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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cyprus to Keep Banks Closed as It Turns to Russia for Help

Cyprus said it will keep its banks closed until the end of the week as its government scrambles to find €5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) to secure a €10 billion rescue deal with the so-called troika, the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB). Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris met with his Russian counterpart Anton Siluanov to discuss more help 15 months after Russia lent the small island-nation €2.5 billion. Russian citizens and corporations hold 25 percent of bank accounts in Cyprus, a fact that has prompted Wolfgang Schäuble, German finance minister, to call for a probe into money laundering. Cyprus has been on the verge of a financial crisis since Monday, when the troika demanded that the government tap into its citizens’ and foreign residents’ bank deposits to find the necessary €5.8 billion, breaking an EU rule that protects accounts under €100,000. The measure failed in parliament, leaving the cabinet to find a plan B.

U.K. To Maintain Austerity Despite Stagnant Growth

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer (the equivalent of finance minister) George Osborne presented today his fourth budget, warning that despite slashed forecasts for economic growth, the country will remain on the path to austerity for another five years. Three years ago, Osborne said Britain would have done away with its deficit by 2015 while preserving its top credit rating. Not only was the nation downgraded last month, slowing growth now means it will take longer to cut the deficit. “Together with the British people we are, slowly but surely, fixing our country’s economic problems,” Osborne said today, as he announced lower growth estimates. “I will be straight with the country: another bout of economic storms in the euro zone would hit Britain’s economic fortunes hard again.” He also called on the Bank of England for help, saying that while its target will remain a two percent inflation, it will be able to justify higher price increases if the rest of the economy grows.

Obama Warns Syria Over Use of Chemical Weapons

During his first visit to Israel as U.S. president, Barack Obama warned the Syrian government he will hold it responsible if it is confirmed that chemical weapons were used yesterday near Aleppo, in the north of the embattled nation. Echoing comments made yesterday by his Press Secretary Jay Carney, Obama said he was “deeply skeptical” of the regime’s claims that those weapons were used by rebels. “The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists,” he said. He also sought to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood beside him at a press conference, that the U.S. will not allow for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. “All options are on the table” should the diplomatic route of sanctions against the Islamic country not suffice.

Guantánamo Hunger Strike Grows

Nine more Guantánamo inmates have joined a hunger strike that started six weeks ago as frustration grew that the U.S. government hasn’t yet made good on its promise to close the detention facility, according to Marine General John Kelly, who leads the U.S. army’s efforts in Latin America. He denied the protest, which went from 15 detainees to 24 since March 11, stemmed from a mishandling of the Koran. “No way has the Koran in any way, shape or form been in any way abused or mistreated,” Kelly said. “They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated apparently … when the president backed off, at least (that’s) their perception, of closing the facility.” Eight prisoners have lost enough weight to require medical intervention, receiving now nutrients through tubes that are going through their noses.

New Advances Against Leukemia with Gene Therapy

An experimental treatment that changes the makeup of a patient’s own immune T cells has resulted in the remission of adults suffering from a “devastating, galloping” type of leukemia. Using a disabled virus to carry new genes into the white blood T cells, the therapy “rewires” them to recognize and attack B cells, which are the ones affected in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Until now, only a seven-year-old girl went into remission after this type of treatment. Recently, however, an adult underwent a similar procedure: his leukemia disappeared within eight days. “We had hoped, but couldn’t have predicted that the response would be so profound and rapid,” Leukemia Specialist Renier J. Brentjens, from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said.

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