FRANCE ““ (BBC) A man apparently brandishing a fake gun has freed the final hostage he had been holding at a French school outside Paris and has himself been captured. The last hostage was a parent who had come to drop off a child at the school in Vitry-sur-Seine, which is being used a leisure center during the holidays, police said. Earlier, the man released a group of children he had been holding. Many French schools run summer activities during the holidays. Officers of the elite police Raid unit attended the scene. “The Raid succeeded in freeing the hostage during negotiations,” a police source said. The man was captured unharmed. The man was using an imitation automatic weapon that could only fire gas cartridges. Police were called at about 07:00 to the school, where five to 10 children and three parents were at the time, French radio reported. The children were quickly released. The hostage-taker was said to be in his 30s and unknown to the police. He may have been wearing a binman’s green boiler suit when he entered the school, police sources told French radio. A judicial source said the man had, “Made incoherent statements and expressed a desire to die” during negotiations, adding that the hostage taker had “at no point been threatening” with the parent held captive, the AFP news agency reports. Last month, a 26-year-old man with a record of psychological problems was shot and arrested by elite police in Toulouse after taking several hostages and claiming to be a member of al-Qaeda. Toulouse is also where another al-Qaeda-inspired gunman, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, was shot dead by police after killing three soldiers, three Jewish children at a school, and a rabbi.
ITALY ““ (BBC) The captain of Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground killing more than 30 people in January, has said he is sorry for the disaster. In an interview on Italian TV, Francesco Schettino said he thought constantly about the victims. But he insisted others should also share the blame, saying the ship had been under the command of another officer at the time. Mr. Schettino denies charges including manslaughter and causing a shipwreck. The ship struck rocks and capsized near the island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany. An Italian judge recently lifted Mr. Schettino’s house arrest, but said he must not leave his hometown, near Naples, while the investigation continues. “When there’s an accident, it is not just the ship that is identified or the company, the captain is identified and so it’s normal that I should apologize as a representative of this system,” he told Italy’s Canale 5 television. The BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome says that Mr. Schettino appeared tense. He said he blamed himself for being “distracted” but said he had not been on the bridge when the ship ran aground. “At that moment, I went up to the deck and ordered the ship to be put on manual navigation and I didn’t have command, that’s to say being in charge of sailing the ship, that was the officer,” he said. In a letter published recently in Italy’s La Corriere della Sera newspaper, Mr. Schettino argued that he had saved many lives by steering the stricken vessel into shallow water. In a phone call recorded during the rescue operation, a local port authority chief Gregorio de Falco can be heard chastising the captain and telling him to get back on board the ship to help stranded passengers. Mr. Schettino was arrested shortly afterwards.
PORTUGAL ““ (BBC) Thousands of doctors and nurses have gone on strike in Portugal to protest against cuts in the health budget. The health ministry has warned that as many as 4,500 operations and 400,000 appointments may be cancelled. The government has promised to reduce its budget deficit as part of the 78bn euros EU-IMF bailout deal agreed in May last year. Unions say the measures, which include higher prescription charges, will affect the poorest in society. They complain that some doctors are working excessive hours and object to the use of private companies to provide public services. The strike by medical staff, which began on Wednesday, is due to last 48 hours. Many hospitals had rescheduled appointments ahead of the action, which was announced last month. Emergency services are unaffected. The head of the National Federation of Doctors, Mario Jorge Neves, told AFP that he was certain the strike would be a “resounding success.” A spokesman for a patients’ rights group in Lisbon, Carlos Braga, told the news agency the number of people who could not pay for healthcare was rising. “Thousands of people are now deprived of care because they cannot afford the prices that were put in place in January,” he said. Portugal has already cut public sector wages and raised taxes to reduce its budget deficit and deal with the economic crisis. Earlier this month, a proposal to limit extra holiday and Christmas pay for public sector workers was ruled unconstitutional. The EU and IMF have praised Portugal for the steps it has taken so far. But BBC correspondents say they have proved painful for ordinary Portuguese, with public sector workers hit particularly hard. Unemployment is at record highs and many people have faced a steep reduction in income.
RUSSIA ““ (BBC) A young Russian mother has been sentenced to eight years in jail for putting her baby on a motorway in the hope he would be run over. A court in Moscow heard that Eline Osina, 24, had grown tired of caring for the nine-month-old child after her boyfriend moved out. The baby was rescued by a passing motorist and has since been adopted. Osina’s younger brother was given the same sentence for helping her. Both had admitted to attempted manslaughter. Investigators said that Osine and her brother, 21-year-old Alexander, had watched from nearby after putting the baby on the four-lane highway on the outskirts of Moscow in May 2011. A passing motorist stopped soon afterwards after spotting the baby and thinking it was a dog or a kitten. Investigators said it was a miracle that the child had escaped unharmed. After the verdict, she told Russia’s Channel One she believed the sentences were too harsh, AP news agency reports. “Everyone can make a mistake,” she was cited as saying.
SPAIN ““ (BBC) Eurozone finance ministers have agreed to lend Spain 30bn euros ($37bn) this month to help its troubled banks. It will be the first installment of a bailout of up to 100bn euros, which was agreed to in June. The ministers will need to get approval from their own parliaments and hope to make the payment by the end of July. The eurozone finance ministers also agreed to extend the 2013 deadline for Spain to cut its budget deficit to the EU limit of 3% by one year. The yield on Spanish bonds rose sharply on Monday ahead of the meeting, with many fearing that little concrete action on Spanish banks would be reached. “We are aiming at reaching a formal agreement in the second half of July, taking into account national parliamentary procedures, allowing for a first disbursement of 30bn euros by the end of the month to be mobilized as a contingency in case of urgent needs in the Spanish banking sector,” Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “There will be specific conditions for specific banks, and the supervision of the financial sector overall will be strengthened,” he added. The exact amount that Spain needs for the bailout of its banks may not be known until September.
UNITED KINGDOM ““ (BBC) The body of US national Eva Rausing, 48, a member of the family behind the Tetra-Pak cartons empire, was found at Cadogan Place, Belgravia. The death is being treated as unexplained, Scotland Yard said. However, police have refused to comment on reports that a 49-year-old man arrested in connection with the death and on suspicion of possession of drugs is her husband Hans Kristian Rausing. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the man was no longer at a police station and was currently receiving medical attention. A post-mortem examination at Westminster Mortuary did not establish how Mrs. Rausing died and further tests are being carried out. The Met said officers from its Homicide and Serious Crime Command were investigating her death. Police said they searched the address and found the body after making the drugs arrest on Monday. Officers could be seen guarding the front door of the Cadogan Place home, which was taped off. In 2008, Mrs. Rausing and her husband Hans Kristian Rausing faced drug charges after crack, heroin, and 52g of cocaine were found in their home. Mrs. Rausing had been arrested after she allegedly tried to smuggle small amounts of crack cocaine and heroin into the US embassy in London. Charges were then dropped and a caution issued instead. The family made their fortune from the Tetra Laval milk carton, patented by Ruben Rausing in the 1960s.