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The paper clip, 23 March

Friday 23 March 2012

The French papers lead with coverage of the death of Mohamed Merah, a gunman who shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Le Monde reports that Merah was known to the French intelligence services from 2011. The intelligence agency has come under criticism for failing to have identified that Merah was planning terrorist acts. Le Figaro quotes François Fillon, France's prime minister, as saying that it was not possible for the intelligence agency to have foreseen or prevented Merah's acts. Libération quotes François Heisbourg, a security expert, saying that Merah should have been under stricter surveillance. A blog post by Le Monde's political correspondent says that Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, will boost his chances of re-election because of his handling of the affair. http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/

Joachim Gauck, Germany's newly elected president, will be sworn in at the Bundestag and the Bundesrat today, writes Welt. Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and civil-rights activist from East Germany, was elected president last Sunday (18 March) with an overwhelming share of votes. He succeeds Christian Wulff, who was forced to resign over allegations that he granted political favours to business contacts when he was minister-president of Lower Saxony.

The Dutch daily De Volkskrant reports that the US government has until the end of today to nominate a candidate to replace Robert Zoellick as president of the World Bank. By tradition, the United States has had the right to fill the post at the World Bank; however the body took steps last year to widen the pool of candidates to include nominees from other countries.

The World Bank and the African Development Bank have frozen their aid programmes to Mali after military officers there staged a coup, deposing Amadou Toumani Toure, Mali's president, reports De Morgen. Amnesty International has said that at least three people died in the coup, which took place two days ago.

NRC Handelsblad of the Netherlands reports that EU foreign ministers will impose a travel ban and assets freeze on the wife of Bashar Assad, the Syrian president. Asthma Assad and two other members of her family as well as eight ministers will be blacklisted by the EU ministers. Assad's wife is a British national and it remains unclear whether she can be prevented from travelling to the UK.

Lucas Papademos, Greece's prime minister, said yesterday that he will announce a date for a general election next week. The snap poll is expected to take place late in April or early in May. Kathimerini has a report.

Handlesblatt reports that members of parliament from the parties in Germany's governing coalition are expressing concern about the cost to Germany of the eurozone bail-out funds. Germany's contribution to the temporary and permanent bail-out funds is now calculated to be €290 billion, higher than originally reported. The article quotes Hans Michelbach, the speaker of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) members of the Bundestag, saying that he sees no reason why the temporary bail-out fund (the European Financial Stability Facility) should continue to operate once the permanent fund (the European Stability Mechanism) comes into operation in July. Running the two funds in parallel would give the eurozone around €700 billion to lend to eurozone countries that cannot finance their public debts from financial markets. Michelbach points to “relative calm” on financial markets as an argument against an increase in the funds available for eurozone bail-outs above €500bn.

Serbian paramilitary police have blocked crossings into north Kosovo used by local Serbs, writes Blic. Serbs in north Kosovo continue blocking vehicles from Eulex, the EU's policing and judicial mission, meanwhile.

Italy's government plans to submit a labour-law reform to parliament today, writes La Stampa.

A general strike yesterday crippled Portugal. Publico has a report.

The UK's Guardian says that concerns about recession are affecting the financial markets. It says the FTSE index of leading shares is set for its worst week of 2012.

Romania's stop-gap government has some room to ease austerity measures, the head of the International Monetary Fund's mission to Romania said yesterday. The IMF has approved a €500 million loan to Romania, the Wall Street Journal writes. Romania expects its economy to expand by 1.7% this year, Ziarul Financiar reports.

The UK papers are for a second day dominated by the new budget presented by the finance minister, George Osborne. “Osborne's ‘granny tax' does not go far enough” is the opinion of one Financial Times commentator, who argues that pensioners have had an easy recession so far. The budget saw the government increase taxes on pensioners and cut the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%. “Forget mugging grannies, George Osborne's 50p rate gamble reveals a naked yearning for the glory days” of Margaret Thatcher, writes a Guardian commentator.

The European Commission has given Germany four weeks to transpose EU rules on storing phone and internet data into national legislation or face a legal challenge in the European Court of Justice, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports. The so-called data retention rules, which enable law-enforcement authorities to consult phone and internet records, were agreed in 2006 as part of measures to combat terrorism. The Germany government has been trying to agree a new version of the law since 2010, but there are divisions among the political parties, with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) arguing that the rules infringe civil liberties.

The Irish budget airline Ryanair has failed in a legal attempt to avoid paying for accommodation and meals for passengers stranded by the ash cloud that shut down European air space in 2010, the Irish Times writes. Yves Bot, an advocate-general of the European Court of Justice, said yesterday that airlines were obliged to pay the costs incurred by passengers whose flights were disrupted by the Icelandic volcano.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog, has been accused of pro-Western bias, the Guardian writes. The IAEA's biggest current challenge is the situation in Iran.

Transcripts that reveal a very close relationship between a former mayor of Prague, Pavel Bém, and a lobbyist feature prominently in the Czech daily Lidové noviny. Slovakia's Sme argues that the transcripts reveal that the lobbyist decided about public procurement more than Bém did. Sme argues that this is the Czech equivalent of the ‘Gorilla' scandal, a dossier of leaked transcripts attributed with ensuring that the centre-right was unable to return to office after Slovakia's parliamentary elections on 10 March.

Micheál Martin, the leader of Ireland's opposition Fianna Fáil party, has said that former prime minister Bertie Ahern should be expelled from the party because he “betrayed” the country and the party. A tribunal has found that Ahern failed to truthfully account for a number of financial transactions. The Irish Times has the story.

Slovakia's Pravda writes that Russia has been exerting more pressure on Ukraine since Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency on 4 March.

Gazeta Wyborcza writes that Google's Street View will soon incorporate Polish cities, including several that will host the 2012 European Championships in football: Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan and Wroclaw.

China is to stop the practice of transplanting organs from death-row prisoners within the next three to five years, writes the People's Daily.

The US Republicans are trailing in polls behind US President Barack Obama in places where they have traditionally had a strong edge, writes a commentator in the Financial Times, under the headline: “Obama gets the conservative vote”.

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