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Thursday, February 28, 2013

U.S. Pledges $60 Million in Aid to Syrian Rebels

The U.S. pledged today to provide food and medical supplies to the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The announcement, made by Secretary of State John Kerry, is the first public commitment made by the country for non-lethal support for the rebels. It will also include $60 million to help the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, which gathers various groups of opponents to Assad, provide sanitation and education in areas it already controls. The European Union (EU) also agreed to provide non-lethal help in the form of armored vehicles, non-lethal military equipment, and technical support. During a Friends of Syria summit in Rome, French President François Hollande called for new partners to help Syria negotiate its way to peace, a proposal Russia has promised to consider. Meanwhile, United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Assad had been convinced by his circle that the country has become the victim of a terrorist plot.

EU Meets Resistance in Effort to Curb Bank Bonuses

The European Union (EU) agreed in Brussels today on a plan to cap bankers’ bonuses at twice their fixed salary, a deal reached by the European Parliament and government officials. If ratified by both the parliament and all EU member states, will take effect on January 1 next year. The measure caused ire among banks and concern in the U.K., a nation whose economy relies heavily on the financial sector. “We will want to consider the impact on competitiveness,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. The fear is that the new rules will scare top talent away to places like New York and Hong Kong. On good years, bonuses can reach 10 times the amount of a fixed salary, but banks may already be trying to find ways around more restrictive laws. Some are discussing surges in fixed pay, while others have started offering large housing allowances to attract U.S. bankers to London. This is a “disgraceful, politically motivated, beggar-thy-neighbor piece of legislation dreamed up by jealousy and populism,” John Purcell, chief executive officer of Purcell & Co., a London executive-search firm, told Bloomberg. “By increasing fixed costs, this misguided approach will make European banks more vulnerable to economic headwinds.”

Manning Pleads Guilty to Lighter Charges in Wikileaks Case

U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of having delivered a host of  classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, said he thought they “should become public to make the world a better place” but denied aiding the enemy or violating the Espionage Act. “I believed if the public — in particular the American public — had access to the information, this could spark a debate about foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. In a 35-page statement that he read calmly during his court-martial in Fort Meade, Maryland, he said he first tried to reach out to The Washington Post and The New York Times, and only turned to WikiLeaks when no one called him back from either publication. “No one associated with WLO [WikiLeaks Organization] pressured me into sending any more information,” he said. “I take full responsibility.” Manning faces as much as 20 years imprisonment for the charges to which he pleaded guilty, and life imprisonment for aiding the enemy.

Congress Reauthorizes Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. House of Representatives approved today the renewal of a 1994 bill credited for a 64 percent decrease in domestic violence, the Violence Against Women Act. Eighty-seven Republicans voted with the Democrats to pass the legislation previously approved by the Senate, after 60 of them voted with the Democratic party to shun an alternative presented by the GOP House leadership. The failed bill, introduced last week, did away with provisions to protect “underserved populations” such as gay, bisexual and transgender victims, as well as certain protections for Native American women on reservations. The proposal was heavily criticized for being a weaker version of the original law. This is the third bill this year Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner brings to the floor without the support of his own majority.

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