Hungary internet tax cancelled after mass protests

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at a news conference in Brussels, 9 December 2011

Hungary has decided to shelve a proposed tax on internet data traffic after mass protests against the plan.

“This tax in its current form cannot be introduced,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Large-scale protests began on Sunday, when demonstrators hurled old computer parts at the headquarters of Mr Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

The draft law – condemned by the EU – would levy a fee on each gigabyte of internet data transferred.

The protesters objected to the financial burden but also feared the move would restrict free expression and access to information.

The levy was set at 150 forints (£0.40; 0.50 euros; $0.60) per gigabyte of data traffic.

After thousands protested the government decided to cap the tax at 700 forints per month for individuals and 5,000 forints for companies. But that did not placate the crowds.

Crowd of protesters on Budapest's Elisabeth Bridge, 28 Oct 14

‘It should not be done’

Fidesz had said the special tax was needed to balance Hungary’s budget in 2015.

Speaking on Kossuth public radio, Mr Orban said that “if the people not only dislike something but also consider it unreasonable then it should not be done…

“The tax code should be modified. This must be withdrawn, and we do not have to deal with this now.”

He said a measure seen by the government as a technical issue had become “a fear-inducing vision”.

There will be a national consultation on it in January, he said.

A European Commission spokesman, Ryan Heath, said the tax was “bad in principle” because it was a unilateral measure applied to a global phenomenon.

He said it was “part of a pattern… of actions that have limited freedoms or sought to take rents without achieving wider economic or social interest” in Hungary.

The Commission has previously criticised Mr Orban’s government for constitutional proposals seen to be cementing the Fidesz party’s political dominance.

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France’s Mystery Nuclear Plant Drones: ‘We Can Neutralise Them’ Says Interior Ministry

France Nuclear Plants Drones

France has opened an investigation into mysterious drones spotted flying over nuclear plants across the country, a government minister said.

State-owned power company EDF reported seven sightings of unidentified aircrafts over atomic sites it operates in October. All aircrafts are banned by law from flying over France’s 19 nuclear plants.

EDF said the drones didn’t pose any threat to security or the functioning of its reactors.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also reassured the public that, in any case, the government had some anti-drone measures ready to go but refused to elaborate.

“There are means to neutralize these drones. I won’t explain how they work,” Cazeneuve told France Info radio. “A judicial investigation is underway.”

Unmanned aircrafts were seen also flying over sites run by France’s Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), Le Figaro reported.

Air Force colonel Jean-Pascal Breton told the newspaper that, according to eyewitness accounts “they are mini-drones” of the type on sale to the general public.

Meanwhile Greenpeace denied any involvement.

The environmental group has staged protests at the same power plants in the past, using a drone to record them.

A Greenpeace spokesperson told IBTimes UK: “We had no involvement in those flights, and we always claim responsibilities for our actions.”

Yannick Rousselet, Greenpeace France’s organiser responsible for the nuclear campaign, added that the activist group was actually concerned about the mysterious flights.

“We are very worried about that these overflights repeatedly occurring without any answer about their origin being provided by the EDF or security forces,” he said.

This Russian Official’s Homophobic Comment Is A Reminder Of Why Tim Cook Is The Only Openly Gay Fortune 500 CEO

Tim Cook in shades

After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledged his sexuality for the first time on Thursday, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg, Vitaly Milonov, had this to say:

“What could he (Cook) bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea? They all have unseemly ties over there … Ban him for life.”

Obviously, one Russian official’s insensitive comment does not represent the whole country’s view. But at the same time, Russian politicians are known for openly criticizing the LGBT community, as their anti-gay law explicitly bans “creating nontraditional sexual attitudes.”

It’s worth noting that this type of homophobic attitude outside of the US is what causes a lot of major corporate CEOs to hesitate going public with their sexuality.

In fact, with Thursday’s announcement, Cook has become the only CEO at any Fortune 500 company to publicly say he’s gay. As baffling as it is, prior to Thursday, there were absolutely zero publicly gay CEOs at any Fortune 500 company.

And it’s not because these high-profile, major public companies don’t have any gay CEOs. According to New York Times columnist James Stewart, there are gay chief executives today, but it’s just that none of them are willing to acknowledge it in public.

There may be many reasons for this — and this is a complex, private issue that is more of a personal decision — but Stewart points out “conforming to social norms” might be the biggest reason for these big corporations remaining “the last frontiers for gay civil rights.”

Telling the story of John Browne, the former CEO of British oil company BP who resigned after being outed as gay, Stewart says:

“He (Browne) worried that any disclosure would damage his ability to negotiate with openly homophobic business and political leaders, including Vladimir Putin of Russia.”

