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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

UK Government Under Pressure Over Alcohol Pricing

UK Prime Minister David Cameron was criticised over reports that he intends to scrap plans to institute a mininum price on alcohol on Wednesday. At Prime Minister’s Questions, Cameron defended the government’s plans to tackle cheap alcohol in the country, but did not confirm that the proposals would go ahead. “There is as problem with deeply discounted alcohol in supermarkets and other stores and I’m absolutely determined that we will deal with this. We’ve published proposals, we’re looking at the consultation and the results to those proposals, but be in no doubt we’ve got to deal with the problem of having 20p or 25p cans of lager available in supermarkets. It’s got to change”, said Cameron. Shadow Home Office Minister Diana Johnson said the Prime Minister’s failure to confirm the plans to cut were “weak leadership and weak government”. One of his own backbenchers, David Davis, said that the government’s proposals were “not going to change the price of Chateau Lafite at Chequers”.

Europeans Are World’s Biggest Drinkers and Smokers

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report has indicated that Europeans are the world’s biggest smokers and drinkers, suggesting that an increase in the price of alcohol and cigarettes could help avoid he ills they cause. “When you look at the region as a whole, smoking and alcohol are some of the most important lifestyle factors that are causing death and disability”, said Claudia Stein, director of the division of information, evidence, research and innovation at the WHO. More than half the men smoke in Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Turkey, while the Czech Republic, Estonia, Luxembourg and Moldova consume the most alcohol. “It’s quite striking that alcohol consumption in the European region is the highest in the world,” said Andy Haines, professor of public health and primary care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “A lot of work needs to be done. That’s partly a matter of pricing”, added Haines. The two habits, smoking and drinking, are the main contributors to cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses, which account for 70 percent of all deaths, said the WHO.

Arab Countries to Combat Extremism Through Social Media

Arab interior ministers were told to confront the spread of extremism through social media networks during a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. The head of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers, Mohammed Kuman, told the meeting that “extremist thought on social networks has resulted in a major increase in terrorist acts, political assassinations and sectarian conflicts”. Kuman added that it had “become impossible to control the content of social networks, it is important to produce counter-speech” and that “ideas can only be fought by ideas”. Al Qaeda and regional branches such as the Yemeni Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) regularly use the internet to communicate with followers and claim responsibility for terror attacks. Kuman also suggested that extremism could be fough with programmes to rehabilitate Al Qaeda members, adding that some former detainees at Guantanamo had been reintegrated Saudi society after undergoing treatment.

Cardinals Still Undecided on New Pope

As of 16:55 GMT the Conclave of Cardinals had still not decided on the new Pope after two inconclusive rounds on Wednesday morning. The 115 cardinal-electors are to remain isolated until two-thirds agree on a new leader, with two votes occurring on Wednesday afternoon after lunch and successive rounds of four daily votes until a pontiff is elected. Italian media speculated that the cardinals had used their time over the past evening to remove the minor candidates from the voting, with three main candidates commanding the attention of the electors – Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Québec. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that a lack of result after three rounds of voting was “perfectly normal” and not a sign of division among the cardinals. Only one pontiff, wartime pontiff Pius XII, was elected after three rounds of voting. “We are living in a beautiful and intense moment”, concluded Lombardi.

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