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Monday, February 25, 2013

Italian Elections Too Close to Call, Could Send Country Back to Polls

Preliminary numbers on the results of the Italian general elections on Monday raised the possibility of a hung parliament and a return to the polls for the country, sending markets swaying according to every turn in the neck-and-neck race. Initial projections had the centre-left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani taking 34.5 percent of the vote for the lower house, with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi trailing with 31 percent. In the Senate, Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition led polls with 31 percent against the centre-left’s 29.5 percent. Italian electoral laws guarantee a majority in the lower house for the party or coalition with the biggest share of the votes, however slim, but the Senate is elected on a region-by-region basis and the results there hinged on Lombardy, Campania, Sicily and the Piedmont. Any political party needs both houses to be able to govern and a hung parliament could technically send the country into fresh elections. Stefano Fassini, of the leftwing Democratic Party, told state broadcaster RAI that “the scenario from the projections we have seen so far suggest there will be no stable government and we would need to return to the polls”, given that an alliance between Bersani and Berlusconi would be unlikely.

UK Chancellor Says AAA Loss Will Spur Debt Cuts

UK Chancellor George Osborne has addressed Parliament after the country lost its AAA credit rating, saying that the government will “redouble its efforts” to tackle debt. He added that the downgrade was due to slow global growth and that it could have been much worse if the government abandoned its efforts. When reminded by a Labour MP that he had promised to “maintain Britain’s AAA credit rating” just before the last general election, Osborne said it was “just one measure of economic performance”. He added that it was “patently ludicrous” that the UK’s debt problems could be solved instantly and that “we have got to convince the world that we can pay our way in the world, and that is what the government is going to do”. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls countered that Osborne was “in denial” and that he had failed “the first economic test he set himself”, a sign of a “downgraded chancellor”.

New US Secretary of State Hails ‘Special Relationship’ with UK

US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the “special relationship” between the UK and the US during his first trip overseas after being appointed by US President Barack Obama earlier this month. He had breakfast with UK Prime Minister David Cameron before meeting with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. “When you think of everything that binds the US and Great Britain – our common values, our long shared history, our ties of family and friendship, there is a reason why we call this the special relationship, or as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron wrote, ‘a partnership of the heart’”, said Kerry. His remarks came on the first day of a trip that will also take him to Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar in 11 days. Chief among his tasks is a diplomatic effort to gather international support for the Syrian opposition to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Pope Benedict XVI Authorises Cardinals to Change Conclave Date

Pope Benedict XVI has authorised the College of Cardinals to change the date of the conclave that will elect his successor, said Father Frederico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, at a press conference on Monday. The pontiff signed a motu proprio on the issue. This form of document is issued by the Pope and is personally signed by him, and it normally makes minor changes to a law or procedure. In this case the motu proprio changes John Paul II’s edict “Universi Dominic gregis” that the earliest the cardinals could have met was March 15. The new date is now to be decided by the cardinals themselves, but Father Lombardi said the earliest date might be known on March 1, date of the first meeting of the college following the pontiff’s resignation. He also added that the motu proprio simply gives the cardinals the option to change the date, but it is not an order to that effect.

Egyptian Leader Warns of Chaos Ahead of Elections

Main Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei has spoken to the BBC urging Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to cancel the upcoming parliamentary elections, saying they could bring chaos, instability and even a military coup. He said his party would not participate in the “sham poll” and expected other parties in the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) to follow suit. “We need to send a message loud and clear to the people here and outside of Egypt that this is not a democracy, that we have not participated in an uprising two years ago to end up with a recycling of the Mubarak regime. Torture is still there, abduction is still there, a lack of social justice is still there”, said El Baradei. He added that to hold elections at a time when Egyptian society was deeply polarised could lead the country to chaos, and that the army would then feel it had “a national duty to intervene”.

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