G8 Foreign Secretaries Condemn North Korea
Foreign ministers of the G8 group of nations, comprised of the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia have “condemned in the strongest possible terms” North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. The United Kingdom currently holds the rotating presidency of the G8 group and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said during a press conference after talks that “if the DPRK conducts another missile launch or nuclear test, we have committed ourselves to take further significant measures”. Meanwhile, on Syria, the group of foreign ministers expressed “deep concerns about the increasing human tragedy of the conflict” in the country, with Hague adding that “the world has failed so far in its responsibilities, and continues to do so”. Some ministers met with members of the Syrian opposition on the sidelines of the G8 conference in London and the rebels have reportedly asked for more humanitarian assistance. More than 60,000 people are estimated to have died since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011.
Italy Scrambles to Govern Itself Three Months after Elections
Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of Italy’s Democratic Party (PD), has denied that his bloc could split over his leadership during the current stalemate affecting the country. Some in his party favour a coalition with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his centre-right People of Freedom, a solution to the political impasse created by February’s split vote, which gave the PD control of the Lower House, but not the Senate, making a majority government impossible. Others find an alliance with Berlusconi completely unpalatable, a measure that could alienate PD voters. Besides grappling with the formation of a government, Bersani has also been in talks to select a new head of state to replace current Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, whose mandate ends on May 15. Napolitano cannot dissolve parliament or call new elections because law prevents him from doing so in the final months of his mandate, so all parties are scrambling to find a new president that could break the political deadlock.
China’s Handling of New Bird Flu Strain Questioned
Chinese media outlets have begun to question why Chinese authorities did not disclose information about the emergence of a new deadly strain of bird flu around Shanghai sooner than it did. The first human case in eastern China was discovered on February 15, but was not announced to the public until March 31. The government is now finding up to five new cases a day, but Chinese officials insist the transmission is still only occurring between animals and humans, and not from person to person. Western health officials have said they do not know if China concealed the disease for so long, although China itself says it could only confirm the disease on March 29 after clinical tests. “People are still asking, why did it take the government so long to confirm the outbreak? The transparency of information from the government is still being called into question by the public, and the actions the government has taken have not convinced the public”, wrote a columnist in the Communist Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League.
Uruguay Passes Gay Marriage Bill
Uruguay has become the third country in Latin America to legalise gay marriage after Argentina and Mexico, with its Lower House passing a bill authorising it despite strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. The proposal had already been backed by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President José Mujica in two weeks. Seventy-one out of 92 deputies voted in favour of the bill, while the Senate had approved it by 23 votes to eight last week. The bill also allows same-sex couples to choose the order of the surnames their children will have and increases the age of consent for sexual relations to 16, from the current 12 for women and 14 for men. The country had already moved to allow same-sex civil unions, adoptions by gay couples and gays to service in its armed forces. Argentina had legalised gay marriage 2010, while same-sex marriages had been allowed in Mexico in 2009.
France’s Top Rabbi Steps Down Over Scandal
The Grand Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has taken a six-month leave from his post over admission that he plagiarised several academic authors. His post will be temporarily filled by two rabbis, according to Richard Prasquier, president of France’s largest umbrella group of Jewish organisations. Leaders of the Central Israeli Consistory of France will discuss in the coming months whether Rabbi Bernheim, who had been in the post since 2009, should return after the leave period to complete the seven-year mandate. The rabbi, who also admitted to lying about having a high-level certification in philosophy from the Sorbonne, was accused of plagiarism by a French academic over sections of his 2011 book Forty Jewish Meditations and other essays. Bernheim admitted to “borrowings… what others might call plagiarism” and said he regretted his actions, which, he said, were “a moral flaw”. France’s Jewish community consists of more than 500,000 people, the largest in Western Europe.