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3/31/12

US Presidential Elections: Brzezinski Says Romney Lacks Foreign Policy ‘Grasp’

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former Democratic national security adviser, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney lacks a grasp of foreign policy and would return the U.S. to the policies of George W. Bush. 

For more: Brzezinski Says Romney Lacks Foreign Policy ‘Grasp’ (Transcript) - Businessweek

Eurozone: "Look who is calling the kettle black" - Citigroup Says Netherlands No Longer Part of Euro-Area Core - Jurjen van de Pol and Fred Pals

 The Netherlands, the fifth-largest euro economy, shouldn't be counted in the core of the common currency as its borrowing costs climb, Citigroup Inc. said.

"The poor performance of the Dutch economy should make it very difficult for the country to reduce its general government deficit," Juergen Michels, chief euro-area economist at Citigroup in London, and three other economists said in a March 23 note to investors. The Netherlands is in a weaker position than Germany, Finland and Luxembourg, he said.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's minority coalition must find at least 9 billion euros ($12 billion) in budget cuts this year, equal to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product, to meet European Union deficit rules by 2013 and protect the top credit grade that France and Austria lost in January. The Dutch budget shortfall is forecast at 4.6 percent of GDP in 2013, exceeding the 3 percent EU limit for a fifth year.

Note EU-Digest: Look who is calling the kettle black...

For more: Citigroup Says Netherlands No Longer Part of Euro-Area Core

Torture: CIA secret prison in Poland: Leaders break their silence

After many revelations and political statements, Polish leaders have come closer than ever to acknowledging that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ran a secret interrogation facility for terror suspects in 2002 and 2003 in the Eastern European country, according to the Associated Press. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday that his country has become the "political victim" of leaks from US officials that brought to light aspects of the secret CIA prison.

Former chief of Poland's intelligence services (UW) Zbigniew Siemiatkowski confirmed earlier this week that prosecutors told him during a January meeting that they were going to lay charges against him for "unlawful deprivation of liberty" and "corporal punishment" against prisoners-of-war in relation to the secret CIA prison, reported Polish site The News. Two prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, said they had been held in a prison in Poland and have been given "victim status" by prosecutors in Warsaw.

"This may be painful, but concrete evidence that Poland is no longer a country where politicians can fix something under the table and expect it not to [eventually] come out — even if they do so with the world’s greatest superpower," PM Tusk said when asked for his reaction to the news that a former intelligence services chief will face charges connected to the CIA cover-up, according to The News.

For more: CIA secret prison in Poland: Leaders break their silence

European Soccer: Turkey PM Erdogan: "fixers, not clubs, should be punished" and makes bid for 2020 European Championship to be held in Istanbul

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a plea for individuals rather than clubs to be punished for match-fixing on Thursday, even as FIFA President Sepp Blatter urged increased vigilance against what he called the "scourge'' of rigged matches.

Erdogan spoke to officials from Europe's 53 football nations in Istanbul - the home city of Fenerbahce, whose chairman is suspected of fixing games to help it win the Turkish title last year, and was then barred from entering the Champions League.
Addressing UEFA's annual congress, Erdogan said clubs should not be punished for crimes committed by individuals.

"We have to identify a difference between the individual and the legal entity,'' Erdogan told representatives of UEFA's 53 member associations. "We should act against individuals who committed the crime. Only they should be given the highest sanctions.

In another important step for Turkish football, Erdogan urged UEFA to consider a possible Turkish bid for the 2020 European Championship. Turkey, which is bidding to stage the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul, is also mulling the possibility of bidding to host Euro 2020.

Europe finishes quarter up nearly 7%

European Markets rallied yesterday, ending the quarter up almost 7 per cent. This marked their best first quarter since 2006, following the announcement that euro zone finance ministers had agreed to a temporary increase to the euro zone’s rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Fund.

For more: Europe finishes quarter up nearly 7% - The Irish Times - Sat, Mar 31, 2012

Europe aims for breakthrough on financial transactions tax

Europe's finance ministers on Saturday made another effort to achieve a breakthrough on a disputed financial transactions tax, as Germany unveiled a plan to bring on board a sceptical Britain. 

Ministers entering the second of a two-day meeting here expressed cautious support for a proposal issued by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to introduce a tax only on trade in company shares before broadening it out. 

Acknowledging that resistance from several countries had delayed the tax, proposed by the European Commission in September 2011, that aims to make the financial sector pay for the crisis, Schaeuble proposed an "intermediate step."

For more: Europe aims for breakthrough on financial transactions tax - The Economic Times

3/30/12

Europe faces Easter egg quandary

This the season to paint Easter eggs in Europe. Now children, listen: Handle with care, they break easily – and this year there are not too many about so they are very expensive.

Demand for eggs traditionally reaches its peak around the Easter holiday. This year, the egg industry has been hit by the European Union’s new requirements for bigger, more animal-friendly cages for hens. The changes it brings have affected production and, combined with high feed cost, boosted consumer prices.

Ahead of Easter Sunday, on April 8 or 15 depending on the religious denomination, it makes for a costly tradition on a continent where millions have grown up painting or dyeing eggs as children and are now facing economic crisis.

For more: Europe faces Easter egg quandary | Long Island Press

To Keep Wilders happy Dutch foreign aid could be slashed by one billion euros - will Kathleen Ferrier and Ad Koppejan of the CDA go along with this?


Kathleen Ferrier 
It seems that in order to get Geert Wilders "back on board" during the this week's Rutte Government coalition austerity meetings in the Hague, the PM Mark agreed to Wilders demand to slash the Dutch development aid budget by one billion euros, as one of the items to be cut, to bring the Netherlands budget deficit in-line within EU limits.

But when and if the new budget proposals eventually come before the Dutch Parliament for a vote, Kathleen Ferrier and Ad Koppejan, two CDA parliamentary members who have always been critical of their party's cooperation with Geert Wilders PVV,  could very well hold the key to PM Rutte's survival.

Ad Koppejan
Each year, the Netherlands spends 4.6 billion euros on development aid. The one-billion euro cutback amounts to more than 20 percent of the total budget, reducing the Dutch contribution to less than 0.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The United Nations norm is 0.7 percent

Even US billionaire Bill Gates tried to influence the talks on the development cooperation budget. He on his own initiative to express his concern and said he feared that if the Dutch cut the aid budget to developing countries other countries will follow.

To ensure the Dutch budget deficit remains under the European norm of 3 percent, the Dutch government would need to cut another 9.6 billion euros on top of their earlier proposed 18 billion euros.

All by all this means that there is little negotiation flexibility for Dutch PM Mark Rutte. Both Geert Wilder's PVV and the Christian Democrats of Maxime Verhagen could at any time torpedo the coalition based on a variety of issues, including dissident opposition within their own parties. 

Europe Boosts Firewall to Protect Spain, Italy - by James G. Neuger and Jonathan Stearns

European governments moved to bolster their rescue funds, seeking to shield Spain and Italy from the fallout of the debt crisis without alienating bailout- weary voters in wealthy countries. 

Finance ministers neared an agreement to run the temporary and permanent funds in parallel until mid-2013, potentially raising the upper limit on emergency lending to 940 billion euros ($1.3 trillion). Amounts immediately available would range between 340 billion euros and 640 billion euros.

“I can imagine that both instruments run in parallel so that automatically we have a higher sum overall,” Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter told reporters before a meeting of European finance ministers in Copenhagen today.

