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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fear Grows as Cyprus Faces EU Ultimatum

Cyprus has until Monday to raise the €5.8 billion required to secure a €10 billion rescue package, the European Union (ECB) said. The European Central Bank (ECB) threatened to cut essential funding for the island should the government not manage to agree on a “plan B” as members of parliament gathered today for another vote. Meanwhile, a top EU official told Reuters the region’s leadership was prepared to exclude the small republic from the euro to prevent further contagion. ”The next move may prove its salvation or destruction,” the Bank of Cyprus, the country’s largest bank which is itself in difficulty, said in a statement. The parliament also debated a bill this evening on capital controls, a measure that would stop the flow of capital outside the country if no deal is reached by the time banks reopen after being shut all week. Another bill proposed the creation of a “solidarity fund,” which would draw on revenues from natural gas and other state assets. The crisis deepened after the parliament rejected a bailout term that would’ve forced the country to create an exceptional tax on bank deposits. Meanwhile, EU finance ministers were said to be discussing a plan so extreme they rejected it last week: it would involve closing the nation’s two largest banks and freezing the assets of deposits larger than €100,000, taking up to 40 percent of those amounts.

Obama Calls for Peace, Doesn’t Push Israel on Settlements

Speaking before Israeli students in Jerusalem today, U.S. President Barack Obama urged them to understand the Palestinians and “look at the world through their eyes.” By reaching younger people and encouraging them to “create the change that you want to see,” his hope is to gather support for a way to the resolution of the decades-long conflict. He assured Israel the U.S. stood by its side, but reminded his audience the nation has a “true partner” in Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority. Obama also spoke in Ramallah, in the West Bank, hours after two rockets shot from the Gaza strip hit the south of Israel. There he asked the Palestinians to resume the talks with Israel, but didn’t reiterate calls for Israel to stop the development of settlements, something Abbas has long cited as a precondition for dialogue. ”Both sides are going to have to think anew,” Obama said.

Kurdish Rebel Leader Ocalan Calls for Ceasefire

From the confines of his prison, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan has asked his followers to cease fire and leave the Turkish territory. The PKK has fought for three decades for the independence of Kurdistan, a cultural region that spans across the East of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. “Let guns be silenced and politics dominate,” Öcalan wrote in a letter. “The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders … It’s not the end. It’s the start of a new era.” While this is not the first ceasefire called by the PKK, this time it comes after talks between Öcalan and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister. It is still unclear what militants would obtain in return, though it has been said Kurds would receive wider recognition and the right to speak their own language. The conflict has killed 40,000 people during the last 30 years.

U.S. Congress Prevents Government Shutdown

The U.S. House of Representatives gave today final approval to a stopgap bill that will fund the government past March 27 and for six months to prevent a shutdown. The Continuing Resolution (CR) also makes some adjustments to the $85 billion spending cuts that took effect on March 1 because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree on a budget. The goal was to soften the blow of the sequester by increasing funding on some programs such as Head Start and cancer research. Meat inspection and tuition for members of the military were altogether excluded from the cuts. The CR does not change the amount of the sequester, however. Analysts expect the cuts to stay for the rest of 2013.

Universe Older Than Previously Estimated, ESA Says

The Universe is probably 13.82 billion years, about 50 million years older than previously estimated, data gathered by the European Space Agency (ESA) shows. A map produced by the Planck Surveyor satellite that shows ancient light in the form of cosmic microwave background, or CMB, was put together over 15 months and confirms the Big Bang theory as the birth of the Universe. But it also indicates there may be more matter than initially thought, and a bit less “dark energy,” which scientists say causes the cosmos’ accelerating expansion. “I can assure you there are cosmologists who would have hacked our computers or maybe even given up their children to get hold of this map, we’re so excited by it,” said Cambridge University Astrophysicist George Efstathiou, who presented the map at ESA’s headquarters in Paris.

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