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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Report on Health Care Scandal Prompts Apology from U.K. Prime Minister

A public inquiry into institutional and structural failings in the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) has been published with 290 recommendations to ensure patients’s interests become a top priority for the health service. The enquiry, led by Robert Francis QC, was initiated after an estimated 1,200 patients died as a result of poor care over the 50 months between January 2005 and March 2009 at Stafford hospital, a small general hospital in Staffordshire. The poor care came to light in mid-2007 after the hospital started showing unusually high death rates. The report found that some patients needing pain relief got it late or not at all, and that other patients were left unwashed for up to a month. Misdiagnosis was also common. Part of the problem was a chronic shortage of staff, coupled with low morale. Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to tackle NHS “complacency”, adding that the health service was “a fantastic institution, a great organisation”, but that the enquiry “tells us that there was a manifest failure to act on the data available to the hospital and more widely”. He also apologised to the families affected by the poor care. “On behalf of our government and indeed our country, I’m truly sorry.”

U.K. MPs Vote Overwhelmingly in Support of Gay Marriage

Members of the U.K. Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation that gives gay couples the right to marry, almost a half century after the House of Commons legalised homosexuality in England in 1967. It remained a crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland until 1981 and in the Isle of Man until 1992. The legislation was approved by a majority of 400 to 175, but Prime Minister David Cameron was embarrassed when the majority of his party voted against the measure. Those against the government counted 139 votes, including two cabinet ministers, with just 132 Conservatives voting for the measure. Another 75 MPs abstained. The Prime Minister said that he accepted the “strong views” on both sides of the debate, but felt that the passage of legislation was “a step forward for our country”.

France Reveals Plans to Withdraw from Mali in March

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that France plans to pull its troops out of Mali in March, but that it will use the interim period to make a strong push against Islamist militants in the north of the country. “We will continue to act in the north where some terrorist havens remain,” he said in an interview to French media. “I think that from March, if everything goes according to plan, the number of French troops should fall”, he added. France has nearly 4,000 troops, as well as several warplanes and armoured vehicles, employed in its effort to drive Islamists from their bases in northern Mali. Malian military spokesperson Cpt. Samba Coulibaly said his forces did not fear a French withdrawal. “The departure of the French soldiers does not scare us, especially since their air force will still be present both in Timbuktu and Sevare. They control this entire zone and can intervene within a matter of minutes in order to carry out air strikes as needed.”

Magnitude 8.0 Earthquake off the Solomon Islands Triggers Tsunami

A powerful and shallow 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Santa Cruz islands, part of the Solomon Islands, on early Wednesday morning. A shallow earthquake can cause severe damage, according to Barry Hishorn, a geophysicist with the National Weather Service interviewed by the New York Times. Added to that, the Solomon Islands earthquake was a trust earthquake, meaning that the sea floor moved up or down, and not sideways, triggering a potentially dangerous tsunami. Warnings were issued for several Pacific nations, but cancelled hours later. The areas hardest hit by waves were on the western coast of Santa Cruz, in the city of Lata, where five people were killed, including a young boy. The press secretary to the Solomon’s Prime Minister said that the waves travelled 500 metres inland and that three villages suffered extensive damage. Many houses in the area were flattened.

U.S. Carrying Out Deadly Drone Strikes from Saudi Arabia

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been operating an airbase for unmanned drones inside Saudi Arabia since 2009, according to the New York Times. The airbase was built after a missile strike in Yemen killed dozens of civilians, including women and children. The facility is thought to be used to hunt down members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and a drone flown from the base is known to have killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the organisation’s operations chief, in September 2011 in Yemen. The airbase’s revelation is a potential embarrassment to the Saudi government, who is attempting to reform the country and is faced with a conservative elite that objects strongly to the presence of non-Muslim troops in the Arabian peninsula. A source close to the Saudi Interior Ministry refused to comment on the revelation when contacted by the BBC.

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