For more: Europe Boosts Firewall to Protect Spain, Italy - Businessweek

3/29/12

Outer Space: Europe’s third cargo vehicle docks with the Space Station

ESA’s ATV Edoardo Amaldi has completed the first stage of its docking with the Russian Zvezda module of the International Space Station.

The docking occurred smoothly when ATV’s docking probe was captured by Zvezda’s docking cone at 00:31 CEST ( 22:31 GMT).

The docking probe is now retracting, to be followed by the hooks between the two craft closing. The data and electrical connections will then be established.

The 20-tonne vessel, flying autonomously while being continuously monitored from the ground, docked with the 450-tonne orbital complex with a precision of 6 cm as they circled Earth at more than 28 000 km/hr. 

For more: ESA Portal - Europe’s third cargo vehicle docks with the Space Station

The Environment: Deny Global Warming, Intimidate A Scientist, And Pocket Some Money - By Farooque Chowdhury

Denying the fact of global warming is “not” a sin. Intimidating a scientist providing facts on global warming is “not” an offence. These are in the interest of a bigger interest: an economy warming up and periling the world, and in eternal wish of perpetuating status quo. A section of the world masters clutch this pattern of praxis.

Michael E. Mann, a scientist at Penn State University , experienced this “sweet” fact. His research confirmed the fact of global warming. The results of his study were published in Nature in 1998. His finding showed a recent unprecedented alarming global temperature increase, and the increase in temperature is linked to human induced activities, to cars, factories, etc. Many other later studies have confirmed the finding. But the scientist was persecuted by conservative forces for telling the truth.

The data Mann got appeared the shape of a hockey stick as these were put as a graph, and the name, Hockey stick graph , and a confusion were brought to the Earth. His finding was used prominently by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Hockey stick graph angered global warming deniers, and Mann was made “a target of right-wing denial campaigners.” A section of scientists tied to status quo and a section of politicians of the same feather vigorously opposed it and created confusion. The opposition ultimately appeared in true color – status quo politics. Conservatives and capital joined hands in denying the fact.

A number of policy foundations threw a barrage of intimidation to Mann. These “were set up by privately-funded groups that included Koch Industries and Scaife Foundations and bore names such as the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Heartland Institute. These groups bombarded Mann with freedom of information requests.” He was served with a subpoena by a Republican congressman to provide access to his correspondence. The aim was to intimidate the scientist. He was “attacked by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general of Virginia who has campaigned to have the scientist stripped of academic credentials. Several committees of inquiry have investigated Mann's work. All have exonerated him. Thousands of emails have been sent to Mann, many deeply unpleasant. ‘You and your colleagues… ought to be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families', said one. ‘I was hoping I would see the news and you committed  suicide', ran another.” “‘On one occasion, I had to call the FBI after I was sent an envelope with a powder in it', Mann adds. ‘It turned out to be cornmeal but again the aim was intimidation. I ended up with police security tape all over my office doors and windows. That is the life of a climate scientist today in the US .'”

For more: Deny Global Warming, Intimidate A Scientist, And Pocket Some Money By Farooque Chowdhury

Rules Help Establish Morality on Wall Street - by Julie Corte

Present Government Legislation Controlling Wall Street
The great corporate and financial scandals of our time can always be traced back to one thing: the failure of the rules, or the moral imperatives, that overrule greed.

When there is unconstrained greed for profit, then we get the corporate governance meltdown of 2001, the financial crisis of 2008, and Judge Rakoff’s criticism of the Securities Exchange Commission settlements with Citigroup and Bank of America, whose securities made them hundreds of millions of dollars but lost even more for their clients. This kind of greed earns Wall Street a confidence-in-leadership ranking lower than that of Congress, the news media and the White House.

Rules and morality are about fairness. It is fair to make money, but it isn’t fair to do it by cheating others. Financial institutions exist for one reason: to make money for their clients. Choose any fund prospectus at random and you’re likely to read that the investment objective is growth of capital. Nowhere will you find that the investment objective is to enrich the asset managers no matter what else happens. Sometimes the market goes down, which should be well understood by the client, and the asset manager should share the pain when that happens.

For more: Rules Help Establish Morality on Wall Street - Room for Debate - NYTimes.com

Russian Nationalists Unite to Form New Party - Marc Bennetts

A number of prominent Russian nationalists united on Thursday to announce the creation of a potential new political force – the National Democratic Party.

“We intend to file for party registration in the near future and then take part in elections, at which we are counting on doing well,” party leader Konstantin Krylov told journalists at a downtown Moscow news conference.

Russia has seen a dramatic rise in nationalist sentiments since the break-up of the Soviet Union, with far-right movements prominent at this winter’s mass protests against the policies of President-elect Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party.

For more: Russian Nationalists Unite to Form New Party | Features, Opinion & Analysis | RIA Novosti

The Netherlands: 'Ban EU criminals from the Netherlands'

The opposition Socialist Party SP wants to bar convicted criminals from other EU countries from returning to the Netherlands.

The Volkskrant newspaper reports that the measure is intended to crack down on criminal gangs from Eastern European countries. SP MP Sharon Gesthuizen:

EU-Digest

France: Sarkozy shines after France attacks, but voters appear unswayed - Robert Marquand

Nicolas Sarkozy
A killing spree in France that brought presidential election campaigning to a halt and dominated media for days appears to have had little impact on how people will vote, defying predictions that President Nicolas Sarkozy would benefit appreciably.

The events – a killer who shot three paratroopers, three Jewish children, and a rabbi in mid-March, a month before the first round of elections – has been the kind of crisis where Mr. Sarkozy shines. It underscored his increasing focus on security and crime: The killer, Mohammed Merah, who claimed Al Qaeda connections, was quickly discovered, and died in a standoff with police last week in Toulouse.

Yet Mr. Sarkozy, who has looked and sounded presidential while attending the recent funeral of paratroopers, and speaking of the need to unify the nation, slid 0.5 percent, from 28.5 percent to 28 percent, in polls this week by the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop). Moreover, French public fears of a major terrorist attack have actually fallen since the brutal events in Toulouse, a different Ifop poll shows.

For more: Sarkozy shines after France attacks, but voters appear unswayed - CSMonitor.com

US Elections: How the Koch Brothers Spent at Least $3.9 Million in Unreported Partisan Attack Efforts During the 2010 US Election - by Lee Fang

Republic Report has obtained financial audits showing that the billionaire Koch brothers supported at least $3.9 million in unreported election-related activity in 2010. The documents, reported here for the first time, provide a window into an otherwise secret campaign infrastructure that will likely be reactivated this year.

David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers of the Koch Industries business empire, are big election spenders: They dumped millions into negative advertisements against Democrats in the last election, and control a political action committees that has distributed well over $5.2 million in checks to favored politicians over the last two campaign cycles (Koch PAC). But the petrochemical plutocrats spent way more than what has been previously disclosed. Documents obtained by Republic Report shed light on the 2010 midterm election strategies of the Koch political machine, including secret money used to harness Tea Party activists into defeating Democrats.

On the Federal Election Commission disclosure website, you won’t find any big checks written to super PACs by David or Charles Koch. That’s because the brothers prefer nonprofit 501(c) organizations to hide their donations and their political spending. By evading the spirit of campaign disclosure laws, the attacks go on with little accountability from the public.

For more: How the Koch Brothers Spent at Least $3.9 Million in Unreported Partisan Attack Efforts During the 2010 Election

The Netherlands: Negotiations restart on austerity programs as Dutch government hangs by a thread

Talks in Dutch PM Rutte's residence the "Catshuis" in the Hague restarted today after having broken off yesterday.

