World briefs – December 23

President Barack Obama celebrated a bipartisan “season of progress’ on Wednesday at a year-end news conference a few hours after the Senate ratified an arms control treaty with Russia. President Barack Obama celebrated a bipartisan “season of progress’ on Wednesday at a year-end news conference a few hours after the Senate ratified an arms control treaty with Russia.

Obama hails arms pact

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama celebrated a bipartisan “season of progress’ on Wednesday at a year-end news conference a few hours after the Senate ratified an arms control treaty with Russia.

In addition to cutting nuclear weapons and launchers, Obama said the pact will allow U.S. inspectors to “be back on the ground” in Russia. “So we’ll be able to trust but verify, he said, quoting the late President Ronald Reagan in another in a string of bipartisan gestures of recent weeks.

The president said that after elections on Nov. 2, many “predicted Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock. Instead, this has been a season of progress for the American people.”

He added the accomplishments of a postelection session of Congress demonstrate “we are not doomed to endless gridlock.”

Obama spoke at a news conference a few hours after the Senate ratified the treaty he negotiated with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to reduce both nation’s nuclear arsenals, the final major action of a productive postelection Congress.

In the six weeks since the elections he bluntly called a shellacking for his party, Obama has signed bipartisan legislation to prevent a spike in income taxes, cut Social Security taxes for one year and extend long-term jobless benefits through the end of 2011.

Earlier in the day, he placed his signature on another bill that will allow gay members of the armed forces to serve openly, and will soon sign a measure strengthening the safety of the nation’s food supply. He also wrapped up a trade deal with South Korea.

The Senate’s ratification of the arms control treaty was Obama’s top foreign policy priority of the postelection session of Congress, and a victory the administration ground out over the past few weeks by securing the votes of Republicans. The top two GOP senators voted against the pact, although it was not clear how hard they worked to prevent its ratification.

Obama was flying to Hawaii later in the day, joining his wife and the couple’s two children for a holiday.

When he returns, it will be a few days before a new Congress convenes, with a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate with a shrunken Democratic majority.


Word of the Year: austerity

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — As Greece faced a debt crisis, the government passed a series of strict austerity measures, including tax hikes and public-sector pay cuts.

The move sparked angry protests, strikes and riots across the country as unemployment skyrocketed and the crisis spread to other European countries. It also provoked a rush to online dictionaries from those searching for a definition.

Austerity, the 14th-century noun defined as “the quality or state of being austere” and “enforced or extreme economy,” set off enough searches that Merriam-Webster named it as its Word of the Year for 2010, the dictionary’s editors announced Monday.

John Morse, president and publisher of the Springfield, Mass.-based dictionary, said “austerity” saw more than 250,000 searches on the dictionary’s free online tool and came with more coverage of the debt crisis.

“What we look for … what are the words that have had spikes that strike us very much as an anomaly for their regular behaviour,” Morse said. “The word that really qualifies this year for that is ’austerity’.”

Runners-up also announced Monday included “pragmatic,” ”moratorium,“ ”socialism,“ and ”bigot“ — the last word resulted from public uses by former British prime minister Gordon Brown, former CNN host Rick Sanchez and former NPR senior analyst Juan Williams.


Two firefighters killed, 17hurt in blaze

CHICAGO — Chicago Fire Department officials now say 17 firefighters were injured in a blaze that left two dead.

The city’s fire commissioner, Robert Hoff, says every firefighter at the scene on Wednesday “did the best they could to save their brothers.”

Hoff and firefighter’s union chief Tom Ryan spoke at an emotional news conference hours after the blaze.

Ryan says “no matter how much experience you have on the job, a morning like this still takes you by surprise.” He says victims’ families can take solace in knowing the men are heroes.

The men who died were among four firefighters buried in debris when the South Side building’s roof and one wall collapsed.


World Bank freezes Ivory Coast loans

The World Bank said Wednesday it had frozen loans to Ivory Coast as France urged its citizens to leave the West African country amid heightened concerns the nation faced a “real risk” of returning to civil war.

The international community recognizes Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 run-off vote. Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent who refuses to concede defeat and leave the presidency, said late Tuesday that “the international community has declared war on Ivory Coast.”

Gbagbo said in the televised speech that he doesn’t want “any blood to be spilled,” but maintained he was president of the country despite international calls for him to step down. Over the weekend, he ordered all United Nations’ peacekeepers out of the country immediately in an escalation of tensions.

The UN considers Ouattara president and is staying put, raising fears that UN personnel and other foreigners could be targeted in violence as tensions mount. At least 50 people have been killed in recent days, according to the UN.


‘The Fat One’ spreads joy in Spain

MADRID, Spain — Spain’s beloved Christmas lottery sprinkled euro2.3 billion (US$3 billion) in holiday cheer across the country Wednesday, winnings eagerly welcomed by a nation facing 20 per cent unemployment.

The lottery billed as the world’s richest has no single jackpot but operates a complex share-the-wealth system in which thousands of five-digit numbers running from 00000 to 84999 win at least something. It is known as “El Gordo” (The Fat One) and dates back to 1812.

Taxe-free winnings range from the face value of a euro20 ticket to a top prize of euro300,000.

The sweepstakes, which goes on for three hours, informally ushers in the Christmas season.

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