Aquino signs budget
President Benigno Aquino III yesterday signed into law a 2.005 trillion peso (US$49 billion) budget for next year, vowing to use higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol to boost programs to reduce poverty. Education, health, agriculture and a cash-transfer scheme for the poor are the key priorities of the appropriations, which are 10.5 percent higher than this year’s national budget, he said during the signing ceremony. “We designed this budget as an instrument to give the common man the power to control and improve his life,” Aquino said. He thanked congress for passing earlier this month an increase in “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol products, which is expected to bring in more than US$800 million in extra revenues next year.
Migrants find refuge
Local authorities have allowed 40 migrants from Myanmar into the country two weeks after their vessel sank in the Bay of Bengal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said yesterday. Singapore did not let the migrants enter despite an appeal by the UNHCR after they were rescued by a Vietnamese cargo when their vessel sank on Dec. 5. It was not immediately clear if they were Rohingyas, Muslim people from northwest Myanmar. Many Rohingyas, facing violence and persecution, have left Myanmar in rickety boats bound for Southeast Asia in search of better lives.
Talabani’s health improving
President Jalal Talabani’s health condition was improving yesterday and he responded well to treatment in a Baghdad hospital two days after suffering a stroke, his medical team coordinator said. Talabani’s sudden illness prompted questions about his exit from politics where he has been a key mediator amoung Shiite, Sunni and Kurds, and helped ease tensions in the growing dispute over oil between Baghdad and the country’s autonomous Kurdistan. The Kurdish statesman was admitted to hospital on Monday night after suffering a form of stroke and was in intensive care with a team of specialists.
Obesity-bacteria link found
Researchers in Shanghai’s Jiatong University have identified a bacterium that may cause obesity, according to a new paper suggesting diets that alter the presence of microbes in humans could combat the condition. They found that mice bred to be resistant to obesity even when fed high-fat foods became excessively overweight when injected with a kind of human bacterium and subjected to a rich diet. The bacterium — known as Enterobacter — had been linked with obesity after being found in high quantities in the gut of a morbidly obese human volunteer, the report said.
Jackie Chan under probe?
Police yesterday said they would investigate comments made by action star Jackie Chan (成龍) that he had used guns and grenades to confront triad gang members. Chan told the Guangzhou-based Southern People Weekly magazine that he had been “bullied” by triads. “In the past, when they bullied me. I hid in the United States. They opened fire at me once I got off the airplane,” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted him as saying in the magazine interview published last week. “Later on, I confronted them with two guns and six grenades,” he said. A police spokeswoman said they would probe Chan’s comments, but stopped short of saying whether they would question him.
Chavez in stable condition
President Hugo Chavez is in “stable” condition after being diagnosed with a respiratory infection following his latest cancer surgery in Cuba, an official said on Tuesday. Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said doctors had treated the infection and brought it under control, adding that it was a common consequence of “complicated surgeries” and that the ailing leader required “absolute rest.” Chavez, 58, is due to be sworn in for a third presidential term on Jan. 10, but the country is now on tenterhooks to see if the outspoken, formerly tireless leader will remain their president, become incapacitated or worse.
Prison break kills 17
A shootout during a prison break at a penitentiary in the north of the country late on Tuesday has left at least 11 inmates and six guards dead, authorities said. Durango State Public Safety Department said guards foiled “a massive prison escape” at the Cereso No. 2 facility in the city of Gomez Palacio. The inmates tried to climb the prison’s back walls and when guards fired into the air to stop them, the firefight ensued, a statement from the department said. “The inmates started firing guns into the watchtowers and into custodian areas,” it said. Soldiers surrounded the prison and helped stop the prison break, it said, adding that the prison was back under the control of authorities.
Gulf sheen remains mystery
Underwater inspections at the site of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig disaster have failed to identify the source of a persistent sheen on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, officials said on Tuesday. The coast guard and BP both said the recent inspections confirmed that the company’s Macondo well, which blew out in April 2010 and spawned the nation’s worst offshore oil spill, remains secure and is not leaking oil. However, investigators collected samples of a white, cloudy substance that appeared to be coming from several areas on the overturned rig on the sea floor. Lab tests were planned on the samples of the substance, which is not believed to be oil. The coast guard has said the sheen cannot be recovered and does not pose a risk to the shoreline.
New abortion law proposed
The government said on Tuesday that it was preparing to allow abortion under limited circumstances in an effort to comply with demands by the European Court of Human Rights to clarify the country’s legal position on the issue. The proposed legislative and regulatory changes would allow abortion only in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that abortion was permissible when risk was present, but the government never passed a law to that effect.
Inmates escape from prison
A massive manhunt is under way for two bank robbers who pulled off a daring escape from downtown Chicago’s high-rise jail on Tuesday by apparently squeezing through a narrow window and scaling down about 20 stories using a makeshift rope tied to the bars in a cell window. Police helicopters and canine units swarmed the area, but not until more than three hours after Joseph “Jose” Banks and Kenneth Conley went unaccounted for during a 5am headcount, Marshal’s Service spokeswoman Belkis Cantor said. Both men were still at large late on Tuesday night.