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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tunisians Call for Strike as Government Rejects Dissolution

Protesters in Tunisia called for a general strike after members of the nation’s Islamic-led government dismissed Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s call to dissolve it. Ennahda, Tunisia’s ruling party, also rejected Jebali’s pledge to create an interim cabinet of technocrats and call for new elections after the assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid yesterday. The death of Belaid, who led the left-leaning Party of Democratic Patriots, sparked violent demonstrations across the nation, including the destruction of Ennahda’s offices and one death. Other opposition figures and Belaid’s family held Ennahda responsible for the killing, accusing its leaders of doing nothing to protect Belaid’s life, despite the fact that they knew he had been threatened.

EU Leaders Enter Tough Budget Negotiations

The summit of European Union (EU) leaders started over five hours late today as participants prepared to hash out their differences on a new seven-year budget for the region. Summit Chair Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian president of the European Council, urged them to focus on jobs, innovation, and growth in the region, whose economy has been badly hurt by the sovereign debt crisis and heavy austerity measures. The biggest obstacle to an agreement is the deep division between the U.K. and France. While British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking spending cuts, French President François Hollande wants to maintain current levels of funding for the largest chunks of the budget, including agricultural subsidies (40 percent of which go to France) and support for the poorest areas of the continent. These numbers “need to come down,” said Cameron. “And if they don’t… there won’t be a deal.” While it is divisive, the EU budget is also small: at €1 trillion ($1.34 trillion) for the 2014-2020 period, it represents about one percent of the region’s yearly economic output.

Brennan Appears Before Senate for CIA Top Job

John Brennan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to replace David Petraeus at the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was grilled today about drone strikes and leaks of classified documents. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee also asked him about the use of torture to gather intelligence. Brennan said he had no oversight of the torture program and did not try to stop it. Though he did not use the word “torture,” he said waterboarding interrogations “should not be done.” Brennan also said that while he discussed U.S. operations in Yemen with pundits, he did not reveal there was a double agent in Al Qaeda ranks. Pressed on drones, he defended the program, which he has overseen, arguing in written remarks that strikes “are conducted in full compliance with the law,” and adding today that when they kill civilians, “we need to acknowledge it publicly.” The hearing was interrupted several times at the beginning by anti-war protesters.

Panetta Says Pentagon Supported Arming Syrian Rebels

The Pentagon supported a plan to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Congress today. The plan was created last summer by then-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While there had been talks about arming Syrian rebels against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, many analysts voiced concerns that the weapons may fall into the wrong hands as Islamists groups affiliated to Al Qaeda infiltrated the resistance. President Barack Obama was also wary of getting involved in Syria ahead of the November elections. Clinton said she supported a plan that would require vetting and training rebels with whom the U.S. would work. The proposal was expected to be revisited after the elections, but Petraeus resigned because of an extramarital affair and Clinton suffered a concussion that kept her away from her post.

Common Ancestor to Placental Mammals Found

The common ancestor of all mammals that feed their young through a placenta before their birth may have been a rat-sized ball of fur with a long tail and a weakness for insects, a study has found. Scientists worked for six years, combining genomic information and fossil analysis, to discover that the animal came to life 66 million years ago, just after an asteroid caused the demise of dinosaurs. Its descendants include humans, but also elephants, whales, and hamsters. Maureen O’Leary of Stony Brook University in New Yorh and her team published the study in the journal Science. “This is a landmark piece of work,” says Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh. “The fossil record and the molecular clock are starting to converge. That’s just what we want.”

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