A lot of these Fortune 500 companies are global in nature and have businesses spread all around the world. Some of their largest clients may be in countries that have more conservative views on homosexuality, and having a publicly gay CEO won’t necessarily help any of their sales.

In fact, that’s the same idea billionaire investor Peter Thiel — also publicly gay — echoed during an interview with Business Insider.

“A lot of these businesses are global in reach, and when you have customers all over the world, it becomes a question of ‘Will they hold that (being gay) against you?’” he said. “It’s not really a question of how tolerant people are in California.”

But if anything, Cook’s decision to reveal his sexuality could lead to more public company CEOs announcing they’re gay. And that might be exactly what Cook intended to achieve through his essay, as he wrote:

“If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Bodies of 150 Sunni Tribesmen Found in Anbar Province Mass Grave

Hit Anbar Province Iraq ISIS

Iraqi security officials have reported that the bodies of 150 members of an Iraqi Sunni tribe fighting the Islamic State (Isis) alongside the military have been found in a mass grave in Iraq’s restive Anbar province.

The development came one day after Islamic State reportedly lined up and shot dead 30 Sunni men in the same area.

Anbar provincial chairman Sabah Karhout said the Sunni tribesmen, allied with the government and members of the security forces, were captured when jihadists conquered the town of Hit, which is 140km (85 miles) west of the capital, Baghdad.

Earlier in October, Iraqi troops helped by Sunni fighters from the Albu Nimir tribe were forced out from the town, Anbar’s fifth-largest city, after heavy clashes with IS.

During its advance, in September IS seized the Iraqi military base of Camp Saqlawiyah, 45 miles (70km) west of Baghdad, amid claims the government failed to provide adequate support to its troops stationed there.

The Obama administration and Iraq have teamed up with some Sunni tribesmen to fight against IS in the hope of rekindling the same Sunni uprising that shattered an al-Qaida-linked group at the height of Iraq’s sectarian civil strife between 2005 and 2007.

At the time, the US military recruited and paid Sunni tribes to lead the struggle against the jihadists. But the Shi’ite-dominated government of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki fuelled sectarianism and disenfranchised the Sunni community from power, driving them to support IS in the first instance.

The US believe Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s newly formed government can be more inclusive of Sunni Muslims and Kurds, helping the American-led coalition to stop IS.

FX Fixing: Barclays Sets Aside £500m to Deal With Market Manipulation Probes

Barclays Makes £5.2bn Profit Amid Mis-selling and Data Theft Scandals

Barclays has set aside £500m to deal with a raft of investigations into allegations that traders at the bank had sought to manipulate the currency market.

In the bank’s third quarter results statement, Barclays said the half a billion pounds was “relating to ongoing investigations” into currency trading.

The daily $5tn (£3tn, €3.9tn) currency market is the largest in the financial system and is pegged to the value of funds, derivatives and products.

Morningstar estimates that $3.6tn in funds, including pension and savings accounts, track global indexes.

FX rates are calculated and compiled by using data from a variety of submitted provisions on a number of platforms, such as ThomsonReuters.

Barclays, as well as a dozen global banks, are under investigation by US and UK authorities over FX rigging allegations.

Despite the massive provision, Barclays reported a rise in pre-tax profits for first nine months of 2014, with £3.72bn (€4.72, $5.9bn) in the third quarter, compared with £2.85bn made a year earlier.

While investment banking profits were dubbed “disappointing” by Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins, major cost cutting measures and a reduction in bad loans helped the bank rake in billions of pounds.

Jenkins has pledged to cut 19,000 jobs by 2016, with more than 9,000 to go in the UK.

“Trader behaviour has moved from ‘buying on dips’ to ‘short-selling into rallies’,” said Marc Kimsey, senior trader at Accendo Markets.

“Whilst traders acknowledge the better-than-expected bottom line, share price appreciation is likely to be somewhat anchored in light of further provisions for misconduct and, more importantly, capital adequacy concerns which could result in the sale of assets, cutting the dividend or dare we speculate, a rights issue in order to raise cash.

“MBI International Holdings $10bn lawsuit, made public in New York yesterday, threatens to wipe out a year’s profit if successful leading to more reasons to sell than buy in the short term.

Shell: Oil Giant’s Profits Fall By 5% Due to ‘Volatility in the Industry’

Royal Dutch Shell

Royal Dutch Shell’s third quarter earnings dropped by 5% as declining oil prices hit the company.

The oil giant’s net profits fell to $4.5bn (£2.8bn, €3.6bn) which CEO Ben van Beurden put down to “the volatility in our industry”.

