Archive for March, 2012


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Mastercard and Visa logoThe card companies said customers would not be responsible for fraudulent purchases

Visa, Mastercard and Discover have warned that credit card holders’ personal information could be at risk after a security breach.

The firms said there had been “no breach” of its own system, instead blaming a third party.

Security blog KrebsOnSecurity, which first reported the story, said industry sources believed more than 10 million cards may have been compromised.

Reports suggested the stolen details had been obtained in New York.

The Wall Street Journal quoted its own industry sources as saying card-processing firm Global Payments was the company that suffered the breach. Shares in the company fell by more than 9% on Friday.

Global Payments has not responded to requests for comment.

Concern

None of the three companies, which are the three of the largest credit card processors would confirm how many customers were affected.

Visa and Mastercard, also used for debit cards of major US banks, said they had notified banks of the breach.

Discover Financial Services said it was monitoring accounts and would reissue cards if necessary.

In a statement, Mastercard said: “[We are] concerned whenever there is any possibility that cardholders could be inconvenienced and we continue to both monitor this event and take steps to safeguard account information.

“If cardholders have any concerns about their individual accounts, they should contact their issuing financial institution.”

Visa echoed Mastercard’s statement, emphasising that its customers are not responsible for fraudulent purchases.

Gartner analyst Avivah Litan said she believed the breach was related to a taxi garage in New York City.

“So if you’ve paid a NYC cab in the last few months with your credit or debit card – be sure to check your card statements for possible fraud,” she said.

 

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Brian Madderson of the Retail Motor Industry group: ”This government created a crisis where one didn’t exist”

Queues for petrol are easing after unions announced there would be no strike over Easter, motoring organisations say.

The government earlier changed its advice to drivers saying it was no longer urgent to top up petrol tanks, following two days of panic buying.

There have been some reports to the BBC of continuing shortages at a few petrol stations.

But retail figures suggest demand for petrol waned from Thursday to Friday.

The AA described “a rapidly improving picture at fuel stations”.

A spokesman said: “The advice for drivers is to resume your normal buying patterns and to adhere to regulations on how much fuel you can carry and store.”

The RAC motoring group also said it was “business as usual”.

“People should buy fuel as and when they need it – there is no shortage and panic buying should be avoided,” a spokeswoman said.

Awaiting deliveries

Demand for fuel appeared to be dropping – with unleaded petrol sales down from 172% above normal on Thursday to 57% above normal on Friday, according to independent retailers’ group RMI Petrol.

Diesel sales were down from 77% above normal on Thursday to 29% above normal on Friday.

Petrol station customer: “It’s quite mixed messages really”

RMI chairman Brian Madderson told the BBC he hoped full petrol services could be resumed “by Monday, maybe Tuesday of next week”.

But he added that panic buying was “still rife” in some areas of the country.

“I’ve just been to a site in Kent this afternoon – they got a tanker load in this morning and they are still selling fuel at 100% more than they would do on a normal Saturday.”

The BBC has also had reports on Saturday of some queues and shortages at petrol stations in Leeds, Egham in Surrey, Bromley in south-east London, Finchampstead in Berkshire and St Albans in Hertfordshire.

In Guildford, Surrey, one petrol station is refusing to sell motorists any more than £25 worth of fuel.

Motoring experts now warn of a two to three-day backlog as haulers attempt to refuel petrol stations.

A BP spokesperson said there had been a reduction in demand on the forecourts but it still had a few sites which had completely run out of stock and were awaiting deliveries.

‘Shambolic’ situation

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Petrol and diesel are the lifeblood – the oxygen – of the economy. And this narrow-minded view (the government) have that the only way is up for fuel duty is actually killing the patient”

Peter Carroll of Fair Fuel UK

Meanwhile, several Labour MP’s have called for Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to resign over comments he made advising storing petrol in jerrycans.

A York woman, who suffered severe burns while decanting petrol at home, remains critically ill in hospital.

Although a strike by fuel tanker drivers over Easter was out of the question as of Saturday, the threat of future industrial action was not yet over.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said the union was focused on next week’s talks with distribution companies through the reconciliation service Acas – but this did not mean it had backed down.

Acas said unions and fuel bosses would not meet until after Monday but said it was “pleased” that Unite was ready to start substantive talks as soon as possible.

