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Easter festivities around Europe

In England, as in many other countries around the world, chocolate eggs are hidden in the gardens for children. There are hot cross buns and marshmallow chicks, creme eggs and lamb for supper. But not everyone celebrates the same, take a look at these three, very different, Easter traditions in Europe.

Read more: Easter festivities around Europe


Airline Industry: Two Airbus A380 to fly over Harbour Bridge as Qantas and Emirates tie-up

Quantas Emirates A380 fly tandem over Sydney Harbuor
Australian airline Qantas marked the official launch of its partnership with Emirates on Sunday with a spectacular tandem flyover of the Sydney Harbour Bridge by two Airbus A380s.

Qantas said the feat by the two super-jumbos -- one from each of the carriers -- is thought to be the first time anywhere in the world that two commercial airline A380s have flown in formation.

As the planes flew over the bridge the Qantas jet was in the lead, flying at about 1,500 feet (450 metres).

"The sight of two of the world's great airlines flying two of the world's largest aircraft so close together over Sydney Harbour is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Qantas chief pilot Philip Green said before the event.

"There has been a huge amount of planning which has been necessary to make this possible, including seeking approval from safety regulators in both Australia and the United Arab Emirates."

Pilots from both airlines completed dozens of special simulator training sessions since January, with Emirates pilots traveling Down Under to conduct sessions in Qantas's A380 simulator in Sydney this month.

Read more: Two Airbus A380 to fly over Harbour Bridge as Qantas and Emirates tie-up | Astro Awani

U.S. taking North Korea's 'state of war' threats seriously

The White House said Saturday it is taking seriously new threats by North Korea but also noted Pyongyang's history of "bellicose rhetoric."

North Korea warned Seoul on Saturday that the Korean Peninsula had entered "a state of war." It also threatened to shut down a border factory complex that is the last major symbol of co-operation between the Koreas.

"We've seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea. We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. "But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats, and today's announcement follows that familiar pattern."

Note EU-Digest: Hopefully North Korea realizes that if one of their rockets strikes the US or any of the US allies that their country will basically be in rubles  in about one hour after their strike.

Read more: U.S. taking North Korea's 'state of war' threats seriously - World - CBC News

USA: Daily Presidential Rasmussen Tracking Poll shows Obama has positive rating

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 54% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Obama's job performance. Forty-five percent (45%) disapprove.

Today’s figures include 32% who Strongly Approve of the way Obama is performing as president and 36% who Strongly Disapprove. This gives him a Presidential Approval Index rating of -4 (see trends). 

Results are updated daily at 9:30 a.m. Eastern'

Check out our review of last week’s key polls to see “What They Told Us.”

Eighty percent (80%) of Americans agree that work is the best solution to poverty. By a two-to-one margin (54% to 28%) they favor a proposal to end welfare programs and use some of that money to guarantee a minimum wage job for anyone who cannot find a job and wants to work.

Read more: Daily Presidential Tracking Poll - Rasmussen Reports™

Weather - Germany: Cold German Winter Refuses to Warm Up for Easter

The poor Easter Bunny deserves our sympathy. Whereas in recent years he has grown used to dodging daffodils, lilies and tulips as he carries his cargo of eggs and chocolate to homes across northern Europe, this year the rabbit will find himself confronted with ice slicks, snow drifts and bundled up humans in foul moods.

Easter, after all, may be upon us. But spring weather most definitely is not. Biologists are warning that the Easter Bunny's wild brethren, European hares, are having trouble keeping their broods warm and healthy in the unseasonable chill. Meteorologists are keeping close tabs on thermometers to determine whether this March will go down as the coldest ever -- since records began in the 1880s. And wiseacres on the streets of Berlin have not yet tired of noting that Easter promises to be colder than last Christmas.

And it's not just the northern regions of Continental Europe where the Easter Bunny will encounter problems. Great Britain and Ireland are likewise suffering through unseasonable weather, with power outages threatening the roast lamb and snow drifts making hopping difficult. Russia and Ukraine are also suffering.

Read more: Cold German Winter Refuses to Warm Up for Easter - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Easter - The Road to Emmaus: Dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East

On the ancient cobblestones of Jerusalem’s Old City Christians on Friday  retraced what tradition holds as the path of Jesus in his final hours of life.

Marking what is referred to in the Roman Catholic religious calendar as ‘Good Friday,’ there are annual reenactments, in which an actor playing the role of Jesus wears a torn robe and a crown of thorns. He stumbles under the weight of a heavy wooden cross while other actors, dressed as Roman soldiers, beat and torment him along the way.

This somber walk along the “stations of the cross” and the joyous Easter celebrations — with waving palm branches and white flowers, — that will follow on Sunday are all a tactile expression of Christianity’s origins. Christianity was born in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank town of Bethlehem and grew out of the fires of the ancient Middle East. It was only later, through the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, that Christendom became a Western religion and an expression of power as well as an expression of faith.

But today the indigenous Christians of the Middle East who see themselves as part of a 2,000-year continuum of the religion’s history are steadily disappearing in the land where the faith began. These Christian minority communities are dwindling in every corner of the modern Middle East.

Read more: The Road to Emmaus: Dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East

Easter: 'Christians get attacked often, but show little outrage' - by Bill O'Reilly

Because this is the holiest week of the year on the Judeo-Christian calendar, it might be useful to look at how theology is faring in the age of secularism.

As you may know, there is a movement in America to remove the word "God" from the currency, to replace the word "Christmas" with "winter" and to replace the word "Easter"' with "spring." On Long Island, where I live, one school is running a "spring egg hunt" with a special appearance by the "Spring Bunny."

Of course, this kind of stupidity is insulting to Christians, but it's been going on for years. Committed secular folks feel no shame or fear whatsoever in attempting to diminish Christian celebrations.

But those same people would never intrude on Ramadan, because they fear reprisal. And you very rarely hear the anti-religious loons go after Jewish traditions, because the Jews have powerful organizations that will respond quickly to anti-Semitic behavior.

It is, however, a different story in the Christian precincts. Here, there is no organized resistance to attacks despite the fact that about 80 percent of the EU and U.S. population describes itself as Christian.

Read more: Bill O'Reilly: Christians get attacked often, but show little outrage - South Florida

Cyprus: Bank of Cyprus big savers to lose up to 60%

A Central Bank official and a senior finance ministry technocrat says Bank of Cyprus savers with over €100,000 could take losses of up to 60 per cent.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they're not authorized to publicly discuss details of the issue, said Saturday that deposits over €100,000 ($129,000) at the country's largest lender will lose 37.5 per cent of their value after being converted into bank shares.

They said they could lose up to 22.5 per cent more, depending on an assessment by officials who will determine the exact figure aimed at restoring the troubled bank back to health.

Bank of Cyprus big savers to lose up to 60% - Business - CBC News


Sweden: Expats flock to Sweden's evangelical churches

Moving to a new country is never an easy task: moving when you might not know a soul, when the language is a mystery and when you are faced with an entirely new culture. All of it can be downright daunting.

Today a growing number of foreigners moving to Sweden are finding that non-traditional churches can offer a home away from home, particularly those offering services in English.

Estimates say about half of regular evangelical churchgoers are foreign-born.

"I was never particularly religious, but moving around in the expat world made me search for a deeper meaning, for both my family and me," one mother and US native tells The Local outside the Charismatic Baptist New Life Church in Stockholm.

"The modern churches give room to explore and the kids enjoy the more exciting atmosphere. We also get to meet people like us, who are foreigners living in a foreign land."

Regular church attendance in Sweden hovers somewhere around 5 percent, while levels of atheism among Swedes are estimated to be as high as 85 percent.

