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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Massive Explosion Hits Central Damascus

At least 13 people were killed and hundreds were injured by an explosion in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday. The explosion in the central Marjeh district comes a day after Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi survived a car bomb targeting his convoy. Marjeh is a busy commercial district and the explosion, amidst hotels, shopping centres and the country’s Interior Ministry building, highlights the fact that people in central Damascus are no longer immune to the country’s civil war, according to the BBC’s Jim Muir. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast was caused by a car bomb. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama said at a press conference in Washington that the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would constitute a “game changer”, but said he needed more concrete facts on their use before he would consider “the range of options available”.

Violent Criminals Escaping Conviction in England and Wales

Escaping a criminal record in England and Wales can be as simple as saying sorry, according to figures released by police forces in both countries. More than 10,000 people who committed a serious violent crime in 2012 were let off without a conviction and instead sentenced to “community resolutions” ranging from a simple apology to offers of monetary compensation. Community resolutions were introduced under the previous Labour government and were intended for low-level crimes, not serious violent crimes. “Offenders who admit to serious and violent crimes – including knife crime, domestic violence, and serious assault – are increasingly being let off with no criminal record, no justice, and not even a caution. That’s bad for justice, bad for victims, and goes against all the evidence”, said the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper. Defending the use of community resolutions, a Home Office spokesman said that crime had fallen more than 10 percent since the coalition had been in power and that the use of such resolutions was up to local Chief Constables.

Eurozone Unemployment Hits New Record High, Inflation Falls

The 17 members of the eurozone hit another record combined unemployment rate in March, pushing the figure to 12.1 percent. It is the highest number recorded since the creation of the euro in 1999 according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU). The figures show that unemployment in the eurozone rose by 69,000 to 19.2 million people without a job. The wider European Union, which includes those countries not members of the monetary union such as the U.K. and Poland, registered an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent, stable when compared with February. The highest unemployment rates were registered in Greece, with 27.2 percent unemployment, and Spain, with 26.7 percent unemployment. The country with the lowest jobless rate was Austria, with 4.7 percent. Separately, Eurostat data showed that inflation slowed down to 1.2 percent in April, the lowest level since February 2010, driven down by a sharp fall in energy prices.

Passenger Space Travel Closer to Reality

Flying passengers into space became a step closer to reality after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo made its first powered flight late on Monday, breaking the sound barrier over the Mojave desert. A jet-powered mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, climbed for 45 minutes to an altitude of nearly 15,000 metres before releasing SpaceShipTwo, which burned its engines for 16 seconds before reaching an altitude of approximately 17,000 metres. The spaceship had so far only undertaken glides. “It couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Having spaceship and rocket perform together in the air is a long way toward getting into space. A few more test flights with slightly bigger burns every time, and then we’ll all be back here to watch it go into space”, said Sir Richard Branson, owner of the company. More powered test flights are programmed, each with a longer engine burn duration, until the point where the ship should reach space towards the end of the year.

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