by MONITOR
PENSIONS moved to centre of political debate in Britain. An imminent report on the future of state pensions commissioned by the government was strongly criticised by Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had seen a copy before publication. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that nuclear power must be a strong option to meet Britain's energy needs because of changed circumstances in recent years; environmental organisations criticised the assumption that nuclear energy is “clean”. Having encouraged people to get injections against 'flu because of a probable cold winter, the Department of Health discovered that it had run out of vaccine; fortunately cases of 'flu are so far running at only 12 per 100'000 instead of the anticipated epidemic level of 200. * ISRAEL's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, resigned as leader of the Likud party and formed a new centrist Kadima (Forward) party to fight a general election in March at which he hopes to attract sufficient support to create a governing coalition. In Gaza the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas officially opened the Rafah border crossing to Egypt which had been closed since Israel occupied Gaza in 1967. Two weeks after the terrorist bombing of three hotels in Amman, Jordan, King Abdullah named Marouf Bakheet, his country's security chief, as the new prime minister. * PRESIDENT George W Bush ended his Asian visit with a short stop–over in Mongolia which has contributed 160 troops to the coalition forces in Iraq. Mr Bush said: “This is a beautiful land, with huge skies and a vast horizon, kindf of like Texas.” In Washington Vice President Cheney distanced himself from Republicans who had accused Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran, of cowardice for calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. There were persistent reports that the US presence in Iraq would be reduced early in 2006 and comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to endorse them. * RUSSIA'S parliament approved a draft law that would curb the activities of foreign-based non-governmental organisations because of their alleged interference in Russia's politics. In Kenya voters decisively rejected proposals for a reform of the country's constitution supported by President Mwai Kibaki; voting appeared to reflect tribal divisions. In Chile, former dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested on charges of tax evasion, passport fraud and forgery of official documents.

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