UK Budget 2013: IFS warns of £9bn tax rises after election

UK Budget 2013: IFS warns of £9bn tax rises after election

Guardian – Tax rises of up to £9bn – equal to a 2p increase in the basic rate of income tax – could be imposed after the next general election to limit further cuts in public spending, experts warned on Thursday. The scale of the spending cuts scheduled for 2015 in George Osborne’s budget will be so difficult to implement an incoming government would have little alternative but to raise taxes or borrow more, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said. The IFS, which produces a keenly watched analysis of the chancellor’s budget, gave its warning after the Treasury’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, warned that growth would halve this year to 0.6% and the recovery would be weaker than predicted only in December. Read Article

U.N. starts inquiry into torture, labor camps in North Korea

Reuters – The United Nations launched an investigation on Thursday into what it said were widespread and systematic human rights violations in North Korea, some of which “may amount to crimes against humanity”. The U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously passed a resolution brought by the European Union and Japan, and backed by the United States, condemning alleged North Korean torture, food deprivation and labor camps for political prisoners. Read Article

Obama urges return to Israel-Palestinian peace talks

BBC – In a speech before Israeli students in Jerusalem, Mr Obama said a sovereign Palestinian state was the “only path for true security” in Israel. Palestinians had “a right to be a free people in their own land”, he said. Earlier in Ramallah, he urged Palestinians to drop their demand for a freeze in Israeli settlement building. Read article

Australia’s Gillard gives national apology for forced adoptions

DW – Australia’s prime minister has delivered a national apology to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption. Speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament House on Thursday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologized on behalf of the nation to more than 800 people affected by the forced adoption policy. An apology was recommended a year ago by a Senate committee that investigated the impacts of the now-discredited policies. The report found that between World War II and the early 1970s unwed mothers in Australia were pressured, deceived and threatened into giving up their babies so married couples could adopt them. Read Article

Australia: Senate media law reform committee dismisses critics

AAP – The Labor-controlled Senate committee that conducted a lightning inquiry into the media draft laws says newspaper critics of the bills are being hysterical. Numerous examples of media wrongdoing, such as the exposure of a minister of the Crown’s homosexuality, demonstrated exactly why regulation of the news media was warranted, the committee said. Its report, tabled in the Senate by chairman Doug Cameron shortly before debate began on two of the government’s six media bills, noted that Britain had agreed on a similar new system of press regulation, including creation of a new regulator. The committee said no allegations of criminal misconduct had been levelled at the Australian media. Read Article

International Criminal Court ‘will not drop charges’ against Kenyan president-elect

AFP – The International Criminal Court will not drop the crimes against humanity charges against Kenyan president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta, The Hague-based court’s chief prosecutor said. “We will not drop the charges,” Fatou Bensouda told reporters in Paris, saying it was only a question of when, not if, he goes to trial. Kenyatta, 51, stands accused of orchestrating deadly violence that followed disputed polls five years ago. He was named Kenya’s new president in a closely-fought election this month, though his main rival has filed a legal challenge against the win. Bensouda said she deplored the lack of cooperation from the Kenyan government in the ICC cases related to the east African country, which she said suffered from witness intimidation. Read Article

France backs ending EU arms embargo on Syria

BBC – French President Francois Hollande has called for the EU arms embargo on Syria to be lifted in order to aid anti-government forces. “We are ready to support the rebels, so we are ready to go that far,” he said. He told reporters that France and the UK agreed on the issue but that other countries would have to be convinced. Russia, which is not an EU member and is one of Syria’s principal allies, has strongly opposed any arming of Syria’s opposition. Mr Hollande was speaking in Brussels on Thursday, ahead of a meeting of EU leaders. Read Article

Turkey Kurds: PKK chief Ocalan calls for ceasefire

BBC – The jailed leader of Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, has called for a truce after years of war. Ocalan also urged the fighters of his PKK organisation to withdraw from Turkey, in a message read out to cheers during Kurdish New Year celebrations in the city of Diyarbakir. Read article

Fitch cuts Puerto Rico GO debt to near junk BBB-minus

Reuters – Fitch Ratings on Wednesday cut its rating on $10.6 billion of Puerto Rico general obligation bonds to BBB-minus from BBB-plus, saying the U.S. commonwealth was facing a large budget imbalance caused by a weak economy and revenues. Fitch was the third major ratings group to cut the credit ratings of Puerto Rico, a large borrower in America’s $3.7 trillion municipal bond market, to near junk-bond status. Standard & Poor’s did so a week ago. Moody’s Investors Service reduced Puerto Rico’s general obligation rating rating by two notches to Baa3 in December. Read Article

