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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Scores Dead and Missing After Oklahoma Tornado

The search continues for survivors of the massive tornado that hit the city of Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, last evening. There are 24 confirmed dead, including at least seven children, and dozens more feared missing. Initially, there were reports of 51 fatalities but city officials revised the number citing double-reported casualties. However, the toll should increase as search and rescue efforts continue. The tornado, which had winds of up to 200mph (320km/h), stayed on ground for approximately 45 minutes, ripping through and flattening residential streets. Two elementary schools were among the worse-hit buildings. US President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the region, saying that the full scale of human and economic loss would not be known for some time. Rescue teams worked through the night and continue to pick through debris and wreckage. According to witness accounts, the level of destruction is so intense that crews are having to search block after block of leveled buildings with no street signs, house numbers or other landmarks to guide them. More than 100 people are being treated in hospital.

Israel Fires into Syria After Gunfire Hits its Troops

Israeli troops shot at targets in Syria on Tuesday in response to gunfire coming from across the border, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). “Overnight, shots were fired at an IDF patrol on the border in the central Golan Heights, damaging a military vehicle. No injuries were caused. In response, IDF forces returned precise fire at the source of the gunfire. They reported a direct hit”, read the statement. Gunfire has become more common across the border with Syria after the situation in that country led to a civil war, with the most recent incident being marked by Israel’s Army Radio as the third consecutive cross-border incident this week. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and has occupied the region ever since, with negotiations over its status breaking down in 2000. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will continue to monitor the situation in Syria and will carry out strikes if it feels they are necessary to contain Hezbollah and prevent it from acquiring advanced weapons. He said earlier in the week that Israel would act in order “ensure the security interest of Israel’s citizens in the future as well”.

EU calls for exchange of income data to fight tax evasion

The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has suggested an EU-wide exchange of income information to help fight tax evasion. Tax evasion in EU member countries costs €1 trillion a year. The automatic exchange of income data should “become the standard at international level as well,” said Barroso during his address made to the European Parliament today. “How can we explain to honest households and businesses who are feeling the squeeze yet still paying their fair share of taxes, that there are other parts of society and enterprise who are deliberately avoiding paying up?” It is also expected that countries such as Switzerland face more pressure to relax banking secrecy. Barroso said that he would push for the EU to adopt the automatic exchange of income data on January 1, 2015.

Venezuela’s Opposition Alleges Infighting in Country’s Government

Venezuela’s opposition released an audio recording late on Monday suggesting that Cuba had been meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Opposition parliamentarian Ismael Garcia, the main speaker at a hastily arranged press conference in Caracas, said that the recording contained a conversation between state television personality Mario Silva, who strongly supports the government, and a Cuban intelligence officer identified as Lieutenant Colonel Aramis Palacios. In it, Silva discusses a split in the ruling PSUV party between the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and newly elected President Nicolás Maduro, the successor of late president Hego Chávez. Silva says that Cabello is conspiring against Maduro and explains to his interlocutor that the conspirators want “to be able to take the armed forces and put pressure on Maduro or to behave as they please or to pull a coup d’etat”. Silva and Cabello later dismissed the recording as “absolutely false”, while Maduro took to the airwaves to call for an end to “intrigues” against his government without mentioning the recording.

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