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Jose Mujica is The World’s Poorest President

It’s a common grumble that politicians’ lifestyles are far removed from those of their electorate. Not so in Uruguay. Meet the president – who lives on a ramshackle farm and gives away most of his pay.

jose MujicaLaundry is strung outside the house. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds. Only two police officers and Manuela, a three-legged dog, keep watch outside.

This is the residence of the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, whose lifestyle clearly differs sharply from that of most other world leaders.

President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.

The president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.

This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.

“I’ve lived like this most of my life,” he says, sitting on an old chair in his garden, using a cushion favoured by Manuela the dog.

“I can live well with what I have.”

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Qatar Backs Xstrata-Glencore Merger

The planned merger of commodities trader Glencore and mining group Xstrata has moved a step closer after Xstrata’s second-largest shareholder said it would back the deal.

Xstratas Shareholders To VoteQatar Holdings said in a statement that it would vote in favour of the merger next week.

The shareholder vote follows after Glencore increased how much it would pay for each Xstrata share.

The merger plan was first announced in February.

Analysts said the deal between the two Anglo-Swiss companies would now likely be backed by Xstrata shareholders.

While Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of Gulf state Qatar, has said it will vote in favour of the merger, it added that it would abstain on a controversial linked vote on whether Xstrata’s board members should receive multi-million pound payments to stay with the future merged company.

Several other Xstrata shareholders, including Standard Life, have criticised the planned payments.

The merger would still need competition approval by the European Commission.

To help secure this, there are unconfirmed reports that Glencore has offered to sell part of Xstrata’s German operations.

Glencore

United Arab Emirates places restrictions on online dissent

The United Arab Emirates has tightened its law on internet use, making it a criminal offence to mock its rulers or organise unauthorised demonstrations.

UAE Applies Online RestrictionsA presidential decree says anyone who creates or runs a website or uses the internet to deride or damage the state or its institutions faces imprisonment.

The institutions include the rulers and senior officials across the federation of seven semi-autonomous Gulf emirates.

Activists have criticised the move as an attempt to limit freedom of speech.

The UAE has not experienced the unrest seen elsewhere in the region.

However, since March the authorities have detained without charge more than 60 civil society activists, some of whom have ties to Islah – a local group that advocates greater adherence to Islamic precepts – including human rights lawyers, judges and student leaders.

The authorities have also been accused of deporting and harassing human rights defenders, denying legal assistance to political detainees, and intimidating and deporting lawyers seeking to assist detainees.

Government and police officials have said the crackdown is a response to a foreign-inspired Islamist plot that aims to overthrow the government.

Deportation

The amendments to the UAE’s existing law on internet crime were announced on Tuesday in a decree by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nuhayyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Many of the measures focus on issues such as online fraud, privacy protection, and efforts to combat prostitution, pornography and gambling. However, a major section imposes restrictions on online dissent.

The legislation now stipulates “penalties of imprisonment on any person who creates or runs an electronic website or uses any information technology medium to deride or damage the reputation or stature of the state or any of its institutions,” according to the state news agency, WAM.

The minimum prison sentence will be three years, according to Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, The National. Foreign nationals will meanwhile be deported, it added. The UAE has nearly four million migrant workers.

The institutions include the president, vice-president, any of the rulers of the seven emirates, their crown princes and deputy rulers, as well as the national flag, national anthem, or any of symbols of the state, it said.

The law also prohibit “information, news, caricatures or any other kind of pictures” that authorities believe could threaten security or “public order”.

This includes posts calling for “demonstrations, marches and similar activities without a licence being obtained in advance from the competent authorities” or “disobeying the laws and regulations of the state”.

Those responsible for posts which “display contempt” for Islam or any other religion could also be jailed.

The decree was issued by Sheikh Khalifa just hours after the UAE was elected to a three-year term on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

EU ‘approves $6.4bn Egypt financial aid package’

The European Union has approved a 5bn-euro ($6.4bn) financial support package for Egypt, Egyptian officials say.

Catherine AshtonA statement by President Mohammed Mursi’s office said the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) would each provide 2bn euros.

The remaining 1bn euros would come from EU member states, the statement added.

The announcement came after Mr Mursi held talks with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in Cairo.

In a statement, the presidency said the packages was “a strong sign of the EU’s support for Egypt’s path to development”.

Representatives of some 100 of Europe’s largest firms as well as European Commission members and European MPs are participating in the meetings, due to conclude later on Wednesday.

Their focus is on strengthening bilateral relationships between Egypt and the European Union and deepening economic co-operation.

New jobs
In September, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso offered Egypt 700m euros of financial aid, which he said was conditional on it reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Egypt is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with IMF representatives for a $4.8bn loan this week to help it deal with a $28bn budget deficit, or 11% of GDP, and a balance of payments crisis which are the result of reduced tourism and foreign investment revenues.

In the 21 months since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Egypt’s growth rates have dropped and its foreign reserves have been almost halved.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil caused controversy among Egypt’s poor – about 40% of its 83 million people live on less than $2 a day – by saying he would restructure the government subsidy programme.

He also said natural gas prices would be increased for energy-intensive industries, and that there would be unspecified fiscal and tax reforms.

Mr Qandil said the government aimed to increase Egypt’s GDP growth rate to 3.5% this fiscal year, up from 2.2%, and create 700,000 new jobs.

South Africa Holds Diamond Smuggler Who Swallowed 220 Gems

South African police have arrested a man who they say swallowed 220 polished diamonds in an attempt to smuggle them out of the country.

South African DiamondsThe man was arrested as he waited to board a plane at Johannesburg airport.

Officials said a scan of his body revealed the diamonds he had ingested, worth $2.3m (£1.4m; 1.8m euros), inside.

The man was reportedly of Lebanese origin and was travelling to Dubai.

“We nabbed him just before he went through the security checkpoint,” Paul Ramaloko, spokesman of the South Africa elite police unit the Hawks said, according to Agence France Presse.

Authorities believe the man belongs to a smuggling ring. Another man was arrested in March also attempting to smuggle diamonds out the country in a similar way.

South Africa is among the world’s top producers of diamonds.

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