The World This Week
In the UK….
- The invite list to a meeting with David Cameron concerning the Coalition’s controversial NHS reforms has failed to include some of the reform’s biggest critics: the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, both of whom want the bill to be withdrawn.
- The Government has abandoned plans to impose penalties on students in England who pay off their student loans early. The initiative was initially proposed by Business Secretary Vince Cable, during discussions with Conservatives before they implemented the rise in tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year. There was a belief that penalties would prevent wealthier students from having an advantage in the new system, however several Liberal Democrats now believe that it is poorer students who may be more inclined to pay off their debt early anyway.
- Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic cleric, was released from custody this week. His conditions of bail are the strictest possible under British law: for 22 hours a day he won’t be allowed to leave his home. Britain’s top immigration judge stated he had no choice given that Qatada has remained in detention for 6 and a half years without facing criminal charges or a trial. The Government is currently trying to overturn a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which asserts that Qatada can’t be taken back to his country of birth, Jordan, for trial, given that the evidence against him was obtained through torture.
- In the case of a Scottish referendum on independence, the House of Lords has stated it supports a “straight choice” between Scotland remaining in its political union with the rest of the United Kingdom or full independence. This contrasts with the Scottish National Party’s position which is open-minded on including a further option- “devolution max”- which would entail giving Scotland increased powers with regards to taxation even if it didn’t become fully independent.
- UK unemployment rose by 48,000 to 2.67 million in the last quarter of 2011. Unemployment is now up to 8.4%, the highest it has been for 16 years: however the increase in the 3 months up to December was the smallest rise in over a year.
- Following a High Court ruling that prayers held before Devon Council’s meetings were unlawful, the Government has decided to activate a power to allow such prayers to go ahead. The National Secular Society has stated that the move could be challenged in court.
- 2,800 women who were fitted with faulty breast implants by a private French company have been referred to the NHS after the French firm refused to take responsibility. More than 1,100 women have been scanned by the NHS, resulting in a few women having the implants removed.
- Two teenagers fighting the rise in tuition fees by arguing in court that the rise breached human rights and equality laws have lost their legal battle.
- David Cameron has called for participants in the drinking industry in England to promote responsible drinking, particularly given the cost to taxpayers of binge drinking.
And in the world…
- William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary, has declared that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could plunge the Middle East into a “new Cold War.” Hague believes that if Iran develops such weapons, other nations in the region will attempt to follow suit. Western countries have imposed sanctions over the issue in the last few months, although Tehran insists its program is only for energy purposes. Iran has now halted oil sales to British and French companies.
- Following from this, tensions are also high between Iraq and Israel: Israel is accusing Iran of being behind attacks on its embassies in India, Thailand and Georgia. Iran denies this and believes Israel and the US to be responsible for the assassinations of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years. The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, has reported that there is a strong chance of Israel striking Iran as early as April.
- Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has declared that some Eurozone countries no longer want Greece in the bloc. Discussions have been underway concerning a bailout of Greece by the IMF and EU worth €130bn. The bailout would enforce mass austerity measures on the country, which has sparked recent violent protests in Athens where police use of tear gas has initiated controversy. Currently, 27.7 per cent of Greeks are at risk of poverty or social exclusion and one in five of those living in poverty can’t afford meals with meat every other day.
- The United Nations General Assembly has passed a non-binding resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria and calling an end to the violence there. It was modelled on an earlier resolution in the Security Council which was vetoed by Russia and China; China has stated this week that it is sending an envoy to Damascus to negotiate a “peaceful and proper” solution.
- Election officials in Egypt have failed to confirm the date of what will be the first presidential elections since Egypt’s revolution.