- - Wednesday, March 21, 2012


LONDON — Britain’s finance minister has cut the rate of tax the country’s wealthiest citizens will pay, but he insisted the rich will pay more through a raft of measures to prevent tax avoidance and a punitive new charge on expensive property sales.

In his annual budget statement Wednesday, George Osborne said he was cutting the top rate by 10 percent by April next year, arguing that the original higher rate did not yield as much as expected - partly because the rich were able to avoid tax.

Mr. Osborne sought to deflect any criticism that any largesse was confined to the wealthy by announcing a big hike in the level that Britons start paying tax to $14,500. The cost of that measure will cost the Treasury about $5.3 billion in 2013-14.


Security Council backs Annan’s Syria peace plan

The U.N. Security Council sent a strong and united message to the Syrian government and opposition Wednesday to immediately implement proposals by international envoy Kofi Annan to end the yearlong bloodshed.

A nonbinding statement approved by the 15 council members and read at a formal meeting spells out Mr. Annan’s proposals, which include a cease-fire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive political talks “to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people.”

In a bid to win support from Russia and China, which twice have vetoed European and U.S.-backed resolutions condemning President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protesters, France watered down the statement to eliminate possible consideration of “further measures,” which could include sanctions or military action.

Instead, the presidential statement now asks Mr. Annan to update the council regularly on the progress of his mission and says that “in the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.”


President will allow monitors for April vote

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — Myanmar’s president confirmed Wednesday that his country will allow some foreign election observers, including from the United States and Europe, to monitor next month’s polls, considered a crucial test of reforms he has taken in the military-dominated country.

President Thein Sein, making an official visit to Cambodia, said each of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would be allowed to send two official delegates to watch the April 1 by-elections, according to Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

It was not immediately clear what sort of access would be granted to the observers, but their invitation is considered a breakthrough.


Amnesty International denounces jailing of political prisoners

HAVANA — Amnesty International on Wednesday placed four jailed Cubans on its global list of political prisoners, the only inmates on the island to have such a designation, and denounced the communist government for a campaign of intimidation and detentions targeting the opposition.

The report, released just days ahead of a visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI, said the human rights situation on the island “has further deteriorated” with thousands of short-term express detentions meant to cow the small dissident community.

It said detainees are threatened and sometimes beaten before release.


Gadhafi spy chief to remain in custody

NOUAKCHOTT — A senior member of Mauritania’s government said Wednesday that the country will not hand over Moammar Gadhafi’s ex-spy chief for trial in Libya, directly contradicting the claim hours earlier by Libya that said Mauritania had said it would hand over Abdullah al-Senoussi.

“Mauritania has given no assurances whatsoever to Libya regarding handing over al-Senoussi,” said the official, who is close to the negotiations and who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussion.

He said Libya went ahead with the declaration earlier Wednesday in order to “force Mauritania’s hand” and pressure it to hand over al-Senoussi, even though it is unclear whether he would receive a fair trial in his home country where Gadhafi was killed by the mob that captured him.

Gadhafi’s former intelligence chief is accused of attacking civilians during the uprising in Libya last year and of the 1989 bombing of a French airliner.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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