This was evident in the current cost of supply basis, which eradicates changes to oil prices, as its key profit jumped by almost a quarter to $5.3bn.

Van Beurden added that the results are promising for the group, and that with him at the helm the company is on course to fulfil its objectives.

“Our results today show that we are delivering on the three priorities I set out at the start of 2014 – better financial performance, enhanced capital efficiency and continued strong project delivery,” he said.

“We have moderated our spending on growth and accelerated disposals of our non-strategic portfolio as part of a drive to improve capital efficiency. Proceeds from asset sales so far this year total $11.6bn, with further disposals ongoing.

“Our plans to exit from Pinedale and Haynesville mark the completion of the major sales programme in our North America resources plays portfolio.”

The Anglo-Dutch company has also announced the appointment of Charles Holliday as chairman.

Holliday was previously the chair of Bank of America and will step into his role after Shell’s AGM in 2015, taking over from Jorma Ollila.

Shell’s stocks remained steady in spite of

NATO says Russian jets, bombers circle Europe in unusual incidents

NATO said Wednesday that it had intercepted a large number of Russian aircraft flying close to European airspace in the past two days, in an “unusual” series of incidents that brought Russian bombers as far afield as Portugal.

The aircraft — at least 19 in all — offered reminders of Russian air power at a time of the worst relations between the West and Russia since the Cold War.

 

Russian military aircraft have significantly increased their activity in Europe since the conflict in Ukraine began earlier this year, with NATO scrambling to intercept aircraft more than 100 times in 2014. But a NATO official said the scale of the latest incidents was the most provocative this year.

Over the Atlantic Ocean and the North, Black and Baltic seas, Russian bombers, fighter jets and tanker aircraft were detected flying in international airspace, NATO said.

There were no incursions into national airspace, a violation of sovereignty that would have significantly amplified the seriousness of the four incidents, three of which took place on Wednesday.

“We’re raising it as an unusual level of activity,” said Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, a spokesman for NATO’s military command in Mons, Belgium. “The flights we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, the size of those flights and some of the flight plans are definitely unusual.”

U.S. officials regard the flights as a show of force by the Putin government. “It’s concerning because it’s moving in the wrong direction,” said one U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the air activity publicly. “It’s not helping to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. It’s not helping to improve relations between NATO and Russia. It’s not helping anybody.”

Smaller-scale incidents have also increased this year, approximately tripling from the same period in 2013, Janzen said.

In at least one of the four incidents, the aircraft had switched off their transponders and had not filed flight plans with civilian air traffic controllers. That means that civilian air traffic control cannot track them, potentially creating a risk for civilian planes.

That incident took place around 3:00 a.m. in Western Europe on Wednesday, when four Tu-95 long-range strategic nuclear bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft flew over the Norwegian Sea. Norwegian F-16 fighter jets scrambled to intercept them.

Six of the planes returned to Russia, but two of the bombers skirted the Norwegian coast, flew past Britain — sending Typhoon fighter jets to scramble in response — and then finally looped west of Spain and Portugal, attracting Portuguese F-16s. Then the two bombers appeared to return to Russia, Janzen said.

The Tu-95 bombers are not commonly seen close to Europe, Janzen said. Nor are the MiG-31 fighter jets that were intercepted along with other aircraft above the Baltic Sea in two separate incidents Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear whether the two incidents above the Baltic represented the same group of seven planes entering and departing a Russian military base at Kaliningrad.

There was no immediate reaction from the Russian government.

Fighter jets from Norway, Britain, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were involved in responding to the Russian aircraft, Janzen said. Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO, and they have long refrained from joining the defensive alliance, which was formed after World War II as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

But military incidents with Russia this year have caused both countries to start to reevaluate their positions.

Most recently, the Swedish military last week spent several days searching a vast territory for an unidentified underwater craft suspected to be Russian. Last month, Sweden said two Russian military planes had violated its airspace.

A Novus opinion poll released Tuesday found for the first time that more Swedes favored joining NATO than opposed it.

The most recent violation of NATO airspace was last week, when a Russian spy plane flew almost 2,000 feet into Estonian airspace.

This year, NATO increased its air patrols based in the Baltics from four to 16 jets, a measure of the newly hot confrontation between the two military juggernauts.

The incidents appear to have set European militaries on edge this week. British fighter jets were scrambled Wednesday to bring a civilian Antonov cargo jet into a London airport; it stopped responding to radio calls from air traffic controllers while flying over the British capital.

That caused a supersonic boom that was audible across a large stretch of southeastern England.