Sarkozy Cabinet upheaval: His administration shaken by highly unpopular pension reforms, President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to revive his political fortunes with a long-awaited Cabinet shuffle that shifted his government markedly to the right. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was replaced by the more conservative Michèle Alliott-Marie, and Alain Juppé, who had been prime minister under former President Jacques Chirac, was brought in as the new defense minister. However, Sarkozy was forced to reappoint Prime Minister François Fillon—whose role he had publicly belittled—because of pressure from his own party. Opinion polls show that the widely respected Fillon is more popular than Sarkozy. Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who had been expected to replace Fillon as prime minister, quit the government instead, indicating that he would challenge Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012.
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Government pays ex-detainees millions: The British government this week agreed to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle abuse claims by 15 former detainees and one current prisoner at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. The former detainees, who hold British passports or have the right to reside in Britain, had accused the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 of colluding with Americans in torturing them at Guantánamo using sleep deprivation, beatings, death threats, and other techniques. British press reports said the settlement package may run as high as $80 million. Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke described the deal as something “everybody is uncomfortable with, and many will dislike,” but said it would avert years of costly and politically damaging litigation. The government made no admission of liability, he said, and the former detainees made “no withdrawal of the allegations.”
Berlusconi’s woes increase: Four ministers in Italy’s coalition government resigned this week, deepening the political crisis sparked by the latest scandal surrounding Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s sexual escapades. All four departing ministers are supporters of Berlusconi’s former key ally Gianfranco Fini, who last week urged the beleaguered media tycoon to step down to allow the formation of a new government. Berlusconi admits he pressured police to release an underage woman, who’d previously attended parties at his home, after she was accused of shoplifting. He has vowed to stay in office and even a parliamentary no-confidence vote scheduled for next month isn’t likely to force his hand. The scandal-plagued leader probably maintains enough support in the upper house to prevail, allowing him to delay general elections and remain in power a while longer.
Insubordination saves world: British pop singer James Blunt claimed this week that his refusal to obey an order from NATO’s U.S. commander during the 1999 Kosovo conflict had averted World War III. Blunt, a former British cavalry officer, was at the head of a column of 30,000 NATO troops when his unit was ordered to wrest control of the Pristina airstrip from Russian forces. “The direct command [that] came in from Gen. Wesley Clark was to overpower them,” Blunt told the BBC this week. Blunt protested the order, and British Gen. Sir Mike Jackson supported Blunt, saying, “I’m not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III.” Blunt said he’d risked a court-martial by refusing to attack the Russians.
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