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Friday, January 25, 2013

U.K. Economy Shrinks, Prompting More Fears of Recession

U.K. government officials spoke of “very, very grave difficulties” as figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the country’s economy had shrunk by 0.3 percent in the last three months of 2012, a sign that the economy could tip back into recession. The ONS attributed the fall in output to a drop in mining and quarrying, particularly after maintenance delays at oilfields in the North Sea. The economy had grown by 0.9 percent in the previous quarter boosted by the Olympic Games. Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC that the figures were a reminder that the country faced “a very difficult economic situation”, adding that “now we can either run away from those problems or we can confront them. And I’m determined to confront them so we can go on creating jobs for the people of this country”. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls countered that “this government’s failing plan has now seen our economy stagnate for over two years and borrowing is now rising as a result”. Earlier this week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had cut its growth forecast for the U.K. to 1 percent from 1.1 percent.

Egypt Marks Second Anniversary of Revolution with Further Protests

Egypt marked the second anniversary of former president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power with protests across its cities amidst politician tensions and economic fragility. The protests were prompted by leading opposition figures such as former IAEA chief Mohammed el-Baradei, who used his Twitter account to urge followers to “go out into the squares to finally achieve the objectives of the revolution”. He later added in a statement that the “revolution must be completed”. Protesters took to the streets chanting the same slogan, “bread, freedom, social justice”, first used in the 2011 protests against Mubarak. The Egyptian Health Ministry said 25 people had been injured in and around Tahrir Square in Cairo since the first marches in Cairo on Thursday evening, where police met protesters with tear gas. As the clashes continued into Friday morning, President Mohammed Morsi made a speech calling for calm and unity. “We have to feel that we are all in one ship”, he said. In Alexandria, protesters and policemen clashed outside government offices. Nine people were injured by bird-shot pellets, according to medical and security sources quoted by the Reuters news agency. Offices belonging to the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party were also targeted in the cities of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said.

King of Jordan Says Syrian Refugees in ‘Desperate Need of Aid’

Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged the international community on Friday to increase its assistance for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the king said that the “the weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year’s harsh winter. More international support is desperately needed”. “I cannot emphasise enough the challenges that we are all facing, both in Jordan and Lebanon, and it’s only going to get worse.” The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday that a further 6,400 Syrian refugees had sought assistance at camps set up in Jordan in the past 24 hours, bringing the total figure of refugees crossing into Jordan over 30,000 in the past month alone. King Abdullah II said that Jordan needed not only aid supplies, but also help with stockpiling supplies to be moved across the border into Syria to prevent a further outpouring of refugees.

Swine Flu Virus Infected ‘One in Five People’ in 2009

A study published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that at least one in five people, including half of all schoolchildren, had been infected with swine flu during the first year of the pandemic in 2009. The study was based on data sourced from 19 countries including Australia, India and the U.K. The H1N1 virus first appeared in Mexico and quickly spread across the globe. Dr Maria Van Kerkhove of Imperial College London told the BBC that fewer than two in every 10,000 died during the pandemic, but “those that did die are much younger than in seasonal flu so the years of life lost will be much more”, she said. “The figures drive home how incredibly infectious the virus is.” Older people were spared the worst effects of the virus as they had been exposed to the virus decades earlier.

Weekend Read: The Unbearable Vanity of Davos

The Swiss resort town of Davos first became famous when its air was declared effective against tuberculosis. It now finds itself filled each January with privileged people whose beliefs are just as distant from reality as those of spa tourists. In The Wall Street Journal.

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