May 19th, 2011
03:16 PM GMT
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The Europeans are in a tricky position. They desperately want to keep the top job at the IMF, but they can’t be seen to be nakedly saying “it’s ours by right.”

So leaders from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to finance ministers from Austria, Sweden and Denmark, (in fact just about anyone from Europe who has opened their mouth on the subject), are turning linguistic cartwheels to promote a European solution.

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May 19th, 2011
04:47 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan (CNN) - Japan's economy, sputtering since the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, has fallen into recession, according to government figures released Thursday.

The country's gross domestic product fell by an annualized rate of 3.7% in the first quarter of the calendar year, according to the government, a much steeper fall than Japanese economists had predicted.

Comparing the first quarter to the previous year, according to Japan's cabinet office, the GDP fell 0.9%. In the fourth quarter of 2010, the GDP fell 0.8% as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Thursday's GDP figures show a second consecutive quarterly drop, which fits the economic definition of a recession.

Industrial output in March was down 15.3%, the worst monthly drop in the country's history.

Businesses in the region affected by the tsunami were hit hard, with 10,000 of 24,000 businesses affected and 600 expected to close.

The figures, which did not include data from tourism or trade, underscore the fact that the natural disaster of March has become an economic disaster.

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May 19th, 2011
04:38 AM GMT
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(CNN) – A unit of insurer Munich Re awarded high-performing agents with a 2007 party in Budapest with 20 prostitutes, according to a story published Wednesday by Handelsblatt, a leading German business newspaper.

According to a story preview published on the Handelsblatt website, about 100 guests gathered at the Gellert spa “and transformed the historic site into an open-air brothel.”

Handelsblatt reported that women wore armbands: red for hostesses, yellow for sexual favors and white for prostitutes reserved for top executives and agents. Guests coming into the party were searched before entry and forbidden from taking cameras inside, according to one guest Handelsblatt interviewed.

The newspaper said the prostitutes would get a stamp on their forearm to keep a tally of services through the night.

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May 19th, 2011
02:06 AM GMT
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Madrid, Spain (CNN) - Protests against Spain's economic crisis took a new turn Wednesday as social media networks fueled calls for demonstrators to take to the streets before local elections a few days away.

Thousands returned late Tuesday to Madrid's central Puerta del Sol plaza - where the main protests began Sunday.

A few hundred demonstrators camped out there overnight, while similar but smaller protests were held in Barcelona and other Spanish cities, a protest organizer said.

"The economy and unemployment are key to the protest because that binds all of us together," said Jon Aguirre Such, a spokesman for the Real Democracy Now, one of many groups convening the demonstrations.

"In this crisis, while some have gotten rich, most people have less income," Aguirre said.

Demonstrators are protesting Spain's 21% unemployment rate and a record 4.9 million jobless.

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May 19th, 2011
02:01 AM GMT
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Beijing (CNN) - I was out shopping for groceries the other day with a friend of mine who has been living in Beijing for over a decade. We stopped by the fruit section, and I automatically gravitated to the bright red apples that looked delicious sitting on the store shelf.

She immediately stepped in. "I choose the apples that are pock-marked and are slightly bitten up by bugs," she told me while replacing the apples in my basket. "I figure if the fruit is good enough for the insect, it's good enough for me."

In China, she told me, the most perfectly formed, most appetizing piece of fruit is the scariest of them all.

With so many food safety scandals in China, everyone seems to have a philosophy on how best to eat. Avoid seafood. Never eat meat from the local market. Don't eat Chinese branded dairy products including cakes.

Probably the best and most consistent piece of advice I have gotten is to diversify your diet. "Rotate your poisons," a food safety expert advised me. It's enough to make you paranoid about eating anything at all.

Fear over additives, antibiotics, fake foods, and dodgy practices has grabbed hold of consumers here, some of whom are taking matters into the own hands by forming organic food buying clubs.

The government has recently ramped up efforts to tighten regulations and root out food safety violators in a state-backed media campaign.

The latest food safety report? Watermelons so juiced up with growth-enhancing chemicals that the fruit bursts open in the field. The CCTV report noted that few fruit markets are willing to buy the melons because they could erupt in transit - oh, and irritate the digestive system if you eat them.

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