Merkel coaxes states to spend more on education

Dresden, Germany - Germany's ailing education system, which has come under fire because of the high number of dropouts, is to win a cash infusion, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday after meeting state premiers.

Merkel has picked education as a strategic focus for Germany after a series of damning reports from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 

The education summit in Dresden agreed to aim at lifting the proportion of each age cohort which attends university from 35 per cent now to 40 per cent.

The proportion of German economic output to be spent on education and scientific research must grow, they agreed.

US expert: Al-Qaeda has nuclear ambitions, not capabilities

Rome - Al-Qaeda has become the world's "first terrorist nuclear power without demonstrating possession of a single nuclear weapon," according to US expert Brian Jenkins.

A senior advisor at the US think-tank, the Rand Corporation, Jenkins was commenting Wednesday on remarks made this week by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, Michael Hayden, that al-Qaeda is "the CIA's top nuclear concern."

"The CIA director based his assessment on intentions rather than capabilities," Jenkins, author of a new book Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?, said in an interview with Rome-based news agency Adnkronos International (AKI).

McDonald's grows fat on lean times, in Europe too

McDonald's grows fat on lean times, in Europe too Washington - The world's largest restaurant chain McDonalds is growing fat on lean times, reporting Wednesday an 11 per cent rise in third quarter profits compared to the same period last year.

Cheap one-dollar cheeseburgers and other dollar-menu items brought in more consumers who are stretched by higher food costs at grocery stores and other restaurants, according to the company's statement.

Earnings rose to 1.19 billion dollars, compared with 1.07 billion dollars a year ago, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company said.

French shares end sharply lower as Wall Street plunges

Paris - Following big losses on Asian markets overnight and a weak performance on Wall Street, French shares closed sharply lower on Wednesday.

The Paris Bourse's benchmark CAC 40 ended the session down 5.1 per cent, to 3,298.18, with only one of its 40 listed stocks gaining ground.

Drinks giant Pernod Ricard led the declining issues, giving up 13.62 per cent, to 42.26 euros.

Industrials were the hardest-hit sector, with transport manufacturer Alstom losing 12.84 per cent, to 38.60 euros, and steel-makers ArcelorMittal and Vallourec off by 10.06 and 9.81 per cent to, respectively, 19.26 euros and 79.45 euros.

Austria to spend 2.9 billion euros to stimulate economic growth

Vienna - The Austrian government decided Wednesday to spend a total of 2.9 billion euros (3.9 billion dollars) on an economic stimulus package focused on medium-sized business and infrastructure projects.

In 2009 and 2010, around 1 billion euros will be allocated each year to an investment fund for medium-sized companies, the government announced. The money will also be used to finance small loans.

Faced with slowing economic growth, politicians "should not discuss, but act fast," Infrastructure and Transport Minister Werner Faymann said after the cabinet meeting where the measure was decided upon.

Weakened Czech leader survives no-confidence vote

Weakened Czech leader survives no-confidence vote Prague - Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's government survived a parliamentary confidence motion Wednesday, just as the Czech Republic prepares to take over the EU presidency in January.

The left-leaning opposition was five votes short in the 96-97 vote, the fourth failed effort to topple the ruling coalition since it came to power in January 2007.

The main opposition Social Democrats needed 101 votes in the 200-seat lower house to oust Topolanek's center-right cabinet.