FRANCE ““ (BBC) Three French aid workers who were kidnapped in Yemen in May have been released, the French authorities say. They had been seized by suspected al-Qaeda militants in the town of Seyun. The two women and a man were working for French charity Triangle Generation Humanitaire at the time of their capture. French President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked the Sultan of Oman for his help in securing their release. “The president warmly thanks the Sultan of Oman and the Omanese authorities for their crucial help, as well as all those who contributed to this happy resolution,” said a statement from Sarkozy’s office. No details have been released about the circumstances of the release.
GREECE ““ (CNN) One day after being sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister, Lucas Papademos talked Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany about efforts to address his nation’s continuing economic woes. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both congratulated Papademos on his ascension when they spoke with him on Saturday afternoon. Both Sarkozy and Merkel expressed an “urgent need” for Greece’s new leader to ensure that his country adheres to its past commitments, including implantation of an October 27th bailout package brokered between former Prime Minister George Papandreou and other European leaders. Greece will not get its next aid payment until “further steps are taken,” a statement from Sarkozy’s office said. Those funds ““ tied to a separate 2010 deal ““ are essential to ensure that Greece does not default on debts in the next few weeks. Papademos previously has stressed Greece’s commitment to the euro, saying its membership in the eurozone, the 17 nations using the euro as currency, was a guarantee of financial stability.
ITALY““ (BBC) Mario Monti is starting work to form a new government to lead Italy out of its acute debt crisis, which prompted the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi. The appointment of Monti, an ex-EU commissioner, was announced by Italy’s president on Sunday. Mr. Monti said that he wanted to build “a future of dignity and hope” for Italy’s children. Monti, a 68-year-old economics professor, refused to set a timetable for the formation of a new government and would not say who he plans to nominate as ministers. Consultations began on Monday. The formal confirmation of the new technocratic government could take several days.
RUSSIA ““ (BBC) Vladimir Putin has defended his decision to stand in next year’s presidential election. He denied it was a quest to retain personal power, insisting that he needed longer to raise living standards and make Russia stronger. He is the overwhelming favorite to return to the position he first held 12 years ago. Critics say his political influence is an increasingly destructive force. According to a source, there is much talk of “stagnation, rampant corruption, and a dangerous political inertia that some thought might lead to a political explosion.”
TURKEY ““ (CNN) The death toll from last week’s 5.6-magnitude earthquake in eastern Turkey has risen to 40, the government said Sunday. A much deadlier 7.2-magnitude quake that tore through Van last month left 604 people dead, officials said. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Van region on Saturday, as a heavy snowstorm hampered rescue efforts. The sleet, snow, and plunging temperatures worsened conditions for hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors living outdoors. Many citizens have complained of the lack of aid, citing that Prime Minister Erdogan “only helps those who are supporters of his political party.” There is a deep distrust of the Turkish state among many of Van’s ethnic Kurdish residents.