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The News Matrix: Wednesday 4 January 2012

One million turn to loan sharks for help

Almost one million Britons have taken out unsuitable payday loans with legal loan sharks to cover rent or mortgage payments in the past year. Around seven million people overall have turned to high-interest credit to keep a roof over their heads, research published today reveals. MORE

MPs face austerity battle to keep pay

Italian MPs are among the best paid in Europe with a basic salary of €11,283 (£9,411) a month, according to a report published yesterday. The report was released as Italy faces austerity measures including tax hikes and pension cuts to try to rein in its bloated public debt. MORE

Second paper claims Wulff issued threat

A second German newspaper yesterday alleged that the country's president, Christian Wulff, complained to its editor about plans to report on a private loan he received and threatened legal action, raising further questions over his judgment. Die Welt ran the report anyway.

Arab League may pull out monitors

The Arab League called an emergency meeting to discuss whether to withdraw its monitors from Syria, after opposition groups criticised comments by observers saying that the situation in the country was reasonable. The meeting will take place in Cairo on Saturday. MORE

Police took guns – then gave them back

The man who shot dead three women on New Year's Day had his guns confiscated by police in 2008 when he threatened to shoot himself, but they were handed back after he was assessed fit to possess them. MORE

Republicans kick off presidential contest

Iowa Republicans were last night preparing to cast the first votes of the 2012 presidential contest tonight, marking their choice for a candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in November. The last polls show the race in the state had become a three-man contest among the front-runner Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. MORE

Woman jailed for killing fiancé in fire

A woman who murdered her fiancé by locking him in a storeroom and setting it alight has been jailed a minimum of 23 years. Julie Dixon, 43, had claimed she and David Twigg were attacked by intruders, but changed her story at Lincoln Crown Court to claim it was an assisted suicide.

Experts look in to drug-drive offence

Ministers are to be advised on introducing a new offence of drug-driving by an expert panel. The team will consider whether it is scientifically possible to introduce maximum permitted levels for different drugs, or whether any detectable drug should constitute an offence.

Owner of killer dog avoids jail

A former British paratrooper whose "lovable" dog mauled a woman to death has been spared a jail sentence. Alex Blackburn-Smith, from south London, confined the Neapolitan mastiff – the same breed as Fang in the Harry Potter film series – to a cage 6in shorter than the dog itself.

'Tram rant' woman is sent for trial

The woman filmed shouting alleged racist abuse at passengers on a tram will face trial at Crown Court next month. Emma West appeared before magistrates in Croydon yesterday charged with two racially aggravated public order offences.

Two Britons held for possessing AK47s

Two UK nationals were arrested in Afghanistan yesterday for the possession of 30 AK47 rifles, the Foreign Office has said. The pair, held in Kabul, are believed to be private security contractors who did not have the necessary paperwork.

Church of England researches market

The Church of England is soliciting feedback from worshippers on what they expect from funerals and christenings to try to draw people back from secular services. The research has been commissioned due to a decline in people using churches to celebrate rites of passage. MORE

Diet doctor sees fat chance for students

A leading French dietician has proposed high school students be graded in relation to their Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight. "Obesity is a real public health problem that is rarely -- if at all -- taken into account by politicians," Pierre Dukan said.

Beckham turns down Paris offer

David Beckham has decided against uprooting his family to play for Paris St Germain in France, the football club's director says. It had been reported that Beckham would leave Los Angeles in a £1.3m deal. MORE

Illegal fireworks kill two revellers

Two men were killed and 561 other people were wounded as Italians celebrated the new year with massive displays of illegal and homemade fireworks, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. Of those wounded, 76 were children under the age of 12.

Judge avoids penalty for cursing in court

A Crown Court judge who swore and stormed out of court won't be disciplined after retiring "on medical grounds". Beatrice Bolton, of Rothbury, Northumberland, was found guilty of failing to control her dangerous dog in December 2010, calling the verdict "a f****** travesty". MORE

Bentley sales take a great leap forward

Sales of luxury Bentley cars have been boosted by rich Chinese consumers. The Cheshire-based company sold 7,003 cars last year, and sales in China nearly doubled to 1,839. The US remained the biggest market, but the UK had proven "extremely challenging". MORE

'Occupy' storms on to the cliche list

Occupy this. At least, so say students at Michigan's Lake Superior State University who released an annual list of words they deem so misused, overused and cliched they should be banished. "Occupy", associated with city protests, made the list after just a few months of overexposure.

Gold ingots found on train are fakes

A stash of gold-coloured ingots found on a train last week and thought to be worth close to €800,000 has turned out to be fake. Bomb experts called in to defuse a package on a train on the edge of Paris on Friday found the object to be a metal box containing what appeared to be 20kg of gold bars.

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