Yet more than half of all weddings in Sweden take place in churches and nearly 90 percent of burials follow Christian rites.

Read more: Expats flock to Sweden's evangelical churches - The Local

Outer Space Exploration: Russian-American Crew Take Short Cut to Space Station

Soyuz docking at space station in record time
Two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut took a short cut to the International Space Station on Thursday, arriving at the orbital outpost less than six hours after their Soyuz capsule blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The express route, used for the first time to fly a crew to the station, shaved about 45 hours off the usual ride, allowing NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin to get a jumpstart on their planned 5.5-month mission.

The crew's Soyuz capsule parked itself at the station's Poisk module at 6:28 a.m. Moscow time, just five hours and 45 minutes after launch.

All previous station crews, whether flying aboard NASA's now-retired space shuttles or on Russian Soyuz capsules, took at least two days to reach the station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 400 kilometers above Earth.

Read more: Russian-American Crew Take Short Cut to Space Station | News | The Moscow Times

North Korea's public relations man is a Spaniard with a tough job - by Zach Campbell

Meet Alejandro Cao de Benós, the only non-Korean employee of North Korea’s foreign ministry. The Spaniard is taking the PR message of North Korea's greatness across Europe.

Cao de Benós is North Korea’s voice to the West.  Jolly, tan, and stout, he was born in Tarragona, Spain to a family with aristocratic roots. He has often said that it was his lifelong dream to join the North Korean revolution, and claims to be the only non-North Korean to ever work for the government in an official capacity since it changed a law to allow specific foreigners to take government posts. Before serving as spokesperson to North Korea he worked as an IT consultant in Pamplona and in the US.

In 2000 he founded the Korean Friendship Association, a worldwide network of sympathizers and supporters who lobby and speak on behalf of the North Korean government. Though it's unclear how many members they have, the KFA claims to have more than 10,000 members in 120 countries. Cao de Benós has been touring Europe, giving a series of speeches recently in an effort to provide an alternate vision of North Korea that is more supportive of its government.

And that's what sympathizers are coming to hear, says Dr. Grzelczyk. "It is about some sort of anticapitalist movement, a search for an alternate vision of the world that could be exemplified in a present form by North Korea’s existence.”

Pyongyang has long used its links with sympathetic political organizations, as well as a worldwide network of “study groups” on the  juche (nationalistic) and songun (military first) ideologies, to promote and legitimize the regime, says Grzelczyk.

“We’re in a propaganda battle with the West, so we supply our own content,” Cao de Benós proclaimed last weekend to a full auditorium, including a group of teenagers and 20-somethings affiliated with the Spanish collective of Communist youth, the organization that sponsored the talk alongside the KFA.

Every aggressive action on behalf of North Korea, Cao de Benós argues, has been direct retaliation for an American action or policy. A nuclear weapons program, he says, was first developed in North Korea in response to a contemplated invasion by the Clinton administration, and not the other way around as Western history books have it.

“North Korea always acts like a mirror of American policy,” he said, pointing out that the recent nullification by North of the 60-year-old Korean War armistice occurred in response to UN sanctions. “Aggression will be met with aggression and peace will be met with peace.”

Read more: North Korea's public relations man is a Spaniard with a tough job -

North Korea ups ante, putting rockets on standby - Foster Klug

North Korea's Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned Friday that his rocket forces were ready “to settle accounts with the U.S.,” unleashing a new round of bellicose rhetoric after U.S. nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy munitions in joint military drills with South Korea.

Kim’s warning, and the litany of threats that have preceded it, don’t indicate an imminent war. In fact, they’re most likely meant to coerce South Korea into softening its policies, win direct talks and aid from Washington, and strengthen the young leader’s credentials and image at home.

But the threats from North Korea and rising animosity from the rivals that have followed UN sanctions over Pyongyang’s Feb. 12 nuclear test do raise worries of a misjudgment leading to a clash.
Kim “convened an urgent operation meeting” of senior generals just after midnight, signed a rocket preparation plan and ordered his forces on standby to strike the U.S. mainland, South Korea, Guam and Hawaii, state media reported.

Kim said “the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation,” according to a report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Read more: North Korea ups ante, putting rockets on standby - The Globe and Mail

Christians attend Good Friday events in Jerusalem - by Elena Ralli

Thousands of Christian pilgrims bearing crosses and chanting prayers marched today, Good Friday to Jerusalem's Old City at the traditional procession on the path that Jesus carried the cross on the way to his crucifixion. The path that is nowadays known as Via Dolorosa or Way of Suffering connects the Monastery of the Flagellation with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Many Catholics and Protestant believers have taken part in the procession in order to celebrate Easter. Many Jews were also present in the Holy City for the Passover, or Pesach, when they commemorate the Exodus of the Israelites from the Egyptian yoke.

Good Friday events started with a Mass earlier in the morning at the Holy Sepulcher, which was built on the place where tradition says that Jesus was crucified, entombed and later resurrected.

According to the AFP, Israeli police are working overtime to protect the pilgrims. Israel's Tourism Ministry said it expects some 150,000 visitors in Israel during Easter week and the Jewish festival of Passover, which coincide this year.

Read more: Christians attend Good Friday events in Jerusalem | New Europe

Gay Rights: why this wasteful, endless and time consuming discussion? - by RM

Many Europeans express amazement when reading or seeing this endless and time consuming discussion going on in America between the church, conservative and liberal groups, when it comes to the issue of gay rights --focusing and such things as the workplace, marriage and parenthood.

Strangely enough, when people in America (or anywhere else for that matter) are asked if they believe in democracy and human rights close to 100 % of them will say yes.  Than why is it that people start "nitpicking" when it comes to freedom of choice, the freedom to worship, freedom of the press, gay rights, etc? 

Isn't it all a question of agreeing to disagree, instead of trying to impose the will of one group on another and wasting a lot of time in the process?

For eventually, with or without legislation, it will all still boil down to one's personal choices and beliefs.



European Aircraft Industry: It's Airbus' A350 vs. Boeing's Dreamliner in the 'War of the Wide-bodies'

787 Dreamliner reeling from recent and well-publicized setbacks, the commercial airline industry is no doubt eagerly awaiting the first flight of Airbus' next new airplane, the A350 XWB.
With Boeing's

Although Airbus isn't saying when it will unveil the all-new A350 XWB (the XWB stands for "extra-wide body"), there is plenty of speculation that those attending this summer's Paris Air Show will get to see the plane in flight.

This would be big news for a number of airlines, who no doubt are wondering if they can afford to tie themselves to the Dreamliner, given that aircraft's global grounding in the wake of battery fires aboard some of the next-generation planes.

For Airbus, the A350 XWB presents a wealth of opportunity, since the plane was designed to compete directly with both the 787 Dreamliner and Boeing's 777 and 777-X. It is, as wrote, the "War of the Wide-bodies."

Already, reported, Airbus has taken 617 orders for the three different variants of the A350. By comparison, Boeing has 890 orders for the Dreamliner (not counting the 50 it has delivered already) as well as 1,500 deliveries and orders for 777s.

Airbus designed the A350 XWB to be highly fuel-efficient, thanks in large part to its use of composite materials in 53 percent of the plane. It is also using titanium and advanced aluminum alloys, Airbus said, bringing the total of the plane's airframe that is made with "advanced materials" to more than 70 percent.

Read more: It's Airbus' A350 vs. Boeing's Dreamliner in the 'War of the Wide-bodies' | Tech Culture - CNET News

Netherlands: Dutch defence ministry owns 75 drones but is secretive about use

The Dutch defence ministry owns 75 drones, or unmanned surveillance aircraft, and these are regularly used in the Netherlands to carry out police work, defence minister Jeanine Hennis has confirmed to MPs in the Dutch Parliament.

