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Monday, February 25, 2013

Italian Election Deadlock Roils Markets

The elections in Italy, which took place over two days, appear to have left no clear winner. As technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti, who was appointed by the President to steer Italy out of a sovereign debt crisis, stepped down, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, of the conservative party The People of the Freedom, Pier Luigi Bersani, of the center-left Democratic Party, and former comedian-turned-populist-politician Beppe Grillo, with the Five Star Movement, vied for the voters’ favors. While Bersani and his coalition led in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, Berlusconi seems to be leading in the Senate, which would result in a hung parliament and require new elections. Bersani, who supported Monti’s austere reforms, could consider an alliance with Grillo. Both are left-leaning candidates, but Grillo wants to suspend interest payments on the nation’s debt and hold a referendum on euro membership. Italian bonds, which gained earlier on an apparent Bersani win, fell as Berlusconi advanced in the Senate.

Obama Urges Governors to Back Him on Budget

U.S. President Barack Obama sought the support of governors across the nation for his plan to prevent $85 billion in spending cuts, due to take effect on Friday. “These cuts do not have to happen,” he told them today at the White House. “Congress can turn them off at any time with just a little bit of compromise.” He explained the cuts would not all have an immediate effect, but would progressively be felt as they are implemented. “While you are in town, I hope you speak with your congressional delegation,” Obama told the governors. “And remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk.”

Syrian Government Ready to Talk with Opposition

Syria Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said the government is ready to talk to its opponents, including armed rebels against whom they’ve been waging a two-year war that already claimed 70,000 lives. Muallem spoke in Moscow, before a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. “We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms,” he said. “We still believe in a peaceful solution to the Syrian problem.” Meanwhile, the Syrian Opposition Council agreed to join a Friends of Syria summit in Rome after the U.S. and the U.K. “promised specific aid” to the Syrian people. This comes after the group vowed to boycott the meeting because of “the world’s silence” on the conflict. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and newly-appointed U.S. State Secretary John Kerry confirmed there would be more support for opposition efforts.

U.K. Cardinal O’Brien Resigns on Misconduct

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest ranking Roman Catholic priest in the U.K., said today he will resign as head of the Scottish Church in the face of accusations of “inappropriate conduct” towards other priests, which he denies. “Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God,” said O’Brien. “For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended.” O’Brien’s departure will leave the nation without representation at the papal conclave, which will meet in coming weeks to elect a new pope after Benedict XVI steps down on on Thursday. While he will remain a cardinal and could technically take part in the selection, he said he will not go. “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor,” he explained. The complainants have accused him of “unwanted” contact and “inappropriate” behavior.

Remains of Ancient Continent Found in Indian Ocean

Fragments of an ancient continent were found under the Indian Ocean, scientists reported in Nature Geoscience. Researchers said a former piece of land they called Mauritia may have existed between 2,000 and 85 million years ago. The microcontinent would have been located between the masses of land that are now India and Madagascar. Professor Trond Torsvik, from the University of Oslo, and his team examined grains of sand from the beaches of Mauritius, finding “zircons that [...] are something you typically find in a continental crust.” He added “At the moment the Seychelles is a piece of granite, or continental crust, which is sitting practically in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But once upon a time, it was sitting north of Madagascar. And what we are saying is that maybe this was much bigger, and there are many of these continental fragments that are spread around in the ocean.”

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