Chirac ordered to stand trial

He may be one of France’s most popular former presidents, but Jacques Chirac has a rendezvous with justice.

Two years after leaving the Elysee Palace, the 76-year-old has been ordered to stand trial on embezzlement charges dating back to when he was the mayor of Paris.

This is the first time a former French head of state has been put on trial on such charges.

When Chirac handed over power to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 he lost immunity from prosecution. Sarkozy has refused to comment on the latest development.

French constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne said: “This demonstrates once and for all that under the current constitutional system French presidents have immunity, but they don’t have impunity … if there is a court case, and of course we can normally start a case according to common law once they leave the Elysee.”

Judge Xaviere Simioni made her ruling over accusations that Paris City Hall gave contracts for non-existent jobs as political favours. Chirac denies any wrongdoing. His office says he is “confident and determined” to prove before a court that none of the jobs in question were fictitious.

Observers say it is still not certain that Chirac will go on trial, because previously the Paris public prosecutor had previously recommended that the case be dropped. He now has five days to appeal the judge’s order.

It is reported that nine other people have also been ordered to stand trial alongside Chirac.

He was Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 95, and then served as president until 2007. Any hopes he might have had for a stress-free retirement, working for his charitable foundation, seem to have been dashed. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Socialists to rule Portugal without coalition

It is back to business for Portugal’s new Parliament, holding its first session after a general election in September.

The Prime Minister says he and his Socialists will rule on their own, despite losing an absolute majority in the assembly.

Jose Socrates said he has held talks with other parties but none are interested in forming a coalition.

“All the other political parties have declared they don’t even want to start a dialogue of long lasting commitment that could contribute to reinforcing political instability,” he added.

The first order of business was a vote to re-elect Socialist Jaime Gama as Speaker.

But the real test of the new regime will come towards the end of the month, when it puts its programme guidelines to the vote.

The opposition has vowed not to be obstructive, but whether it will succeed in ignoring personal interest for stable government remains to be seen.

Cameron sets his stall out for election run in

Britain’s conservative opposition leader has outlined his vision for the country in his last party conference speech before a general election.

euronews channel-David Cameron enjoys a healthy lead in opinion polls with a maximum of eight months left until voting day.

He promised to reduce Britain’s spiralling public debt by shrinking the role of the state.

He told his party conference in Manchester:

“We will need to confront Britain’s culture of irresponsibility and that will be tough for many people. We will have to tear down Labour’s big government bureaucracy, ripping up its time-wasting, money-draining, responsibility-sapping nonsense.”

Cameron remained vague on what he would do if the EU’s Lisbon Treaty came into force before an election but indicated he wanted a smaller role for Brussels in British politics.

“Well here is a progressive reform plan for Europe: let us work together on the things where the EU can really help, like combatting climate change, fighting global poverty and spreading free and fair trade. But let us return to democratic and accountable politics those powers the EU should not have,” he said.

William Hague, who would be Cameron’s Foreign Secretary in government, earlier made the case for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but without clarifying what would happen if the treaty was already in place.

With election victory at stake, Cameron is keen to keep the eurosceptics in his party firmly on his side.

Posters inflame minaret debate in Switzerland

Posters inflame minaret debate in SwitzerlandA poster which critics say incites hatred of Muslims is provoking intense debate in Switzerland.

It is part of a campaign supported by the anti-immigration Popular Party to ban the building of minarets, the towers from which Muslims are called to prayer.

The move will be put to a nationwide vote at the end of November. A federal anti-racism body has condemned the poster and some cities have banned it.

There were mixed views in Geneva. One man said:
“I support banning this kind of poster. They just stir up trouble in the coutry.”

Another said: “We’re a democracy, I don’t think a ban is necessary. But people have to use their intelligence and see what’s behind the message.”

“Is it normal to ban a poster during an election campaign?” a woman was asked. She answered: “If it goes beyond acceptable limits, yes.”

Reflecting the division on the streets some cities have banned the image while others have not, claiming that would curtail free speech.

At the moment polls suggest the move against the construction of minarets will be defeated. But there is a large number of undecided voters so the vote could be close.

Berlusconi rejects immunity ruling as ‘farce’

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has dismissed the loss of his legal immunity as a politically-motivated farce. Italy’s highest court said that a law passed by Berlusconi’s government protecting him from legal action violates the constitution. Berlusconi retorted that the ruling was driven by politics:

euronews channel-“We have a minority of leftist ‘red’ judges who use the law in their political struggle,” he said. “72 per cent of the media in Italy is left-wing. The cases against me they want to re-open are utterly false. I am going to have to spend some of my working day ridiculing my accusers. But these sort of things give me a buzz, as they do all Italians. Viva Italia, viva Berlusconi!”

The Constitutional Court ruled that the immunity legislation violates the principle that all Italians are equal under the law. The prime minister’s lawyers had argued that he should be considered ‘first above equals’ but the judges rejected that.

The controversial law halted all cases against Berlusconi, including one where he is accused of bribing a British lawyer to give false testimony to protect his business dealings.

The leader of the opposition, Dario Franceschini said:

“The Constitutional Court has simply re-established a principle that had been violated: that all Italian citizens are equal before the law. Everyone is equal before the law, even the most powerful.”

The ruling comes as Berlusconi watches his until-now good approval ratings slide because of a series of sex scandals, including prostitutes being invited to parties at his home. One of the girls went public with explicit recordings of her time spent with the prime minister.

Down to business as Greek government sworn in

Greece’s new socialist government has been sworn-in in a solemn ceremony in Athens.

euronews channel-Prime Minister George Papandreou’s appointments to key cabinet posts have struck the right note with analysts.

His pared-down administration has been welcomed as the right blend of expertise and experience to tackle the challenges facing the country.

The list includes senior members of his PASOK party and fresh names with international experience. He has also overhauled the structure of the cabinet, splitting the finance and economy jobs but joining the environment and energy portfolios into one.

Observers say it is a clear signal that fighting the economic crisis is the government’s top priority, something Papandreou highlighted on the campaign trail.

The economy ministry has gone to one of his long-time advisors Louka Katseli, while George Papaconstantinou, a younger generation
economist, has been given the finance portfolio.
Both are seen by markets as capable hands.

One of their first challenges will be to convince Brussels to give Greece more time to bring its budget deficit in line with EU rules.

Papendreou’s government takes shape

euronews channel-Greece’s new Prime Minister Georges Papandreou has wasted no time naming his economy and finance ministers, as he faces a ballooning deficit and soaring youth unemployment. Papendreou’s socialist Pasok party won last Sunday’s election with a comfortable majority in parliament, ousting conservative prime minister Costas Karamanlis.

57-year old Louka Katseli comes in as economy minister.She served as economic adviser to Papandreou’s father, Andreas, when he was prime minister in the 1990s. The post of finance minister has been given to 49-year old Georges Papaconstantinou, a close adviser to the new prime minister. He has played a leading role in the new face of Pasok.

One of the first challenges for the government is to draft next year’s budget by November. Greece’s deficit is estimated to be running at more than six percent. This is double the Euro zone’s limit of three percent. By splitting the ministry of national economy and finance in two, Papandreou has signalled that his government’s top priority is fighting the crisis.