MPs had asked questions about the privacy implications of using drones after a report by the AD newspaper earlier this month.

In the article, the paper said drones are used to trace burglars and getaway cars as well as illegal marijuana plantations. For example, Harlingen borrowed two drones from the defense ministry last year after a spate of burglaries in the Frisian town.

According to research by news website, drones have been used 551 times since their use in civilian surveillance was agreed in 2009.

In 2012, information on air space closures in official documents show drones were used on average once every other day. In 2011, almost 90% of flights were made public in advance but last year this fell to 50%. So far this year, only 24% of drone flights have been published.

Read more: - Use of drone aircraft by police is increasingly secretive:

Poland’s Property Commission on Trial for Deals that Handed Millions to Catholic Church

In the two decades following the collapse of Poland’s Communist government, hundreds of millions of złoty worth of land was handed over to Catholic institutions. This was the work of the Komisja Majątkowa (Property Commission), a body set up amid political chaos to provide ‘compensation’ to the Catholic Church in Poland.

Much of the land transferred by the Komisja Majątkowa (KM) later ended up in the hands of private property developers. Facing allegations of serious corruption, the KM was closed down in 2011 and the trial of nine former commissioners opened at Krakow’s district court on February 25 this year. It was almost immediately adjourned until March 25.

The establishment of the KM dates back to 1989 and has its roots in the so-called May Laws drawn up by the penultimate Communist Prime Minister of Poland, Mieczysław Rakowski. The May Laws attempted to bolster relations between the Catholic Church and the Communist authorities prior to the partially free elections of June 4, 1989.

The Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party was struggling to maintain power by courting support from the church, a tactic that failed spectacularly when the clergy accepted the benefits, and then turned their backs on Jaruzelski in both the pulpit and the voting booth.
Seen as a last ditch effort to defeat Solidarność, the May Laws granted Catholic organisations a number of privileges, including tax exemptions and fiscal benefits as well as the framework for the creation of a commission to oversee church property claims and compensation for the 240,000 hectares of land lost during the redrawing of Poland’s borders following World War II.

In 1950, the Catholic Church in Poland accepted compensation for land that has been nationalised by the Communist authorities through the establishment of the Fundusz Kościelny (Church Fund), a body now in charge of social insurance for the clergy. The creation of the KM, however, allowed the church to also seek compensation for properties in the parts of eastern Poland that had been re-assigned to the Soviet Union.

It remains unclear if either the Polish Supreme Court or the Constitutional Tribunal will be able to retrospectively overturn rulings made by the KM. “No one knows if such a decision would engender a conflict of jurisdiction among local authorities now suing for damages,” said Jerzy Wenderlich.

If the KM’s rulings are overturned, or the courts decide that compensation must be paid for property handed over to the church improperly, it will fall to Poland’s tax payers to reach into their pockets once again to patch up the legacy of this strange hybrid born in complicated times.

Read more: Poland’s Property Commission on Trial for Deals that Handed Millions to Catholic Church » Krakow Post

Vatican Intrigue: The Pact that Secured More than Ninety Votes for New Pope - by M.Antonietta Calabrò

But what were the agreements, the groupings and the voting blocks that led to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis)?

A brief and necessarily blunt summary would be that the new pontiff was the result of an agreement struck by the dean of the college, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Giovan Battista Re, the Curia led by the current secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (who supported Cardinal Odilo Scherer but had to back down when Scherer criticised Cardinal Re at the general congregation), and the cardinals from the United States. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was swift to put an American stamp on the election of a New World pope two hours after Francis appeared on the Loggia of the Blessings. “We are very happy about the result. It is a remarkably emotional experience”, he said, adding in an official statement that it was a “milestone for our Church”.

Italian cardinals presented a united front only in freezing out the cardinal of Milan, Angelo Scola, with even the Lombard cardinals voting against him. At the general congregation over the past few days, the cardinal non-elector and former Vatican representative at the UN for fifteen years, Raffaele Martino, has been picking and unpicking alliances. He knows the American diocese well and as a former president of the pontifical commission Justitia et Pax he has always been involved in the most contentious social issues. At the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Martino opposed Ratzinger and supported Bergoglio.

But according to Catholic theology, isn’t it the Holy Spirit that chooses the Pope? Once many years ago, this question was put to the then Cardinal Ratzinger ( now retired pope), the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and guardian of orthodoxy. With a certain dose of irony, he replied: “I wouldn’t say that, in the sense that it is the Holy Spirit that does the choosing, His role should be understood in a more flexible sense, probably the only certainty He offers is that the whole business won’t be a total disaster”.

Pope Francis shares that sense of irony. When he accepted, he told the cardinals: “Dear brethren, may God forgive you”.

Read more: The Pact that Secured More than Ninety Votes for New Pope - Corriere della Sera

European Energy Supplies: Azerbaijani-Turkish gas ambitions

The Nabucco consortium have  signed a cooperation deal with Turkey’s Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP).

he two parties had agreed to exchange technical and other strategic information to support the development of their projects, which will connect at the Turkish-Bulgarian border if the Nabucco project is chosen.

The agreement also highlights the need for further diversification of natural gas transportation routes to improve reliability and diversification of gas supplies to the European Union and the South Eastern Europe regions.

Whatever is the statement above, the deal was made to oust Russia from the Southern Gas Corridor. Turkey aims to earn as much as possible for gas transit to Europe. The wish is quite understandable, however hardly feasible. The two pipeline projects will never be implemented. Nabucco, widely advertised several years ago with the help of Azerbaijan and Turkey, is becoming a past matter never having a chance to become implemented. Baku sought for new ways to transport gas, with Nabucco, which was meant to decrease Europe’s dependence on Russian gas suppliers, having come in handy.

However, companies, involved in implementing the project thought it much too costly, with actual spending assessed at Euro 15 billion. Also, project participants would never manage to secure enough contracts to replace Russian supplies. Thus, expert forecasts of Nabucco’s failure came true, no one willing to take risks.

There’s another project aimed against Russian gas supplies to Europe. Azerbaijan and Turkey inked a deal for TANAP project in June 2012, with the pipeline to be annexed to those leading to Central Europe or Italy.

TANAP project envisages construction of a pipeline from Turkey's eastern border to the western border to transport gas from Azerbaijan's offshore Shah Deniz field to Europe. Initial capacity of the pipeline will be 16 billion cubic meters. Some 6 billion cubic meters of the volume will be supplied to Turkey, while the rest will be transported to European markets. According to preliminary estimates, the project cost might range from 7 to 10 billion euros.

The agreement stipulates for Azerbaijan's state energy firm SOCAR to hold 80 percent in the TANAP project, while Turkey's BOTAS and TPAO have a 20 percent share.

Read more: Azerbaijani-Turkish gas ambitions - PanARMENIAN.Net

BRICS to Set UP Joint Business Council

Russia and four other major emerging economies on Wednesday agreed to set up a council that seeks to facilitate joint business projects.

But the five countries, known as BRICS, put off the establishment of a joint development bank, saying the move requires more work.

A brief dust-up involving President Vladimir Putin's security detail at one point disrupted the refined ambience of the meetings that the country leaders held in Durban, South Africa.

The BRICS Business Council brings together five representatives from each of the countries — Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa — and aims to strengthen trade and investment ties among their business people through technical support and advice.

"Business communities must focus on the search for new opportunities to start multilateral investment projects," President Vladimir Putin said at a BRICS meeting in Durban, South Africa. "The Russian government will provide all possible support to the work of business communities of our countries."

