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PostPosted: Sat Jun 01, 2013 8:06 pm 
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Turkey protests spread after violence in Istanbul over park demolition
by Constanze Letsch
Saturday, 1 June 2013



Turkey has been engulfed by a series of protests across several cities after riot police turned Istanbul's busiest city centre hub into a battleground, deploying tear gas and water cannon against thousands of peaceful demonstrators.

In one of the biggest challenges to the 10-year rule of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demonstrators took to the streets of Ankara, Izmir, Bodrum and several other cities as well as Istanbul to vent their frustration at what is seen to be an increasingly authoritarian administration.

The air of government nervousness was reinforced by the relative lack of mainstream media coverage of the drama in central Istanbul, fuelling speculation that the Erdogan government was leaning on the main television stations to impose a blackout on the ugly scenes. Following several days of dawn police raids on the protesters seeking to occupy Gezi park on Taksim Square in Istanbul city centre, the clashes escalated violently, leaving more than 100 people injured, several of them seriously.

Police went on the rampage against protesters who had been sitting reading books and singing songs. There was widespread criticism of the heavy-handed intervention and of the government, which is committed to demolishing the park to erect a shopping centre. The US state department said: "We certainly support universally peaceful protests, as we would in this case." In Brussels, MEPs called on the EU to act.

What started at the beginning of the week as an environmental protest aimed at saving an Istanbul city centre park from shopping centre developers backed by the government appeared to be snowballing into a national display of anger at the perceived high-handedness of the Erdogan government. "They have declared war on us," said an Istanbul shopkeeper in a back street, as he handed out lemon juice to counter the teargas to protesters. "This is out of all proportion."

"Today is a turning point for the AKP," said Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Istanbul's Bosphorus University. "Erdogan is a very confident and very authoritarian politician, and he doesn't listen to anyone anymore. But he needs to understand that Turkey is no kingdom, and that he cannot rule Istanbul from Ankara all by himself." Ugur Tanyeli, an architecture historian, said: "The real problem is not Taksim, and not the park, but the lack of any form of democratic decision-making process and the utter lack of consensus. We now have a PM who does whatever he wants."

The protests started late on Monday after developers tore up trees to make way for the controversial construction project featuring a shopping centre in nostalgic Ottoman style and building a replica of an old military barracks. Police staged consecutive raids on protesters, using tear gas and water cannon, but the protests grew in scale, with artists, intellectuals and opposition MPs joining the ranks. According to the Istanbul Medical Chamber, at least 100 people were injured during the police raids on Friday. Some sustained injuries when a wall they were trying to climb collapsed as they fled from the tear gas. At least seven people were treated for head wounds. Later on Friday police also used tear gas against protesters in Ankara.

In Istanbul, Sirri Süreyya Önder, an MP from the Kurdish BDP party, was taken to hospital after he was reportedly hit in the shoulder by a tear gas cartridge.

Amnesty International condemned the "use of excessive force" by police. There were reports of a woman having died. In a sign of the tension, amateur video footage showed Turkish military personnel refusing to help the riot police, as well as handing out gas masks to demonstrators. There were also reports that some of the police had switched sides and joined the protests.

With the Erdogan government facing an uncommon popular challenge after 10 years in power, an MP from the governing AK party angered the protesters, tweeting: "It looks like some people needed gas." Sirin Ünal added: "If you go away, you will have a nice day. One has to obey the system."

For the burgeoning protest movement, the park issue is the tip of the iceberg. Another building project, the construction of a bridge spanning the Bosphorus, was launched this week, with Erdogan dismissing public opinion. "They can do whatever they want," he said. "We've made our decision, and we will do as we have decided," he said. He defended the reconstruction of the Ottoman barracks as a matter of "respecting history". Opponents argue the project will destroy one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul for the sake of private profit.

"How can you show respect for something that does not exist?" asked Tanyeli. "We don't even know what the barracks looked like exactly. To say that this project has anything to do with the reconstruction of a historical building is ridiculous. We all know how starved Istanbul is for green space. It needs this park so much more than yet another shopping mall." Several retailers announced they would not open stores in the planned shopping centre. "I would not open a store in a place where blood has been shed," businessman Selami Sari told the Turkish press.

The park protests show signs of escalating into demonstrations against a prime minister who remains popular and dominates national politics, but is seen as increasingly authoritarian. "Turkey is not doing well, not doing well at all," said Coskun Ince after several days protesting. "We have to fight for our rights, and now they deny us the few rights we still have."

