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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Greece in Nationwide Strike Against Austerity Cuts

Thousands of Greeks joined the country’s first general strike of 2013, in another wave of protests against austerity measures enacted by the government. Ferries were stuck in ports, schools across the country were shut and hospitals operated only with emergency staff. Crowds marched towards parliament in Athens, with minor clashes breaking out as police fired tear gas against hooded youths who had been throwing stones. Demonstrators in Heraklion, the biggest city in the island of Crete, overturned police cars. The country’s two biggest labour unions, representing approximately half of Greece’s workforce, called for the strike action. Ilias Iliopoulos, of the Adedy public sector union, said that ‘today’s strike is a new effort to get rid of the bailout deal and those who take advantage of the people and bring only misery”. He added that “a social explosion is very near”. Eleni Nikolaou, a 60-year-old civil servant who supports an unemployed brother with her reduced wage, said that she was “on the brink of going hungry. My life is misery”. “If this government had any dignity it would resign”, she added. The ruling coalition has recently taken a tough approach against striking workers, invoking emergency laws to force seamen and subway workers back to their jobs. Their strikes had paralysed public transport in Athens and left some of the country’s outlying islands with food shortages.

Pope Benedict Considers Changing Laws Governing Successory Conclave

Pope Benedict XVI is considering changing the rules governing the conclave that will meet next month to elect his successor, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. Lombardi said the possible changes would seek to “harmonise” two documents approved by Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II. One governs the period while the papacy is vacant, known as “Sede Vacante”, while the other governs the actual running of the conclave once the college of cardinals enters into seclusion. A 1996 directive signed by John Paul II stipulated that a conclave should start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy is vacant, meaning that the upcoming conclave would begin no earlier than March 15. Some of the 117 cardinals have already begun informal consultations on the best candidate and believe the vote should commence earlier in order to reduce the time the Roman Catholic Church would be without a leader.

History Made as Women Take Up Seats in Saudi Legislative Council

Thirty women took their seats in Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council on Wednesday, a historic first in the kingdom’s history. The council can propose draft laws and pass them on to King Abdullah, but only the monarch has the power to approve them. Speaking during the swearing in ceremony, the king said that “the development we are working at must be gradual”. He also recommended that council members show “realism” in their discussions and allow “reason to prevail in issues it has to deal with”. The thirty women, including university graduates, human rights activists and two royal princesses, were appointed by the monarch in January. Abdullah’s move was a significant concession in a country that forbids women from driving or leaving the country without the explicit consent of a male guardian. He had already granted women the right to vote in 2011 and allowed them to run as candidates in the next local elections in 2015. “We refuse to marginalise women’s role in Saudi society”, he said then.

Outgoing Russian Central Banker Hits Out at Widespread Corruption

Sergei Ignatyev, the outgoing president of the Bank of Russia, has sent a parting shot before leaving his post after 11 years in office. He said lawlessness and corruption had taken over Russia during the Putin years, telling Russian newspaper Vedomosti that “you get the impression that they are all controlled by one well organized group of people”, referring to the fact that over half of the illegal flows of money in the country involved firms linked to each other. He added that nearly US$50 billion, or 2.5 percent of the country’s national income, had been sent abroad illegally in 2012. “It can be payment for narcotics, grey imports, bribes and kickbacks to officials or managers making large-scale purchases”, explained Ignatyev. The central banker later attended a meeting at Russia’s upper house of parliament and did not touch on the subject with lawmakers, refusing to answer questions from journalists.

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