Obama says U.S. has to 'do something' about guns after Colorado shooting

WASHINGTON Expressing what has become regularly repeated frustration on the issue, President Barack Obama said on Saturday the United States needs to "do something" to make it harder for criminals to get guns after a shooting in Colorado killed three people and injured nine."We have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period," Obama said in a statement. "Enough is enough."In Friday's shooting, an assailant opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic, a center that provides health services including abortions, in Colorado Springs.It was the latest in a long series of U.S. mass shootings during Obama's seven years in office. He has called the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, his toughest day as president.Obama said it was too soon to know the Colorado Springs shooter's "so-called motive" but said the tragedy was more evidence pointing to the need to reform firearms laws. "This is not normal," said Obama, who has become increasingly forthright in urging gun control measures when he makes statements after such events. "We can’t let it become normal."Obama tried to tighten up gun laws after the Newtown shootings, but met resistance in the U.S. Congress, including from some of his fellow Democrats, and failed to push a measure through.After another deadly shooting at an Oregon community college last month, Obama said White House lawyers would pore through existing laws to look for new ways he could use his executive powers to enforce regulations. One of those options would require more gun dealers to get a license to sell guns, which would lead to more background checks on buyers.The White House had drafted a proposal on that issue in 2013, but was concerned it could be challenged in court. Administration officials are now hopeful they can find a way to advance the plan. Obama has also pledged to elevate the issue of gun laws during his remaining time in office, and has denounced lawmakers for bowing to pressure from the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group.On Saturday, he said Americans could not "offer up our thoughts and prayers" for the families of the dead police officer and of the two other victims of the shooting "with a truly clean conscience" unless they also pushed for changes to make it harder to get guns."May God bless Officer Garrett Swasey and the Americans he tried to save - and may he grant the rest of us the courage to do the same thing," Obama said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Frances Kerry) Read more

Pfizer walks away from $118 billion AstraZeneca takeover fight

LONDON/NEW YORK Pfizer abandoned its attempt to buy AstraZeneca for nearly 70 billion pounds ($118 billion) on Monday as a deadline approached without a last-minute change of heart by the British drugmaker.The decision ends a month-long public fight between two of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies that sparked political concerns on both sides of Atlantic over jobs and corporate tax maneuvers.British rules now require an enforced cooling-off period. AstraZeneca could reach out to Pfizer after three months and Pfizer could take another run at its smaller British rival in six months time, whether it is invited back or not.Pfizer's move came two hours before a 5.00 pm (1200 ET) deadline to make a firm offer or walk away, under UK takeover rules. Its decision to quit the stage, at least for now, had been widely expected after AstraZeneca refused its final offer of 55 pounds a share."Following the AstraZeneca board's rejection of the proposal, Pfizer announces that it does not intend to make an offer for AstraZeneca," Pfizer said in a short news release.The biggest U.S. drugmaker promised it would not go hostile by taking its offer directly to AstraZeneca shareholders, leaving the fate of what would have been the world's largest ever drugs merger in the hands of its target, whose board would have had to make a complete U-turn to get a deal done."We continue to believe that our final proposal was compelling and represented full value for AstraZeneca based on the information that was available to us," said Ian Read, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive.Pfizer's final offer was at a price that many analysts and investors had previously suggested would bring AstraZeneca to the table for serious negotiations. But in rejecting an earlier offer of 53.50 pounds as undervaluing the company, the British group indicated it needed a bid more than 10 percent higher, or at least 58.85 pounds per share, for its board to consider a recommendation.Pfizer had urged AstraZeneca shareholders to agitate for engagement and several expressed disappointment at its intransigence, although others - encouraged by AstraZeneca's promising drug pipeline - backed the firm's standalone strategy.AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson welcomed Pfizer's decision to back down, which he said would allow the British company to focus on its growth potential as an independent company.What happens next will depend upon whether AstraZeneca's share price deteriorates in the coming weeks and how hard its shareholders push for it to revisit a deal with Pfizer. BlackRock, AstraZeneca's biggest shareholder, backed the board's rejection of Pfizer's 55 pounds a share offer, but urged it to talk again in the future.POLITICAL OPPOSITIONThe proposed transaction ran into fierce opposition from politicians in Britain, Sweden - where AstraZeneca has half it roots - and the United States over the likelihood that the marriage would lead to thousands of job cuts.Ultimately, it was price and the lack of room for eleventh-hour maneuvering by Pfizer that killed the deal. Pfizer had several reasons for taking aim at AstraZeneca for what would have been its fourth mega-merger in 14 years.Highest on the list appeared to be Pfizer's desire to take part in a recent trend of so-called tax inversions, under which it could reincorporate in Britain and pay significantly lower corporate tax. Pfizer would also be able to use tens of billions of dollars it has parked overseas, avoiding high U.S. taxes for repatriating the huge cash pile.Pfizer also had its eye on a promising portfolio of drugs in AstraZeneca's developmental pipeline, especially several potentially lucrative cancer medicines.It was this pipeline that AstraZeneca management used to make its case for Pfizer significantly undervaluing the company.Chief Executive Pascal Soriot went as far as making a 10-year forecast for a 75 percent rise in sales by 2023."As we said from the start, the pursuit of this transaction was a potential enhancement to our existing strategy," Pfizer's Read said. "We will continue our focus on the execution of our plans, bringing forth new treatments to meet patients' needs and remaining responsible stewards of our shareholders' capital."The merger would have restored Pfizer as the world's largest drugmaker by sales, a position it relinquished to Swiss-based Novartis when billions of dollars in annual revenue evaporated after its top-selling cholesterol fighter Lipitor began facing generic competition in 2011.(Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter) Read more

