Saturday, May 7, 2011

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

PM returns to Ottawa after majority win

PM returns to Ottawa after majority win

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper stops walking away from the podium as he is asked a question during a media appearance in Calgary on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has returned to Ottawa a day after Canadians elected his Conservative Party to form its first majority government.

Cheering supporters greeted Harper and his wife Laureen, their children Ben and Rachel, as well as his campaign staff as the Conservative plane landed at Ottawa airport Tuesday evening from his home riding in Calgary.

Speaking at a news conference earlier in the day in Calgary, hailed Quebec's "shift to federalism" in Monday night's election, which reduced the once-dominant Bloc Québécois to four seats in the province.

The prime minister added he is disappointed that his majority government does not have a larger foothold in Quebec, as most of the Bloc losses came from an unprecedented surge by Jack Layton's New Democrats.

"Despite the fact that we did not make any gains, of course, as a Canadian and a federalist, I'm encouraged by the collapse of the Bloc," he said.

Harper won 167 seats in Monday night's election and will form his first majority government. He won minority governments in 2006 and 2008.

The Conservatives won 39.6 per cent of the vote. However, the party only won six of Quebec's 75 seats.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not discouraged," Harper said.

The Conservative leader said he would not appoint an unelected person to his cabinet, which he did in 2006.

Harper said he would build his cabinet from the six Quebec MPs who won on Monday.

"We did win a number of seats for experienced MPs who will have a significant place within our government," Harper said.

"I would have hoped for more, but we do have significant representation there, and we will certainly be listening to what the people of Quebec say over the next four years."

Harper received calls of congratulations on Tuesday from U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. During his telephone conversation with Obama, Harper congratulated the U.S. president and military servicemen on this week's raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Obama also renewed his commitment to the border security framework agreement the two leaders announced in February, the Prime Minister's Office said.

Harper told Cameron he looked forward to seeing the British leader at the upcoming G8 summit later this month. The two leaders also discussed the situation in Libya, the PMO said.

Health talks with provinces coming

The Harper majority government will have to renegotiate a massive health-care deal with the provincial governments.

The Conservatives committed during the campaign to keeping the escalator clause in the deal that will see six per cent annual increases in health transfers.

Harper reiterated his support for a universal health system, but he said he is not opposed to provincial governments experimenting with alternative forms of delivery.

"As you know, provinces have within the existing framework experimented with alternative delivery, but that is different from moving away from the basis of a universal system of public health insurance coverage, and we are all committed to that," Harper said.

He said he foresees a collaborative approach to coming up with a new health deal with the provinces. He said he will also respect the asymmetrical arrangement with Quebec, which was agreed to in the health accord signed by the former Liberal government of Paul Martin.

Champagne celebration

After running a tightly scripted campaign, for the last several weeks, Harper seemed relaxed as he spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning.

Harper twice left the microphone to signal an end to his news conference and twice returned to answer one more question.

The Conservative leader recalled how he celebrated with his staff Monday night after learning that he would lead a majority government.

"My staff had me celebrating last night," Harper said.

"They pulled me up to the room, they made me pop this champagne, and after I'd said a few words, they passed me the champagne and wanted me to guzzle it out of the bottle. And some of you know I'm not much of a drinker, but I did. However, they tricked me, and there was only that much in it. So much for my wild side. That's as wild as it got."

As he recalled the story, he held his fingers to suggest there was very little champagne left in the bottle.

Somali pirates get 439-year sentences

Somali pirates get 439-year sentences

The Alakrana fishing vessel on route to Victoria Port in the Seychelles Islands on November 17, 2009.

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- In a rare case, a Spanish court convicted two Somalia men of piracy in the 2009 takeover of a Spanish fishing vessel and sentenced each to 439 years in prison, according to a copy of the sentence viewed by CNN on Tuesday.

The long prison terms stem mainly from the conviction for illegal detention of the vessel's 36 crew members, with a sentence of 11 years for each count of piracy, or 396 years.

In addition, the defendants were convicted on three other counts, including armed robbery and belonging to a criminal gang, which boosted the overall sentence to 439 years.

The vessel, the Alakrana, was freed in November 2009 after being held for 47 days off the coast of Somalia. The crew included 16 Spanish sailors and 20 from Africa and Asia.

A day after the hijacking by 12 armed pirates, Spanish military monitoring the situation captured two pirate suspects on Oct. 3, 2009 as they left the fishing vessel. Then authorities took the unusual step of bringing them to Madrid.

Many other pirate suspects who have been captured by international military forces --- trying to ensure the safety of merchant shipping and fishing off the coast of Somalia --- have been taken to African nations for court procedures, but not to Europe.

