- - Sunday, February 20, 2011

IRELAND

History-making vote shot through with anger

GALWAY | Ireland holds historic elections this week — a ballot that could devastate the party blamed for the country’s dramatic economic reversal and dump it from office after dominating Irish politics for almost 80 years.

The ruling Fianna Fail party, in office for most of the past eight decades, faces defeat in Friday’s poll, as voters vent over Ireland’s rapid dissent from an economic flagship into crisis.

The country has been forced to accept a rescue deal from European neighbors and the International Monetary Fund.

Investors are watching for aftershocks in London, Paris and Berlin.

European banks have billions tied up in Ireland’s troubled financial sector. The current government has guaranteed their money, but Fine Gael — the party tipped to take over from its longtime rival — has said that it is unconscionable “for taxpayers to be asked to beggar themselves to make massive profits for speculators.”

Fine Gael has raised the prospect of forcing some senior creditors to take a cut on their investments, and the possibility of a new dose of red ink being splashed across European balance sheets has spooked the markets at a time when concern persists over the financial health of countries such as Greece and Portugal.

ICELAND

President forces Icesave referendum

REYKJAVIK | Iceland’s president on Sunday triggered a referendum on an updated plan to pay $5 billion to Britain and the Netherlands for debts incurred from the financial crisis, creating new uncertainty over the island’s economic recovery.

Iceland, whose economy and financial system crashed in late 2008, owes the money to Britain and the Netherlands because both countries bailed out domestic savers who lost money in online “Icesave” accounts run by a failed Icelandic bank.

It is the second time President Olafur Grimsson has vetoed an Icesave repayment bill. In the last referendum, a big majority of the country’s roughly 200,000 voters threw out an earlier payment plan, sending negotiations between the three countries back to square one and delaying economic recovery.

Mr. Grimsson said the current parliament was the same as that which had approved the original Icesave deal and that, since then, it had not received a new mandate from the people to decide the issue alone.

He acknowledged that the new repayment terms thrashed out between Iceland, Britain and the Netherlands over months of negotiation were better than the first deal.

GERMANY

Hamburg state election to test Merkel’s party

BERLIN | Germany’s state of Hamburg on Sunday was electing a new parliament in what is a major test for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The latest polls before Sunday’s election indicated her party appeared set to lose power there after 10 years, and a center-left coalition of Social Democrats and the Greens was on track to win the solid majority.

The northern port city used to be a Social Democratic stronghold in the past, and opposition leader Olaf Scholz appeared set to replace conservative Mayor Christoph Ahlhaus.

ITALY

Police capture illegal immigrants

ROME | Italian police on Sunday intercepted a boat carrying 13 illegal immigrants, as European Union border management experts began helping authorities manage the inflow of migrants resulting from mounting turmoil in North Africa.

Police said they spotted the boat several miles off the tiny island of Lampedusa south of Sicily, but did not reveal the nationalities of the migrants.

The past week has seen a sharp spike in migrants attempting to make it into the EU from Tunisia, with some 5,000 brought to Lampedusa after being intercepted by coast guards. On Thursday, 26 Tunisian migrants were stopped.

The wave of immigration comes around a month after a revolution in Tunisia and another just over a week ago in Egypt that unseated their decades-old regimes, heightening social and economic tensions in the North African countries.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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