Press digest

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

The Times, The Malta Independent  and In-Nazzjon report how Malta will get €1.11 billion from the EU over the next seven years.

The Times and In-Nazzjon also report how the Cabinet in recommending a pardon for businessman George Farrugia in the oil procurement scandal.

l-orizzont says a contractor heard in an audio conversation with GWU general secretary Tony Zarb had, in a year, been awarded 27 cleaning contracts by the government despite employing workers in precarious conditions. The union says the conversation was about ending precarious work.

The overseas press

France 24 reports Friday’s EU budget agreement that fixed the bloc’s spending ceiling at €960 billion is expected to meet resistance from the European Parliament which must approve the package.  Leading legislators have already expressed opposition and said they would not adopt the plan as it stands. Securing parliamentary approval is likely to take several months and is far from guaranteed. Belgium’s quotes the leaders of the four largest political groups stating that the European Parliament could not accept the deal “as it is”. They regretted that Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council and chairman of the summit, “did not talk and negotiate with us in the last months”. On his part, Van Rompuy urged parliament to be responsible and to reflect carefully before deciding to reject the spending plan.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a blizzard has hit the northeastern United States, snarling traffic, disrupting thousands of flights and prompting five governors to declare states of emergency in the face of a fearsome snowstorm. Millions of residents have been told to stay indoors. Boston is bracing itself for almost a metre of snow and the governor of Massachusetts has temporarily banned all non-emergency traffic of the state’s roads saying safe travel would be nearly impossible. Airlines cancelled more than 4,200 flights.

The Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor has insisted on the need for transparency over the church's failures to protect children from sex abuse by priests. The Irish Independent says that in his first public comments since taking office, Rev. Robert Oliver said bishops must follow civil laws and report abusive priests to police. Rev Oliver, previously a canon lawyer in the Boston archdiocese, quoted Pope Benedict in saying the church must acknowledge the "grave errors in judgment that were often committed by the church's leadership".

The scandal of supermarket ready-meals, found to contain unlabeled horsemeat in Britain, has spread further across Europe. Lasagne, shepherd’s pie and moussaka, made by manufacturer Findus, have been withdrawn from the shelves in both France and Sweden. Tests had shown some contained almost exclusively horsemeat despite being sold as beef. The Guardian says hospital food, school meals and baby food were being tested and quotes British Environment Secretary Owen Paterson saying the horsemeat scandal “may be a conspiracy with international implications”.

Radio Tunis reports that tens of thousands of Tunisians attended the funeral of murdered opposition leader Chokri Belaid on Friday in a mass outpouring of grief marked by minor clashes as the flag-draped coffin made its way through the streets of Tunis. Police said they have arrested over 130 protesters. Belaid’s family and friends have blamed Ennahda for the assassination, a charge the Islamist party denies. The country came to a virtual standstill after the powerful workers’ union called a general strike, the first since the 2011 revolution.

A former American ambassador to Mali said France paid ransom money to free hostages – funds which ended up bolstering the Islamists groups it’s now fighting in Mali. Speaking to the BBC, Vicki Huddleston said France paid $17 million (€12.72 million) to free hostages seized from a uranium mine in Niger in 2010. She said other European countries, including Germany, had also paid ransoms amounting to nearly $90 million (€67.3 million). France has always denied that it pays ransoms for the release of hostages.

La Tercera says a judge in Chile has ordered the exhumation of the remains of the poet Pablo Neruda as part of an investigation into his death 12 days after General Augusto Pinochet seized power in a military coup in 1973. Although Neruda had been treated for cancer, there have been long-standing doubts about the actual cause of his death.

The government of Venezuela has devalued its currency, the Bolivar, by more 32 per cent. El Universal reports that the move was announced after Vice-President Nicolas Maduro's return from Cuba, where he said he had been given instructions on the economy by President Hugo Chavez, who has not been seen or heard in public since December.

NPR says the leader of an Amish sect in Ohio has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for organising a series of hair- and beard-cutting attacks on other Amish communities. The Amish believe that men and women should allow their hair to grow long after marriage.



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