Egypt authorities raid foreign-funded NGOs
Offices belonging to 17 non-governmental organisations were simultaneously raided by Egyptian police and prosecutors in Cairo on Thursday. Premises targeted belonged to pro-democracy and human rights groups, several funded from abroad, prompting fears of a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. At least three of the organisations receive money from the United States, which strongly criticised the operation. Speaking from Washington US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “We call on the Egyptian government to immediately end the harassment of NGOs, NGO’s staff, return all property and resolve this issue immediately.” Following the raid, the American-funded International Republican Institute, known as IRI, released a statement saying it was ‘dismayed and disappointed’ by the actions of Egypt’s military rulers. The organisation went on to say it had never been targetted under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The raids were in relation to permit violations, according to the prosecutors’ office. More about: Egyptian politics, Humanitarian aid, Mohammad ElBaradei, NGO, USA

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Italy calls for bigger euro fund after tough debt sale
Italy’s borrowing costs fell from record highs at its latest government debt auction, but cautious investors still demanded interest rates of close to seven percent for the 10-year bonds. That is the level at which other eurozone countries were forced to seek bail-outs and it raises questions on how Rome will finance its public spending in the next few months. At the same time Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti called for the eurozone’s bail-out fund to be beefed up. He said the European Financial Stability Facility needs “significantly greater” resources but refused to say how much more. Commenting on the debt sale Monti said: “As you know, the treasury bond auctions that took place this week went pretty well. This is encouraging, however, we absolutely don’t consider the market turbulence to be over, there is still a lot of work to do.” Indeed analysts said there were too many risks and uncertainties surrounding Italy and buying its long term bonds was “a leap of faith”. The Italian Treasury has the challenging task of raising around 450 billion euros next year. More about: Economic crisis, Italian politics, Italy, Mario Monti

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Spain’s King makes plea for unity as he opens parliament
King Juan Carlos of Spain has called for unity and commitment from politicians to get the country through its worst financial crisis in decades. The appeal came as he officially opened the Spanish parliament in Madrid. The King and other royals received a standing ovation as they entered the chamber. It was the first parliamentary session since Mariano Rajoy took over as prime minister. Rajoy’s government has a mammoth task on its hands when it comes to getting Spain’s economy back on track. “I am sure the representatives will know how to work together to solve the conflicts and problems we will face,” King Juan Carlos said, as he addressed parliament. “We have to trust in ourselves, we will also have to transmit that confidence to citizens.” The King’s appearance came as a fraud investigation continued to engulf his son-in-law. Inaki Urdangarin is accused of siphoning off funds from public contracts, awarded to a non-profit organisation he headed up between 2004 and 2006. He denies the allegations. More about: Economy, Financial Crisis, Mariano Rajoy, Parliamentary debate, Spain

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Turkey talks about national brand car
The Turkish car market is set to end 2011 as the fifth biggest in Europe, overtaking Spain, with sales of 900,000 vehicles. A total of 1.2 million cars were assembled in Turkey this year using mostly imported parts with Ford and Fiat the biggest names. Now Turkey is talking about creating an all Turkish car. The government is encouraging companies to study what is needed to built Turkey’s first national car. Jan Nahum, the boss of Karsan which makes commercial vehicles, is optimistic. He told euronews: “I am convinced that there will be more than one Turkish brand within the next ten years. It will come about through several methods, instead of a single business model. No doubt about it.” Meanwhile the idea that there could be some Turkish delight for Saab has faded. Just before Christmas there were reports of Turkish interest in buying the bankrupt Swedish carmaker and Saab??�s chief executive Victor Muller did meet with Turkish diplomats in Stockholm. But Turkish government officials said it was Muller who requested that meeting and they have no interests in buying Saab. More about: Ankara, Economic growth, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey

