- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2010

FRANCE

Storms kill 51 in Western Europe

PARIS | A violent late-winter storm with fierce rain and hurricane-strength winds ripped across western Europe on Sunday, battering France and four other countries, leaving at least 51 people dead.

The storm, named Xynthia, was the worst in France since 1999 when 90 people died. Prime Minister Francois Fillon held an emergency Cabinet meeting and afterward called the storm a “national catastrophe.”

Many of the at least 45 victims in France drowned, while others died when hit by parts of buildings or trees and branches that were ripped off by the wind. At least a dozen people were missing Sunday and 59 others were injured.



Three people died in Spain, one was killed in Germany and a child was crushed to death in Portugal. The storm also hit Belgium, with one death reported there. Although Britain was not hit, London’s Thames Barrier — the capital’s flood defense — was closed Sunday morning as a precaution.

GREECE

More steps on debt expected soon

ATHENS | Greece may soon announce new steps to cut its budget deficit, a government minister said Sunday, amid signs that Athens might be nearing a deal with European Union governments to ease the Greek debt crisis.

Economy Minister Louka Katseli said Prime Minister George Papandreou would review Greece’s fiscal plans, after an EU mission to Athens last week decided that the country’s austerity measures were not strong enough to reassure financial markets.

EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn was due to visit Athens on Monday for talks with Greek officials about the crisis, which has rocked Europe’s debt market and undermined investors’ confidence in the common euro currency.

The market has been speculating that Mr. Rehn’s visit, if successful, could move EU governments closer to announcing some form of emergency aid for Greece in exchange for a pledge by Athens to take fresh budget steps.

SWITZERLAND

Atom smasher back to work

GENEVA | Operators of the world’s largest atom smasher restarted their massive machine Sunday in a run-up to experiments probing secrets of the universe, spokeswoman Christine Sutton said.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) sent low-energy beams of protons in both directions around the 17-mile tunnel housing the Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border at Geneva, she said.

After a cautious trial period, CERN plans to ramp up the energy of the beams to unprecedented levels and start record-setting collisions of protons by late March.

The restart follows a 2½ month winter shutdown during which scientists made improvements and checked out the smasher’s ability to collide protons at energies three times greater than has ever been achieved previously.

The new collisions are expected to shatter the subatomic particles and reveal still smaller fragments and forces than previously achieved on any collider, including the previous record holder — the Tevatron at Fermilab outside Chicago.

BRITAIN

Tory leader Cameron sees close contest

LONDON | Britain’s main opposition leader David Cameron acknowledged Sunday the country’s looming national election will likely be a closer contest than predicted, but vowed to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown and win office.

Addressing a final major conference of his Conservative Party before the election in the southern coastal city of Brighton, Mr. Cameron promised to quickly reduce Britain’s rocketing national debt, reform schools and cut immigration.

Britain must hold an election by June 3, but Mr. Brown has not yet announced when it will take place. Many experts expect the poll to be held on May 6 — already the scheduled date for town-hall elections.

Though Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives have led Mr. Brown’s governing Labor in opinion polls for more than two years, the gap between the parties has narrowed in recent weeks. An Ipsos-Mori poll published last week put the Conservatives five percentage points ahead, down from 17 points in a survey by the same pollster in December.

SPAIN

Top ETA leader caught in France

MADRID | The leader of the armed Basque separatist group ETA was caught Sunday in northern France, the Spanish government said, in the latest blow to a group weakened by 32 arrests in just two months.

Ibon Gogeascoechea, wanted for trying to kill Spain’s King Juan Carlos in 1997, was caught along with two other senior ETA rebels in a joint Spanish-French dawn raid near the small town of Cahan in Normandy, the Spanish and French officials said.

Mr. Gogeascoechea was the fifth top ETA figure to be caught since 2008 and his arrest was just one of a wave of detentions this year, which has also seen the seizure of two tons of explosives, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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