International Round Up

Russia admits Syrian Government is losing territorial control

Syrian men break the concrete of a residential building destroyed in a government airstrike. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Syrian men break the concrete of a residential building destroyed in a government airstrike. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

The situation in Syria is aggravating for the local Government. An official from the Russian Government has said for the first time that opposition forces might defeat Syrian government. The opposition is gaining legitimacy after more than 100 countries signed a declaration yesterday in Morocco to give it a political lift. The United States formally recognises the opposite party as “the legitimate representative” of the people in that country.

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North Korea launches rocket ignoring UN Security Council

A screen shows the Unha-3 rocket being launched from a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at North Korea's satellite control centre in Cholsan county (AP)

A screen shows the Unha-3 rocket being launched from a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at North Korea’s satellite control centre in Cholsan county (AP)

The UN Security Council has condemned North Korea for launching what they consider to be a long-range missile, while Pyongyang states that it was a satellite. The Council is going to have a meeting next Wednesday to consider an “appropriate response” to the threat.

In the meantime, the US has considered the action as “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.”  In a statement released last Friday, they announced their intention was to send warships to the Asian country.

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The Eurozone agrees rules towards banking union

The headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt (Johannes Eisele/AFP) Photo/Johannes Eisele)

The headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt (Johannes Eisele/AFP)

Economy and finance ministers have reached an agreement today on rules for supervising Eurozone banking. The biggest banks of the Union will be under the direct oversight of the European Central Bank.

The supervision will be made over the biggest banks, with assets over 30,000 millions or the 20% of the GDP. The main obstacle has been a disagreement over power distribution in terms of the supervisor. Germany wants to leave out regional banks, while France and Spain have asked the supervisor for an inspection of every bank, without exception.

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Putin wants Russian couples to have at least 3 children

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a state-of-the nation address in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a state-of-the nation address in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The Russian president Vladimir Putin called on Russians to have at least three children each. He added that he wants people who own luxury goods to pay higher taxes.

After the end of the Soviet Union, the standard of living decreased due to a growth in the mortality rate and a substantial reduction of births. “In order for Russia to be a strong and sovereign country, there must be more of us and we must be better in morality, in our competences, our work and our creativity”, the Russian leader said.

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Oregon mall gunman identified

Police handout photo of suspect from Tuesday's shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon (Clackamas County Sheriff's Office)

Police handout photo of suspect from Tuesday’s shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon (Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office)

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office have identified Jacob Tyler Roberts as the gunman who shot two people before killing himself in Oregon last Tuesday. According to Oregon law enforcement, he opened fire on a crowded Portland shopping mall and was shooting victims at random.

Roberts was armed with a stolen AR-15 semi-automatic rifle when he opened fire. Two victims were fatally shot, identified as Cindy Yuille, 54 and Steven Forsyth, 45. A third victim, 15 year-old Kristina Shevchenko, is still in serious condition at the Oregon Health and Science university Hospital, in Portland.

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First Pope tweet in eight languages

Pope Benedict XVI sends his first tweet (EFE)

Pope Benedict XVI sends his first tweet (EFE)

The Pope has tweeted for the first time in eight languages in his eight Twitter accounts. “Dear friends,” he wrote, “I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”

He delivered it from a tablet computer at the end of a general audience in the Vatican, with a group of young people gathered round him and after an official announced: “And now the Pope will tweet!”. He has already reached over one million Twitter followers.

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No progress in fiscal cliff talks

US House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

US House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

Large differences remain between congressional Republicans and the White House to avert the “fiscal cliff” of steep tax hikes and budget cuts. House Speaker John Boehner called on President Barack Obama to produce a new offer. “I was born with a glass half full. I remain the most optimistic person in this town. But we’ve got some serious differences,” Boehner has told reporters at a news conference.

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Worldwide Geminid meteor shower tonight

A massive Geminid fireball from 2009's shower, one of the brightest ever recorded (NASA)

A massive Geminid fireball from 2009’s shower, one of the brightest ever recorded (NASA)

The annual meteor shower will reach its peak later tonight and into the early hours of Friday morning. The meteors will appear to radiate from a point near the star Castor, in the constellation Gemini. The skies will thus be free of the moon’s glare, allowing viewers in rural areas to see perhaps 100 or more meteors per hour, experts say.

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Finland says farewell to the Markka

"The Euro: what 'value' a currency?"

Before leaving Scotland a friend handed over some old Finnish markka,
challenging me to see if I could “still use them.”

In truth the Finnish markka ceased to be legal tender in 2002. Finland adopted the euro when entering the Eurozone in 1999, and is still the only Scandinavian country to have embraced the single currency.

My only option, then, is to get them changed.  On a day when the euro crisis has deepened, and Nokia Siemens Networks has been forced to announce cutting a quarter of its workforce,  I show the 240 Finnish markaas, including two big green notes depicting the composer Sibelius to Jenni, the teller at Forex Bank.  She looks surprised to see them. “You want to get rid of them,” she advises, adding that from next year nowhere will take them, even the Finnish National Bank.  “Are the Finns sad about that?” I ask.  “No” she says instantly.