Read More: BRICS to Set UP Joint Business Council | News | The Moscow Times


Internet Spam: Beware of Adsense Watchdog, Zombiestat, Vampirestat, Villainstat and Uglystat Blog Traffic

If you have a blog and check to see where the traffic to your blog originates, you may notice traffic from websites called,,, and/or First off, don't click on them to find out why they are sending you traffic.

Neither Adsensewatchdog, nor any of these others have anything whatsoever to do with Google or Google AdSense and are essentially spam sites that use automated traffic to blogs to attract clicks to their own sites from blog owners such as you. Once you're at their site, at a minimum, you'll be fed ads. At worst, you might fall victim to malevolent code that seeks to infect your computer with who knows what (although I haven't verified that these particular sites are seeking to plant anything on your machine).

Stay away. Traffic from these sites won't affect your standing with the real Adsense, so just ignore them.


Airline Industry: Pegasus, SAS and KLM win Skyscanner European Airline Food Awards

Over 550 European travellers and bloggers took part as food critics in cheap flight specialist Skyscanner’s second annual study of the quality of on-board culinary offerings.

In the low-cost airline category, Turkish airline Pegasus, which operates flights from London to many destinations in Turkey, took the number one position.  British airlines dominated the leader board, with Flybe in second place, Monarch in third, and easyJet in fourth place. Spanish airline Vueling also scored highly, taking the number five spot.

In the short-haul category it was Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) that triumphed. Germany’s Lufthansa came in second place and last year’s winner Turkish Airlines took third place ahead of British Airways, whilst Russia’s Aeroflot also ranked well, coming in fifth place.

In the long-haul dining category, Dutch airline KLM claimed the number one position, followed by Aeroflot, SAS, Air France and BA.  Overall, SAS, Aeroflot and British Airways performed well, each appearing in the top five for both their long and short haul meals.

Read more: Pegasus, SAS and KLM win Skyscanner European Airline Food Awards | Skyscanner

Latin Foods: Celebrate National Paella Day today with Chef José Andrés

National Paella Day – celebrated every year on March 27 – commemorates a dish that’s seemingly simple and absolutely delicious. Paella originated in the Valencia region in eastern Spain, made from rice grown by farmers in the region. And while traditional Valencian paella features the addition of local, coastal ingredients including beans, chicken, rabbit, snails and artichokes, to coincide with Holy Week – when many Catholics abstain from eating meat – we’re featuring José Andrés’s riff on paella de marisco (paella with seafood). 

Latin cooks have made an art of creating sophisticated, flavorful one-pot meals from humble ingredients. In Mexico, pinto beans stewed with fragrant white onion – frijoles de olla – are eaten alongside tortillas for a filling meal; in the Dominican Republic, the ubiquitous platano – grown everywhere thanks to the island’s steamy temperatures – is boiled and mashed with garlic for creamy mangu.

There are countless other examples of unassuming ingredients – in most cases, simple staples – transformed into stand-alone dishes throughout Latin cuisine. Chief among them is paella, one of Spain’s most celebrated contributions to the culinary world.

Read more: Celebrate National Paella Day with Chef José Andrés

Spain: Food Made By Artisan Producers

EU-Digest welcomes its latest affiliate advertiser La Tienda - Spanish Foods,  a family company offering fine foods (order on-line) made in Spain by artisan producers, helping them preserve traditional ways of life.

Orders can be placed from anywhere in the world.


Greece's biggest bank turns a Q4 profit

Greece's biggest bank, National Bank of Greece, has reported a sharply narrower loss for 2012 and even says it made a profit in the final three months of the year.

It says it lost 2.14 billion euros ($2.73 billion) as the country continued to struggle in the face of its acute debt crisis. Still that was a big improvement on the previous year when it lost 12.3 billion euros ($15.7 billion).

However, NBG also says Wednesday it made a 315 million euros ($402 million) profit in the last quarter of 2012, and hopes to remain profitable in the first three months of 2013.

CEO Alexandros Tourkolias says these are signs that conditions are getting more normal, and notes that some deposits are returning.

NBG is merging with domestic rival Eurobank.

Read more: Greece's biggest bank turns a Q4 profit - US News and World Report

Tourism: Dozens of Israelis travel to Turkey after reconciliation

Dozens of Jewish Israelis were expected to board charter flights this week en route to a vacation in the resort city of Antalya, Turkey, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Wednesday's charter flight was ordered after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey over the death of nine of its citizens during the IDF raid on a Gaza-bound ship in May 2010. Both of

Thursday's flights were ordered in advance for Arab Christians looking to spend their Easter vacation in Turkey's resorts.

According to figures provided by travel agencies, 50% of the passengers aboard Wednesday morning's flight to Antalya were Arab Israelis who are taking advantage of the Easter vacation to travel to Turkey, while the rest are Israelis who rushed to book their vacations following the reconciliation between Ankara and Jerusalem. 

Read more: Dozens of Israelis travel to Turkey after reconciliation - Israel Travel, Ynetnews

Italy, Talks on Forming Government Break Down

Italy’s political gridlock deepened on Wednesday as talks to form a minority government broke down between the center-left leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, and the upstart Five Star Movement, a month after national elections failed to yield a majority.

International investors have intensified their scrutiny of Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, since the Cyprus government imposed severe capital controls on depositors after securing a 10 billion-euro (about $12.9 billion) bailout of its banks. The euro dropped to a four-month low against the dollar on Wednesday. 

Mr. Bersani said on Wednesday that he would hold more consultations on Thursday and then report to President Giorgio Napolitano on whether he had enough support to cobble together a government. He reiterated that his Democratic Party offered the best chance for change and political stability in Italy, which is facing its own growing economic trouble.

Read more: In Italy, Talks on Forming Government Break Down -

Cyprus Sets Up Tight Controls as Banks Prepare to Reopen

Cyprus‘s government announced severe restrictions Wednesday on access to the country’s bank accounts, hoping to curb what is nonetheless likely to be a rush to withdraw money when banks reopen on Thursday for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Read more: Cyprus Sets Up Tight Controls as Banks Prepare to Reopen -

European Labor Market: Number of European Freelance Professionals Soars

A recent report on  ‘independent professionals’ working in Europe shows that the number of European freelancers has grown by over 80% since 2000.

The study, published by Stéphane Rapelli on behalf of the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP), shows that while the number of standard employees stagnated over the past decade, the number of freelancers has risen by 82%.  EFIP is a pan European group of bodies that represent the needs of Independent, freelance, self employed and contract workers.

Some of the key findings of this report are that the top 4 freelance nations by numbers of these independent professionals are in Italy – 1.69m, Britain 1.61m, Germany – 1.53m and France– 0.73.

Many of these freelancers work in technical, scientific and professional areas, although there are major differences between countries. 53% are educated to degree level, and 61% are aged between 25 and 49.

Of more interest, perhaps, is the change in freelance numbers over the past three years, since the economic downturn hit the continent.

The number of freelancers has boomed in certain states – notably France (up 36%), the UK (up 25%), and Germany (up 24%), but has declined in Italy (down 1%) and Spain (down 9%).

In the area of Internet marketing Britain remains Europe's  no 1 country hiring the most free lance specialized digital marketers and has continued to grow even faster than most markets with an increase from April last year of 215%, compared to the global average of 124%.

In the past year, Internet marketing spending increased in Britain by 279%. Germany (255%), Switzerland (127%) and Austria (270%) also experience dramatic growth.