The Dutch Government Information service reported that the conservative coalition parties including the VVD, CDA en PVV had decided that they would resume their negotiations today given the possibilities they see to eventually come to an agreement. Parties also noted that as long as these negotiations were ongoing they would maintain complete media silence on its progress.

EU-Digest

3/28/12

NSA: China is Destroying U.S. Economy Via Security Hacks - by Jason Mick

U.S. Cyber Command leader and NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander made the information public on Tuesday in a briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he testified, "I can't go into the specifics here, but we do see [thefts] from defense industrial base companies.  There are some very public [attacks], though. The most recent one was the RSA exploits."

China successfully used the information to hack into Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), a top U.S. defense contractor.  It is thought that China's remarkable progress in stealth fighter technology has been fueled by stolen U.S. Department of Defense Secrets.

Indeed a massive amount of intellectual property is being stolen from both the public and private sector by Chinese hackers, according to Gen. Alexander.  The U.S. has done precious little to protect its own economic prosperity, as it has been overwhelmed by the Chinese thieves.  One official in past commentary graphically described a cyberwarfare compaign of an unnamed nation state (suspected to be China) as "raping" the world.

Whether the Chinese government is perpetrating these attacks first hand, sponsoring third parties to conduct them, or merely condoning corporate interests to conduct them is almost as hazy as the sketchy financial ties the Chinese government holds to many of its private sector business (to be fair such allegations have increasingly been raised about the U.S. gov't).

But at the end of the day, the result is the same -- the destruction of the U.S. economy at the hands of the Chinese attackers


For more: DailyTech - NSA: China is Destroying U.S. Economy Via Security Hacks

EU Votes To Lower Mobile Roaming Charges - by Jennifer LeClaire

According to the new EU rules, which still need approval by the full European Parliament, a downloaded megabyte would cost no more than 70 cents. That cost drops down to 45 cents in 2013 and 20 cents by July 2014. This is a big improvement for roaming and data plans in the EU, as there is currently no price ceiling for mobile data services. 

Members of the European Parliament and the Danish Presidency of the Council of Ministers agreed to lower price caps on roaming. Parliament as a whole still needs to approve the deal. But if all runs smoothly the new rules will take effect July 1.

"I am satisfied that the Council approved Parliament's approach to tackle very high prices of phone calls, SMS and in particular of data roaming," said Angelika Niebler of Germany, Parliament's reporter for the draft legislation. "The proposed price caps ensure a sufficient margin between wholesale and retail prices to assure a level of competition that will enable new players to enter the market."

Note EU-Digest: this is another major proof that being part of the EU provides legislative protection to partner states from the often ruthless excessive profit seeking private sector and directly benefits its citizens.

For more: EU Votes To Lower Mobile Roaming Charges | Sci-Tech Today

The Netherlands: Its go-head or bust - Dutch government at a point of no return in austerity negotiations

Mark Rutte

The survival of the Dutch Rutte Cabinet is on the line after Government coalition party members trying to cut government spending to meet  European budget rules broke off negotiations abruptly Wednesday.

The talks have hit a "difficult phase," said the Government Information Service in its first communique since the talks began three weeks ago. The talks were launched when it became apparent that the the Dutch economy's deficit in 2012 would be around 4.6 percent — well above the 3 percent allowed for eurozone countries in the agreed European Economic Pact.

The talks are scheduled to resume tomorrow morning, at Prime Minister Mark Rutte's official residence, the "Catshuis", in a leafy and fancy the Hague neighborhood.

Rutte and his conservative coalition members gave next to no information as to the chances of success of the negotiations, constantly repeating their earlier pledge that they would not disclose any information about the the meetings until they were completed.

EU-Digest

Spain reports arrest of al Qaeda recruiter suspect

Spanish police on Tuesday arrested a suspected member of al Qaeda who was key to the terror group's Internet propaganda and recruiting operations, officials said.

The suspect arrested in the eastern city of Valencia "administered one of the world's most important jihadist forums", dedicated to recruiting and indoctrinating Islamic terrorists, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said.

The name of that forum and the suspect's name were not given, only his initials, M.H.A. He is Jordanian-born with Saudi citizenship.

"He was known within the organization as al Qaeda's librarian," Fernandez Diaz said, without specifying what that term meant in this case.

Europeans See Crisis Near End, Bernanke Warns on Recovery - by Shamim Adam and Andy Sharp

European leaders signaled rising confidence that their region’s crisis is near an end, while Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke warned that a U.S. recovery isn’t assured.

The euro area’s woes are “almost over” after a slow initial response by policy makers, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said in Tokyo today. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that the crisis is ebbing and her country’s borrowing costs will probably rise as its status as a haven wanes.

Bernanke, who cited “green shoots” of recovery in the U.S. in March 2009 only to see his nation’s jobless rate climb to 10 percent seven months later, said in remarks published yesterday “it’s far too early to declare victory.” The jobless rate remains too high and policy makers don’t rule out further options to boost growth, he said in a transcript of an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer provided by the network.

Bernanke’s comments contrasted with a series of declarations by Monti during a visit to Japan, with the Italian leader saying a solution to Greece’s challenges is almost accomplished, Spain is employing discipline and Italian actions have helped stop deterioration in Europe’s woes.

For more: Europeans See Crisis Near End, Bernanke Warns on Recovery - Bloomberg

3/27/12

European Weather: Blazing hot Britain! As temperatures soar, parched countryside is catching fire - by Tamara Cohen

A fireman marches through the still smouldering trees and darkly scorched earth in a scene reminiscent of the aftermath of an Australian bush fire.

Elsewhere, flames and billowing smoke rise from what looks like a battlefield and paint the night sky.

These extraordinary pictures tell the story of a nation in the grip of drought yesterday – Britain’s hottest day of the year so far – when the tinder-dry conditions suddenly erupted in a series of wild fires.

Spain slides into recession as strike, new cuts loom

Spain's unemployment-scarred economy has skidded back into recession, a Bank of Spain report said Tuesday, days before a general strike and a biting austerity budget.

The report confirmed widespread forecasts of a second straight quarterly slump in the first three months of 2012, sending Spain back into recession barely two years after it emerged from the last one.

"The most recent information relating to the beginning of 2012 confirms a continuation of the contraction of activity in the first quarter of this year," the bank said in its March economic bulletin.

For more: Spain slides into recession as strike, new cuts loom

Porto: Best European Destination 2012

The Portuguese northern city of Porto, the second largest city in the country, was elected Tuesday the “Best European Destination 2012” winning the title over 19 major European cities.

Sponsored by the Tourism Offices across Europe the voting was carried online involving multiple social networks and a total of 212.688 voters.

Porto offers a variety of resources and historic authenticity to its visitors. Discovering Porto means discovering what makes it different: the famous Port Wine, an Historical Center designated World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, Museums, enchanting parks and gardens, according to the European Travelers Choice.

Lisbon, the winner of the tittle  in 2010, was voted 8th place in the contest. The other top best destinations for a holiday or city-trip in 2012 included Dubrovnik, Vienna, Prague, Brussels, Berlin, Budapest, Florence and Edinburgh as the most voted destinations after Porto.

For more: Porto: Best European Destination 2012 – Portugal | Portuguese American Journal

The U.S. elections: Time for investors to worry - "the Party will be over soon"

Investment strategists say the contests are among the most important in recent memory: a new government will need to tackle the deficit and start containing the national debt or the United States risks further credit rating downgrades that could erode the dominance of the dollar in global financial markets.

