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World in Brief: 15/05/14

TUNISIA: Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa backed a reform of the country’s harsh penalties for cannabis possession yesterday, calling it “out of sync” with current times.

Mr Jomaa promised to “amend the law to adapt it to the new reality” in society. 

The current law gives prison sentences of up to five years for possession of cannabis.

Prominent blogger Aziz Hamami was arrested on Monday for cannabis use.


BANGLADESH: A heavily-laden ferry capsized and sank today after being caught in a storm, leaving at least six dead and hundreds more missing.

“We are receiving confusing figures on how many passengers were on board when it sank, but the number could range from 200 to 350,” said local government administrator Saiful Hasan.


SUDAN: A judge sentenced a Christian woman today to 100 lashes and then to hang for apostasy — the renunciation of a religion.

“We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death,” Judge Abbas Mohammed al-Khalifa said, calling her by a “Muslim name.”

But she insisted on her Christian name and that she had never been of the Islamic faith.


ITALY: The chamber of deputies approved modest labour reforms today after a difficult passage through parliament.

The changes make it easier for firms to use temporary workers, reversing attempts by former Prime Minister Mario Monti to reduce the “duality” of a labour market divided between permanent workers and a growing army of temporary staff with virtually no rights.

The decree allows firms to renew temporary contracts five times for up to three years.


EGYPT: Three lawyers representing Al-Jazeera English journalists on trial abruptly quit the case today, accusing the Doha-based media giant of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish Egypt’s image.

Their decision came during a hearing in which prosecutors said lawyers for the journalists must pay £100,418 for copies of the evidence against them.

Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed face charges of belonging to and aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood.


SPAIN: The government of Catalonia said today that it would award South African ex-archbishop Desmond Tutu its annual international prize.

It said a jury chose Tutu for his constant struggle for social justice and his “integrity, courage and exceptional ability.”

Mr Tutu has defended human rights around the world and  been involved in campaigns against AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia.


LEBANON: Parliament again failed to meet to vote on a new president today after the Hezbollah-led bloc boycotted the session.

It was the fourth time that the assembly had failed to achieve a quorum to replace President Michel Sleiman, whose term expires on May 25.

The latest postponement raises the real spectre that Mr Sleiman will vacate the presidency with no candidate chosen to replace him.


UKRAINE: Russia ratcheted up pressure on Kiev today, with President Vladimir Putin saying in a letter that it would only deliver gas to its neighbour next month if it pays in advance.

Mr Putin first warned in April that Moscow would switch to pre-paid deliveries if Ukraine failed to start settling its mounting gas debt.

The debt to Russia has now reached £2.1 billion, even though Ukraine has received a £1.9bn bailout from the International Monetary Fund.


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