Rwandan media under attack despite new press laws

Guardian – Rwandan president Paul Kagame has signed new press laws and a freedom of information act, intended to liberalise the media. Yet at the same time journalists are in prison for simply doing their jobs – holding the government to account. Two of these, Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi, were jailed for allegedly defaming Kagame and “endangering national security” after writing articles that criticised the government’s agricultural policy, its handling of corrupt officials, and the justice system for Rwandans involved in the 1994 genocide. The reporters had been warned by the government-appointed Media Council to “tone down” their criticism, and when they failed to comply they were arrested and charged with genocide denial. Read Article

Canada FX Debt – C$ firms on Cyprus hopes; Fed in focus

Reuters – The Canadian dollar firmed against its U.S. counterpart on Wednesday as investors were hopeful a Cyprus deal could be reached to rescue the indebted euro zone country. The Cypriot parliament rejected on Tuesday a proposed levy on bank deposits, which was a condition for the bailout. The general assumption in markets is that policymakers will cobble together a deal to keep Cyprus in the currency bloc. “I think the market’s taking a wait and see … the hopes are that they come to some solution that won’t be quite as radical,” said Don Mikolich, executive director, foreign exchange sales at CIBC World Markets. Read Article

Australia: Single-parent move a ‘breach of human rights’

Sydney Morning Herald – A Labor-dominated parliamentary committee has found that the federal government’s move to force single parents off parenting payments, and onto the lower Newstart allowance, could be a breach of their human rights. It follows news that a group of furious MPs rounded on the changes in caucus on Tuesday, asking Prime Minister Julia Gillard to reconsider the cuts to payments of about 84,000 single parents, who were moved to the lower Newstart unemployment payment in January as a budget cost-saving measure. Read Article

Egypt’s revolution fails to bring police reform

Reuters – One day at dawn last summer, police stormed into the central Cairo slum of Ramlet Bulaq, broke open the doors of its mud-brick houses, beat women and children, stole money and phones and arrested many working age men. “They didn’t leave anything,” said Karima Ahmed, a mother of six whose husband was shot in the leg by a police officer a few days before the raid. Police detained their 14-year-old son and broke his teeth at a local station, she said. A protest over Egypt’s ineffective and heavy-handed police force two years ago started the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and inspired revolts throughout the Arab world. Read Article

Congress weighs legislation that would update email privacy laws

LA Times – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation Tuesday that would give stronger privacy protection to emails. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 would require the government to obtain a search warrant before secretly gaining access to email and other electronic communications stored by companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft. It also would require the government to notify an individual whose email has been accessed and provide that individual with a copy of the search warrant. Read Article

Cypriot parliament rejects bailout ‘blackmail’

ABC – Politicians in Cyprus have overwhelmingly rejected a $13 billion eurozone bailout deal aimed at saving the Mediterranean island from bankruptcy, voting 36 against, 19 abstaining, and none in favour. Analysts fear the collapse of the deal could have consequences across the eurozone, throwing into doubt the country’s ability to resist banking collapse. Angry crowds gathered outside the emergency session of parliament as the MPs debated whether to accept the eurozone proposal. Banks in the country remain closed to prevent a run on savings in the face of strong public opposition to the proposed tax of up to 10 per cent on savings. Read Article

Indian bill on tough rape laws passed by parliament

BBC – A bill containing harsher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty, has been passed by India’s lower house of parliament. It comes after the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi in December sparked demands for tougher laws. Last month, the government introduced the new rape laws in an ordinance. After a seven-hour debate on Tuesday, members of the lower house gave their assent to the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill. It now passes to the upper house. The legislation contains new penalties for stalking, groping, voyeurism and acid attacks. Read Article

David Cameron’s Leveson deal is ‘threat to press freedom’, says human rights watchdog

Telegraph – David Cameron has been accused of creating a “threat to press freedom” by an international body which polices human rights in some of the most autocratic countries. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which usually polices elections to ensure against human rights abuses, said that the phone hacking scandal should not be used as an “excuse” to restrict free speech. The intervention was made after the Prime Minister was accused of putting together a “grubby deal” after he dropped his opposition to use legislation to underpin a new system of press regulation. Read Article