Pope Benedict XVI Resigns
Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday that he would resign his post after nearly eight years, the first pontiff to do so since the Middle Ages. Reading from a prepared statement at a meeting of cardinals in Rome, Benedict said that “after having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”. He added that “as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant”. One of the cardinals called to hear the announcement, Monsignor Oscar Sánchez of Mexico, told the Guardian that “the cardinals were just looking at one another. Then the pope got to his feet, gave his benediction and left. It was so simple; the simplest thing imaginable. Extraordinary. Nobody expected it. Then we all left in silence. There was absolute silence … and sadness”. Most modern popes have felt that resignation was an unnaceptable act, with a possible division arising from the presence of an ex-pope and a reigning pope. Other analysts argue that Benedict may have wanted to leave office while still being able to discharge his duties to the fullest, setting a precedent for the papacy and avoiding the public martyrdom undertaken by Pope John Paul II. The number of popes to have resigned before Benedict has been estimated to be as high as 10, with the last being Gregory XII in 1415.
Poll Shows Labour Leading Tories by 12 Points, Biggest Lead in Nearly a Decade
The Guardian has published the results of a poll showing that the Labour party has reached its biggest lead over the Conservatives in over a decade, with 41 percent of voter intentions. That is 12 points above the Conservatives, with 29 percent of the intentions of those polled. The Labour lead is the biggest since 2003, when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair received a short bounce after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Tories’ partner in government, the Liberal Democrats, have sunk to 13 percent while the UK Independence Party, an Eurosceptic right-wing party that is seen to challenge the Tories right flank, is now up to 9 percent. Despite the strong lead in the figures, the detail of the new poll shows that Labour’s position is not solid and much will hinge on how the economy behaves until the end of the current Parliament. Most voters continue to blame the country’s economic ills on the previous Labour government and see the current coalition as trying to contain the damage done then.
China Surpasses the U.S. as World’s Biggest Trading Nation
Figures released by the governments of the United States and China show that China has now surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest trading nation as measured by the sum of exports and imports of goods. China’s customs reported last month that the country’s trade amounted to US$3.9 trillion in 2012, compared to the figure of US$3.8 trillion reported by the U.S. Commerce Department. Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who coined the term BRIC to refer to the four emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China, told Bloomberg that “for so many countries around the world, China is becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner”. He added that “at this kind of pace by the end of the decade many European countries will be doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe”.
Iranian Government Arrests Daughters of Main Opposition Figure
Iranian security forces have arrested the two daughters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi after raiding their homes in Tehran. The move comes two years after Mousavi, a leader of the Green Movement, and his wife were placed under house arrest. Mousavi lost the 2009 presidential elections to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a result that prompted mass protests across the country and a brutal response from the Iranian government, with mass arrests and the death of many protesters. Iranian opposition sources told the BBC that agents searched the houses of the two women, Zahra and Narges, and placed them under arrest after finding relatives who could take care of their children. The two daughters were the only means of communication of the arrested opposition leader with the outside world. Iran will hold new presidential elections in June. President Ahmadinejad cannot run for another term under the terms of the Iranian constitution.
Coal Mine Explosion Kills 18 in Russian Arctic
A blast at a mine in the northern Russian city of Vorkuta, in the Russian Arctic, has killed 18 people and injured another three workers, with one person still reported as missing inside the mine, according to the Russian Ministry of Emergencies. The explosion, thought to have been caused by a methane gas build-up, took place in the early morning at a depth of 800 metres. Nearly 300 miners were at different levels at the time of the blast, but most made it out during an emergency evacuation. The 18 dead miners were apparently trapped by a tunnel collapse following the blast and could not escape to safety. The Vorkutinskaya mine belongs to a division of Severstal, one of Russia’s largest steel producers. The facility opened in 1973 and produces 1.8 million tonnes of coal every year. The Russian government has already stated that all of the victims’ families are eligible to receive at least US$65,000 in compensation.