“With everything that’s been going on in the Eurozone, do Finnish people want their old currency back?” I ask, adding, “are you fed up of the euro?” Jenni’s smile falters.  She looks at me as if I am stupid.  “No, why?” she asks.

Her reaction will be a disappointment to Timo Soini, the outspoken leader of the far-right party True Finns, who made surprising gains in last year’s election.  Soini is an outspoken critic of the EU, and has since voiced his desire to run for the presidency.  He takes credit as attempts to derail the bailouts of Portugal and Greece.

Every Finn I speak to seems embarrassed by the True Finns.  “Finland is a Social Democratic country, like the rest of Scandinavia,” Taisto Oksanen, 47, a well-known Finnish actor tells me. “But in the last ten years we’ve seen that erode.  We didn’t have too much of a class divide before, but since the Euro some people have got very rich, and a few hundred thousand people have just dropped into poverty. Our education and social welfare has been damaged.   The old parties were seen as corrupt and in with business, so I think people voted for the True Finns for change.  But it’s happening all over Europe – people are voting for those that blame the immigrants.  Look at Spain.  It is history repeating.”

“True Finns are very conservative, want the Finnish markka back and to kind of isolate Finland from the rest of Europe.  I don’t know how the support packages will actually help the citizens and I think that the banks should also take some responsibility for all of this.” says International Business student Milka Tanskanen, 21. “ I was ten years old when we started to use Euro in Finland, so I don’t actually have any real experience of the Finnish mark.”

“The old notes were nice,” Oksanen tells me.  “The euro, the note, doesn’t mean anything to me.  It has less ‘value’.”

 

International news in brief

EU leaders agree new eurozone rules

Rules designed to avoid another financial crisis have been agreed at an EU leaders’ summit. Leaders agreed to give the EU power to monitor national budgets, and have resolved to create a permanent fund to help the euro through difficult periods. Officials from the EU said the eurozone came close to collapse earlier this year because it lacked a fund to help keep it afloat.

North and South Korea exchange fire

Troops in North and South Korea have exchanged fire across the border, according to South Korean officials. Reports say North Korea fired twice at a frontline unit in Hwacheon, 56 miles north-east of Seoul. South Korean soldiers returned fire three times. Officials say it is not clear if North Korea’s initial shots were deliberately intended to provoke South Korean troops on one of the worlds most heavily fortified borders.

Bad weather affects tsunami relief

Efforts to help survivors of Monday’s tsunami in Indonesia have been hampered by bad weather. More than 400 people have been confirmed dead, with heavy rain and high tides making it difficult for boats to deliver aid to survivors on the Mentawai islands, located off the west coast of Sumatra. 300 people are still missing, with bodies still to be recovered from coastal regions. Officials in charge of the disaster relief mission plan to start distributing aid by air, but reports from the area say there are not enough helicopters to reach all of the affected places.

Afghan drug labs destroyed in US-Russian operation

Agents from Russia and the US have joined together to destroy drug laboratories in Afghanistan, according to the head of Russia’s drug control agency, Viktor Ivanov.  Agents seized more than a tonne of heroin and opium in the raids which took place near the border with Pakistan on Thursday. The drugs had a street value of £157m and are believed to have been destined for Central Asia. This is the first time a joint operation of this nature has taken place between Russia and America.

New Zealand passes Hobbit law

New Zealand’s parliament has passed legislation which means production of the two Hobbit films will be kept in the country, after making a deal with Warner Bros to keep the £315m ($500m) project. A dispute between Warner Bros and acting unions had endangered the production of the film in New Zealand, with Warner Bros threatening to move the project to another location. The government agreed to change labour laws after acting unions protested about terms and conditions. The deal between Warner Bros and the NZ government also included additional tax breaks and help with marketing costs.

Bail out tussles in Brussels

At a time of bleak economic news where the Sterling is nearly matching the value of the Euro, the pound reaching an extraordinary low today – European heads of state gather in Brussels. The atmosphere is tense.

At PMQs Gordon Brown had a Freudian slip, saying that the government “saved the world” instead of “saved the banks”. At least he is supposed to be the ‘saviour of Europe’. His suggested bail out plan was officially taken up as an economic recovery plan by the European Commission. It is supposed to be decided on for all the other European member states in the current European Council meeting in Brussels.

“It’s the best way to restore citizens’ confidence and counter fears of a long and deep recession”, Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told the BBC in November this year.

However, some member states like Germany which alreadyhave implement national measures to save their economies oppose a joint approach.

The United Kingdom  implemented a £ 12.5 bn VAT cut last month which was harshly criticised by Germany’s finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in a Newsweek interview yesterday. Steinbrueck said that the UK measures were “crass” and “breathtaking” and also said that a great rescue plan “doesn’t exist!” He said the cut would only pull the UK into greater debt instead of helping consumers.

Germany has already spent around £ 370.4 bn on a bail out of its banks, far more than the EU bail out plan is expected to raise. It is therefore now cautious about spending even more.

Other issues expected to be discussed at the summit are the Irish “No-Vote” on the Lisbon Treaty and climate change policies.

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