Press digest

The following are the top stories in the local and international press today

The Times leads with a story on Arriva in which it quotes bendy bus drivers flagging the lack of safety features on these buses. In another story, Enemalta says it has no agreement with other suppliers to fix the price of diesel.

The Independent leads with a story on the Sliema New Year murders saying that questions remained unanswered. In another story, it says that Medavia’s role during the crisis in Libya was being defended by the company’s employees and other people.

L-Orizzont leads with the Dissett saga between Public Broadcasting Services and the Broadcasting Authority. In another story, it says that a Transport Malta official was also involved in a money laundering investigation by the Italian police.

In-Nazzjon says that this year should be another good one for the economy. It also speaks about an increase in accessibility and spaces in Valletta.

The international press

The International Monetary Fund has said that US action to avoid the fiscal cliff did not go far enough to address the country's long-term fiscal deficit and debt problems. The Financial Times quotes a statement by IMF spokesman Gerry Rice saying more remains to be done to put US public finances back on a sustainable path without harming the still fragile recovery.

Börzen Zeitung says the IMF reaction came as global stock markets surged almost 2.0 percent and commodity prices rallied on Wednesday after US legislators struck the deal to halt a round of automatic fiscal tightening that threatened to push the world's largest economy into recession. The deal reached on Tuesday to avert the "fiscal cliff" put off the immediate pain of tax hikes for almost all US households but did nothing to resolve other political impasses on the budget that loom in coming months.

The Italian caretaker Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has promised to cut labour taxes and attacked conservative rival Silvio Berlusconi over family values. Speaking on RAI state radio in an interview seen as the launch of his election campaign, Monti pledged to take measures to redistribute wealth in the country. In office he vowed to restore market confidence in Italy's finances.  Monti is leading a centrist coalition while not standing as a candidate himself.

At least 60,000 people have died in Syria since the start of the 21-month civil war in March 2011. The New York Times quotes UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay describing the figure as "truly shocking". News of the study's findings came out Wednesday, amid activist reports of a government airstrike near Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a fatal attack on a service station in the suburb of Maliha, saying "dozens" were killed or injured.

Sky News reports that the British Ministry of Defence has rejected claims by a warlord that Prince Harry "kills innocent Afghans while he is drunk" as "simply absurd". Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister who leads the militant group Hizb-i-Islami, told The Daily Telegraph that Prince Harry, who has been serving in Afghanistan since September as an Apache helicopter co-pilot, was a "jackal" who was drunk on duty. Hekmatyar founded Hizb-i-Islami, notorious for its bloody siege of Kabul in the 1990s, and is considered a terrorist by the US.

The International Business Times says South Korea has dismissed as "bland" a New Year message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in which he urged a lessening of tensions between the two countries. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war. South Korean unification minister Yu Woo-ik said Kim's remarks might have been aimed at new or transitional leaderships in China, Japan and South Korea, but Seoul had good historical reasons for treating peace overtures warily.

Lawyers at a New Delhi court circuit have told France 24 they would boycott the case of six men accused of raping and torturing a 23-year-old woman who died of her injuries over the weekend. They said defending the accused would be “immoral”. Hearings are expected to begin today when police are expected to allege that the rapists also tried to run her over. The Indian Express reported the woman's boyfriend, who was beaten up and thrown off the bus after she had been repeatedly raped, managed to pull her to safety just in time when he saw the bus reversing to run her over.

A French satirical magazine, whose offices were fire-bombed after it published cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed, on Wednesday published a comic book biography of Islam's founder. The editor of Charlie Hebdo weekly has insisted that the new book, titled "The Life of Mohammed", was a properly researched and educational work prepared by a Franco-Tunisian sociologist. He said the idea for the comic book came to him in 2006 when a newspaper in Denmark published cartoons of Mohammed, later republished by Charlie Hebdo, drawing angry protests across the Muslim world.

Billboard announces the death of American singer Patti Page, one of the most popular artists of the 1950s. She was 85. Page recorded four US number-one hits, including “Tennessee Waltz” and the novelty record “(How Much Is That) Doggie In The Window”. She was to have been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award at next month's Grammy ceremony.

Water, water everywhere -- just not in plastic bottles, says a town in the US state of Massachusetts. Boston Globe says a law passed by the town of Concord went into effect with the New Year, making single-serving bottles of water illegal. The ban is intended to encourage use of tap water and curb the worldwide problem of plastic pollution. It only applies to "non-sparkling, unflavoured drinking water." Soft drinks are exempt.

Ansa reports that the maternity ward at the Padua Hospital in northeastern Italy has stopped issuing bracelets that read “father” in favour of ones that read “partner” in order to accommodate lesbian parents. According to local media, the change was put into effect after a woman last month was waiting to visit her female companion who had just given birth.




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