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Monday, February 4, 2013

Syrian Opposition Calls for Dialogue as Assad Warns Israel

The Syrian opposition said today President Bashar al-Assad can avoid trial if he chooses to leave now. After rebel leader Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib surprised his side with an offer for a dialogue, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces decided to back him up and create an incentive to bring Assad to the table. Russia and Iran, who have consistently supported Assad, sat with Moaz al-Khatib for the first time on Saturday, signaling diplomatic progress towards a resolution. Through state-run news agency SANA, Assad warned Israel, who carried out an airstrike last week on Syrian territory, that Syria is “capable” of “repelling any aggression targeting the Syrian people and their historic and cultural role.” He also accused Israel of working with “foreign powers” to “to destabilize and weaken Syria.”

S&P to Be Sued by DOJ for Fraud over Bonds Ratings

Standard & Poor’s Rating Service said it will be the object of a civil suit by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and state prosecutors, which they will probably announce tomorrow. S&P will stand accused of fraudulently giving high ratings in 2007 to risky mortgage-backed securities that collapsed later. In a civil suit, the burden of proof is lower than in a criminal court. While it isn’t clear why the DOJ is only focusing on S&P, analysts believe this may be the opening salvo for a wave of suits against other agencies such as Moody’s and Fitch Ratings. The shares of McGraw-Hill, parent company of S&P, slid 13.8 percent in trading today. Moody’s stock fell 10.7 percent.

Spain PM Rajoy Denies Corruption Claims

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy denied today allegations that he and other members of his conservative party (the Partido Popular) received secret payments over the course of almost 20 years. Spain’s main left-leaning newspaper El País unearthed documents it says were signed by Luís Bárcenas, the party’s former treasurer, that listed undeclared payments to party officials, including Rajoy. The papers, all handwritten, were dated from 1990 to 2008. Rajoy’s opposition asked him to resign, prompting him to retort that he will stay and see Spain through the financial and economic crisis.

Almost 700 Soccer Matches Fixed in Multimillion-Euro Bet Scam

An investigation by European police (Europol) found as many as 680 soccer matches may have been fixed by a Singapore-based betting cartel. The 19-month probe, presented today in The Hague, concluded at least 380 of these games took place in Europe, including Champions League and World Cup qualifiers. It identified 425 people, including players, match officials, clubs staff, and “serious criminals,” suspected of being involved in helping make €8 million ($10.8 million) in betting profits, and €2 million ($2.7 million) in bribes. FIFA, the International Football Federation, asked for harsher sentences for those convicted. “For people outside of football, the custodial sentences are too weak, and offer little to deter someone from getting involved in match-fixing,” said FIFA Director of Security Ralf Mutschke.

Girls Outperform Boys in Science Everywhere But U.S., Western Europe

A science test given by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed girls aged 15 outperform boys in most of the world, except for the U.S. and Western Europe. Researchers say cultural stereotypes, which exert pressure on boys to seek science careers, are less powerful in nations of Eastern Europe, like Russia, Asia, and the Middle East. In Jordan, for example, girls do better than boys by eight percent. “For girls in some Arab countries, education is the only way to move up the social structure,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the tests for the O.E.C.D. “It is one way to earn social mobility.”

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