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|Vatican on alert for Islamic State attacks against Pope Francis
Vatican on alert for Islamic State attacks against Pope Francis
The Vatican is on alert in case of an attack by Islamist militants against the city-state or Pope Francis, but officials are not aware of any specific plot, the head of Vatican security said in a rare interview.
"The threat exists. This is what has emerged from conversations with Italian and foreign colleagues," Domenico Giani told Polizia Moderna, the magazine published by Italian police, when asked if threats from Islamic State militants were credible.
"(But) at the moment I can say that we are not aware of any plan to attack the Vatican or the Holy Father," he added in the interview, published on the magazine's website on Monday.
Islamic State militants have made threats against Catholic targets in Rome that have been given much space in Italian media.
Last month, in a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, one of the killers said: "Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for ... We will conquer Rome, by the will of Allah."
A website used by militants ran a photo montage showing the movement's black flag flying from the obelisk at the center of St. Peter's Square.
Giani said the alert level was "constantly high" in and around the tiny city-state, which sits inside Rome.
His force of some 130 agents, along with the more ceremonial Swiss Guard, protect most of the Vatican and the pope, while Italian police guard the exterior, as well as St. Peter's Square.
Last month, in the wake of killings by Islamist militants in Paris and Copenhagen, 4,800 soldiers were placed on the streets throughout Italy.
Francis has several times condemned attacks by Islamic militants. On Sunday, he called for an end to their "intolerable brutality".
Gwynne Dyer: Greece loses, European Union wins
by Gwynne Dyer
The first round of the battle for the euro is over, and Germany has won. The whole European Union won, really, but the Germans set the strategy. Technically, everybody just kicked the can down the road four months by extending the existing bail-out arrangements for Greece, but what was really revealed in the past week is that the Greeks can’t win. Not now, not later.
The left-wing Syriza Party stormed to power in Greece last month promising to ditch the austerity that has plunge a third of the population below the poverty line and to renegotiate the country’s massive $270 billion bail-out with the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Exhausted Greek voters just wanted an end to six years of pain and privation, and Syriza offered them hope. But it has been in retreat ever since.
In the election campaign, Syriza promised 300,000 new jobs and a big boost in the monthly minimum wage (from $658 to $853). After last week’s talks with the EU and the IMF, all that’s left is a promise to expand an existing programme that provides temporary work for the unemployed, and an “ambition” to raise the minimum wage “over time”.
Its promise to provide free electricity and subsidised food for families without incomes remains in place, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government has promised the EU and the IMF that its “fight against the humanitarian crisis [will have] no negative fiscal effect.” In other words, it won’t spend extra money on these projects unless it makes equal cuts somewhere else.
Above all, its promise not to extend the bail-out programme had to be dropped. Instead, it got a four-month “bridging loan” that came with effectively the same harsh restrictions on Greek government spending (although Syriza was allowed to rewrite them in its own words). And that loan will expire at the end of June, just before Greece has to redeem $7 billion in bonds.
So there will be four months of attritional warfare and then another crisis—which Greece will once again lose. It will lose partly because it hasn’t actually got a very good case for special treatment, and partly because the European Union doesn’t really believe it will pull out of the euro common currency.
Greece’s debt burden is staggering—about $30,000 per capita. It can never be repaid, and some of it will eventually have to be cancelled or “rescheduled” into the indefinite future. But not now, when other euro members like Spain, Portugal, and Ireland are struggling with some success to pay down their heavy but smaller debts. If Greece got such a sweet deal, everybody else would demand debt relief too.
The cause of the debt was the same in every case: the euro was a stable, low-interest currency that banks were happy to lend in, even to relatively low-income European countries that were in the midst of clearly unsustainable, debt-fuelled booms. So all the southern European EU members (and Ireland) piled in—but nobody else did it on the same scale as the Greeks.
The boom lasted for the best part of a decade after the euro currency launched in 1999. Ordinary Greeks happily bought imported German cars, French wines, Italian luxury goods, and much else, while the rich and politically well connected raked off far larger sums and paid as little tax as possible. Greek governments ended up lying about the size of the country’s debts.
No less an authority than Syriza’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, described the atmosphere of the time like this: “The average Greek had convinced herself that Greece was superb. A cut above the rest....Due to our exceptional ‘cunning’, Greece was managing to combine fun, sun, xenychti [late nights] and the highest GDP growth in Europe.”
Then the roof fell in after the 2008 crash, and “self-immolation followed self-congratulation, but left self-importance in the driving seat,” as Varoufakis put it.
That is why the sympathy for Greece’s plight in other EU members is limited. Moreover, the EU, and especially the Germans, have managed to convince themselves that “grexit” (Greek exit from the euro) would not be a limitless disaster.
The other PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, and Spain) are in much better shape financially, and Brussels no longer fears that the Greek “contagion” will spread irresistibly to them as well. Neither does it think that a Greek departure from the euro would bring the whole edifice of the single currency tumbling down. And it knows that the vast majority of Greeks don’t want to leave either the euro or the EU—so it’s playing hardball.
When the interim deal was made public on Tuesday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras put the best possible face on it, saying that Greece had “won a battle, but not the war.” In fact he lost the first battle, as he was bound to. It will take him longer to lose the whole war, but that will probably happen too.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
More than half of Brits would vote to leave the European Union
by Matt Chorley
---51% would vote to leave, while 49% of people would choose to stay
---41% of people think that the EU is generally a good thing for the UK
---Norway's Europe minister Vidar Helgesen warns against UK's exit
---Highlightsdownside of not being part of rule-setting process in Brussels
More than half of voters want to leave the European Union, a surprise new opinion poll shows.
Some 51 per cent of people want to sever ties with Brussels, while 49 per cent want to remain in the EU, the Opinium survey for the Observer shows.
It comes as Norway warned Britain not to copy its own situation outside the EU, which leaves it unable to influence key economic rules it must abide by to trade with the 28-nation bloc.
David Cameron has promised that if he remains Prime Minister after May's general election he would renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU before staging an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.
Recent opinion polls have suggested support for remaining in the EU, especially after reforms to its workings, was growing.
However, the Opinium survey shows more people would vote to leave in a referendum.
The poll also found that 41 per cent of people think that the EU is generally a good thing for the UK, while 34 per cent said it is generally a bad thing.
Labour has accused the Tories of creating unnecessary uncertainty by raising the prospect of a referendum in two years' time.
Privately some Labour figures think it is the party's only policy which has the backing of business leaders.
However, 29 per cent of people say they most trust the Conservatves to handle the UK's relationship with the rest of the EU, compared to 23 per cent said they most trust Labour. Just 13 per cent said the same of Ukip.
Some Conservatives have argued Britain could leave the EU and have a similar relationship to Norway, which has access to the single market as part of the European Economic Area.
However, Vidar Helgesen, Norway's minister for Europe, has warned of the downside of not being part of the rule-setting process in Brussels.
He told the Observer: 'We [Norway] are fully integrated into the EU single market as members of the EEA, but what we don't have is the right to vote on those regulations that are incorporated into our law when they are made by the council of ministers.'
'You would not have all those Brits staffing the commission where the decisions are made.
'Britain being on the outside would obviously not have that amount of people on the inside. You would find it more difficult, as a result, to affect the regulations.'
Peter Wilding, director of pro-EU group British Influence, said: 'Eurosceptics who peddle the myth that Norway is the best [model] for a non-EU Britain are deceiving the public. They say leaving leads to more democracy and security. This is nonsense.
'We now have the Norwegian Europe minister telling us to get a grip, get real and get involved in shaping Europe. Little England cannot be an option.'
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