The advantages of working freelance, however, do not come without hard work and dedication for success. In an economic climate with high unemployment rates and with wages stagnating as companies and businesses in Europe are trying to make savings, freelance work is expected to increase as it is seen as an attractive alternative and cost cutting benefit to having full time employees.

For graduates leaving University, freelance work seems like a sensible and viable option to make. Presently the average professional freelancer working +40 hours a week can earn approximately euro 68.000 a year, more than double the averageEuropean  professional worker’s salary of euro 31.000

This trend in the western world's labor environment is expected not only to produce a more competitive and productive workforce, but also turn the presently weakened labor force into more of an independent and united force as it relates to the global corporate world.


US Labor market: 40 Percent Of Americans Freelancers By 2020 According To Report By Software Company Intuit

By 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors and temp workers, according to study conducted by software company Intuit.

The entrepreneur business model will play a major role in the future workplace. The report also says that in the next seven years, the number of "small and personal businesses in the U.S. alone will increase by more than 7 million" and full-time, regular benefit jobs will be harder to find. Most of these businesses will be web or mobile-based and will work closely with a global workforce.

Also by 2020, one in six Americans will be older than 65, but they won't be "traditional" seniors as they will continue to work part or full-time.


Technology: Google Glass: No longer just the stuff of science fiction - by Don Pittis

"CopSpace sheds some light on matters of course... There's the green tree of signs sprouting over the doorway of number thirty-nine, each tag naming the legal tenants" - Charles Stross in the Halting State.

Stross the writer is a supernerd, sort of an updated version of the similarly polymathic Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon). Although he can write accessible romantic prose (such as his Merchant Prince series), Stross is most spectacular in his dense, technologically aware science fiction, like Halting State. Anyone who wants a realistic portrayal of the near tech future should read it.

That sounds a bit like someone describing how you might use Google Glass. A real-world image of an apartment building entrance, with an overlay of virtual information about the people who live there.

Today, Matt Galloway, the host of the local CBC Radio morning show in Toronto, was enthusing about Google Glass. Produced by the world's largest search company, it’s a computer device that you wear on your face like glasses, and it’s now selling for $1,500 by lottery only. Even while lusting after them, Galloway wondered aloud about what possible use Google Glass could have.

Stross, who has a degree in computer science (and one in pharmaceutical science – did I say polymathic?), used to write about Linux for a tech magazine. But he has the imagination to take us a few steps forward into a world where the virtual and the real have merged.

"When I sat down to write Halting State (circa 2005-2006), I decided to do some clean sheet extrapolation to figure out from existing industry road maps what sort of level of technology would be available by 2017 when the novel is set," said Stross in an email today.

He says this is the world where Google Glass is leading us.

In the world of Halting State, data storage is in practical terms infinite. Data is stored geographically, according to its location in the real world. Think of a Google map, where photographs of nearby locations are available by clicking on boxes that appear as an overlay on the map.

This is a real world science called Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and it is increasingly how information is stored today. The idea is that if the city wants to know how recently the water pipes on your street were updated, for instance, they look at a map-based computer system that may also show natural gas pipes, sewage pipes and electrical conduits on your street and maybe even the billing information for your house.

“CopSpace,” as it’s called in Stross’s book, “is basically a distributed geographical information system mapped onto a police intelligence database, using the glasses to provide a heads up view of local crime-related features," Stross explains.

Note EU-Digest:  Ad agencies are "literally begging to get a pair." Google got so many submissions for the Glass Explorer program, in which early adopters could pay $1,500 for the chance to test out a pair, that it ended the submission period last Friday, earlier than expected.

Obviously Google Glass as it becomes more sophisticated - and it will - could be quite helpful for criminal investigations - the danger however is that it will also impact on personal freedom and privacy, which as we all know is something many corporations do not take very seriously.

Read more: Google Glass: No longer just the stuff of science fiction - Business - CBC News


Aircraft Industry: Apple iPad debuts on Airbus A380

Airbus A380
Malaysia Airlines cabin crew today began using iPads to enhance inflight services to customers travelling on the airline’s A380 flights. The iPads are part of Sita’s innovative digital cabin crew solution, CrewTablet, which will enable crew members to quickly and easily access passenger and operational data.

Crew members of Malaysia Airlines will trial the new solution—which the airline has branded MHcrew—for six months. MHcrew is much more efficient than traditional paper-based processes, enabling accurate, timely and superior service delivery to passengers. “Passengers spend more time with our cabin crew than other employees.

As key front-liners, we rely on our cabin crew to provide an outstanding guest experience to passengers. The MHCrew solution will help our crew by providing lots of information at their fingertips so they can be more responsive to our guests,” said Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, Group CEO, Malaysia Airlines.

“Use of tablets is exploding worldwide and at Sita, we recognise that these new mobile devices offer airlines and airports a new way of working. But introducing this new technology in a secure way and integrating it into existing processes demands time, resources and specific skills that many IT departments cannot allocate,” said Francesco Violante, CEO, Sita.

Read more: Apple iPad debuts on Airbus A380 - Emirates 24/7

Logistica 2013: Free Trade Agreement Peru signed with the EU offers a "huge" business opportunities

The Export Director of the Commission on the Promotion of Peru for Export and Tourism (PromPerú), Luís Torres Paz, informed that Peru generated around 80 US$ million in business at the recent Fruit Logistica 2013, held in Berlin, Germany, between 6 and 8 February.

He stated that the volume of business experienced a 78% growth compared to last year, when US$ 45 million were generated. "This means we are on the right track, as our products are now more popular," he affirmed, highlighting that at least 10,000 commercial contacts were made.

The products attracting the most attention were asparagus, grapes, citrus, avocados, mangoes and peppers. There was also a big demand for products that Peru is only starting to develop, like pomegranates, blueberries and Cape gooseberries.

For his part, the coordinator of Promperú's Agro Industry Department, William Arteaga Donayre, explained that Europe's growing demand for Peruvian fruit and vegetables has allowed many Peruvian entrepreneurs to expand their markets and analyse trends, giving direction to their investments.

Regarding the Free Trade Agreement Peru signed with the EU, which came into force last Friday, he stated that it offers a "huge" opportunity to continue growing commercially.

Read more: Peru generated US$ 80 million in business at Fruit Logistica 2013

Europe Expands Investigation Into Derivatives Market

European Union antitrust regulators have expanded their investigation into whether a small network of big banks unfairly controls the derivatives market.

The inquiry, which has already ensnared major international giants like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank, has been broadened to include the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, a trade organization for market participants.

The European Commission, which oversees antitrust regulation, had “found preliminary indications that I.S.D.A. may have been involved in a coordinated effort of investment banks to delay or prevent exchanges from entering the credit derivatives business,” European antitrust regulators said in a statement. “Such behavior, if established, would stifle competition in the internal market in breach of E.U. antitrust rules.”

Read more: Europe Expands Investigation Into Derivatives Market -

Genetically Modified Foods: 7 Foods Banned in Europe Still Available in the U.S.

Although the E.U. is continuously coming under attack for policies banning GM foods, the community is highly suspicious of genetically modified foods, and the agro-industrial pressures that drive their use. The problem with GM foods is that there is simply not sufficient research and understanding to inform good public policy. In spite of widespread GM use without apparent negative impacts in other countries, the recent public reaction to trans-fats are reason enough to support a precautionary principle for the food supply chain.

The E.U. has acted against the worst pesticides typically found as residuals in the food chain. A ban on 22 pesticides was passed at the E.U. level, and is pending approval by the Member States. Critics claim the ban with raise prices and may harm malaria control, but advocates of the ban say action must be taken against the pesticides which are known to cause harm to health and nevertheless consistently found in studies of food consumption.

