December 20th, 2011

Weekly brief




Jacques Chirac, French president from 1995 to 2005, was found guilty on Thursday, December 15, of misuse of funds for creating false posts to funnel money to political allies during his time as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post reported. Chirac, 79, who did not take part in the trial due to issues of memory loss, was given a two-year suspended sentence, making him the first former leader convicted of a crime since Marshal Philippe Petain was convicted in 1945 for his leadership of France’s collaboration with Nazis, according to the AP and Time. Chirac later contested the decision but said that he would not appeal, according to la Libération.

INSEE, France’s national statistics office, publishing a report on Friday, December 16, indicating that as consumer confidence declines in France, the nation’s GDP is expected to shrink 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 and 0.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012 before rebounding slightly in the second quarter of next year, Bloomberg and la Tribune. If INSEE’s projections prove correct, it will be France’s second official recession – two consecutive quarters of negative growth – since 2007 and the nation’s fourth since 1949, according to le Monde. Economy Minister François Baroin said that, despite the promise of recession, the government planned no further austerity measures, as considerable budget cuts have been made in the past months, according to 20 Minutes.

Winter storm Joachim hit France’s Atlantic coast late last week, leaving about 400,000 homes in the northwest region without power and an estimated €180 to 250 million in damages, la Libération and the Wall Street Journal reported. Also damaged was the cargo ship, TK Bremen, which washed ashore on the beach near Erdeven as gusts of wind greater than 80 miles per hour hit the seaboard overnight from Thursday to Friday, December 15 to 16, according to Ouest-France. The ship, which will have to be dismantled on shore, has leaked portions of the 220 tons of fuel aboard onto the coast. Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet called the region an environmental and economic mess upon visiting the site on the afternoon of Friday, December 16, according to the Washington Post and le Parisien.

A Paris terrorism tribunal sentenced on Thursday, December 15, Venezuelan Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, “Carlos the Jackal,” who has already been in French jails for nearly two decades, to another life sentence for four separate bomb attacks that killed 11 people and wounded nearly 200 three decades ago, the LA Times reported. Sanchez, who had been serving time for killing two police and an informant in 1975, is facing at least another 18 years in prison, prolonging the wait until he would be eligible to apply for conditional release, which had been set at 2012, according to Reuters.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a public appeal last week for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to block a bill to be voted on by the French Parliament on Thursday, December 22, which would criminalize denial of the 1915 genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire,  Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal reported. As retaliation for the proposed bill, Erdogan threatened to withdraw the Turkish ambassador to France while drawing attention to France’s involvement in the massacres in Rwanda and Algeria, as explored by the Guardian.

Four months from the presidential elections, the most recent poll by IFOP released on Friday, December 16, showed far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen edging upward from 17 to 20 percent since October, while support for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy has dropped from 26 to 24 percent.  Support for  the Socialist rival François Hollande has also dropped from 32.5 to 27.5 percent, according to Bloomberg. The emerging candidacies of François Bayrou and Dominique de Villepin have taken votes from the frontrunners, as well, as Bayrou reached 11 percent and Villepin 3.5 percent, according to le JDD.

United States

U.S. Military officials marked the end of the nine-year war in Iraq on Thursday, December 15, in a small ceremony the day before handing over the last of its 505 military bases there to Iraqi forces, the New York Times and le Nouvel Observateur reported. The military intervention in Iraq, which began in March 2003, cost the United States about 4,500 soldiers and $1 trillion during the course of nine years, while tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians perished in the effort that ousted Saddam Hussein from power, as explored by le Point

Private Bradley Manning, charged with leaking numerous classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks, faced trial before a military tribunal at Fort Meade, Maryland, beginning Friday, December 16, l’Humanité reported. By Monday, December 19, witnesses had revealed that more than 110,000 private cables had been found on Manning’s computer, according to BBC and CBS. Manning’s lawyers challenged the proceedings, saying it would be impossible for Manning to face a fair trial before a military tribunal on Friday, December 16.  The following day, his lawyers explored the role his homosexuality played in motivating him to act out against the military, according to 20 Minutes and RFI.

In an ongoing battle over a payroll-tax cut set to expire December 31, the U.S. Senate passed a bill on Saturday, December 17, that would extend the cut two months, preventing the tax rate to increase from 4.2 to 6.2 percent for 160 million U.S. workers, Reuters and the AP reported. After senators left for a recess expected to last through late January, the bill saw resistance in the House of Representatives, as House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders argued that a two-month extension, as opposed to the yearlong extension not met through prior negotiations, would create uncertainty and damage the economy, according to the Guardian and EuroNews. While GOP leaders initially promised to vote on the measure on the evening of Monday, December 19, House leaders announced they would postpone the vote after considerable debate, as Republican leaders did not want to vote directly against a tax cut, according to Politico and Bloomberg.