That will mean tough decisions on spending cuts and tax reform at a time when a few missteps could easily derail a fragile recovery in an economy that has only just escaped from the worst of the post-financial crisis torpor.

So, what should investors do? What would a second Obama administration mean for tax policy? Would a Republican or even Democratic sweep be best, or can a divided White House and Congress learn how to work together again? Here's a look at how to navigate four possible scenarios.


For more: Analysis: The U.S. elections: Time for investors to worry | Reuters

Ireland will vote soon and is likely to say ‘Yes’ to Europe

Sometime today we will learn when Europe’s new Fiscal Union treaty is going to be given its first, and probably only, contact with direct democracy.

The Irish Government will announce the date of their referendum, probably for sometime in May or June.

It is a vote that will have far more impact on Ireland than it will on the rest of Europe.
For once the Irish cannot stop this treaty. David Cameron made sure of that by saying that it couldn’t be an EU treaty at all, and therefore the usual rules of unanimity do not apply.

But if the Irish vote 'No', there will be a different kind of veto - a veto on the Republic ever being given another European bailout. From that moment on, Dublin would be on its own, at the mercy of the markets for any money it might need to borrow.

For more: Ireland will vote soon and is likely to say ‘Yes’ to Europe - ITV News

3/26/12

Vatican: Benedict arrives in Cuba as 'pilgrim of charity'

The Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor, saying he holds great affection for Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits and has heartfelt hopes for reconciliation.

President Raul Castro warmly greeted the pope, who said he was coming as "a pilgrim of charity" as he arrived at the sweltering airport in Santiago, Cuba's second largest city.

The Catholic pontiff, who last week said Marxism "no longer responds to reality," gave a more gentle tweak to his hosts by expressing sympathy for all islanders, including prisoners.

For more: Benedict arrives in Cuba as 'pilgrim of charity'

British PM hosted meals at family home for financial donors who gave a minimum of euro 299,000 to Conservative party

Britain's prime minister, facing new questions about party fundraising, disclosed Monday the names of major donors to his Conservative Party invited to intimate meals at his family's Downing Street apartment and his official countryside mansion.

David Cameron, whose aides had initially refused to divulge the details, published the lists of guests after the resignation of a fundraising aide caught boasting that he could organize access to Cameron in return for large donations.

Peter Cruddas, co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, quit after he was filmed telling undercover reporters from The Sunday Times newspaper that donors who pledged more than euro 299,000  (US$397,000) a year could join Cameron for meals, and press him over specific policies.

In three private dinners inside his apartment at Downing Street, Cameron hosted, among others, millionaire property tycoon David Rowland, Arbuthnot Banking Group chairman Henry Angest, hedge fund founder Michael Farmer, and Michael Spencer, chief executive of ICAP PLC, the world's largest broker of trades between banks.

For more: British PM hosted meals at family home for donors

Medical Tourism to Turkey at its zenith

Turkey’s medical tourism offers high quality facilities for medical, spas, thermal and wellness services and adds five-star hotel accommodation into the package. Turkey has become a premier choice destination for medical tourists from European countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Germany, England, Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria and recently medical tourists from Middle Eastern and Arab countries visit the country as well. 

Most hospitals in Turkey have English-speaking doctors and medical staff that are certified by the Turkish Medical Association as well as being members of organizations according to their specializations, including the Turkish Dental Association, Turkish Gynecologist and Obstetric Association, Turkish Orthopedic and Traumatology Association, Turkish Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Society, Turkish Society of Cardiovascular Surgery along with other specialized associations.

Turkey hosts more than 30 medical facilities that are accredited by the Joint Commission International. This is the largest number for accreditation that any country has ever achieved. Some hospitals are affiliated with top US medical providers such as the Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins Medicine, amongst others.

Hospitals contributing to medical tourism in Turkey are equipped with the latest medical technologies and have board-certified staff, with over 35% of physicians trained in the Western countries.
 
For more: Medical Tourism to Turkey at its zenith

Suriname: ‘Rambocus and Daal killed by Bouterse’ – witness tells Suriname hearing

Former army commander Desi Bouterse personally shot and killed union leader Cyril Daal and lieutenant Surindre Rambocus on 8 December 1982. Bouterse confided this secret to his then friend and comrade Ruben Rozendaal. He also confessed that he had fired the fatal shot that killed Lieutenant Wim van Aalst on 25 February 1980 during the coup. Rozendaal spilled his guts before court martial at Boxel yesterday in the December murder trial. The suspect appeared in court again at the request of Judge Advocate Roy Elgin, but this time as a witness against main suspect Desi Bouterse. On 8 May 2010, Rozendaal had declared under oath that he had not seen Bouterse in Fort Zeelandia, the scene of the murders, on 8 December 1982. On 9 March last, he changed his story. Bouterse had been present in the Fort, and he Rozendaal, had personally taken trade unionist Fred Derby, now deceased, to him. Rozendaal told the court that he and Bouterse were good friends who met regularly back then. On one of those meetings Bouterse disclosed that he had personally shot and killed Daal and Rambocus.

Van Aalst’s death at the coup was a mistake. Rozendaal explained that he and Paul Bhagwandas had wanted to overpower the lieutenant, but it went awry and he was shot. Bouterse later disclosed that he had been the one who fired that shot. Rozendaal told the court that the 8 December operations were no military operations, but simply brutal and cowardly murders.

Bouterse had been in the fort since 7 December. Bouterse’s lawyer, Irwin Kanhai, had suggested that some military might have acted without Bouterse knowledge, but Rozendaal says that would be highly improbable, because he later sanctioned the killing on television stating that the prisoners had been shot during an escape attempt. Bouterse had lied to his former comrades about a pending coup, necessitating the arrests. He would also have pointed to the real culprits if he was innocent.

Suriname was a Dutch colony before it became independent in 1975.

For more: ‘Rambocus and Daal killed by Bouterse’ – witness tells Suriname hearing - Stabroek News - Guyana

Suriname amnesty bill would halt trial of president Bouterse in 1982 killing of opponents

President Desi Bouterse
Lawmakers in Suriname ( a former Dutch Colony which became independent in 1975)  have proposed an amnesty law that would end the long-running trial of President Desi Bouterse, who is accused along with former military associates of abducting and killing opponents of his dictatorship in 1982.

Members of Bouterse’s Mega Combination introduced the legislation Monday, and Andre Misiekaba, the party’s whip, predicted in an interview on state television Tuesday it would pass the parliament by the end of the week.

The bill amends an earlier amnesty law to include any offenses “in the context of the defense of the state,” between April 1, 1980, and Aug. 19, 1992. That time frame would encompass the country’s military dictatorship and civil war.

Bouterse became president in a parliamentary vote in 2010, but he was a military dictator for much of the 1980s. He and his supporters in the military are accused of arresting 15 prominent opposition leaders, including journalists, lawyers and a trade union leader, and executing them in a colonial fort in the capital, Paramaribo.

For more: Suriname amnesty bill would halt trial of president in 1982 killing of opponents - The Washington Post

Sweden to reject Denmark's climate plans

Sweden said it will be going against Denmark's attempt to force all EU countries to decrease energy use. According to Sweden's minister for energy, a reduced usage would damage the country's high-energy industries - mines, steel and paper.

