South Africa: Chamber of Mines Welcomes Budget

[SAPA]Johannesburg -The Chamber of Mines of SA welcomed the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement delivered by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene on Wednesday.

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Drugmakers may need indemnity for fast-tracked Ebola vaccines

LONDON/GENEVA (Reuters) - Drugmakers are looking for some kind of indemnity from governments or multilateral agencies against possible losses or claims arising from the widespread emergency use of new Ebola vaccines in Africa.

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Iowa women candidates could make history … if Iowa women vote for them

Two candidates could become the first women to be elected to Congress from Iowa. But their different approaches to the milestone point to an underlying truth for women in politics. 

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Congo-Kinshasa: UN Mission Comes Under Attack, Steps Up Security

[UN News]The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUSCO, has stepped up its security following several attacks on its bases in North Kivu, including one this morning, when a large number of youths converged on the premises, and another yesterday which required the evacuation of 12 staff members.

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Special Report: Why Ukraine’s revolution remains unfinished

KIEV (Reuters) - In the afternoon of February 20, after the morning’s dead had been cleared away, Volodymyr Melnychuk arrived outside Kiev’s October palace.

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Sinosphere Blog: A Banner on a Hong Kong Landmark Speaks of Democracy and Identity

The group that unfurled the banner, calling for free elections, from a prominent feature of the Hong Kong landscape said it was drawing attention to how the city was not just about money but also about spirit.

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Jeremy Hunt makes urgent Commons statement on Simon Stevens’ NHS report: Politics Live blog

Rolling coverage of all the days political developments as they happen, including Nick Clegg hosting his LBC phone-in and Sir David Omand and Philip Hammond giving evidence to the intelligence and security committee

Labours Sheila Gilmore asks Hunt if he is worried that reduced tax revenues have led to higher borrowing.

Hunt says that that is why the government has had to cut spending. It has taken tough decisions that were opposed by Labour.

Labours Lilian Greenwood asks why Hunt is not doing more to tackle the health problems caused by cheap alcohol.

Hunt says the government approach to alcohol is not the same as its one towards tobacco. There is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderate quantities, he says.

Bob Blackman, a Conservative, says we should aspire to a smoke-free Britain. Smoking rates are going down. He says he would like to see tobacco firms taxed out of existence. But isnt it irresponsible to base funding plans on a tax on an industry that may not exist in the future? (Thats a reference to Labours proposed levy on the tobacco industry.)

Hunt says that is a good point.

Tom Blenkinsop, a Labour MP, asks about NHS closures in his constituency. Does Hunt take any responsibility? He always seems to blame someone else.

Hunt disagrees. He takes full responsibility for the NHS, he says. Given the pressures it is facing, the NHS is doing well.

Sir Tony Baldry, a Conservative, says a recent Commonwealth Fund report found the NHS top amongst international health systems. So isnt it unedifying for Labour to go on about the NHS failing.

Hunt said the report had one startling fact in it. When Labour left office, the NHS came seventh for patient-centred care. Now it comes top, he says.

Andrew George, a Lib Dem, asks how clinical commissioning groups can integrate services if they are forced to outsource services.

Hunt says they are not forced to outsource services.

Hunt says the report has lots of examples of how the new structures are integrating care. That is why it would be wrong to do what Labour wants, and scrap the Health Act and the new powers it gives to clinical commissioning groups.

Hunt says this government has put 18 hospitals into special measures - more than 10%. The government has been criticised for this. But the hospitals have improved, and six have come out of special measures. The new inspection regime has been a success, he says.

Labours Heidi Alexander asks what proportion of NHS land being sold will be used to create care provision for older people.

Hunt says he would like to see more NHS land sold of for this purpose. The report says it is important to take a more holistic approach to care, covering such issues as housing for older people, he says.

The BBCs Norman Smith makes a good point on Twitter.

Jeremy Hunt calls for "more measured debate" over #nhs . Er...yesterday"s #pmqs ???

Labours Nick Brown asks if Hunt thinks English NHS trusts can clear their deficits just by efficiency savings.

Hunt says this will be challenging.

Oliver Colville, a Conservative, asks what further role pharmacies could play.

Hunt says it would help if they had better access to NHS records.

Labours Dennis Skinner says the NHS has been a political football ever since 1947. The Tories fought against it then, and have fought against it ever since. The report does not back the governments health reorganisation, he says. Labour increased NHS funding by three times in real terms. If that had continued, people would not be dying of cancer because of lack of testing. Hunt and his posh people on millionaires row have opposed the very existence of the NHS. That is why it will be the biggest issue at the election.

Hunt says that kind of rhetoric does the whole country a disservice. If the Conservatives felt like that, they would not have protected the NHS budget.

Liz McInnes, the new MP for Heywood and Middleton, says many people in her constituency cannot see a GP within a week. What will the report do about that?

