MPs have decried a flagship government welfare scheme for people with disabilities as "a fiasco" after some claimants were left waiting six months to receive benefits. The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been dogged by long delays and backlogs, causing "unnecessary distress" to sick and disabled people. MPs said they were "shocked" by some of the stories they heard from claimants, including some who have been forced to turn to food banks, loans and charitable donations for support. Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: "The implementation of Personal Independence Payment has been nothing short of a fiasco.
Sectarian hatred took centre stage at the Lebanese Basketball Championship that concluded this week, with Christian and Muslim fans insulting each other's religion and political leaders. The top two teams squaring off on the court were Christian hoopers Hekmeh ("wisdom" in Arabic) and the Sunni Muslim Riyadi ("sportive") who eventually won the title but at a cost. From the bleachers, the Riyadi crowds -- most of them Sunnis from Beirut and loyal to MP Saad Hariri's Future movement -- recited the opening verses from the Koran. Hekmeh fans, most of them supporters of Christian Lebanese Forces party chief Samir Geagea, recited the Lord's Prayer.
The European Commission said Friday it was ending special budget surveillance for six EU member states after they brought their deficits back within EU limits. The Commission said Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands and Slovakia had all reduced their deficits to below 3.0 percent of economic output. European Union rules require a member state to keep its public deficit -- the shortfall between revenues and spending -- to no more than 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Friday's decision means that Brussels is now only keeping 11 of the EU's 28 member states under strict observation known as 'excessive deficit procedure,' where it lays down policy priorities and targets to be met on pain of fines.
Two Sudanese employees of the Irish aid group GOAL are missing in the troubled Darfur region, a humanitarian source said on Friday. He could not give further details except to say the incident occurred near Kutum in North Darfur state. "We are working very closely with the local authorities, with the Sudanese authorities, to gather more information and to find a solution," the source said. Violence throughout Darfur has been at its worst in a decade this year, with about 395,000 people displaced since January, according to the United Nations.
Ramadi (Iraq) (AFP) - Clashes with Sunni Muslim militants have killed 34 Iraqi security forces members in Al-Qaim, a town on the Syrian border, officials said Friday. The fighting broke out late Thursday night and continued until around noon Friday, with militants in control of most of the town, security forces officers and a local official said. But the official, Farhan Farhan, appealed to the government for arms "stronger than the weapons that ISIL has," a reference to the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
US President Barack Obama lacks "serious will" to combat terrorism, a top Iranian official said Friday after an Iraqi appeal for American airstrikes went unanswered. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian's comments followed a statement from Obama on the Iraq crisis in which he pledged to send military advisors to Baghdad but stopped short of further action at this stage. Fighters from the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and their allies, have made swift territorial gains in Shiite-majority Iraq in a push that began last week. ISIL considers Shiites, also a majority in neighbouring Iran, to be apostates.
The Iraq war, like a disease after a period of remission, has flared up again to besmirch American politics. Days ago, US politicians were eyeing the first national election since 2000 in which Iraq would not be ammunition for the partisan crossfire. But the land-grabbing march by extreme Sunni fighters across Iraq –- still mired in the war America unleashed in 2003 –- ended that. The conflict that Obama once declared ended is now in the mix for November's mid-term congressional elections, as Republicans charge he squandered the loss of 4,500 Americans in bringing US troops home too soon and opening a vacuum for extremism.
US General David Petraeus, a former commander of US forces in Iraq, said Friday he would support targeted strikes against jihadists behind an offensive in the strife-torn country, who he said were developing into a "terrorist army". Petraeus, who won praise for leading the troop surge that preceded Washington's exit from Iraq after a costly eight-year war, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the militants posed a risk to countries outside the region. But the growing threat posed by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) means that military action will be necessary," he said. "We must realise that ISIS poses a threat not only to Iraq but to the UK and other countries as well."
A critical round of talks between Iran and world powers over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme entered its fifth day on Friday with both sides saying major differences remained. The talks in Vienna are aimed at securing by July 20 a mammoth deal to reduce the programme and ease fears the Islamic republic will get atomic weapons. Iran denies wanting the bomb and wants punishing UN and Western sanctions lifted.
Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said Friday that Sunni jihadists who have overrun swathes of territory must be expelled from the country before it is too late. If the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not "fought and expelled from Iraq, everyone will regret it tomorrow, when regret has no meaning," his spokesman announced on his behalf in the shrine city of Karbala. Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai said Iraqis of all religions and communities had to band together to fight militants, led by ISIL but including other groups, such as loyalists of late dictator Saddam Hussein.