- - Sunday, November 20, 2011

BRITAIN

Bishops attack welfare reforms

LONDON — Eighteen Church of England bishops have signed an open letter published Sunday criticizing planned welfare reforms, in a rare intervention by the religious establishment in politics.

In a letter to the Observer newspaper, the bishops said that plans to cap the amount any household can claim in benefits at $790 a week risked pushing vulnerable children into poverty.

“The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice,” they wrote.

“We feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents.

“Such an impact is profoundly unjust.”

The Children’s Society charity has warned that the cap could make more than 80,000 children homeless.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was formed in May 2010 and pledged to push through tough spending cuts to reduce a record deficit, but the measures have sparked protests and fierce criticism.

The leader of the world’s Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, backed the letter, a spokeswoman said, although he did not sign it. A source close to the archbishop said he does not sign open letters.

ITALY

Poll: New government has record support

ROME — Italy’s new technocrat government, led by Mario Monti, has a near 80 percent approval rate as it embarks on the task of resuscitating the country’s economy, a new polled showed Sunday.

The incoming administration won support from 78.6 percent of those questioned for the Sunday edition of the left-wing daily La Repubblica.

That figure rose to an even more impressive 83.8 percent for Mr. Monti himself in the Demos poll taken on Nov. 17 and 18.

Economic experts and political commentators say the soft-spoken but authoritative technocrat has impressed an audience tired of his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi’s histrionics, which failed to stave off market pressure.

“A week has been enough for the mood of public opinion to switch from depression to euphoria,” the pollsters said in their commentary, speaking of an “unprecedented majority” of support in postwar Italy.

SWITZERLAND

Activists plan igloo camp at elite Alpine meeting

GENEVA — Activists inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement say they will follow the world’s political and business elite to their annual Alpine retreat in Switzerland in January.

Left-wing groups in Switzerland say their plans include building an igloo camp outside the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

The president of Switzerland’s Young Socialists party, David Roth, told the Associated Press that an open invitation was issued to activists around the world via social-networking sites Sunday.

Mr. Roth said the aim of the protest will be to draw attention to what he called the “undemocratic nature” of the Jan. 25-29 forum attended by heads of state and industry.

Activists have yet to receive permission from Davos authorities to stage the protest.

BRITAIN

Poll: Confidence sliding on British economy

LONDON — Economic confidence among British voters has slumped, a poll out Sunday showed, with the majority believing that the economy will show no signs of improvement any time soon.

The survey by pollsters ComRes for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror newspapers found that 23 percent thought the economy would pick up soon, down from 67 percent in June 2009.

Some 55 percent thought it would not, up from 27 percent, while 22 percent did not express any opinion.

Asked whether the loss of hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs is a price worth paying to reduce Britain’s budget deficit, 29 percent agreed and 51 percent disagreed.

Forty-eight percent said that in most cases they had sympathy for people going on strike against public spending cuts.

The same percentage disagreed that it is better to let government borrowing go on rising than to allow more youth unemployment, with 22 percent agreeing.

Britain’s economic outlook darkened Wednesday after data showing 1 million youngsters out of work for the first time and as the Bank of England slashed its growth forecasts, fearing more eurozone woe.

The total number of jobless jumped by 129,000 to a 17-year high of 2.62 million, a 15-year peak of 8.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the economy now is expected to grow by no more than 1 percent in 2011 and 2012.

From wire dispatches and staff reports