An Acas spokesperson said: “We are meeting all of the employers involved in the dispute on Monday to complete our exploratory talks with them.

“We hope that more formal talks involving both Unite and the employers will start as soon as possible after Monday.”

Speaking to the BBC, the head of Unite, Len McCluskey, condemned the government’s “shambolic handling of the whole situation”.

He also called for the prime minister to refute accusations the government had “deliberately” caused the dispute.

When asked why the union had failed to announce sooner that there would be no Easter strike, Mr McCluskey said: “We did it as early as we possibly could”.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “The government has always been clear this is about doing everything possible to protect the country from a potentially crippling strike, and not about playing politics.

“We urge Unite to negotiate with the employers, and to make clear there will be no strike.”

Peter Carroll of Fair Fuel UK said the government’s advice “should have been to keep calm and carry on because there wasn’t a strike”.

He said the main crisis in the UK was “the price of petrol and diesel”, which the government was failing to address.

“Petrol and diesel are the lifeblood – the oxygen – of the economy. And this narrow-minded view they have that the only way is up for fuel duty is actually killing the patient.”

 

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First deputy prime minister, government spokeswoman and minister of the prime minister"s office Soraya Saenz de Santamaria (C), Spain"s Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism Jose Manuel Soria (R) and Spain"s Minister of Treasury and Civil Services Cristobal Montoro Romero

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said “serious efforts” were needed

Spain is cutting 27bn euros ($36bn; £22.5bn) from its budget this year as part of one of the toughest austerity drives in its history.

Changes will include freezing public sector workers’ salaries and reducing departmental budgets by 16.9%.

The government says it will raise 12.3bn euros this year, aided by an increase in tax for large companies.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the nation was in an “extreme situation”.

“Our top priority is to clean up public accounts,” she said.

“This is a moment that demands serious efforts to reduce spending but also structural reforms to cause the economy to grow and create jobs.”

But economists are questioning whether the cuts will be enough to satisfy Spain’s European partners.

‘Insufficient’ cuts

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Key points

  • Ministries’ budgets cut by up to 50%
  • Civil servants’ wages frozen
  • Electricity bills up 7% and gas up 5%
  • Unemployment benefit frozen
  • No rise in VAT
  • Pensions to rise in line with inflation
  • Corporation tax revenue to rise by reducing deductions companies can make
  • Amnesty on tax evasion in return for 10% fee

Last month Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy agreed with the European Commission to reduce Spain’s deficit from 8.5% to 5.3% of GDP in 2012.

Javier Diaz Gimenez, professor of economics at IESE Business School in Madrid, said: “This [budget] seems to be non-credible.

“They will not be making the 5.3% target agreed with Brussels, because the cuts are insufficient given the growth forecast,” he told BBC News.

This could mean further cuts are needed before long.

“I suspect that the government could be forced to implement further austerity measures later this year, with lingering economic downturn set to place additional strains on an already perilous budget deficit reduction plan,” said Raj Badiani, an economist at IHS Global Insight.

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“You have the Greek model, or the Irish model. You can either go kicking or screaming, or you can bite the bullet, like people have done in Ireland.””

Gayle AllardEconomist

The main risk is that the government’s tax revenue projections for 2012 look too optimistic,” he said.

There are concerns, however, that even the latest spending cuts could further damage the chances of getting the Spanish economy growing again. It is in recession and is expected to shrink by 1.7% this year.

Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said this would not happen.

“Our obligation towards Spanish people and the rest of the EU citizens is to get public accounts into shape,” she said.

“Not at any cost, but with measures that support those citizens who need it the most and not paralysing a possible recovery or job creation.”

Budgets slashedUnder the 2012 budget the unemployed will see their benefits maintained and pensions will continue to rise.

Consumers have also been spared some pain as VAT will remain at its current level.

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image of Gavin HewittAnalysisGavin HewittEurope editor

A government minister said Spain needed to tighten up its finances to meet EU targets for reducing deficits without stifling economic growth and job creation.

That is the challenge.

Privately some in government accept these calculations involve a risk.

The economy is in recession and some predict it will shrink by around 2% this year – even before these savings are made.

The fear is that Spain could be tipped into a downward spiral.