Recession-hit Venezuela vows New Year reforms, foes scoff

CARACAS President Nicolas Maduro vowed on Tuesday to reform Venezuela's Byzantine currency controls in early 2015 as part of a six-month plan to shake Venezuela out of recession, but foes accused him of incompetence and inaction. After sitting on GDP data all year, the Central Bank announced that OPEC member Venezuela had entered recession, with the economy contracting in each of the first three quarters: by 4.8, 4.9 and 2.3 percent, respectively. Confirming Venezuela as the region's worst-performing major economy this year, the bank also said 12-month inflation reached 63.6 percent in November, the highest rate in the Americas.Maduro, 52, who won election last year to replace his socialist mentor Hugo Chavez, blamed political opponents for damaging the oil-dependent economy with months of street protests earlier this year.Maduro vowed to head up a six-month plan to turn around the economy in 2015 by reducing inflation-inducing liquidity, boosting international reserves, cutting unnecessary costs, and reforming the three-tier foreign exchange system. "We are going to perfect the currency system," he told a news conference, without giving much further detail on that or the other measures. "2015 will be a year of economic recovery ... great economic transformation."Opponents quickly slammed Maduro's comments as devoid of detail and real solutions for the ailing economy. "Yet again, no announcements. He doesn't know what to do," opposition leader Henrique Capriles fumed. "Today makes clear to all Venezuelans that with Nicolas we will not escape the chaos." Venezuela, whose last recession was from 2009-2010, has been handicapped by the plunge in oil prices. Venezuelan crude, which provides 96 percent of hard currency revenues, has halved from mid-year to $46 per barrel."ECONOMIC WAR"Venezuela's central bank had not published inflation data since August. The figures released on Tuesday put September inflation at 4.8 percent, October 5.0 percent and November 4.7 percent, compared with the same months of 2013. ( here ) The bank said opposition demonstrations during the year had disrupted both distribution and production, causing an inflationary spike and the GDP decline. The demonstrations sparked Venezuela's worst political violence in a decade. Forty-three people, including protesters, security officials and Maduro backers, died.Chavez-era welfare policies have long been popular among Venezuela's poor, and the bank said social indicators were all improving despite the poor GDP data. It said extreme poverty was down to 5.4 percent of households in 2014, half the level before Chavez came to power, while unemployment fell to 5.9 percent."Despite the protests and economic war during 2014, Venezuela's economic indicators have improved," Maduro said. "This economic war, this fall in the oil prices, is a great opportunity for economic change. 2015 is the year of opportunity, for great change in the economic model."Many analysts have been recommending a unification of Venezuela's currency controls and a rise in gasoline prices that are the cheapest in the world. But Maduro has balked at such measures so far, perhaps wary of a social backlash prior to a crucial vote for a new parliament next year.Russ Dallen, head bond trader at investment bank Caracas Capital Markets, said he counted Maduro using the phrase "economic war" 63 times during Tuesday's news conference."The speech was long on excuses and short on adjustments," he said. "If Maduro had a million dollars for each of his excuses, Venezuela's economic problems would be solved." The central bank said Venezuela's balance of payments posted a surplus of $6.8 billion by the end of the third quarter, with a current account surplus of $899 million, and the capital account showing a deficit of $568 million. Venezuelan exports, of which oil accounts for more than 90 percent, fell 14.2 percent to $19 billion in the third quarter, while imports were down slightly, by 1.4 percent, to $12.2 billion in the same period. (Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Diego Ore; Editing by Peter Murphy and Andrew Hay) Read more

