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Friday, June 7, 2013

UN Launches Largest Ever Aid Appeal Over Syria

The United Nations has launched the largest humanitarian appeal in its history, seeking US$5 billion in humanitarian aid because of the worsening security situation in Syria. The organisation had initially asked for US$1.5 billion for the first six months of the year, but now estimates that as much as 10 million Syrians, or half the population of the country, will be in need of aid by the end of the year. “What we are asking for is indeed massive from the point of view of what is normally the support given by the international community to humanitarian needs, but it is really very little compared with what is usually spent for other purposes in the world. If this money is not spent catering for the humanitarian needs of this population, the consequences in increased instability in the region will have a much higher cost, said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He added that the US$5 billion figure amounted to what Americans spend on ice cream in 32 days or on what German drivers spend on petrol every 6 weeks.

UK Security Agency Gathered Information from NSA’s Prism Programme

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK intelligence agency, has been gathering information from the world’s biggest internet companies in partnership with the US National Security Agency (NSA) and its Prism programme. The cooperation could allow the GCHQ to illegally access e-mails, photos and videos without needing to seek legal or executive approval, because some British minister would appear to be unaware of the operation. A document detailing the CGHQ’s use of Prism, prepared for senior analysts at the NSA and revealed by the Guardian newspaper, shows that the UK agency gathered 197 intelligence reports from Prism up to May 2012, marking a 137 percent increase year-on-year. Asked for comment, the GCHQ stated that “takes its obligations under the law very seriously. Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the intelligence and security committee”.

Hungary Prepares for Worst Floods in 50 Years

Central Europe’s worst floods for a decade are threatening the Hungarian capital, Budapest, with what could become the Danube River’s worst surges in 50 years. “It is now clear that we are facing the worst floods of all time”, said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after surveying the city of Gyor, itself under water. Approximately 10,000 Hungarian soldiers and volunteers have been using sandbags to reinforce dykes along the Danube, with Budapest expected to bear the worst of the floods on Monday. Forecasters predicted the river could rise up to 8.9 metres, or 25 centimetres higher than the record set in 2006. In Germany, the Elbe River peaked on Thursday and hit 8.8 metres in Dresden, but not enough to damage the city’s historic centre, whose opera and cathedral had been damaged by a similar flood in 2002. Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged “everything humanly possible being done” to help those hit by the floods. Sixteen people have already died in Central Europe as a result of the swells.

Cambodia Passes Law Criminalising Khmer Rouge Atrocity Denial

The Cambodian parliament passed a law on Friday making it illegal to deny that atrocities were committed by Maoist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. About one-third of the population, or 1.7 million people, were killed, died of over-work, starved or were tortured to death between 1975 and 1979. The law was proposed by Cambodian President Hun Sen after an opposition said Vietnam, who overthrew the Khmer Rouge after invading the country in December 1979, was responsible for some of the deaths. The law was drafted and passed unanimously in less than week, in the absence of all opposition politicians who were expelled from the house after forming a new party. Brad Adams, Asia Director for the Human Rights Watch NGO, said the president’s move was political. “It’s a tool to try to intimidate the opposition but also to galvanise his side, to demonise the opposition as unfit to govern, and to show that he’s in charge, to show the country that he can completely dominate the opposition – and make them squirm”, said Adams.

Weekend Read: Polling Amidst Mortar Fire and Militias

There is a stark contrast between surveying public opinion in the UK and Iraq. One of the major differences is that when a Lib Dem threatens to a pollster, he or she probably doesn’t mean it. In BBC News.

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