The protest was unusual in that it brought together young and old, the rightwing and leftists, and nationalist Turks and Kurds. They complained of issues beyond the planned shopping centre from government policy on the war in neighbouring Syria to new curbs on alcohol and a recent row about kissing in public. "We are fed up," said Cansu Kahvecioglu, a student. "They don't give us any breathing space anymore."

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 01, 2013 8:33 pm 
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Turkish police fire tear gas in worst protests in years
By Ayla Jean Yackley
May 31, 2013

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Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in central Istanbul May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

(Reuters) - Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon on Friday at demonstrators in central Istanbul, wounding scores of people and prompting rallies in other cities in the fiercest anti-government protests in years.

Thousands of demonstrators massed on streets surrounding Istanbul's central Taksim Square, long a venue for political unrest, while protests erupted in the capital, Ankara, and the Aegean coastal city of Izmir. Broken glass and rocks were strewn across a main shopping street near Taksim. Primary school children ran crying from the clouds of tear gas, while tourists caught by surprise scurried to get back to luxury hotels lining the square.

The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). Riot police clashed with tens of thousands of May Day protesters in Istanbul this month. There have also been protests against the government's stance on the conflict in neighboring Syria, a tightening of restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection.

"We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan. ... Even AK Party supporters are saying they have lost their mind, they are not listening to us," said Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, who attended the protest. "This is the beginning of a summer of discontent."

The protest at Taksim's Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up under a government redevelopment plan, but has widened into a broader demonstration against Erdogan's administration. Friday's violence erupted after a dawn police raid on demonstrators who had been camped out for days. "This isn't just about trees anymore, it's about all of the pressure we're under from this government. We're fed up, we don't like the direction the country is headed in," said 18-year-old student Mert Burge, who came to support the protesters after reading on Twitter about the police use of tear gas. "We will stay here tonight and sleep on the street if we have to," he said.

Thousands chanting for the government to resign gathered at a park in the center of Ankara, where police earlier fired tear gas to disperse several dozen opposition supporters trying to reach the AKP headquarters. Protesters also rallied at two locations in Izmir, according to pictures on social media.

EXCESSIVE FORCE

A Turkish woman of Palestinian origin was in a critical condition after being hit by a police gas canister, hospital sources said. The 34-year-old, who doctors had earlier identified as Egyptian, was undergoing an operation after suffering a brain hemorrhage. A total of 12 people, including a pro-Kurdish MP and a Reuters photographer, suffered trauma injuries and hundreds suffered respiratory problems due to tear gas, doctors said. Some people were injured when a wall they were climbing collapsed as they tried to flee clouds of tear gas.

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Riot police use water cannons to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protests at Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Amnesty International said it was concerned by "the use of excessive force" by the police against what had started out as a peaceful protest. Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the European parliament rapporteur on Turkey, also voiced concern. In Washington, the State Department said it was concerned with the number of injuries and was gathering its own information on the incident. "We believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler promised that allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated. Erdogan has overseen a transformation in Turkey during his decade in power, turning its economy from crisis-prone into Europe's fastest-growing. Per-capita income has tripled in nominal terms since his party rose to power. He remains by far Turkey's most popular politician, and is widely viewed as its most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern secular republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago.

DEFIANCE

But Erdogan brooks little dissent. Hundreds of military officers have been jailed for plotting a coup against him in recent years. Academics, journalists, politicians and others face trial on similar charges. He has made no secret of his ambition to run for the presidency in elections next year when his term as prime minister ends, increasing opposition dismay.

"These people will not bow down to you" read one banner at the Gezi Park protest, alongside a cartoon of Erdogan wearing an Ottoman emperor's turban. Postings on social media including Twitter, where "Occupy Gezi" - a reference to protests in New York and London last year - was a top-trending hashtag, and Facebook said similar demonstrations were planned for the next few days in other Turkish cities including Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Bursa.

"Kiss protests," in which demonstrators are urged to lock lips, had already been planned for Istanbul and Ankara this weekend after subway officials were reported to have admonished a couple for kissing in public a week ago.