The Spanish court identified the two as Raageggesey Hassan Aji, of Ceel Maccan, Somalia, who was born in 1978, although his birthdate was not disclosed; and Cabdiweli Cabdullahi, of Marka, Somalia, with no age given, although the court determined before the trial that was an adult.

Defense lawyers argued unsuccessfully for their acquittal.

Despite the 439-year sentences, a court official told CNN that the likely maximum that could be served for such convictions is about 30 years.

Spanish media reported in 2009 that a ransom had been paid to free the ship, and a leading Spanish fishing industry executive, Juan Manuel Vietes, told CNN at the time he was certain a ransom was paid for the release of the tuna trawler, but he didn't know the amount.

The Spanish government did not say how the ship had been freed.

Portugal reaches deal on bail-out

Portugal reaches deal on bail-out

Portugal's caretaker prime minister José Sócrates.

Lisbon, Portugal (FT.COM) -- Portugal has reached an agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund on a €78 billion ($116 billion) financial rescue package, becoming the third eurozone country to be bailed out of a sovereign debt crisis.

In a brief television address on Tuesday night, José Sócrates, the country's caretaker prime minister, said the deal was demanding, but indicated that the terms were not as tough as those agreed with Greece and Ireland.

The EU and IMF had recognized that "the situation in Portugal is far from being [as serious] as in other countries," he said. "Knowing other external assistance programs, Portugal can feel reassured."

After the prime minister's address, his office said the bail-out funds would total €78 billion over three years, including financial support for Portugal's banking system. The interest rate to be charged was not specified.

Mr Sócrates said the program would not involve any additional fiscal measures in 2011 and would set out less demanding deficit reduction targets than previously fixed by the government.

Under the plan, Portugal has agreed to reduce its budget deficit from 9.1% of gross domestic product in 2010 to 5.9% this year. The previous target for 2011 had been 4.6% of GDP.

Portugal is now committed to cutting the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2013, a year later than envisaged under the government's previous plan.

Mr Sócrates said the package would not involve any cuts in public sector wages or the the minimum national wage, nor any public sector dismissals.

State-owned Caixa Geral de Depósitos, the country's biggest bank by deposits, would not be privatized. No special taxes would be introduced on holiday bonuses and no change made to the minimum retirement age, he added.

The caretaker prime minister said he would not release further details until the country's main opposition parties had been informed. Opposition leaders are expected to express their approval of the agreement ahead of a general election on June 5.

The agreement follows almost a month of negotiations between the Lisbon government and officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

Portugal was under pressure to reach an agreement so that it could receive bail-out funds in time to meet €7 billion in government bond redemptions and interest payments that fall due on June 15.

EU officials want the package to be approved at a May 16-17 meeting of EU finance ministers. But approval could be delayed by disagreements over the package among Finnish political parties, who are trying to form a new coalition government.

Legislation required to implement the program will not go before the Portuguese parliament until after the June ballot.

Portugal was forced to seek a bail-out after the minority Socialists government was defeated over an austerity program in March, forcing Mr Sócrates to resign and sending government borrowing costs soaring.

Earlier a Commission spokesman denied Portuguese media reports that the negotiations had been held up by disagreements between European and IMF negotiators over the terms of the agreement.

"There are no divergences among members of the troika," said Amadeu Altafaj.

The EU will provide about two-thirds of the total funds, the remainder coming for the IMF.

EU loans will come from the European financial stability facility, the bloc's bail-out fund, and later from the European Stability Mechanism, the permanent crisis resolution instrument due to replace it in 2013.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Elections act limits online comments, social media

Elections act limits online comments, social media

Canadians are being reminded to comply with Elections Canada's broadcasting ban, preventing premature elections results from being distributed even over social media sites. (CBC)

An elections law enacted when telecommunications were still in their infancy runs up against the digital age for several hours Monday when polls close in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Strict rules under the Canada Elections Act prevent any instance of "premature transmission of results" until the last polls have closed in every electoral district in the country.

That means extra precautions for online publishers and consumers.

Elections Canada has issued a warning to Facebook and Twitter users to use caution on election day when communicating and posting voting results, saying the act also applies to transmissions made over the internet.

That also affects CBC's coverage of the election, resulting in adjusted broadcast schedules and changes to the website.

As of 5 p.m. ET Monday, comments on all stories will be closed until all polling stations across the country have closed at 10 p.m. ET.

Users are also discouraged from posting any advance polling information on any related social networking sites, including Facebook, as broadcasters and publishers go to great lengths to comply with the act.