This drug, known as rBGH for short, is not allowed in Europe. In contrast, U.S. citizens struggle even for laws that allow hormone-free labelling so that consumers have a choice. This should be an easy black-and-white decision for all regulators and any corporation that is really concerned about sustainability: give consumers the information. We deserve control over our food choice.

Read more: 7 Foods Banned in Europe Still Available in the U.S. : TreeHugger

USA Gun Control: N.R.A. Chief LaPierre says: "Can't Believe How Well National Conversation About Guns Is Going "

As the national conversation about guns enters its fifth month, the National Rifle Association C.E.O. Wayne LaPierre gave it his seal of approval today, saying that he hopes the conversation continues “forever.”

“I must admit, when the national conversation about guns started in those dark days of December, I thought it was a bad idea,” said Mr. LaPierre. “People kept saying that things would be different this time, and that scared the bejesus out of me.”

Because of what appeared to be a new resolve to finally do something about gun violence, he said, “I was concerned that the national conversation about guns would turn into something uglier, like congressional action.”

“Fortunately, that danger seems to have passed,” he said.

Read more: N.R.A. Can't Believe How Well National Conversation About Guns Is Going : The New Yorker

Cyprus to bring in weekly cash curbs

Cyprus finance ministers are planning to impose a weekly limit on cash withdrawals, the BBC has learned.

The country's draft capital controls include export limits on euros and a ban on cashing cheques, says Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason. In addition, fixed-term deposits will have to be held until maturity.

Cyprus's finance minister earlier confirmed that depositors with more than 100,000 euros could see 40% of their funds converted into bank shares. But Michalis Sarris also said that Cypriot depositors with less than 100,000 euros in their accounts "will not be hit".

"The exact percentage is not... yet decided but it is going to be significant," he told the BBC.
Bank of Cyprus chairman Andreas Artemis later handed in his resignation.

The head of the eurozone group of finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem from the Netherlands, said there were no apparent signs of increased withdrawals of savings from peripheral to core countries in the region as a result of the Cyprus crisis.

Read more: BBC News - Cyprus to bring in weekly cash curbs

BRICS Credit Rating Agency Proposal Being Finalized - by Rajeev Sharma

Finance ministers from Brazil, Russia, India and China will meet ahead of country leaders on Tuesday in Durban, South Africa, to work on details of a proposal to create a BRICS credit rating agency.

"The issue … will come up for some intense discussions when BRICS finance ministers meet in Durban on March 26 ahead of the BRICS leaders' fifth summit," said an Indian official closely involved in the intra-BRICS discussions on this matter. He spoke on condition of anonymity, since he is not authorized to speak to the media. "The ball will now be in the court of BRICS finance ministers who will decide what is to be done. The matter would be put before the BRICS leaders' consideration only after the finance ministers make such a determination in their wisdom," the official added.

He also said the move was aimed at creating long-term political and economic benefits.

Politically, a BRICS-run rating agency would have the goal of providing an alternate mechanism to give credit ratings to emerging-market countries, assessments that are independent of the developed world's ratings — often seen in the developing world as being biased and politically motivated.

Economically, a BRICS rating agency would aim to get market share in the ten billion dollar rating industry, the official said. Currently, three Western giants — S&P, Fitch and Moody's — have a 90 percent share of the ratings market and are headquartered in the United States. Fitch has dual headquarters in New York City and London and is controlled by a French company.

The Indian position on the subject was highlighted by retired Indian Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai. While speaking at a seminar organized by the Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi in July, Pillai said BRICS members should also establish an international credit rating agency to offset the biased agendas of some of the rating agencies. He said this was necessary to control what he called the "skewed information inflows" in the world.

BRICS Credit Rating Agency Proposal Being Finalized | Business | The Moscow Times

Spain looks at large-scale infrastructure projects for boosting economic relations with Romania

Secretary of State for Trade with the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Jaime Garcia Legaz, expressed his country's interest in the opportunities Romania has to offer to Spanish investors, and voiced readiness for giving bilateral economic relations a boost, including through large-scale infrastructure projects.

The subject was approached during a meeting this Friday with Secretary of State for European Affairs, George Ciamba, who is currently on a visit to Madrid, the Romanian Foreign Ministry informs.

On Thursday, George Ciamba met with Chairman of the Spanish Parliament's Joint Committee on European Affairs, Gerardo Camps Devesa, as well as with members of the same committee. 

The parties exchanged views on subjects of common interest in the line of European affairs, seen in the context of inter-parliamentary cooperation, as they sought ways to facilitate coordination on themes of bilateral interest at European level. Particular attention was given to talks on the involvement of national parliaments in decision-making on European affairs.

Read more: Spain looks at large-scale infrastructure projects for boosting economic relations with Romania | ACTMedia

EU Broadband Networks: Europe seeks to spur building of fast broadband networks - by Claire Davenpor

The European Commission has set out rules aimed at reducing the cost of building high-speed broadband networks, in a move that shows how Brussels is seeking more power over the telecoms sector.

Fiber Optics
The initiative is important because European leaders are worried that debt-laden telecom operators' slow pace of investment is saddling the region with weak infrastructure that over time could hobble its already recession-wracked economies.

It also comes as the EU cuts funding for broadband roll-outs. EU budget cuts, which must be approved by Parliament, hammered out in February cut such funding for rural projects to just 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) from 9.2 billion.

The draft regulations issued on Tuesday, which Reuters reported in early February, requires new and renovated housing to be broadband ready, calls for ducts and other infrastructure to be shared among telcos on fair and reasonable terms and shortens the permitting process.

It also calls for water, electricity and gas companies to share their underground ducts with telecoms firms to cut the cost of creating high-speed broadband networks.

The Commission said digging up streets to lay fiber accounts for up to 80 percent of the cost of deploying new networks, adding that the new rules would save up to 60 billion euro.

The construction in Europe of fiber networks lags far behind Asia and some parts of the United States, worrying policymakers who see the infrastructure as a key motor for economic growth. Europe had 5.95 million fiber broadband customers by mid-2012, a fraction of the more than 58 million subscribers in Asia.

Read more: Europe seeks to spur building of fast broadband networks -

Latvia: Bye-bye lats, hello €uro - boost to economy seen for both Latvia and EU

Latvia looks set to become the 18th EU member state to join the eurozone, giving much needed confidence to the troubled single-currency at a time when the future of the monetary union is being threatened by the bloc’s economic fragility.

The Baltic country announced on March 4 that it had formally applied to join the euro by January 2014. This move comes after Latvia successfully met key financial conditions, including low levels of inflation and fiscal debt.

After he signed the application, Latvia’s Finance Minister Andris Vilks informed reporters that, “This is a day that will enter Latvia’s history.” Latvia’s domestic currency has been pegged to the euro since 2004.

However, despite the center-right government’s enthusiasm for the euro, recent polls in Latvia suggest that about two-thirds of the country’s 2.2m population is opposed to joining the single currency.

Latvia’s Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis admitted in an interview with the Financial Times last week that the political uncertainty in Italy was hardly the ideal backdrop for Latvia’s euro entry, but he said that it still made economic, political and geopolitical sense for Latvia to join.

“It will serve as a positive sign of the financial and political stability of Latvia. It was clear from when we gained independence that we belong to Europe, not to the grey zone in between Europe and Russia,” he said.

Latvia’s entry to the eurozone would make it the fourth former communist Eastern European state to join the single currency after Slovakia, Slovenia and Estonia. Lithuania is expected to apply in the not too distant future with a real goal of obtaining membership in 2015.

