Spain's public debt hit a new record in the first quarter of this year, reaching 96.8 percent of economic output, the central bank said on Friday. Spain kept its debt relatively low before a real estate crash in 2008, at 36.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, but it has since soared in a double recession that ended last year. Financial concerns over Spain have calmed since the height of the crisis in 2012, however. The interest rates demanded by investors to lend to Spain have eased, making officials confident it can refinance its debts.
Ukraine's interior minister said on Friday that federal forces had inflicted "high casualties" on separatist rebels led by a Chechen commander in the southeastern port of Mariupol. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the "active phase" of the offensive began at dawn and was still raging three hours later. He added that two Ukrainian soldiers from the part-volunteer National Guard force were wounded in the fighting. "The terrorists from the Donetsk People's Republic are being headed by a criminal boss known as 'The Chechen,'" Avakov wrote in a Facebook post.
Samarra (Iraq) (AFP) - Militants were gathering Friday for a new attempt to take the Iraqi city of Samarra, home to a revered Shiite shrine whose 2006 bombing sparked a sectarian war, witnesses said. A major offensive launched by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its allies late Monday has overrun second city Mosul and a swathe of northern and north-central Iraq. Witnesses in the Dur area, between militant-held Tikrit and Samarra, said they saw "countless" vehicles carrying militants south during the night. And witnesses in Samarra, just 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of Baghdad, said gunmen were gathering to the north, east and southeast of the city.
Jihadists pushed towards Baghdad on Friday as President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse and US companies evacuated hundreds from a major air base. With militants closing in on the capital, forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region took control of a swathe of territory they have sought to rule for decades against the objections of successive governments in Baghdad. Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari acknowledged that the security forces Washington invested billions of dollars in training and equipping before withdrawing its own troops in 2011 had simply melted away. Obama said Iraq was going to need "more help from the United States and from the international community."
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye revamped her cabinet Friday, replacing seven ministers in response to intense criticism over her administration's handling of April's ferry disaster. It was Park's first major cabinet shake-up since taking office in February last year and came as the mother of one disaster victim filed a damages suit against the government, as well as the ferry operator. The most high-profile change will see Choi Kyoung-Hwan, a ruling party lawmaker, replacing Hyun Oh-Seok as finance minister in charge of the economy, the presidential Blue House said. Chong Jong-Sup, a Seoul National University law professor, is to head the ministry of security and public administration, which will take the lead in implementing promised reforms following the Sewol disaster, which claimed nearly 300 lives, mostly schoolchildren.
China's industrial output growth accelerated to 8.8 percent year-on-year in May, official data showed Friday, while retail sales hit their highest level since December in signs of renewed strength in the world's second-largest economy. The industrial production figure was stronger than the 8.7 percent recorded a month earlier and matched the median forecast of 8.8 percent in a poll of 15 economists by the Wall Street Journal. Retail sales, a key gauge of consumer spending, increased 12.5 percent last month from a year ago, the National Bureau of Statistics said, up from a gain of 11.9 percent in April and the highest since 13.6 percent at the end of last year. Fixed-asset investment, a main measure of government spending on infrastructure projects, rose by 17.2 percent year-on-year in the January-May period, slowing from a 17.3 percent rise in the first four months of the year.
Narendra Modi will step up a charm offensive with India's neighbours in the hope of stopping them falling into China's embrace when he travels next week to Bhutan on his first foreign trip since becoming prime minister. A month after his election, the Hindu nationalist premier will pay a two-day visit to the tiny Buddhist kingdom from Sunday when he will meet his counterpart Tshering Tobgay and King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. "We're honoured to have him choose Bhutan as the first country he's visiting," Tobgay said in comments published by the local Kuensel daily. Tobgay was one of seven regional leaders invited to Modi's inauguration and analysts say the decision to make Bhutan his first port of call is designed to underline the importance he attaches to neighbourly relations, which suffered under the last government.