Hunt says the government has introduced personal GPs for every NHS pate

David Tredinnick, a Conservative, asks Hunt if he will promote more integrated care.

Hunt says he wants more person-centred care. The report is a big stepping stone towards this, he says.

Hunt is responding to Burnham.

He says he spoke to soon when he talked about a more measured tone.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, is responding.

He says the report covers NHS spending worth £550bn. Yet Hunt was not proposing to make a statement to MPs.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, asks for a statement on the report.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is replying.

Simon Stevens was interviewed on the Today programme this morning. Today invited listeners to submit questions, and much of the interview was about the use of private providers in the NHS.

Jeremy Hunt has used his Twitter feed to criticise this line of questioning.

Real shame 2 see key Today prog interview wth Simon Stevens on #5YFV hijacked by 38 Degrees public/private scaremongering. Missed big issues

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, has also been giving interviews on the NHS Five Year Forward View report. Here are some of the main points he has been making.

Its a good report, and its a fair challenge to all of the political parties, its calling for more money, its calling for big changes to the way services are delivered, and for radical action on public health, and speaking for Labour, I can say today that I am ready to accept those challenges and pledge the action that is needed in all three areas. We have committed to more money for the NHS in the next parliament.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, will be responding to an urgent question on the NHS Five Year Forward View report in about 20 minutes.

He has already been talking about it in TV interviews. Here are some of the points hes been making.

I think it is a positive report because theres a lot of doom and gloom about the NHS but if you look at his report, it actually says that this is doable and that we can have the kind of NHS that we want, which looks after an ageing population with dignity and respect.

What theyre saying is you need to increase spending in real terms on the back of a strong economy. Weve actually increased spending in this parliament by £5bn but youre right, there is massive pressure on the frontline.

What this report says, and its very much in line with government strategy, is that we need to change the model of care so that were not just depending on hospitals. We need to be much better at looking after people in the community, in their homes, using GP practices, catching people before they get seriously ill.

People have to start taking responsibility for their own healthcare; bosses have to take responsibility for their own employees. If we have a joint endeavour on this, we can start helping people to be healthier, fitter, particularly children in schools.

Here are the main points from Nick Cleggs phone-in.

I think Fiona Woolf is obviously a very credible person ... The Home Office did their due diligence and they clearly dont feel that the reasons given somehow disqualify Fiona Woolf from the job. And I havent heard anything yet which suggests to me that the Home Secretary has made the wrong decision.

There will be an urgent question on the NHS Five Year Forward View in the Commons at 10.30am.

. @Jeremy_Hunt dragged to @HouseofCommons by @andyburnhammp to set out 5 Year Forward View of NHS at 1030

Q: Why dont we ask people who come to the UK to bring medical insurance?

We do, says Clegg. The rules on this are being tightened up, he says.

Nick Ferrari plays an excerpt from the Ukip Calypso.

Q: What do you think of it?

Q: What can be done to improve dental care for kids?

Clegg says lots of children turn up to school with poor teeth. He will look into this. He asks the caller if having a healthy meal at lunchtime helps. Absolutely, says the caller.

Q: Your election strategist, Ryan Coetzee, was photographed with a paper showing your election priorities. Is he not fit for purpose?

Clegg says there is no secret what the Lib Dem priorities are. If he had announced this, the media would have taken no notice.

Q: [From a Canadian] What are you going to do about the way legal immigrants are being disadvantaged? People like me with indefinite leave to remain need to have a document to apply for jobs and housing. But it takes four or five months to get this. And we cannot work until we get it. I cannot even apply for benefits, even though I have lived here for more than 30 years.

Clegg says he does not know the details of this. He will take the callers details, and get back to him.

Q: A recent poll showed you coming bottom out of the main four party leaders on trust. Why?

Clegg says polls come and go. As soon as the Lib Dems went into coalition, they lost some support.

Q: Do you agree with Theresa May that Harry Roberts, the police killer, should be freed.

Clegg says this is decision for the probation board.

Q: What do you think about asylum seekers who commit serious offences? Should they be deported?

Clegg says people cannot come here, expect generosity, and then abuse that.

Q: What do you think of Theresa Mays judgment in appointing Fiona Woolf to head the child abuse inquiry? Shouldnt Woolf have to resign? It smells of a cover-up.

Clegg says he does not entirely agree.

Q: Last week you said, in relation to Ched Evans, that footballers were role models. Arent MPs role models too?

Clegg says opinion in Sheffield is divided over Evans. Some people think he should be allowed to play again. Clegg says he thinks the club should bear in mind that players are role models.

Q: What do you think of the threat to cancel a show in Paris because someone in the audience was wearing a veil?

Clegg says he does not know about this story.

Overnight the main news has been the NHS Five Year Forward View report. Denis Campbell has written it up in the Guardian splash and heres how his story starts.

