Also today: Greek debt cut to junk status; Senate Republicans stymie vote on Wall Street legislation; Huge Gulf of Mexico oil slick nears Louisiana; Touch and go for Labour party in British election polls.
Former Panama dictator Noriega sees inside of French jail
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has gone from 20 years in a Miami prison to jail in France, as he awaits a new legal fight over charges he laundered cocaine profits by buying luxury apartments in Paris. Noriega went to the “City of Love” following his extradition from the US, but a French judge deemed him a flight risk and dispatched him to a grim brick prison in the south of the city. The judge refused to send him home to Panama, where he wouldn’t be welcome anyway, so now he faces the prospect of another 10 years in prison, at 72 years of age. It looks like the French aren’t keen to allow another former dictator free rein in their country, after a string of despots from Haiti to Africa have settled there in the past. Noriega was deposed as Panamanian president after a 1989 US invasion of that country, and was subsequently jailed in Florida for drug trafficking.
Photo: French lawyers Olivier Metzner (C) and Yves Leberquier (L), who represent former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, speak with journalists at courthouse in Paris April 27, 2010. Noriega, 76, was overthrown in a U.S. invasion in 1989, was flown to Paris after being taken from a cell in Miami, where he had completed a 17-year sentence for drug smuggling. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Greek debt cut to junk status
Standard & Poor’s has cut Greece’s debt to junk status, warning investors they could face losses of up to 50%. The ratings agency also downgraded Portugal’s debt by two notches, causing global stocks to fall on worries that Spain and even Ireland may now not be able to borrow billions of dollars needed to help them climb out of their debt holes. European stock exchanges fell more than 2.5%, with Wall Street also heading south taking the euro currency down more than 1% to near its eight-month low. One analyst says Greek contagion is precipitating the makings of a market crisis – fuelling fears of a Europe-wide debt meltdown – despite the eurozone and International Monetary Fund trying to calm markets with a $60 billion rescue package.
Senate Republicans stymie vote on Wall Street legislation
Senate Republicans have proposed diluting Wall Street banking legislation, outlining a bill that would ban the use of taxpayer funds to bail out ailing financial giants, and would impose federal regulation on many – but not all – trades in derivatives. It also calls for weaker consumer protection legislation than Democrats seek, and new regulations governing federally-sponsored mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The GOP attempt to block White House-backed legislation designed to prevent a repeat of the economic meltdown of October 2008 means the Senate is three votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. US President Barack Obama and other Democrats have accused Republicans of obstructing honest debate on the US financial crisis in a mid-term election year. Most Americans support a crackdown on big bankers, whose risk-taking led to millions of job losses and many people losing their homes.
Huge Gulf of Mexico oil slick nears Louisiana
A huge oil slick is now some 30km from the Louisiana coastline, after a BP-contracted oil rig burned and sank in the Gulf of Mexico last week, sparking fears of a major ecological catastrophe. So far, a joint government and industry task force hasn’t been able to prevent an estimated 160,000 litres of oil a day spilling into the gulf, leaving the US Coast Guard to consider executing what’s termed a controlled burn on the water’s surface. The pollution problem stems from crude oil gushing out of a broken pipe attached to a damaged well lying 1.5km below the sea.
Touch and go for Labour party in British election polls
British media is already sounding the death knell of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ailing Labour government, with reports of panic in the ranks of the party faithful. However, Brown appears strangely unconcerned, despite his massive unpopularity, claiming after a day of intensive campaigning that such alarming reports are nothing but Shakespearean sound and fury that signify nothing, other than media trying to stir things up. Brown reckons the criticism will fade away as voters focus much more on the issues facing the country ahead of the 6 May poll. But reports say he looks deeply strained, after running one of the most unpopular governments in a long time, and has even had viewer comments disabled on the official Downing Street YouTube portal, after the negative feedback became too much
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