For more: Sweden to reject Denmark's climate plans - The Local

Denmark aims to get 50% of all electricity from wind power

The Danish government has stepped up its green energy and carbon reduction targets for 2020, hailing the plan as the "broadest, greenest, and most long-term energy agreement" it has ever reached.
Danish minister for climate, energy and building, Martin Lidegaard, confirmed on Friday that parliament had agreed a new set of goals designed to wean the country off oil and gas.

The deal aims to see Denmark cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels and decrease energy consumption by more than 12% compared to 2006.

For more: Denmark aims to get 50% of all electricity from wind power | Environment | guardian.co.uk

Shale Boom in Europe Fades as Polish Wells Come Up Empty

Europe’s best hope for a shale-gas boom is fading as explorers in Poland confront rising taxes, a lack of rigs and rocks that are harder to drill than expected. 

While shale could help Poland lessen dependence on Russian supplies and cut its gas bill, a government proposal for a levy on production threatens to curtail investment. Failed wells by Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) curbed the optimism that led two dozen companies to grab licenses. The government said last week that shale-gas reserves may be lower than estimated, and drilling a well costs almost three times as much as in the U.S.

“The growth of shale in Poland will be slower than in the U.S. because it would need to build the infrastructure the U.S. already had available,” said Laura Loppacher, an oil and gas analyst at Jefferies International Ltd. in London. “We know the gas in place is there, but it’s unclear if it can be extracted at a rate that’s commercial.”

For more: Shale Boom in Europe Fades as Polish Wells Come Up Empty - Businessweek

Energy: Europe’s Shale Gas ‘Revolution’: Why Russia Is Shrugging Its Shoulders

Poland last year unveiled designs not only to cast of its irksome energy dependence on Russia, but also to become a European energy exporter by making a drive for shale gas production starting in 2014.

The European power is hoping to repeat the United States’ shale gas revolution after Poland published surveys that estimated it is sitting on colossal untapped gas deposits lodged in shale rock. Such reserves may extend throughout Europe. But Russian gas majors are coolly unperturbed by the grand vision to upset the status quo in Russia’s most lucrative market – and analysts in Moscow are skeptical too.

For more: Europe’s Shale Gas ‘Revolution’: Why Russia Is Shrugging Its Shoulders

3/25/12

British PM's fundraiser quits over cash for access claim - by Tim Castle

A senior fundraiser for Britain's ruling Conservative Party resigned on Sunday after being secretly filmed offering exclusive access to Prime Minister David Cameron in return for donations of 250,000 pounds a year.

The disclosure is damaging for Cameron's party which has tried to shake off an image of being too close to the interests of business and the rich as Britain undergoes a strict austerity program to cut its budget deficit.

The party's co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas stood down within hours of the Sunday Times newspaper publishing video of him telling undercover reporters, posing as international financiers, that the contributions would enable them to ask Cameron "practically any question you want".

The Sunday Times reporters had posed as Liechtenstein-based fund managers who wanted to develop contacts with Cameron and other ministers on behalf of their Middle East investors.

Cruddas told them the access would be "awesome for your business", adding some of the party's bigger donors had enjoyed dinner with Cameron and his wife Samantha in their private apartment at his Number 10 Downing Street office.

For more: British PM's fundraiser quits over cash for access claim | Reuters

Free plastic bags may be banned across the whole of Europe - by Eleanor Harding

A ban on free plastic bags across the whole of Europe is being considered by Brussels.

Proposals to make shoppers pay for single-use carrier bags are to be looked at next month and could become law within two years.

The measure is a key recommendation in a green paper on plastic packaging to be published by the European Commission.

Janez Potocnik, the European Commissioner for the environment, said: ‘Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of – now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades. ‘But social attitudes are evolving and there is a widespread desire for change.’

The average EU citizen gets through about 500 plastic carrier bags a year – with most of them used once, according to Brussels. The total volume produced in Europe in 2008 was 3.4million tons, but only 6 per cent were recycled.

Despite their widespread use, research suggests most Europeans want to see a clampdown on carrier bags, with two thirds of people surveyed by the Commission saying they favored an outright ban. 

Note EU-Digest: Many European grocery stores and super markets are already charging between euro 0.07 and 0.13 cents for a plastic bag and paper bags are not used at all.

The Netherlands: Geert Wilders puts Dutch government on notice

Anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders holds in his hands the fate of the Dutch government and of austerity measures meant to save the country from economic crisis. Immigrant groups fear, however, they could pay the price he demands for his support.

"It is threatening," said Ahmet Azdural, director of Turkish lobby group IOT which was set up to promote minority issues. "In the last 10 years, the climate has really changed for immigrants and people who are different."

Wilders has made very clear he wants the Netherlands to go further in curbing immigration if he's to agree to up to 16 billion euros ($21.10 billion) of budget cuts. Wilders has said he wants the government to chop 4 billion euros from the overseas development aid budget of 4.6 billion euros rather than cut any health or unemployment benefits, or address reforms of the labour market or of housing subsidies.

Latest Polls also show Wilders party has dropped 4 seats if the elections were held today.

For more: Dutch politician puts government on notice | Reuters

3/24/12

Biofuels: Airbus, Boeing, Embraer collaborate on aviation biofuel commercialization

Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together on the development of drop-in, affordable aviation biofuels. The three leading airframe manufacturers agreed to seek collaborative opportunities to speak in unity to government, biofuel producers, and other key stakeholders to support, promote, and accelerate the availability of sustainable new jet fuel sources.

Airbus President and CEO Tom Enders, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh, and Embraer Commercial Aviation President Paulo César Silva, signed the agreement at the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva.

"We've achieved a lot in the last ten years in reducing our industry's carbon footprint—a 45% traffic growth with only 3% more fuel consumption," said Tom Enders. "The production and use of sustainable quantities of aviation biofuels is key to meeting our industry's ambitious carbon dioxide reduction targets and we are helping to do this through R+T, our expanding network of worldwide value chains and supporting the EU commission towards its target of four per cent of biofuel for aviation by 2020."

For more: Airbus, Boeing, Embraer collaborate on aviation biofuel commercialization | R&D Mag

Former US VP Cheney had heart transplant today

Former vice president Dick Cheney had a heart transplant Saturday and is recovering at a Virginia hospital, his office said. An aide to Cheney disclosed that the 71-year-old, who has had a long history of cardiovascular trouble including numerous heart attacks, had been waiting for a transplant for more than 20 months.

"Although the former vice president and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift," aide Kara Ahern said in a written statement that was authenticated by several of the Republican politician's close associates.

Cheney was recovering Saturday night at the Intensive Care Unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia after surgery earlier in the day.

Aide: Cheney had heart transplant – USATODAY.com

Turkey slams US negative findings on Turkey in report on religious freedoms

Turkey criticized a US report on religious freedoms that listed Turkey among the world's worst violators of religious freedoms, saying it considers the document "null and void.", pro-government newspaper Today's Zaman reported.

In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the report, prepared by the bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), fails to acknowledge steps that Turkey has taken in recent years to protect religious freedoms and minority rights. "No impartial observer could take allegations in this report, which intentionally turns a blind eye to the steps forward and the political will that has constituted the basis for the reforms, seriously," the statement said. "This report is null and void for us."

The report grouped Turkey among 15 other nations in its "countries of particular concern" category for "systematic and egregious limitations" of religious freedoms. The ranking was a sharp downgrade from Turkey's less-severe status as a watch-listed country in years past.
 

For more: Turkey slams US report on religious freedoms - Trend

US economy lacks strength to sustain gains says Ben Bernanke

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the US economy still lacks enough spending and investment to sustain its recent gains.