An FBI report released on Monday, December 19, showed that almost all categories of crime continued to see a decline across the United States, continuing a trend that has spanned more than four years, the Wall Street Journal reported. From the first half of 2010 to the first half of 2011, violent crime fell 6.4 percent, while property crime dropped 3.7 percent, according to ABC.


Business & Economics

After hitting an 11-month low of $1.2945, the Euro rose 0.9 percent to $1.3112 on Tuesday, December 20, as a Spanish bond sale and German economic data provided grounds for optimism in the ongoing uncertainty over the European economy, Reuters reported. Spain sold €5.6 billion in three- and six-month bonds on Tuesday, December 20, raising more than anticipated at a rate lower than expected, according to le Figaro. The news came as the German Ifo Institute, a Munich-based think tank, released its monthly business climate index, a survey of 7,000 companies across the nation, showing slight growth from November’s level despite expectations of further decline amid continued European economic woes. The surprising good news brought upward movement to both U.S. and European markets later in the day, as covered by the Wall Street Journal.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi spoke on Monday, December 19, warning that risks remained in the European economy and elaborating that the law forbids the ECB from engaging in quantitative easing through government-bond purchases, Forbes and le Monde reported. Draghi also commented that less attention should be paid to notation agencies while warning nations of the politically tense EuroZone that any member that abandoned the common currency would face the same economic challenges but with higher inflation, according to les Echos and the Financial Times. U.S. stocks, particularly financial companies, saw a slight downturn on Monday, December 19, as Draghi’s comments brought little comfort to concerns over Europe’s financial future, according to Bloomberg.

After nine month of negotiating, AT &T announced on Monday, December 19, that it was calling off its $39-billion bid to buy smaller mobile provider T-Mobile, the Washington Post and les Echos reported. Four month ago, government regulators voiced concern that the merger between the two companies would limit competition on the American mobile marketplace and reduce innovation, according to l’Informaticien. Left with no deal and outperformed by three major U.S. providers, T-Mobile remains for sale by its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, which received $3 billion in fees from AT&T and $1 billion in spectrum following the break, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal invested $300 million in Twitter, giving the Arab world’s richest man a 3-percent share in the San Francisco based micro-blogging site valued at more than $10 billion, Bloomberg reported. The investment came as Twitter prepares a redesign to attract more users to add to the 100 million who already use Twitter, according to Time. Talal, executive director of Kingdom Holding, owns considerable stakes in News Corp.,  Time Warner, Citigroup, General Motors and Apple, according to les Echos.


The North Korean government announced on Monday, December 19, that leader Kim Jong-Il died on Saturday, December 17, of a heart attack, the New York Times reported. Shortly after announcing Kim’s death, his Workers’ Party announced that his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un would be the successor to the despotic leader who brought nuclear power to the impoverished, closed-off nation, according to le Figaro. TF1 explored the prospects for North Korea and its relation to Asia as the virtually unknown Kim Jong-Un takes the reins of the reclusive nation.

Syria agreed to sign a protocol for observers from the Arab League to oversee a regional peace initiative in the nation where months of protests have been met with ongoing bloodshed, the LA Times and le Monde reported. The announcement came after about 200,000 gathered in Homs on Friday, December 16, to once again call for the departure of leader Bashar al-Assad and in response to growing pressure from Russia, according to le Nouvel Observateur and CNN. Russia, which along with China, had previously blocked past U.N. resolutions condemning violence in Syria, circulated a U.N. resolution last week that called for an end to all violence in Syria, as covered by the Telegraph and  Bloomberg.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan rushed home on Monday, December 19, from Dubai, where he had been seeking medical treatment for a heart condition, as relations between the nation’s civilian government and military grew alarmingly tense, le Point reported. The tension reached a high point as the nation’s Supreme Court was set to begin a hearing to determine whether Zardari’s government was party to an unsigned memorandum that asked U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene in Pakistan to curb the military’s influence there and prevent a coup, according to the New York Times reported.

Typhoon Sendong sent floodwaters across the southern part of the Philippines during the weekend, as more than 12 hours of continuous rain on Friday, December 16, caused riverbanks to overflow and tens of thousands to flee their homes, according to BBC and the Houston Chronicle. The Christian Science Monitor reported that by Monday, when rescue organizations were devoting great efforts to provide aid and supplies, the death toll had been stated at more than 600 people with more than 800 still missing.

Václav Havel, dissident leader in the Velvet Revolution and president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 who oversaw the peaceful separation of the two nations in 1993 before serving as the first president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003, died on Sunday, December 18, at the age of 75, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Le Nouvel Observateur and the Washington Post explored the life of the famed playwright who critiqued the Soviet regime through absurdist theatre before becoming a political leader of note in post-Soviet Eastern Europe. A state funeral will be held for Havel in Prague on Friday, December 23, according to les Echos.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court , announced on Thursday, December 15, that the killing of ousted Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi on October 20 in the city of Sirte could qualify as a war crime, according to TF1 and le Figaro.