l AFTER all-night negotiations in Brussels to bring the EU budget for 2007-13 to a successful conclusion, Mr Tony Blair vigorously defended the result in the House of Commons, in the European Parliament at Strasbourg, and at his monthly press conference. He then flew to Iraq on a surprise pre-Christmas visit to British troops there and implied that some of them might be going home in 2006. Another VIP visitor to Iraq was US Vice President Dick Cheney.
l THE election in Iraq for a new parliament produced results largely confirming the long-standing religious and sectarian divisions in the country. Although many protests about polling procedures remain to be investigated the most likely outcome is thought to be a government dominated by Islamic Shias with support from smaller parties. The election has probably not resolved the problem of the Sunnis who voted in strength but remain relatively isolated between the Shias and the Kurds.
l ANY prospect of an easing of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians after elections early in 2006 were dimmed by uncertainties arising from a minor stroke suffered by Ariel Sharon, the choice of Binyamin Netanyahu to suceed him as Likud leader, and disputes in the Palestinian government's Fatah party which split into two groups following the growth of support for the Islamist party Hamas.
l IN Hong Kong the World Trade Organisation biennial meeting put off until next year hard decisions about farm tariffs and the liberalistion of the services markets but agreed to an important deal that will end export subsidies for farm products from the U.S.A. and the European Union by 2013.
l ORHAN PAMUK, a leading Turkish author, appeared in court charged with bringing disrespect to the country by drawing attention to the deaths of 30'000 Kurds in the past three decades and millions of Armenians during the first world war. Opponents of Turkey's membership of the European Union, for which negotiations have just begun, claim that the accusations against Pamuk show that Turkey does not support free speech and human rights. The judge in the case said he would ask the government to decide whether it should proceed.
l THE governor of the Bank of Italy, Antonio Fanzio, resigned after revelations that he is under investigation for misusing privileged information.