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Monday, March 18, 2013

Cyprus Scrambles to Amend Controversial Bailout Package

Cyprus has been allowed to amend the terms of a controversial €10 billion bailout deal with the EU and the IMF. Under the initial terms, depositors with less than €100,000 in bank accounts in the country would have to pay a one-off tax of 6.75 percent, with those owning sums above that threshold to pay 9.9 percent. The terms would be in direct contradiction to EU regulations that protect bank deposits below €100,000. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has been meeting local MPs to discuss the terms, with a debate and vote being held in the country’s parliament on Tuesday. All Cypriot financial institutions are closed and will remain shut until Thursday in order to avoid a run on banks. France’s Finance Minister, Pierre Moscovici, said that he would agree to a change in the bailout terms as long as the country raised a target figure of €5.8 billion in deposit taxes. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin branded the deposit tax as “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous”, while Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called it “a forfeiture of other people’s money”. Russian companies held an estimated €15 billion in deposits with Cypriot banks at the end of 2012, approximately 25 percent of all deposits in the Mediterranean island.

Syrian Jets Bomb Lebanon

Three days after the government of Bashar al-Assad threatened to bomb “armed terrorist groups” in Lebanon, Syrian jets struck two locations inside Lebanese territory. The mayor of the eastern town of Arsal, Ahmad al-Fliti, told Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star that fighter jets had dropped bombs on the eastern border areas of Kherbit Youneen and Wadi al-Khayl, some five kilometres inside Lebanon. No casualties were reported at the sites, agricultural areas known to be used as pathways for smuggling weapons across the border into Syria. Meanwhile, Syrian rebel forces captured a government intelligence compound near the Golan Heights, in the town of Shagara, eight kilometres from the ceasefire line with Israel. “We have completely taken over this security compound this morning. It’s a command centre for the pro-Assad militia. They retreated after strong blows dealt to them during a five day siege,” said Abu Iyas al-Haurani, a member of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade.

UK Political Parties Agree on Press Regulation

The three main political parties in the United Kingdom have agreed to set up a royal charter to regulate the press in England and Wales in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. This follows an inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson into press ethics, which resulted in a report asking for the creation of a independent regulator of the press. A clause in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will be tabled in the House of Lords, stipulating that a royal charter on the issue could not be amended without a two-thirds majority in Parliament. “What we wanted to avoid, and we have avoided, is a press law. Nowhere will it say what this body is, what it does, what it can’t do, what the press can and can’t do. That, quite rightly, is being kept out of Parliament. So, no statutory underpinning but a safeguard that says politicians can’t in future fiddle with this arrangement”, said British Prime Minister David Cameron. The future regulator is likely to be able to force a publication to issue corrections and apologies and could potentially impose fines. “The free press has nothing to fear from what has been agreed”, said Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party.

India Strips Italian Ambassador of Diplomatic Immunity Over Trial Row

India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Italian ambassador to India forfeited his diplomatic immunity when he failed to return two Italian marines for trial in the country over the death of two fishermen in February of last year. The two sailors, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who were part of a security team on a cargo ship, fired on a fishing boat under the impression that their vessel was about to the attacked by pirates. Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini had managed to negotiate a deal with an Indian judge and the sailors were allowed to return to Italy to vote in the parliamentary elections and celebrate Easter, with the proviso that they would return to India on February 22. The Italian government then said the marines would not return because India’s decision to put them to trial would violate their rights. “We never expected the Italian government to act in this manner”, said Chief Justice Altamas Kabir.

Obese Heart Patients ‘Less Likely to Die’ Than Normal Weight Counterparts

Researchers have found that obese cardiac patients are less likely to die early, despite having worse health and being less likely to follow lifestyle advice than those patients with normal weight. A team from University College London studied more than 4,400 patients and found that the paradox might be explained by the fact that obese or overweight patients might be fitter, despite their size, because they take more exercise. But even obese patients that did not follow healthy lifestyle recommendations still had a lower risk of death than normal weight patients who led a sedentary lifestyle or smoked. “We don’t yet understand this paradox and we would clearly not advise patients to put on weight. One of the more sensible explanations may be that when obese patients present to their doctor, they are given more aggressive treatment because they are seen as very high risk”, said Dr Mark Hamer, leader of the study.

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