The Czech Republic and Poland are also scheduled to apply in the next few years, although they are taking their time as they fear that the eurozone’s troubles could have a stronger contagion effect if they joined the troubled currency.

All new EU member states are required to join the euro once they have met key financial requisites. Ollie Rehn, the EU’s economic chief, said his office would produce a report on Latvia’s prospects by the end of May or June, but he declined to say whether he believed the country was ready to join. “Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Rehn said. “Let’s first draft the report.”

Read more: Bye-bye lats, hello €uro

International Trade: EU-Japan promote new economic partnership agreement - by Elena Ralli

Following the postponement of the 21st Summit between Japan and the EU, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe spoke on the phone today regarding bilateral relations.

They agreed that Japan and the EU are global partners sharing common values and for this reason they must enhance their cooperation by establishing a new economic partnership and trade agreement.

In particular, the leaders decided to launch negotiations for an agreement covering political, global and sectoral cooperation and an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) / Free Trade Agreement (FTA). They also welcomed the start of the negotiations in April and expressed their commitment to the earliest possible conclusion of these two agreements.

Read more: EU-Japan promote new economic partnership agreement | New Europe

Spain: Open software group files complaint against Microsoft to EU

A Spanish association representing open-source software users has filed a complaint against Microsoft Corp to the European Commission, in a new challenge to the Windows developer following a hefty fine earlier this month.

The 8,000 member-strong Hispalinux, which represents users and developers of the Linux operating system in Spain, said Microsoft had made it difficult for users of computers sold with its Windows 8 platform to switch to Linux and other operating systems.

Lawyer and Hispalinux head Jose Maria Lancho said he delivered the complaint to the Madrid office of the European Commission at 0900 GMT on Tuesday.

Microsoft declined to comment and officials at the European Commission were not available for comment.

In its 14-page complaint, Hispalinux said Windows 8 contained an "obstruction mechanism" called UEFI Secure Boot that controls the start-up of the computer and means users must seek keys from Microsoft to install another operating system.

The group said it was "a de facto technological jail for computer booting systems ... making Microsoft's Windows platform less neutral than ever".  "This is absolutely anti-competitive," Lancho told Reuters. "It's really bad for the user and for the European software industry."

The European Commission has fined Microsoft, the global leader in PC operating systems, 2.2 billion euros ($2.83 billion)over the past decade, making it the world's biggest offender of European Union business rules.

The Commission found in 2004 that Microsoft had abused its market leader position by tying Windows Media Player to the Windows software package and relations have remained tense.\

Read more: Open software group files complaint against Microsoft to EU - Economy - Business - Ahram Online


Drug Trade: Denmark indirectly supporting Iranian drug executions

Questions have been raised over Denmark’s support of a UN anti-drug program that could be indirectly leading to executions in Iran.

Denmark voluntarily supports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which supports countries around the world in tackling drug-related crime.

But Denmark’s approximate 35 million kroner donation to the programme may be contributing to the number of drug traffickers and users arrested and subsequently executed in Iran, according to Amnesty Danmark.

“The wish to limit the drug trade is of course legitimate, but as the situation stands in Iran, the money could end up supporting arrests and ultimately executions,” Trine Christensen, the deputy general secretary at Amnesty Danmark, told Politiken newspaper. “If we continue to support the programme, it legitimizes Iran’s use of the death penalty for drug-related crimes.”

Read more: Denmark indirectly supporting Iranian drug executions | The Copenhagen Post | The Danish News in English

France: Poll shows most French back veil ban in private sector

The debate over the Islamic veil in France is back, but this time it’s taken on a new twist. Instead of only banning religious signs in public institutions, a new study has found that the vast majority of French people support the idea of a law that applies to the private sector as well.

The survey, which was conducted by French marketing and opinion centre BVA and published in the daily “Le Parisien” on Monday, found that 86 percent of French people back introducing legislation that would ban “all signs of religious or political affiliation” in private schools and nurseries. According to the same poll, 83 percent support imposing a law making it illegal in all privately-owned businesses.

The study comes nearly a week after France’s top court ruled that a woman had been wrongly dismissed from her position at a private nursery school in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, just west of the capital Paris, for refusing to take off her veil while at work.

Read more: Poll shows most French back veil ban in private sector - FRANCE - FRANCE 24

Robert Zoellick Interview: EU - US trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement

The planned trans-Atlantic free trade agreement between Europe and the US must be senstive to agricultural concerns, says former World Bank President Robert Zoellick in a SPIEGEL interview. If successful, it could set a global economic precedent, he predicts.

Read more: Robert Zoellick Interview: US EU trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Banking Industry: Mark Branson on the too-big-to-fail problem, modelling and Basel III

It has been five-and-a-half years since Northern Rock and IKB Deutsche Industriebank became the first of hundreds of banks to be bailed out as a result of the crisis – eventually consuming trillions of dollars of public money in the US and Europe – but the world’s systemically important banks are still too big to fail, and no-one should be expecting the problem to be solved anytime soon, says Mark Branson, head of the banks division at Switzerland’s prudential regulator, Eidgenössische Finanzmarktaufsicht (Finma), in Bern.

Some of the components of a solution are in place, he says, such as the new capital and liquidity buffers that make failures less likely, and the powers handed to national regulators in some countries – including Switzerland, via its banking insolvency ordinance – to forcibly restructure failing institutions. But that is not enough.

“The complexity of the groups, the configuration of their balance sheets and the intertwined nature of the way they do business means the resolution process would still be extraordinarily challenging if we were to be faced with it today,” Branson says.

Read more at: Qand A: Mark Branson on the too-big-to-fail problem, modelling and Basel III -

The european stress test for nuclear power plants

As a reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe the EU performed stress tests to find out how safe the nuclear power plants in the EU are. Now, two years on we have the reports, but have our nuclear power plants gotten any safer? Do we actually know how safe our nuclear reactors are? Find out more at link below.

Read more: Home | the european stress test for nuclear power plants

Poll shows half of the US population wants break up big banks

Noam Chomsky: 'No individual changes anything alone' - by Aida Edemariam

When he starts speaking, it is in a monotone that makes no particular rhetorical claim on the audience's attention; in fact, it's almost soporific. Last October, he tells his audience, he visited Gaza for the first time. Within five minutes many of the hallmarks of Chomsky's political writing, and speaking, are displayed: his anger, his extraordinary range of reference and experience – journalism from inside Gaza, personal testimony, detailed knowledge of the old Egyptian government, its secret service, the new Egyptian government, the historical context of the Israeli occupation, recent news reports (of sewage used by the Egyptians to flood tunnels out of Gaza, and by Israelis to spray non-violent protesters).

Fact upon fact upon fact, but also a withering, sweeping sarcasm – the atrocities are "tolerated politely by Europe as usual". Harsh, vivid phrases – the "hideously charred corpses of murdered infants"; bodies "writhing in agony" – unspool until they become almost a form of punctuation.

You could argue that the latter is necessary, simply a description of atrocities that must be reported, but it is also a method that has diminishing returns. The facts speak for themselves; the adjectives and the sarcasm have the counterintuitive effect of cheapening them, of imposing on the world a disappointingly crude and simplistic argument.

"The sentences," wrote Larissa MacFarquhar in a brilliant New Yorker profile of Chomsky 10 years ago, "are accusations of guilt, but not from a position of innocence or hope for something better: Chomsky's sarcasm is the scowl of a fallen world, the sneer of hell's veteran to its appalled naifs" – and thus, in an odd way, static and ungenerative.