Erdogan is pushing ahead with a slew of multibillion-dollar projects he sees as embodying Turkey's emergence as a major power. They include a shipping canal, a giant mosque and a third Istanbul airport billed to be one of the world's biggest. Speaking a few miles (km) from Gezi Park at the launch on Wednesday of construction of a third bridge linking Istanbul's European and Asian shores, Erdogan vowed to pursue plans to redevelop Taksim Square.

Image
Turkish riot police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Architects, leftist parties, academics, city planners and others have long opposed the plans, saying they lacked consultation with civic groups and would remove one of central Istanbul's few green spaces.

(Additional reporting by Murad Sezer, Osman Orsal, Umit Bektas, Can Sezer, Ece Toksabay, Asli Kandemir, Humeyra Pamuk and Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Peter Cooney)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 02, 2013 4:43 am 
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Istanbul park protests sow the seeds of a Turkish spring
by Richard Seymour
Friday, 31 May 2013



This morning, Turkish police surrounded protesters in Taksim Gezi park, the central square in Istanbul, blocked all exits and attacked them with chemical sprays and teargas.

An Occupy-style movement has taken off in Istanbul. The ostensible issue of conflict is modest. Protesters started gathering in the park on 27 May, to oppose its demolition as part of a redevelopment plan. But this is more than an environmental protest. It has become a lightning conductor for all the grievances accumulated against the government.

Police have waited until the early hours of each morning to attack, just as police in the US did when dealing with Occupy protesters. They set fire to the tents in which protesters were sleeping and showered them with pepper spray and teargas. A student had to undergo surgery after injuries to his genitals. The occupiers adapted and started to wear homemade gas masks. More importantly, they called for solidarity. In response to yesterday's assault, thousands of protesters turned up, including opposition politicians. But this morning's attack allowed no defence or escape. The park, and the area around it, is still closed, and still under clouds of gas.

In April, a Justice and Development party (AKP) leader warned that the liberals who had supported them in the last decade would no longer do so. This was as good a sign as any that the repression would increase, as the neoliberal Islamist party forced through its modernisation agenda.

The AKP represents a peculiar type of conservative populism. Its bedrock, enriched immensely in the last decade, is the conservative Muslim bourgeoisie that first emerged as a result of Turgut Özal's economic policies in the 1980s. But, while denying it is a religious party, it has used the politics of piety to gain a popular base and to strengthen the urban right wing. It has spent more than a decade in government building up its authority. The privatisation process has led to accelerated inequality, accompanied by repression. But it has also attracted floods of international investment, leading to growth rates of close to 5% a year. This has enabled the regime to pay off the last of its IMF loans, so that it was even in a position to offer the IMF $5bn to help with the Eurozone crisis in 2012.

In the meantime, the AKP has gradually consolidated its support within the state apparatus and media, and no longer needs its liberal backers. The Turkish military leadership has been compelled to accept the Islamists, having suffered a significant loss of power relative to other branches of the state such as the police and judiciary. While the erosion of the military's power should be a gain for democracy, journalists have also ended up in jail on charges of plotting coup d'etats.

Of course, there is a history of coup plotting. And the government charged 86 people with plotting to bring down the government in 2008, as part of its investigation into the Turkish "deep state". But it has been able to use this fear to conflate all opposition with anti-democratic instigation, and crush it ruthlessly. During this time, its vote has risen from 34.28% to 49.90%. It has also demonstrated confidence in the way it has attempted to deal with the Kurdish question, and in its regional strategy. The government embarked on significant new negotiations with the Kurdish Workers party (PKK) in 2009, partly because it wants to forge a lucrative relationship with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq.

Under the AKP, Turkey has been increasing its relative autonomy from traditional supporters in the White House and Tel Aviv, forging close relations with Iran, Hezbollah and even – until recently – President Assad of Syria. This has been interpreted, hysterically, as "neo-Ottomanism". It is simply an assertion of Turkey's new power. Thus strengthened, the government is on the offensive. It has never needed the left or the labour movement, which it has repressed. It no longer needs the liberals, as its attacks on women's reproductive rights, and its imposition of alcohol-free zones, show.

This is the context in which a struggle over a small park in a congested city centre has become an emergency for the regime, and the basis for a potential Turkish spring.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:50 am 
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Vietnamese police break up anti-China protest
2 June 2013
By CHRIS BRUMMITT

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Nationalist protestors hold up banners on Sunday, June 2, 2013, demonstrating Chinese territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Chris Brummitt)

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- Police detained about 15 anti-China protesters Sunday during a march in the Vietnamese capital that showed the domestic pressure the government faces when dealing with Beijing's muscular approach to territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Scuffles broke out as police hauled ringleaders or especially vocal protesters into buses during the rally, a rare show of dissent in the tightly controlled one-party state.