Bernanke says consumer demand remains weak relative to its level before the Great Recession. He notes that other contributors to economic growth - including borrowing and trade - have declined. 


Ben Bernanke said the slow recovery from the Great Recession and 2008 financial crisis illustrates how vulnerable the global economy is, while urging economic policymakers to learn from that lesson.

For more: US economy lacks strength to sustain gains: Ben Bernanke - The Economic Times

Middle East: Syria’s Assad lost legitimacy - by William Hague British Foreign Secretary

Twelve months ago, a dozen school children from the southern Syrian town of Deraa were arrested for spraying anti-regime graffiti on walls. A week later these children were returned to their parents bloodied and bruised. Some had had their fingernails pulled out. They were not even teenagers. In previous years, they would have remained nameless torture victims of Assad’s regime. But in 2011, the people of Deraa drew on the inspiration of their Arab neighbors and rose up in a protest that has now engulfed the whole country. 

Today the situation in Syria casts a long shadow over the Middle East. The cruel statistics of the regime’s repression speak for themselves: more than 7,500 Syrians have been killed, including 380 children, and over 10,000 detained without cause or trial. Grainy amateur footage has caught snipers in the act of shooting into funeral processions. The Homs district of Baba Amr has become a symbol of this regime’s shameful disregard for human life and its mistaken belief that legitimate aspirations can violently be suppressed. 

The revelations this week that women and children were massacred in Homs show more clearly than ever that Assad has lost legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead Syria. The ongoing violence also shows that violence will never win out and that the regime is increasingly weak. Assad should step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people. One year after the regime first tried to stamp on dissent doing so to allow a genuine dialogue on transition would be the most fitting way to mark this tragic anniversary. Until it does, we will not forget the people of Syria for a single day.

For more: Syria’s Assad lost legitimacy

New German President urges more not less European unity

Joachim Gauck and Angela Merkel
Germany on Friday swore in new president Joachim Gauck, who warned the government that it had a historical obligation to help Europe’s weakest members as they struggle to stay financially afloat.Gauck, the first head of state from the former communist east, delivered the impassioned appeal to members of parliament and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the light-flooded chamber of the Reichstag parliament building.

“We must keep saying yes to Europe,” said Gauck, who was elected president by a special assembly with an overwhelming majority on Sunday. “Particularly in times of crisis, the tendency to retreat to the level of the nation state is very common.

European unity is however impossible without the life’s blood of solidarity. Particularly in the crisis, we must dare to have more Europe.”Gauck, 72, said that languishing under the Nazi and then the communist dictatorships had made the notion of a united Europe living in peace, freedom and prosperity a driving force of his political awakening. “Europe was the promised land for my generation,” he said.

“For my grandchildren, Europe has long been part of their day-to-day reality, with freedom across borders and the opportunities and concerns of an open society. This reality is an achievement, not only for my grandchildren.”

With Joachim Gauck as president and Angela Merkel in the chancellery, the country's two top political positions will for the first time be held by people from the former communist East Germany.

EU-Digest

France insists no evidence ties gunman to militant groups

French authorities on Friday rejected charges that intelligence failures allowed a young man to kill seven people, insisting there was no evidence he was anything but a lone wolf with no ties to Al Qaeda.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said security officials had known Mohamed Merah, who died in a hail of police bullets, had visited Afghanistan, but said there was no reason to suspect he was planning attacks.

The intelligence services “did their job perfectly well. They identified Mohamed Merah when he made his trips,” he told French radio.

For more: France insists no evidence ties gunman to militant groups | World | DAWN.COM

3/23/12

McDonald’s in China, recycled cooking oil in Malaysia - by TAY TIAN YAN

 McDonald's restaurant in Sanlitun, Beijing was earlier uncovered to have sold expired fries, cheese and pies.  The news shocked the whole China, as well as the world. And McDonald's faced a crisis.

Strangely, the business of McDonald's restaurants in China was not affected. Instead, many Chinese who seldom ate McDonald's food in the past have turned into McDonald's fans.

The report appeared on the TV news report at 8.30pm. At 9.20pm, Beijing Health Inspection officials arrived at the restaurant to carry out an on-site inspection, which later proved that the restaurant had indeed violated the company's rule, but not the food safety regulations.

Within an hour, the McDonald's headquarters apologized and ordered the outlet to temporarily suspend its business for rectification. Other outlets were also warned to strictly comply with the requirements and regulations while the public, media and government departments are welcomed to supervise the operation of the fast food company's outlets.

For more: McDonald’s in China, recycled cooking oil in Malaysia | My Sinchew

EU-US: Transatlantic trade deal on the horizon?

As pressure on the eurozone eases, Europe and the United States are becoming increasingly convinced that they need to strengthen their partnership in order to maintain a leading competitive edge in the global economy.

“The old boys need to say clearly that they are still in business,” said EU Ambassador to Washington João Vale de Almeida, speaking at an event organized by the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU (AmCham EU).

The state of the transatlantic economy has suffered the blow of the euro crisis but remains the largest and wealthiest in the world, with over 50% of world GDP in terms of value and 41% in terms of purchasing power, according to a report released yesterday (22 March).

 “No other commercial artery in the world is as integrated as the transatlantic economy,” said Joseph Quinlan, an author of the report published by the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University. “Its health is vital to the health of the entire global economy.”

For more: Transatlantic trade deal on the horizon? | EurActiv

Arab Spring Part Two: Unrest in Bahrain getting worse

Even though Bahrain has been in turmoil since the Arab uprisings began a year ago, with thousands taking to the streets to demand democratic reform. The events there have been overshadowed by those in Syria, but are probably just as bad or even worse than in Syria say some observers.

The leading opposition party Wefaq was involved in backroom talks during a pro-democracy uprising last year on reforms offered by Crown Prince Salman, but the they were cut short when Saudi troops entered Bahrain and martial law was imposed.

Unrest in the Saudi Eastern Province has also flared again in recent months, with Shia activists taking heart from the predominantly Shia protests in Bahrain.  Earlier this month, an estimated 100,000 civilians filled the streets in what, according to observers, has been the largest demonstrations the gulf nation has experienced since protests began last year.

The continued crackdown of the near-daily protests since then prompted a U.N. condemnation on Tuesday of the Bahraini security officials' "disproportionate use of force" to suppress protesters.

On the same day, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, one of the few human rights advocacy groups operating in the country, released evidence of the deaths of two civilians last week from tear gas asphyxiation.


Mattar Ebrahim, a senior figure in Wefaq, said he could not confirm any meetings had taken place but said the Saudis were keen to see stability in Bahrain to improve their own situation. 

EU-Digest


3/22/12

EU could be the home to 400 'lone wolf' extremists, expert says

Alvise Armellini reporting for the Deutsche Presse-Agentur said that anti-terror experts believe the French/Algerian serial-killer suspect who died after a 32-hour stand-off with French police was one of about 400 al-Qaida trained extremists in the European Union.

"It is a phenomenon of 'lone wolves,' as we call them," EU top Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told the German news agency dpa. "We can estimate that they are in the 400s all across Europe."

Like Merah — who also had a criminal record — all such individuals "are obviously monitored" by European intelligence services, de Kerchove said. Most are in "Germany, France, Britain, maybe also Belgium, and in all other EU countries to a much lesser extent," he indicated.