The NHS is asking for an additional £8bn by 2020 to implement a radical plan, including switching funding from hospitals into other services including GP surgeries, which bosses say is vital to ensure the service can safeguard its future.

NHS bosses warn the Westminster parties to accept the need for the services funding to increase from just under £100bn this year to around £120bn by the end of the next parliament an extra £8bn on top of planned increases in line with inflation or risk patients suffering severe consequences.

Continue reading...

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Eight Pakistani Shi’ites killed in sectarian attack

QUETTA Pakistan (Reuters) - Eight Shi'ite members of Pakistan's ethnic Hazara minority were killed, and one wounded, on Thursday, after gunmen opened fire on a bus in the volatile province of Baluchistan, police said.

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Europe’s banks face moment of truth from ECB review

LONDON/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - At around noon on Thursday, the euro zone's 130 biggest banks will receive the European Central Bank's final verdict on their finances after a review aimed at drawing a line under persistent doubts about the health of the region's banking sector.

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Europe’s panic button

Traders are pictured at their desks in front of the DAX board at the Frankfurt stock exchange October 22, 2014 (Reuters / Stringer)

Whether by bloody-minded obstinacy or a clear incapacity to understand the mess it has overseen, the EU now reaches another of those critical junctures where simply papering over the cracks and maintaining a demented agitprop that growth is around the corner won’t do. Besides, the green shoots of recovery have once again evaporated for the umpteenth time. As the world grows, Europe stagnates.

The EU isn’t working - as 12 percent of the continent’s population know only too well (including that lost generation under 30 born near the Mediterranean). Meanwhile, former Communist-turned-totalitarian-Europhile Jose Manuel Barroso has been enjoying a typically bombastic pre-retirement tour demonstrating a majestic lack of understanding for the stagnancy which has resulted from his decade-long failure as EU president.

Having spent much of the past year blithely mouthing a mantra of recovery, the outgoing commission departs the Berlaymont as even greater political failures than they were in national office before being elevated to Brussels. The demented hubris which preached recovery without coherent reworking of broken economies has been rendered mute by economic reality. Even in Brussels there may be a realization that political fudges won’t do - the European empire must be restructured if it is not to face oblivion. As it is, the pathetic political posturing of national interests led by France (bankrupt) and Germany (deeply disingenuously protectionist) at all times have inexorably weakened Europe in a decade of prolonged growth in the emerging markets of the east.

Thus we reach an abyss for Europe. Germany (as predicted) is a post-peak economic powerhouse. Ukraine has led the EU to self-defeating sanctions which have further trimmed the economy just as growth has proven a mirage.

The fine art of attending endless lavish intergovernmental dinners became a curious ritual in recent years. Some nations, such as Ireland, were sacrificed to save banks in Germany and France. As a financial professional (but not a banker), it has been singularly disgusting post-Lehmann collapse to watch an ongoing act of communist folly - socializing debt to protect banker hubris. For this reason alone, the EU abandoned fiscal credibility.

Alas it has shamelessly repeated the pattern across the continent, bailing out bankers when they, along with spendthrift governments, ought to have suffered default, as is the textbook case where a bondholder cannot repay. To countenance default was to suggest possible weakness in that flawed political instrument of finance, the Euro. The EU’s fear of undermining its hubristic monetary folly now threatens the European project itself as the cancerous contagion of economic collapse has grown.

Tragically, for all the summitry, for all the talk of reform, actually nothing has been achieved during the past six years. Few, if any, economies have indulged in any meaningful reform while large nations such as Germany and France have ruthlessly defended their national interest. Now the problem has moved full circle. The unreformed on the Mediterranean are struggling to survive, stranded with vast debts from big bureaucracy and big government...The toxic time bomb of impending default ticks loudest of all in Paris. A 40th consecutive annual budget deficit is destroying France’s third way socialist delusion, aided by that even more hapless than usual Elysee resident, President Hollande. Across the border, German growth is stalling - which is hardly surprising… After all, Europe is a train wreck of long standing fiscal incompetence. Eastern neighbors such as Russia are reluctant importers from a hostile West, while in China the long boom is much more muted than it has been for many years.

As soon as German growth data slipped last month, a certain realization began to dawn in Brussels - the EU has not even bought a strong roll of duct tape to bind together the glaring fiscal fissures it has been denying for years. Now the European Central Bank may hit the panic button - sloshing ‘funny money’ (Quantitative Easing) into the system. This action elsewhere has, to date, only served to generate vast asset inflation - aka making the rich richer without delivering coherent prosperity for all.

Every day government avoids acting to genuinely reboot the economy is not merely another day squandered for the lost generation, it marks one more sleep until we hit code red. The 28-member supranational state of ‘Kickcanistan’ cannot survive what is, at best, a status quo of stasis.

Europe may be about to hit the panic button - the only result will be: panic.

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