and groups and tribes and narrow interest groups. They said no to extremists, and they said no to antidemocratic behavior.” He also said he was open to working with Netanyahu, saying that Israel could only face its problems acting in unison. “What is good for Israel is not in the possession of the right, and nor is it in the possession of the left. It lies in the possibility of creating here a real and decent center.”

Lebanon Overwhelmed by Syrian Refugees, Desperate for International Aid

The rate of refugees departing Syria in recent days has led the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, to classify the situation as the “fastest-deteriorating humanitarian crisis on the planet”. Panos Moumtzis, regional coordinator for the agency’s efforts in the region, said on Tuesday that conditions were “deteriorating at a much, much faster pace than we had planned for” and that “it’s dramatic, it’s explosive and it’s dangerous”. An estimated 100,000 refugees leave Syria every month, with the majority ending up in neighbouring Lebanon. A recent U.N. appeal for US$1.5 billion to aid Syrian refugees has received few backers and local Lebanese officials are despairing at the prospect of a greater influx. “It’s more than a crisis. It’s a tragedy,” said Naji al-Mayis, mayor of Bar Elias, a short distance from the border. “The number of refugees is increasing rapidly, especially these days, to the point where we can’t provide them with their basic needs anymore.” Despite the conditions, refugees prefer the squalor in Lebanon to the violence in Syria. “There we couldn’t even close our eyes,” said Umm Hussam, a refugee. “At least here we can sleep. Thank God.”

U.K. Organisations Launch Campaign to End World Hunger

More than 100 U.K. aid organisations have united in a campaign against hunger as the country takes over presidency of the G8, a forum of the world’s eight largest economies. They want U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to use his position to address the issue. The campaigns centres itself primarily on hunger and malnutrition, but activists also want the government to address land grabs, tax avoidance and a lack of transparency over investments in poor countries. It is the biggest mobilisation of U.K. aid organisations since the U.K. last held the G8 presidency in 2005. “We didn’t make poverty history in 2005 but we did make big strides forward. We lifted millions out of poverty. The Achilles heel of that progress is hunger”, said Justin Forsyth, head of Save the Children. The campaign has received the backing of figures such as Bill Gates and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that “hunger is not an incurable disease or an unavoidable tragedy. We can make sure no child goes to bed hungry”.

Andean Glaciers Receding at ‘Unprecedented’ Rates

An article published on Tuesday in Cryosphere, the journal of the European Geosciences Union, has revealed that climate change has shrunk Andean glaciers between 30 and 50% since 1970 and has stated that many of them could melt away in the coming years. The ice loss has been blamed on an average temperature rise of 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past 70 years, a situation that could threaten the supply of fresh water for communities downstream from the glaciers in countries like Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. “This is a serious concern because a large proportion of the population lives in arid regions to the west of the Andes”, said Antoine Rabatel, lead author of the study. One example of the dramatic change brought about by the rise in temperatures has been the complete dissapearance of a thriving ski resort in the Bolivian Andes under the Chacaltaya glacier.

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