Commenting on appropriate countermeasures, de Kerchove suggested extending across the EU legislation already enforced in Germany and Austria that criminalizes anyone who travels abroad to attend terrorist indoctrination camps.

France's Presidential candidate Hollande could be secret reformer - by Catherine Bremer

Despite his criticism of bankers and plan for a millionaires' tax, French Socialist Francois Hollande could turn out to be a reforming president, his aides are keen to suggest.

On the campaign trail, Hollande espouses a traditional tax-and-spend platform to rally left-wing supporters and preserve his lead in most opinion polls ahead of an April-May presidential election.

But even as he dismays the business sector with planned tax rises and a broadside against the world of finance, Hollande has described himself as "pink", not "red", and aides say he would tread a pragmatic, centrist path in office.

Opinion polls show such rhetoric strikes a chord with left-leaning voters, including supporters of hard leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, credited with 10 percent in the polls. It also appeals to centrists fed up with economic gloom, high unemployment and a feeling that conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has shielded the rich with tax breaks.

For more: Analysis: France's Hollande could be secret reformer - chicagotribune.com

France - Toulouse: terrorist dies after jumping out of window during police raid says government

French terrorist Mohammed Merah died after jumping out of window as police stormed his Toulouse apartment, the French interior ministry said.

Authorities said Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, is part of a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al Qaeda.

EU-Digest

Energy Costs: The real reasons for high gasoline prices .......Wall Street - Financial Speculators

With gasoline prices approaching $4 per gallon in Madison, there are many factors that have been blamed by politicians and so-called analysts in the corporate media. Among those are tensions in the Middle East, supply and demand, OPEC policies, the Obama administration’s policies, etc.

While many factors can be considered in placing the blame for rising gasoline prices, the primary cause of the price increase is rarely mentioned - speculation on Wall Street. Wall Street is betting on higher oil prices in the future and that betting is causing prices to rise.

A recent article by Robert Lenzner, writing for Forbes, concludes that speculation adds $23.39 to the price of a barrel of crude oil, which translates to a $.56 increase in the price of gasoline at the pumps for Americans. In other words, relatively few players in the Wall Street casino with very deep pockets are placing huge bets on oil – and the consumer is paying.

For more: The real reasons for high gasoline prices - Madison Independent | Examiner.com

Eurozone: "Worst is over in debt crisis and key indicators better than in the US", says ECB president Mario Draghi

Mario Draghi
Mario Draghi European Central Bank President said today that the worst of the eurozone‘s debt crisis is over, warning however that "risks" remain.

"The situation has stabilized," Draghi said in an interview with German daily Bild.

"The key eurozone indicators such as inflation, current account and above all the budget deficits, are better than, for example, in the United States."

EU-Digest

France: Terrorist dead say French Media

A police source has told French media the terrorist has died from self inflicted gunshots.

More than a day after 300 police first surrounded the five-story building in a suburb of the city of Toulouse, Mohamed Merah, who has confessed to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi, had yet to give himself up.

“There was no movement during the night. We hope he is still alive,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told RTL radio today. He said two shots had been heard during the night.

EU-Digest

3/21/12

The Netherlands: Experience Floriade, the world’s largest horticultural festival April 5 – October 7, 2012

A truly once in a lifetime event, Floriade dates back 52 years and takes place only once every ten years in the Netherlands. Floriade has previously been hosted in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Zoetermeer and Haarlemmermeer and brings together exhibitors and visitors from all over the world to enjoy a variety of dance, theater, music, food stalls and art all inspired by the gardens and pavilions housing the many floral displays.

Floriade will showcase over 100 exhibitors and five uniquely themed worlds to explore including the healing herbs, tea rituals and barefoot path of ‘Relax & Heal’ and ‘Green Engine’ – home to Villa Flora the biggest indoor flower exhibition in Europe where you can learn how to sculpt your own floral masterpiece.

Jacqueline van der Kloet, one of Holland’s top garden designers who does a lot of work for the world-famous Keukenhof garden, tells says she was hired to do all the plant schemes for spring, summer and autumn flowering-bulbs at the Floriade.

“This Floriade is quite different from previous ones – no huge product displays, no monochromatic plant schemes, but lots of Impressionistic design.”

British. Budget Deficit Doubles as Taxes Fall - by Svenja O’Donnell

Britain’s budget deficit almost doubled in February as taxes fell and spending surged, leaving Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne little room to meet his full-year goal as he prepares to announce the annual budget.

Net borrowing excluding support for banks was euro 18.25 billion  ($24.1 billion), the highest for any February on record, compared with euro 10.69 billion a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said in London today. The median of 17 forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey was for a shortfall of euro 9.61 billion .

Osborne has rejected calls to relax his program of cuts, saying warnings from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service that Britain could lose its top credit rating reinforce the need to stick to his plan to erase the structural deficit by 2017.

For more: U.K. Budget Deficit Doubles as Taxes Fall - Businessweek

France: 3 explosions heard near scene of standoff in Toulouse

Three explosions have been reported outside the Toulouse apartment where a standoff between police and a gunman suspected of killing seven people dragged on for 17 hours.

The Associated Press reported that orange flashes accompanied each explosion.

The blasts signal that the standoff appears close to an end. Just hours before the explosions, the suspect had indicated he would turn himself in under the cover of darkness.

USA: Feel Cheated by Wall Street? Look in a Mirror -- Not to Washington! - by Marty Robins

The most recent kerfuffle involving the alleged depredations of Goldman Sachs illustrates a fundamental cause of our recent economic problems. No, not Goldman and other institutions taking advantage of innocent consumers, although some of the latter undoubtedly occurred. I'm talking about major institutions doing nothing to protect their own interests, even though they possessed the knowledge and resources to do so.

All the regulation in the world will be useless if people don't take responsibility for themselves and ask necessary questions, and walk away from deals if they don't get sensible answers. Certainly, there are those who lack the education and/or mental capacity to protect themselves, and are in need of government guidance or more. However, the Goldman Sachs' of the world rarely, if never deal with such persons, and should not be expected to treat their counterparties like ignorant consumers.

For more: Marty Robins: Feel Cheated by Wall Street? Look in a Mirror -- Not to Washington!

France: terrorist suspected of killings at Jewish school and army barracks in Toulouse surrounded in apartment building

A major police operation is underway in Toulouse as hundreds of officers surround an apartment in an eastern suburb of the city. It's understood one gunman remains in the building another man handed himself over to police in the early hours of the morning. It's also thought that he was one of a number of suspects police identified after the first two killings in Toulouse, inevitably questions are now being asked as to why he wasn't picked up before three children and a teacher were murdered outside a Jewish school in the city on Monday.  Interior Minister Gueant said the suspect Mohammed Merahis a French national of Algerian origin who spent considerable time in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Guant said "He claims to be a jihadist and says he belongs to al Qaeda. He wanted to avenge the Palestinian children and take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions," he told reporters at the scene. The suspect reportedly belongs to a little-known group called Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Glory, which the French government banned in January for trying to recruit people to fight in Afghanistan. French Interior Minister Claude Gueant also said the man, had made several visits to Afghanistan, was acting out of revenge for France's military involvement in the country.

The French elite anti-terror squad have been called to the scene and it's understood negotiations are ongoing. The suspect apparently has said he will surrender himself to the authorities this afternoon.


EU-Digest

Greece struggles back to markets with elections looming

Greece continues to hold a place in the news as it completes a series of milestones on its path to recuperation, while it awaits a possible change in its government that could endanger the completion of targets agreed to its second bailout.