But they can expect higher living costs as Energy Minister Jose Manuel Soria announced a 7% rise in electricity bills and 5% rise gas bills from 1 April.

The government is also going ahead with a previously-announced increase in income tax by 1.9%.

The 27bn euros of cuts is equivalent to 2.5% of the country’s economic output.

Amongst government ministries, the big losers are the foreign office, whose budget has been halved. Industry, energy and tourism will get a 32% cut, while the public works budget will be slashed by 34%.

More details will be published next Tuesday when the budget goes before Parliament. It is expected to be passed formally in June.

‘Not yielding’On Thursday, police clashed with demonstrators as hundreds of thousands swamped the streets in Barcelona and other cities.

Unions said 800,000 people joined the protest in Barcelona. Police put the number at 80,000.

Spanish protestersPlanned labour market reforms have proved deeply unpopular in Spain

Some marchers in the city smashed windows and set rubbish bins alight. Police fired tear gas and shot rubber bullets at the ground, TV pictures showed.

In the capital, Madrid, unions said about 900,000 people took part. The government did not give a figure.

The BBC’s Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, says the size of the demonstrations on Thursday were an indication that many are losing patience with austerity.

Unemployment in Spain is currently the highest in the EU at 24%. Nearly half of Spain’s under-25s are out of work.

The general strike was the government’s first big challenge since Mariano Rajoy took office after elections last November.

Despite the opposition, the government says it is committed to reining in its spending.

“The question here is not whether the strike is honoured by many or few, but rather whether we get out of the crisis,” Mr Montoro said.

“That is what is at stake, and the government is not going to yield.”

Bailout fearsSeparately, eurozone ministers have agreed the expansion of Europe’s bailout reserves.

The ministers, meeting in Copenhagen, have decided to boost the joint lending power of the “firewall” to 800bn euros.

Investors – worried about a bailout for Spain or Italy – wanted the fund to increase from its current size of about 500bn euros to closer to 1 trillion euros. But there was resistance from Germany to an increase of that scale.

NLD supporter in Mayangone Township, Rangoon, 31 March 2012The NLD is expected to enter parliament as the official opposition

Voters in Burma go to the polls shortly for by-elections that promise to be the most open contests in decades, with Aung San Suu Kyi among those standing.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) is contesting all 45 seats, vacated when politicians joined the new, military-backed civilian government.

It is the first time Ms Suu Kyi is standing in an election herself.

It is also the first time international observers have been allowed to monitor elections in modern Burma.

The European Union looks set to ease some sanctions on the country if Sunday’s elections go smoothly.

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi spent a total of 15 years under house arrest after the military overturned her party’s landslide general election victory in 1990.

While only a fraction of seats are being decided, the NLD is expected to enter parliament as the official opposition.

With tens of thousands of people turning out to back Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow NLD candidates, the by-elections have taken on a huge significance, the BBC’s Rachel Harvey in Burma reports.

‘Not irreversible’

Election officials in Rangoon and other parts of the country have been making final checks at polling stations, ensuring ballot boxes and booths are ready.

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Burmese by-elections

  • At least 45 seats are being contested by 176 candidates from 17 parties, with eight independents
  • The Lower House has 440 seats (330 elected), the Upper House 224 seats (168 elected) and the regional assemblies 14, with 25% of the seats appointed by the military
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is seeking a seat inKawhmu district south of Rangoon
  • Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is contesting all seats
  • By-election fills vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers

“We’re preparing the election on 1 April to be free and fair,” election official Maung Maung Than told the Associated Press news agency. “We’ll make it free and fair, I believe this.”

Ms Suu Kyi is standing for a lower house seat in the Kawhmu Township constituency outside Rangoon.

She arrived there on Saturday in a convoy of NLD cars, plastered with party stickers.

Small groups of people gathered to welcome her, wearing NLD T-shirts and waving party banners and portraits, AFP news agency reports.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 general election on the grounds that election laws were unfair.

Earlier, Ms Suu Kyi described this year’s election campaign as not ”genuinely free and fair” but said she and her part did not regret taking part.

“Still we are determined to go forward because this is what our people want,” she said.

At the same time, she warned that Burma’s democratisation was “not irreversible”.

‘Exciting prospect’

A small number of representatives from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), along with the EU and US, have been invited to observe polling.

