Press digest

The following are the top stories in the Maltese and overseas press.

The Times and most of the other newspapers lead with the downgrade of Malta's credit rating by Standard and Poor's. It also says that Air Malta chairman Louis Farrugia will step down in May.

The Malta Independent reports on the resignation of John Bencini from the presidency of the FORUM. 

In-Nazzjon reports how Lawrence Gonzi argued yesterday that Joseph Muscat's 'irresponsibility' lead to the downgrade by S&P.

l-orizzont reports on the discovery of a 'crucified' cat in Mosta. It gives prominence to the S&P downgrade and also says that in May the government boasted of the possibility of having an oil terminal in Malta.

The overseas press.

A major international hostage crisis is unfolding after Islamist militants stormed a gas installation in Algeria, abducting scores of workers in what French President François Hollande, called an obvious connection to the French military intervention in Mali. Euronews quotes Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia saying an Algerian and a Briton were killed and six others injured in the attack. A group linked to al Qaeda claimed it was holding 41 Westerners, including Norwegian, French, British, American and Japanese citizens. Algeria has allowed French planes to use its airspace, a factor cited by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as one of the reasons for the attack

President Barack Obama has launched the most sweeping effort to curb US gun violence in nearly 20 years following last month’s Connecticut school massacre. The Washington Times says the $500 million package includes a call on Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, and it would close loopholes in the background check system for gun sales. Mr Obama also signed 23 executive actions – which require no congressional approval – including several aimed at improving access to data for background checks.

Los Angeles Times reports the Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all Boeing 787s operated by United States carriers until it could determine what caused a new type of battery to catch fire on two different planes in nine days. The decision follows two incidents which prompted All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines to voluntarily ground their 787s.  The FAA's emergency directive initially applies to United Airlines, the only American carrier using the new plane so far, with six 787s. But the agency said it expected international regulators would take similar action. That would ground all 50 of the 787s delivered so far.

Dawn says President Ali Zardari of Pakistan has intervened to stop authorities from using force against protesters calling for parliament to be dissolved. Interior Minister Rehman Malik had warned of a "targeted operation" to disperse an estimated 25,000 demonstrators if they did not go peacefully by Thursday as the rally led by Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri continued for a fourth day.

The New York Times reports UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has condemned an attack on Syria’s Aleppo University and warned that the deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime. At least 87 people – mostly students and refugees – were killed by two large explosions on Tuesday. The Syrian government and the opposition blamed each other for the attack.

Al Ahram reports that an eight-storey apartment building in Alexandria has collapsed, killing 20 people. Eight other people were injured and rescue teams continued to search for survivors under the rubble. It was not known what caused the building to collapse in a poor district of Alexandria, but violations of building specifications have been blamed for similar accidents in the past.

Moscow Times says a Russian court has rejected Pussy Riot band member Maria Alyokhina’s plea to defer her prison sentence until after her five-year-old son reaches adolescence, despite fears the child would be irrevocably harmed by her absence. The judge said the court had already taken the child into account. She was convicted last year along with two other band members of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an anti-President Vladimir Putin stunt in Russia’s main cathedral.

The Guardian leads with the London helicopter crash after it hit a crane and fell on a crowded street in central during rush hour on Wednesday, sending flames and black plumes of smoke into the air. The pilot and another person on the ground were killed and 13 others injured. Tributes have been paid to the pilot, Capt Pete Barnes, 50, whom colleagues described as “highly skilled”. Ansa points out he had also piloted helicopters in several films, including Saving Private Ryan, Tomb Rider II and James Bond’s Die Another Day.

Elton John is a father again!  Yahoo News reports John and his partner David Furnish welcomed their second child, a son born via surrogate. Named Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish, the baby joins his brother, Zachary. John and Furnish released a statement to British magazine Hello!, saying “the birth of our second son completes our family in a most precious and perfect way”.

Lindsay Lohan works as an escort. The 26-year-old star’s father, Michael, said in an exclusive interview with the weekly Star that she gets paid to go out with men, adding that “the most disgusting thing is that her mother is the in-between”.  The magazine says Michael’s claims are corroborated by Linday’s extravagant purchases, often paid by others. He said appointments last for days and then the men pay for everything, including jewellery gifts.

ABC reports that three of Australia's biggest health groups want the Federal Government to introduce a tax on sugary drinks. The Cancer Council, Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation of Australia have joined forces to increase public awareness of the potential health impacts of soft drinks and energy drinks, and encourage consumption of healthier alternatives such as water. They are calling on all schools in Australia to ban the sale of soft drinks to tackle the growing rate of obesity. Some 47 per cent of Australian children aged between two and 16 consumed sugary drinks daily.



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