Read more: Noam Chomsky: 'No individual changes anything alone' | World news | The Guardian

Cyprus and Troika come to terms on haircut

EU and IMF officials have struck a bailout deal with Cyprus. One banking chain goes to the wall, and major clients, who include many Russians, will take a giant hit. 

The deal received final backing at about 2 a.m. in Brussels (0100 GMT), 12 hours into marathon talks between Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades with the European Union, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund. Anastasiades said he was "content" with the deal.
"Efforts have culminated," he posted on Twitter.

After Sunday's meeting, Anastasiades said he felt the negotiations had left him no options to help his country. However, that appeared to have changed by early Monday morning.

The crunch talks were called after the ECB threatened to halt life-support funding for Cyprus on Monday if there was no deal. Banks are scheduled to reopen on Tuesday after a 10-day shutdown.

Read more: Cyprus and Troika come to terms on haircut | News | DW.DE | 25.03.2013


Syria: Israel opens fire after 'shooting from inside Syria'

The Israeli government has said its military destroyed a machine-gun nest inside Syria after troops were shot at twice in the Golan Heights. 

An Israeli military spokesman said it was his understanding that the shots had not been stray fire from fighting in the civil war between the Syrian government and rebels.

Troops responded by firing a guided missile at the Syrian position.
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the 1967 war.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said his country would not let "Syria's army or any other element" violate its sovereignty.

Read more: BBC News - Israel opens fire after 'shooting from inside Syria'

Cyprus' bailout talks deadlocked

Tense talks between Cyprus and its international creditors on how the country can secure a 10 billion euro bailout were stuck Sunday due to disagreements over how to shrink the bloated Cypriot banking sector, an official said.

Without a deal by Monday night, the tiny Mediterranean island nation faces the prospect of a bankruptcy, which could force it to abandon the euro currency and spur turmoil in the 17-nation eurozone of 300 million people.

Nicosia is trying to find ways to raise 5.8 billion euros so that it can qualify for the 10 billion euro rescue loan package from the International Monetary Fund and the other eurozone countries. The European Central Bank has threatened to stop providing emergency funding to Cyprus' banks as of Tuesday if there is no agreement on how to raise that 5.8 billion euros.

With the clock ticking, Cypriot and European officials pursued a marathon negotiation in Brussels on Sunday, and the atmosphere was very tense.

The eurozone and the IMF are insisting that Cyprus implements a yet more radical restructuring of its banking sector that involves breaking up the nation's biggest financial institute, Bank of Cyprus, said the Cypriot official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to divulge details from the closed-doors
Read more: Cyprus' bailout talks deadlocked

Syrian opposition leader al-Khatib stands down

Syria's opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has resigned from the National Coalition, a dissident group recognised by dozens of states and organisations as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

"I announce my resignation from the National Coalition, so that I can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution," Khatib said in a statement published on Sunday on his Facebook page.

The surprise resignation comes just days after the first election in Istanbul of a rebel prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, and just over two years on from the outbreak of a popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

"For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime, while the world has looked on," Khatib said.

"All the destruction of Syria's infrastructure, the detention of tens of thousands of people, the forced flight of hundreds of thousands and other forms of suffering have been insufficient for the international community to take a decision to allow the people to defend themselves," he added.

Read more: Syrian opposition leader al-Khatib stands down - SYRIA - FRANCE 24


Internet: What Would We Do If the Internet Crashed? - by Amanda Wills

In 1982, the Internet was a safe place where everyone trusted each other. The community was so small that every email address on the web could fit into one skinny "phone book" written in big font. If you made that same book today, it would be 25 miles thick.

Scientist Danny Hillis was one of the few people in that small digital community. In a recent TED Talk, Hillis says the Internet's current population exposes a new vulnerability. "The Internet was designed with the assumption that the communications links could not be trusted, but that the people that connected computers to the Internet were smart and trustworthy," Hillis tells Mashable via email. "Those assumptions no longer apply." We depend on the Internet for nearly everything, and we cannot imagine what would happen if it just quit working.

But with the influx of what Hillis describes as "bad and foolish people" who connect to the web, a massive breakdown may be in our future.
Hillis tells stories of gaping security holes that have already led to incidents of our exposed vulnerability because we are using the Internet in services for which it wasn't originally built. It now supports the basic infrastructure of our society: funds transfers, shipping of food and oil, transportation and even the telephone system.

"We're setting ourselves up for a kind of disaster like the [one] we had with the financial system, where we take a system that was basically built on trust — was basically built for a smaller scale system — and we've kind of expanded it way beyond the limits of how it was meant to operate," Hillis explains in the video above.

Hillis says it's time to have a Plan B: an "alternative communications network that is entirely independent of the protocols of the Internet." As Hillis found out after his TED Talk, people are already working on these backup plans.

"Since this presentation, many people have told me those stories are only the tip of the iceberg," he says, noting that some of those people also told him about various efforts to fix these problems. "So, while I am concerned to hear that things are already worse than I assumed, I'm also heartened that smart minds are starting to focus on solutions," Hillis says. "Like so many other infrastructure problems, this one is likely to eventually get fixed. The question will be just how much pain we will have to accept before we fix it."

Read more: What Would We Do If the Internet Crashed?

Aircraft Industry: Meet The Bizarre But Useful Airbus Beluga - by Alex Davies

The Airbus Beluga Cargo Jet
Business is booming at Airbus: The European planemaker just closed a huge deal to sell $24 billion worth of A320 jets to Indonesia's Lion Air, and it's busy building the A350 XWB, the plane it created to compete with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus is based in Toulouse, France, but produces planes in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and China.

To transport the wings and fuselages of half-built planes from one factory to another, it needed a plane bigger than any standard cargo jet.  So it built the Beluga.

Developed in the 1990s and based on the A300 (the wings, engines, landing gear, and lower portion of the fuselage are the same), the Beluga has one of the biggest cargo holds in the world.

It's the best way to get the body of a jumbo jet, a fleet of helicopters, or even a priceless painting across the planet.

It's also one of the strangest looking planes in the skies today.

Read more: Meet The Bizarre But Useful Airbus Beluga - Business Insider

China, Russia mull interests in Central Asia

Raw materials and energy reserves in Central Asia make the region of particular interest to both China and Russia. The two countries share interests in region but are also each others biggest competitors. 

The relationship between Russia and China is complicated by both cooperation and competition. That could make the first official visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow a tense one. Bilateral political and economic issues are set to dominate the agenda when Xi meets Russian Putin Vladimir Putin for two days of talks, which started Friday.

The countries enjoy what experts have often called a strategic partnership, but that does not mean relations are without problems. The energy sector often crops up as a bone of contention between the nations as both look to increase their power and influence in Central Asia.

Particularly when it comes to security issues such as Afghanistan and the surrounding region, Moscow and Beijing have shared concerns. The two countries expect difficulties as radical Islamists are set to gain influence as NATO pulls out of Afghanistan, according to Knabe, who added that this was a problem for both nations.

Russia and China could also be of use to each other when it comes to dealing with the United States, Knabe said, adding that Washington is looking increasingly to Asia while Beijing focuses on the US, which will increase competition between China and the US.

Read more at DW.

Terrorism: France confirms death of top al Qaeda leader Abou Zeid

French President François Hollande confirmed Saturday that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a top leader of al Qaeda’s North Africa branch, was killed in a French military operation in northern Mali late last month.

The Algerian-born militant was the leader of one of the most hardline brigades – or katibas – of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The French presidential statement released on Saturday noted that “the end of one of the main leaders of AQIM is a milestone in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” – referring to the remote transitional zone between the Sahara desert and the African savannah.

Read more: France confirms death of top al Qaeda leader Abou Zeid - MALI - FRANCE 24