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North Korea: A new era?
While North Korea gives an emotional farewell to its ‘dear leader’ Kim Jong-Il, who died of a heart attack on December 17, the world waits to see what will become of the regime in the hands of his young son Kim Jong-Un. In an attempt to smooth diplomatic relations, South Korea authorised the sending of two private delegations to Pyongyang to honour the late dictator. One was led by the widow of former South Korean President, Kim Dae-Jung, who had organised the first ever inter-Korean summit in 2000. The other by the President of Hyundai Group, Hyun Jung-Eun, who is investing in North Korea. The new regime has requested official condolences from Seoul as a prerequisite to any resumption of North-South dialogue. Officially, the two Koreas are still at war, as neither side has signed a peace treaty since the armistice in 1953, and sporadic acts of aggression do still occur. Experts also agree that Pyongyang has stalled all talks of de-nuclearisation. It is reported that North Korea is in possession of a number of ballistic missiles which have a range of between 600-700 kilometres. Some of them are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, a source of great tension in the region. All eyes now turn to China, the only ally of the regime. Its president Hu Jintao, who personally visited the North Korean Embassy in Beijing to pay his condolences, has expressed support for a resumption of six-party talks on de-nuclearisation. These negotiations between North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan have been put on hold since December 2008. Euronews spoke to Robert Lawrence Kahn, a long-time adviser to the Chinese government. He gave his views on the direction North Korea will take under Kim Jong-Un, and the role China will play in the transition of power. More about: Communism, Dictatorship, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, North Korea

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Israel opposition leader at anti-extremism rally
Thousands turned out to support a rally against Jewish religious extremism in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday night. The peaceful protest, supported by Israel’s President Shimon Peres, is in response to a spate of incidents in the city west of Jerusalem, where ultra-orthodox Jews are trying to get residents to become more conservative. Speaking from the rally, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said: “We are fighting for the image of the state of Israel. It’s not just Beit Shemesh and not just gender segregation, it’s all the extremist elements that are rearing their heads and are trying to impose their world view on us.” The movement was sparked by alleged abuse suffered by an eight-year old school girl who claims she was spat at by ultra-orthodox Jews for dressing ‘immodestly’. Those at the rally are also against attempts to introduce gender segregation, including women having to sit at the back of buses, which the ultra-orthodox Jews support. Earlier in the day, the president called on all Israelis to support the rally, saying these kind of rules have no place in a secular state. More about: Israel, Protest, Religion, Urban violence

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Greece starts new year in downbeat mood
As January 1st arrived, they let off fireworks over Athens, but there is little for Greece to celebrate as 2012 starts. in his New Year’s Eve address, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos warned the Greeks they face more tough times: “A very difficult year lies ahead of us. We must continue our efforts with decisiveness, to stay in the euro, to make sure we do not waste the sacrifices and do not turn the crisis into an uncontrolled and disastrous bankruptcy.” Battling a debt crisis that has spread turmoil through the eurozone, Greece’s economy is set to contract for the fifth year running with fresh record high rates of unemployment. There is little new year cheer on the streets. A 60-year-old pensioner said: “I think is the situation is very bad for the Greek people, everybody is troubled, indignant, in a state of depression maybe God will help us to improve things.” Taxi driver Theodoros Chatzipanagiotis was not as gloomy as some: “This year will be harder than 2011 but it will also be the bottom, we can’t get any lower. It’ll be a very difficult year and it’s a matter of endurance, who manages to endure this.” January is a critical month as negotiations continued between Athens and the banks on a deal whereby they accept getting back just half of what they lent when they bought Greek government bonds. More about: Economic crisis, Greece, New Year celebrations

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NY’s Met welcomes Renaissance portraiture
Contributions made by Italian portraiture to the history of art is the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. ‘The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini’ presents an unprecedented survey of the period. The rapid development of portraiture was linked closely to Renaissance society and politics, ideals of the individual, and concepts of beauty. Featuring some rare international loans, the exhibition is made up of 160 works and includes paintings, sculptures, drawings and coins by artists including Donatello, Filippo Lippi and Botticelli. ‘The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini’ will be on display until 18 March. More about: Exhibition, Fine arts, Painting

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