On Tuesday, Athens sold EUR1.3bn of 3-month T-bills (Treasury bills) with borrowing costs backing down as demand remained stable. Specifically, the auction’s bid-cover ratio came in at 2.69, compared to February’s 2.7; while the yield dropped 36 basis points to 4.25%.

The auction comes on the same fateful day that EUR14.5bn in Greek bonds mature. The Hellenic Republic was theoretically able to avoid default thanks to funds issued after the IMF and EU approved the second EUR130bn bailout.

For more: Ifa Magazine • Greece struggles back to markets with elections looming

The Netherlands: Victim of Catholic clergy sex abuse castrated (under the authority of the Catholic church) after complaining of abuse - by Stephen Castle

A young victim in the care of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands was surgically castrated decades ago after complaining about sexual abuse, according to new evidence that adds to the scandal engulfing the church.

The case, which dates to the 1950s, has increased pressure for a government-led inquiry into sexual abuse in the Dutch church amid suspicions that as many as 10 young men might have suffered the same fate.

It is unclear whether the reported castration was undertaken as a punishment for whistle-blowing or was regarded as an acceptable treatment for homosexuality.

For more Victim of clergy sex abuse in the Netherlands castrated after complaining of abuse - World - The Boston Globe

3/20/12

The Netherlands - Dutch Conservative Government of Mark Rutte on the brink of collapse

Hero Brinkman
Hero Brinkman, a key Dutch MP from the far-right PVV party of Geert Wilders has quit the party, raising serious doubts about the survival of the current Conservative Rutte government.

After leaving his party Brinkman said in a press conference; "as a convinced democrat, I can no longer function in a party that completely centers around one person. All my efforts to democratise the party have always been sabotaged."

Also in a leaked e-mail last week, Brinkman  criticized the party's much-condemned anti-immigrant hotline as a one-man ( Wilders)  show.

Rutte's minority government has a one-seat majority (76) in the 150-seat Lower House thanks to the support of Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) which has 24 seats. Nevertheless, Brinkman said he would continue to support the governing coalition on "major issues", securing its majority in parliament.

The key to the survival of the Rutte Government is now in the hands of their coalition partner CDA (Christian Democrats), which already at the beginning of the formation of the Government had been sceptical to having Geert Wilders' PVV as a pivotal part of the Government.  Today, within the CDA, several members are now openly calling for their party to leave the "sinking ship" of the Rutte Government before they also will be held accountable by the Dutch electorate for the economic mess the country finds itself in.

EU-Digest

Italy: Italians take heart from a pair of Super Marios, projecting image of "can-do Italy"

Thanks to two Marios, Italy’s image as the fun-loving land of the bunga bunga party but unreliable partner in Europe is under reconstruction — sparking cultural shifts at home.

Mario Monti
Mario Draghi
Premier Mario Monti, an economics professor who succeeded Silvio Berlusconi, is creating renewed confidence in Italy — among investors, political partners and crucially Italians themselves. Mario Draghi, as head of the European Central Bank, basks in acclaim leading an institution that holds sway over the EU economy.

The two Marios, both in their roles since November, have the seal of approval from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key figure in Europe’s drive to save itself from ruin.

For more: Italians take heart from a pair of Super Marios, projecting image of can-do Italy - The Washington Post

Turkey: Bulgaria to open cultural centre in Istanbul

Bulgarian Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov announced that Bulgaria will open a cultural centre in Istanbul, The Anatolian Agency reported.

The minister remarked that the cultural centres that the two countries will open in Bulgaria and Turkey will play an important role for the development of the bilateral relations.

So far Bulgaria has opened cultural centres in 11 countries.
Minister Rashidov remarked that culture is the best ambassador between countries.

For more: Bulgaria to open cultural centre in Istanbul - FOCUS Information Agency

Economic confidence makes a comeback - by Tavia Grant and Richard Blackwell

"Seems the economy is picking up"
Several economists, including those at Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, UBS Securities Canada and the University of Toronto, have recently nudged up their economic growth forecasts for this year.

Improving global conditions are the chief reason, as the U.S. economy shows increased signs of vigour and Europe moves to contain its financial turmoil. Closer to home, high commodity prices will support Western Canada while low interest rates will underpin business and consumer spending.

“Some of the worst-case scenarios [on Europe, the U.S. and China] look a little less worrisome now than they did, say, in December,” said RBC chief economist Craig Wright, who is raising his projection for growth to 2.6 per cent this year. “The uncertainty is easing.”

For more: Economic confidence makes a comeback - The Globe and Mail

Finland embassy staff also leaves Syria, following the closing of several other foreign embassies

 Following the closing down of several other foreign embassies the Finnish embassy staff in Syrian capital Damascus has also left Syria due to the "weakened security situation", the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The embassy in Syria was also responsible for Finland's affairs in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. All duties will be temporarily managed from Helsinki.

The foreign ministry urged all Finnish people to avoid traveling to Syria, and also asked Finnish citizens still in Syria to leave the country.

EU-Digest

Jewish cemetery in Poland attacked by vandals

Vandals have desecrated a Jewish cemetery in Poland, spraying swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on tombstones and memorial plaques, an official said Monday.

The vandals also wrote “This is Poland, not Israel’’ on one sign at the Jewish cemetery in Wysokie Mazowieckie, a town in eastern Poland, according to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

Police are investigating the attack, which occurred Sunday night in a town that has tried to preserve the memory of the Jews who once lived there. The cemetery, which was restored six years ago, is not fully fenced in and it was the first time vandals attacked it, said Michael Traison, an American lawyer who has raised funds to restore the cemetery.

Jewish cemetery in Poland attacked by vandals - Boston.com

3/19/12

The Netherlands: UPS says TNT Express has agreed to a sweetened takeover offer of euro 5.16 billion

United Parcel Service Inc. said Monday it has agreed to buy TNT Express NV for Euro 5.16 billion ($6.77 billion) in a deal supported by TNT's boards.

UPS's cash offer of  Euro 9.5 ($12.51) per share for TNT — Europe's second-largest express delivery company behind DHL — comes a month after TNT management turned down a Euro 9 per share offer. The companies remained in talks, assisted by a strengthening dollar.

UPS said Monday the deal is a 54 percent premium to TNT's closing price before the first offer Feb. 17. TNT shares closed at  euro 9.35 on Friday.

The acquisition would be the biggest ever for Atlanta-based UPS, which is the world's largest delivery company.

For more: UPS says TNT Express has agreed to a sweetened takeover offer of $6.77 billion | The Republic

Aircraft Industry: Turkey to receive first Airbus A400M transport plane next year

A400M military transport
Turkey is to receive its first A400M aircraft, designed and built by an international consortium with the country’s participation, next year, Hürriyet newspaper reported yesterday.

The A400M, a military transport aircraft designed by Airbus, will bring strategic power to the Turkish military with its long range and high capacity. The giant aircraft features four engines, developed by Rolls Royce and MTU, and has a capacity of 37 tons.

A400M’s have a cruising altitude of 13,300 meters and a ferry range of 8,700 kilometers. The most important feature of the aircraft is its ability to take off on a 750-meter air strip with a load of 25 tons.

Airbus has made an offer to Turkey to open a regional maintenance center for A400M’s in the country. The company targets a market of 1,000 A400M’s in the next 20 years. In a separate move Airbus offered Turkey the opportunity to participate in building the Beluga EX, another giant transportation aircraft.

For more: ECONOMICS - Turkey to receive first A400M plane next year