Burqa ban finally gives Belgians something to agree on

Belgium's government is barely functional right now, hampered by a decades long power struggle between Flemish and Wallonian politicians. But the two sides do seem to be able to agree on one thing:

The lower house of parliament voted on Thursday to ban clothes or veils that did not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-body veil, known as the burqa, and the face veil which leaves slits for the eyes, known as the niqab.

A cross-party consensus of 136 deputies voted for the measure, with just two abstentions and no opposing votes.  

Muslims are about 3 percent of the Belgian population so clearly this was a much more pressing issue than the country's rising unemployment and ballooning national debt. 



Greece cuts way back on defense

Greece's new austerity measures, which will include cuts in public sector salaries, pensions, as well as tax increases, have provoked widespread, and occasionally violent, protests. But the country's military is taking a big hit as well: 

Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos Greece is aiming to slash operating costs by up to 25 percent in 2010 from 2009, instead of the planned reduction of 12.6 percent listed in this year's budget.

"That is a colossal amount, reaching the margin of our operating needs," Venizelos said, insisting that the cuts were not a direct result of the Greek debt crisis, nor would affect the strategic balance with historic rival Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit Athens next month.

Strangely, Venizelos says the cuts are not a response to the financial crisis, but are "mandated by the modern views of military planning." Not really sure what school of military planning mandates a 25 percent lower budget, but okay.

Greece currently has 15 troops stationed in Afghanistan.