Some members of the ruling Communist Party fear that popular anger over China, its ideological ally and biggest trading partner, could easily bleed into a broader protest movement against its rule. The party already faces growing calls for reform because of economic malaise, corruption and the free spread of information critical toward it over the Internet. Sunday's protest was advertised via Internet blogs and Facebook pages.

It took place in the heart of Hanoi, around Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular Sunday morning spot for locals and foreign tourists to walk and sip coffee in cafes. "Down with the henchmen of China, down with the traitors," one detainee shouted through the window of a government bus taking him away.

Authorities warned via loudspeakers that those marching should disperse, but also said the government was determined to defend its sovereignty against China. Uniformed and plainclothes security officers outnumbered the approximately 150 protesters, who included men, women and children, some holding banners calling China a "bully." It was unclear whether those detained would be charged. Typically, people detained at protests like this are released after a few hours.

"The government is not doing enough, it must do more (against China)," said Nguyen Quang A, a well-known economist who took part in the march. Vietnam and China have long sparred over who owns the South China Sea, a dispute that also involves the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Over the last two years, America's diplomatic tilt to Southeast Asia and energy-hungry China's growing assertiveness in the waters has focused international attention on the issue.

This past week, the Vietnamese government alleged a Chinese vessel had rammed into a Vietnamese fishing boat, damaging it. China said it had done nothing wrong. The deputies of the Communist Party-controlled national assembly urged the government to take stronger action to defend the country's sovereignty and protect its fishermen. In Singapore on Sunday, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of National Defense Col.-Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh told a security conference that the region has not enjoyed stability and called for protection for fishermen and to "avoid the use of force against the fishermen by all means."

In the summer of 2011, there were two months of weekly anti-Chinese protests in Hanoi, an unprecedented show of popular anger in the country. There also were demonstrations against Beijing in 2012, but police broke them up, gradually using more force as it became clear they were becoming a source of domestic opposition to the party.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:02 pm 
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Tiny Qatar uses riches to forge key regional role
24 March 2013

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Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani arrives to attend a preparatory meeting with Arab foreign ministers ahead of the annual Arab League summit in the Qatari capital Doha on March 24, 2013.

AFP - Qatar, the small Gulf state that on Tuesday hosts an Arab summit, has become a key regional player thanks to its support for Arab uprisings and the marginalisation of traditional heavyweights.

But the "chequebook diplomacy" of this energy-rich state -- a staunch US ally -- and its backing for Islamists who have managed to seize power in some countries rocked by the Arab Spring have triggered criticism.

The emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is "obsessed by an ambition to leave his heirs a country that counts on the world map after it was practically unknown only 20 years ago," said Olivier Da Lage, author of the recently published French book "Qatar: the new masters of the game." "Qatar's place, disproportionate to its size and population, is explained notably by its considerable financial capabilities... and the extended absence of the historical actors in the Arab world," he said in reference to Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia.

Qatar has a population of less than two million people, mostly foreign expatriates lured by work opportunities in the desert state that sits on the world's third largest natural gas reserves and 13th proven oil reserves. Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, argued that Qatar is not a unique case in history of a small state becoming a regional power, citing Venice among other examples, in a study published in December. "But this influence poses a question on the impact of the media and the power of money," he said of Qatar's Al-Jazeera news channel which has played a pivotal role in the coverage of Arab Spring uprisings.

In Tunisia, the ruling Islamist Ennahda party is accused of being funded by Doha with the aim of establishing an Islamic state. "Doha sees in forming an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood by using chequebook diplomacy a way to create a regional base with economic and political influence in the Middle East and beyond," wrote Egyptian French-language weekly Al-Ahram Hebdo in an editorial on March 20. "The massive financial support awarded by Qatar to Egypt," including $5 billion and a pledge to invest $18 billion more over five years, stirs fears of the "domination this could give the small emirate in defining and formulating the internal and foreign politics of Egypt," it said.

Qatar is reaping the fruits of its relations with Islamists whom it has always supported, providing shelter to their leaders when they were wanted opponents of regimes in their home countries. It is now the strongest ally of the new governments in Tunisia and Egypt. In Libya, Doha took a spearhead position in the fight against the regime of the late dictator Moamer Kadhafi, sending arms and men to support the rebels while its warplanes, under NATO leadership, swooped on Kadhafi's forces.