Aung San Suu Kyi in Wah Thin Kha, 30 MarchAung San Suu Kyi is standing for a lower house seat in the Kawhmu Township outside Rangoon

More than 100 foreign journalists are believed to have received permission to cover the vote.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said political sanctions on Burma were mostly “aimed towards individuals” and could be eased when EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on 23 April.

The lifting of such sanctions could “even happen with immediate effect”, he told AFP on a visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“The European Union and also myself, I am excited by the prospect that finally, hopefully Myanmar citizens will get more freedom,” Mr De Gucht added.

“Political freedoms and economic freedoms always go together.”

 

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0331-katrina-darrell-getty-ex

Infamous “American Idol” bikini girl Katrina Darrell plans to fight all the charges against her stemming from her DUI arrest yesterday, saying she did not flee the scene of an accident and claiming she wasn’t even drunk at the time!

As  reported first, Darrell was busted just after midnight in Los Angeles on Friday for fleeing the scene of an accident and failing a breathalyzer test with blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit. Katrina had told police she was in a rush to get her mother to the hospital.

But Katrina’s manager, Michael Blakey, tells Media outlet Katrina was indeed taking her mother to the hospital because she had taken a nasty fall at home and was bleeding from the head.

Matt Prior

29 March 2012Last updated at 12:50 GMT

England lost their last six wickets for 31 as they collapsed to a 75-run defeat in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.

Chasing a record 340, England seemed well set as Jonathan Trott (112) and Matt Prior took them to 233-4.

But Prior’s dismissal to Rangana Herath (6-97) for 41 sparked the latest collapse of what, for Andrew Strauss’s side, has been a miserable winter.

England, the world’s top Test side, have now lost four successive matches.

Just as in their 3-0 series defeat by Pakistan earlier this year, the failure of the batting order was again to blame, with players unwilling to play patiently on a pitch that seemed to hold few demons.

Trott at least became the first England player this winter to reach three figures, but elsewhere there were injudicious shots as players gifted Sri Lanka – and Herath in particular – their wicket.

HOW ENGLAND’S DAY FOUR COLLAPSE UNFOLDED

  • 0544 BST: Pietersen (118-3)
  • 0651: Bell (152-4)
  • 0921: Prior (233-5)
  • 0950: S Patel (252-6)
  • 0958: Trott (256-7)
  • 1011: Swann (259-8)
  • 1034: Anderson (264-9)
  • 1037: Panesar (264)

However, Trott’s patient innings suggested that the total could have been attainable despite England’s previous highest chase being 332 against Australia in 1928.

After a gutsy stand between Kevin Pietersen and Trott had kept England in the game on the third evening, the tourists resumed on 111-2, with Graeme Swann suggesting that they would pull off a famous victory.

But having added only one to his overnight 29, Pietersen played a poor shot to off-spinner Suraj Randiv, coming down the pitch and flicking straight to mid-wicket.

There was a more disciplined and watchful mindset from Trott and Ian Bell, the reverse sweep that took Trott past 50 being a rare exception.

Trott survived a scare on 62 when he offered a sharp return chance to Herath, who could not hold on to a one-handed catch to his left.

The curse of the premeditated sweep then struck England as Bell lunged at a straight ball from Herath and was caught on the half volley to a delivery that a review suggested would have clipped off stump.

His Warwickshire team-mate carried on defiantly until lunch and, after the interval, continued to grind down Sri Lanka’s attack, supported by an unusually restrained Prior.

When Trott brought up his hundred, England were sensing victory, but Prior then tried to up the ante and lost his wicket when a pull off Herath thudded into short leg’s stomach, the catch taken on the rebound.

Cool heads were needed as the tension mounted, but two wickets in quick succession suddenly put Sri Lanka back in the ascendancy.

Debutant Samit Patel failed for the second time in the match, hitting Herath to cover, and Trott’s heroic effort was finally ended when he nudged Randiv to leg-slip.

England, who lost their final five wickets for 12 runs, required 84 with three wickets remaining and it proved well beyond them.

The lower order quickly subsided with Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Monty Panesar all offering minimal resistance as Randiv and Herath ripped through, Sri Lanka needing only seven balls after tea to take the final two wickets and record a first home victory since Test cricket’s leading wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan retired in July 2010.

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