CBC Television and CBC News Network will feature a live election special airing east of B.C. starting at 9:30 p.m. ET, when polling stations are closed elsewhere in the country. A blackout will be in effect in B.C. during that time, from 6:30 to 7 p.m. PT, before the broadcast goes coast to coast.

Online, will host a moderated live chat beginning at at 9 p.m. ET and on Facebook at 10 p.m. ET.

After 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT), the online blackout will be lifted and our's website, mobile and iPad/iPhone apps will have live results from across the country, live streaming video, full coverage of the regional and national election stories and comments on news stories will be reopened.

And social media users will once again be free to share their reaction to election results.

Osama bin Laden killed, Obama says

Osama bin Laden killed, Obama says

Osama bin Laden, the driving force behind the Sept. 11 attacks, is dead, ending a decade-long manhunt for the world's most-wanted terrorist, U.S. President Barack Obama announced Sunday night.

"I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children," Obama said during a statement televised live from the East Room of the White House late Sunday evening.

The president said that he had met repeatedly with his national security team since August and that they received information that bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Pakistan. Then last week it was determined that the U.S. had enough to take action, he said.

The U.S. government released this age-progressed photograph of Osama bin Laden in January 2010. Reuters

"Today at my direction," Obama said, the U.S. launched a targeted attack against that compound in Abbottabad, which is about 150 kilometres north of Islamabad, and that bin Laden was killed in a firefight.

Justice has been done," the president said.

U.S. officials said four helicopters carrying CIA paramilitaries and a Navy SEAL team attacked bin Laden's compound; an Abbottabad resident said the raid took place at 1:30 a.m. local time.

U.S. personnel took bin Laden's remains, which were buried at sea, a U.S. official said. Finding a country willing to accept the body for burial within 24 hours, in keeping with Islamic tradition, would have been difficult, the official said.

Following the attack, Pakistani television broadcast pictures of flames shooting from the roof of bin Laden's two-storey house in the night sky.

The development comes just months before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The four airplane hijackings orchestrated by bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization killed more than 3,000 people.

The attacks set off a chain of events that led the U.S. into wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq, and America's entire intelligence apparatus was overhauled to counter the threat of more terror attacks at home.

Abbottabad, Pakistan

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said bin Laden's death will "bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones" on Sept. 11.

In New York City, celebrations broke out in Times Square and people began to gather at the site where the World Trade Center towers stood. The site is now a construction zone where a memorial and new tower are being built.

As news of bin Laden's death spread, crowds also began to gather outside the White House. After Obama confirmed the death, the crowd burst into chants of "U.S.A."

George W. Bush., who was president when al-Qaeda attacked the U.S., said the fight against terror continues "but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."

In Abbotsford, B.C., Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted that 24 Canadians died in the Sept. 11 attack. He said the death of bin Laden "secures a measure of justice for those Canadians and the their families."

"Bin Laden's death does not end the threat of international terrorism," Harper said. "Sadly, others will take his place."

Al-Qaeda was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 231 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.

Crowds gather to celebrate outside the White House in Washington late Sunday after President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spain's jobless rate tops 21% as all major sectors lose jobs

Spain's jobless rate tops 21% as all major sectors lose jobs

Young people with placards reading 'Without a house, without a job, without pension' during protests in April.

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- Spain's unemployment rate rose nearly a point to 21.29%, with 4.9 million jobless for the first quarter of 2011, the government reported Friday, as the prolonged economic crisis continues to squeeze the nation.

Some analysts had predicted the number of jobless might surpass 5 million. But while that didn't happen, the latest statistics were another blow to the economy and to the embattled socialist government.

The numbers for the fourth quarter of 2010 -- 20.33% unemployment and almost 4.7 million jobless --- already represented the highest joblessness rate in 13 years.

The latest numbers, for the first quarter of this year, added more somber news. The number of unemployed increased by 213,000, pushing the overall number to 4.9 million.

All major sectors --- industry, construction, services and agriculture --- shed jobs during the quarter. The number of Spanish households in which no adult had a job increased by 58,000, to a new total of 1.38 million, the government said.

Earlier this month, embattled Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced he would not seek a third term. Elections are due by March 2012.

For months, Zapatero's Socialists have trailed in opinion polls behind the main opposition conservative Popular Party.

In announcing his decision on April 2 to Socialist Party leaders, Zapatero said, "We have made mistakes."

He added that "recent months have been very difficult for the work of the government" because even after enacting a budget austerity plan to reduce the public deficit that put Spain under pressure from international financial markets, the destruction of jobs continued.

Local elections in all Spanish cities and for 13 of its 17 regional parliaments will be held May 22. They are widely seen as a bellwether of voter sentiment for the general elections to follow.