Encouraged by the fall of Kadhafi, who was killed by rebels, Qatar called for the arming and financing of the rebellion against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Through its powerful Al-Jazeera news channel, Qatar has realised that "it could be a key player in the new region in transition, instead of being the protector of an old order in agony," said Salem.

However, Qatar's diplomatic role remains mainly aimed at "serving the political and economic interests of Qatar itself," said Amel Boubekeur, a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Doha.

Source: france24.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:20 pm 
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Welfare cuts hit the hungry on Hungary's eastern edge
25 March 2013

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A man prepares lunch with his children at their home in Miskolc, Hungary on April 22, 2012.

AFP - Tucked away on Hungary's eastern fringe, the village of Gemzse lies in one of the European Union's poorest regions.

The demise of communism there in 1989 saw factories close and, since then, life has become a struggle for many as no jobs and little opportunity add up to a bleak future. EU statistics show a poverty rate of 13 percent in Hungary, but the figure falls far short of revealing the depths of desperation plaguing some communities. In a 2012 report Hungary's National Health Institute revealed that over 14 percent of Hungarian children suffer from malnutrition.

The situation is most alarming in the northeast, where for many families, going hungry is the norm. Nationally, unemployment runs at around 11 percent, but in the northeast it is over 30 percent, and reaches 80 or even 100 percent in the most remote villages, such as Gemzse. After 1989 jobs provided by the state railway company MAV, as well as in local agricultural cooperatives gradually disappeared, while a steel mill in nearby Ozd closed down in the early 1990s with the loss of thousands of jobs.

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A family prepares lunch at their home in Miskolc, Hungary on April 22, 2012.

"There is a bit of day labour, especially in the summer in the tobacco fields. So I can earn seven to eight euros ($9-10) per day if there is work. But in winter, there is nothing here," Ferenc Balogh, an ethnic Roma, told AFP in Gemzse. "We live on a family allowance, but it is not enough. So we borrow money from loan sharks. The problem is that when they lend us 10,000 forints (33 euros, $43) we have to repay 20,000. Unfortunately it's our only way to continue living," his wife Erzsebet said.

To prevent government welfare benefits being spent in bars, the payments are often issued in the form of vouchers. But not all shops accept the vouchers, and the most deprived -- without cars, or money for public transport to travel to larger towns where the coupons can be spent -- often sell their vouchers, typically at a third of their value, to loan sharks.

The gravest consequence of this grinding poverty is that children routinely go hungry. The National Food Bank says that without its help 210,000 families in Hungary would struggle to put food on the table, a 30-percent increase from just last year. Since a law passed in 2011, children living in families where the income per household is less than 37,000 forints (130 euros) per month receive free school meals.

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Laundry is laid out to try in front of a poor family's home in Miskolc, Hungary on April 22, 2012.

In Gemzse, the local school, run by the Lutheran church, provides three meals a day to pupils. "In our school, most of the children are from families in a particularly precarious situation -- they have no access to good quality food, or enough food," says Istvan Molnar, a teacher. "We really become aware of this after weekends or holidays, when we see how hungry the children are. During the first lesson, they can't concentrate. They are just waiting for the first break and their first meal of the day," he said.

This desperate situation has provoked a wave of street protests across the country. The outcry has targeted deep social welfare cuts, including a drastic reduction in unemployment benefit, made by the conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Last month, around 1,000 people took part in a "Hunger March", a two-week-long 300-kilometre trek across the country which culminated in a protest outside the Budapest parliament.

"If you are poor, it's as if you don't exist," said Imre Toth, one of the organisers. "The state pretends that everything is just fine. And yet, parts of the east and the south are much worse off than the rest of the country," he said.

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An elderly woman and her grandson sits outside their home in Miskolc, Hungary on April 22, 2012.

With cuts to social spending and laws that target the homeless, austerity measures here are hitting people already living in poverty the hardest. But amid a recession which saw the Hungarian economy shrink by 1.7 percent last year and with a national debt at over 80 percent of GDP, the government is looking for savings wherever they can find them -- despite the fact that it is the country's poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most.

Source: france24.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:22 pm 
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This topic is continued under Chess Room 2.

:smile: :happy0192:

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