VW's Audi suspends two engineers in emissions probe

BERLIN Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) luxury flagship Audi has suspended two engineers after its larger diesel engines were found evading emissions limits in the United States, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday.Volkswagen (VW) and Audi notified U.S. authorities last Thursday that about 85,000 vehicles with 3.0 liter V6 diesel engines were fitted with emissions-control equipment that was not disclosed to U.S. regulators.The news widened a scandal at parent VW which has led to the ouster of its long-time chief executive and wiped more than 20 billion euros ($21 billion) off the group's market value.Audi is now investigating whether employees in technical development and other departments deliberately manipulated emission-control devices and has suspended two engineers, Stadler said in an interview with the Donaukurier regional newspaper, without giving any further details.The V6 diesel engine was designed and assembled by Audi at its factory in Neckarsulm, Germany and widely used in premium models sold by the group's VW, Audi and Porsche brands in model years 2009 through 2016, Audi said on Monday.The Audi suspensions take the number of officials confirmed to have been put on leave across the VW group as a result of its internal investigations to eight, including at least six senior individuals. Ingolstadt-based Audi has said it failed to notify authorities in the United States of three so-called auxiliary emissions control devices (AECD) in luxury models, one of which is classified there as a banned "defeat device."The admission from Audi, which contributes about 40 percent to VW group profit, is raising pressure on Stadler, a 25 year VW group veteran who has led Audi for nine years. Asked by Donaukurier about potential personal consequences, the 52-year-old Stadler said: "What's at stake now is (to find out) the truth and I will not rest until everything is on the table."A spokesman for Audi's works council, which has about half the seats on the carmaker's supervisory board, said the company's labor boss would comment on the situation later on Thursday.Audi Chairman Berthold Huber "has expressed no criticism (of Stadler) whatsoever," a VW spokesman said, citing a "continuous dialogue" between VW and the former IG Metall union chief. ($1 = 0.9428 euros) (Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Mark Potter) Read more

Brent, U.S. crude futures flat on light U.S. Thanksgiving trade

SINGAPORE Brent and U.S. crude oil futures traded nearly flat on Thursday on light trading due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. crude's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures flirted in both negative and positive territory in morning trade, slipping 2 cents, or 0.05 percent, to $43.02 a barrel as of 0133 GMT. They finished the previous session up 17 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $43.04 a barrel.Brent edged down 8 cents, or 0.17 percent, to $46.09 a barrel. It settled up 5 cents, or 0.11 percent, at $46.17 a barrel the day before, after falling more than $1 to a session low $45.03. U.S. crude edged higher earlier in the day, supported by a smaller-than-expected build in U.S. inventories. Stocks rose 1 million barrels in the week to Nov. 20, the ninth consecutive week, compared with analyst expectations for a 1.2 million barrel rise, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. [EIA/S]Analysts say U.S. crude was also boosted by a fall in oil rigs, a sign that drillers were waiting for higher prices before returning to the well pad. Drilled cut rigs for the 12th week in the last 13, data from services company Baker Hughes showed. Asian stocks advanced in early trade on Thursday as the euro remained under pressure on growing bets that the European Central Bank would deliver further stimulus steps. U.S. markets will be closed Thursday and most of Friday afternoon. [MKTS/GLOB] (Reporting by Catherine Ngai; Editing by Joseph Radford) Read more

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