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Lawyers for 2 on death row try to block U.K. drug export

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Lethal injection drug at heart of court fight A drug used in lethal injection executions in the United States has become the focus of a British court fight over export controls.

The drug, sodium thiopental, is one of three used in such executions, a painkiller that first renders death-row inmates unconscious. There's a shortage of this drug in the United States, and some executions have been delayed, but it is still available in Britain.

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However, opponents of the death penalty argue that the export of the drug violates human rights, particularly given the British government's commitment to abolishing executions.

In November, a human rights group in London sued the government, arguing that a death row inmate in Tennessee, Edmund Zagorski, will be executed if the drug is exported. The court fight in London today involves both Zagorski and Ralph Base, both of whom are on death row.

Earlier this month, Britain's Business Secretary Vince Cable refused to ban the export of the drug under the Export Control Act, saying it was medicine whose primary use was as an anaesthetic and that "legitimate trade of medical value would be affected by any restriction on the export of this product from the U.K."

Today at London's High Court, according to The Press Association and other reports, lawyer Nathalie Lieven argued that Mr. Cable's refused to ban the export was irrational.

"There are strong grounds for fearing that the U.K. will be, or already has been, the source of drugs used in the claimants' proposed executions, and for many other persons on death row in the U.S.," Ms. Lieven said, according to Bloomberg News.

"Such executions would be a clear violation of fundamental human rights principles to which the U.K. has consistently, and very recently, affirmed its commitment.

Zagorski, convicted of two murders, has been on death row since 1984, while Baze, convicted of killing two police officers, is on death row Kentucky, where he has been for 17 years.

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"Having failed to persuade Vince Cable that it is wrong for the U.K. to be facilitating the death penalty in the U.S., we hope that the High Court will now compel him to exercise the powers of export control which parliament has granted him to prevent just this sort of violation of human rights," Richard Stein, of the law firm Leigh Day & Co., told The Independent.

"There is a list which covers guillotines, gas chambers and electrocution equipment."

GM boosts IPO again General Motors Co. is on track for one of the biggest initial public offerings ever, possibly the largest in the U.S. depending on how it plays out.

GM, the subject of a bailout and a stint in bankruptcy protection, said today it was boosting the size of the offering of common shares to 478 million from 365 million, not including overallotments. The estimated price range is $32 (U.S.) to $33 (U.S.), driven by very hot investor demand.

The IPO could bring in $18-billion from the common stock and $4.6-billion from the preferred share offering if the overallotment provision is exercised.

GM will price the IPO today and its shares will begin trading again tomorrow in New York and Toronto.

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Both the U.S. and Canada are involved, both holding stakes in the auto maker after the historic bailout during the crisis. In the U.S., the government will sell 412 million of its 912 million shares, according to reports.

GM has rebounded smartly from the crisis, last week posting a profit of $2-billion for the third quarter. So far this year, GM's profits have topped $4-billion - that follows five years in a row of losses.

U.S. probes bank failures The U.S. agency that insures bank deposits is probing former executives, employees and directors that collapsed in the crisis, The Wall Street Journal reports today.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the U.S. equivalent of Canada Deposit Insurance Corp., has launched about 50 criminal investigations, the newspaper said.

The FDIC wants to punish alleged recklessness and fraud, as authorities did after the infamous savings and loan scandal in the 1980s and 1990s. More than 300 institutions have collapsed since the financial crisis began.

"We anticipate results from our investigations, although we cannot predict when a particular case will reach a stage at which disclosure of specifics would be appropriate," Fred W. Gibson, the agency's deputy inspector general, told the Journal.

Beijing to fight high food prices Beijing is taking steps to fight surging food prices, announcing today it will subsidize costs for poorer families and saying it could bring in price controls if warranted.

China's cabinet, while short on details, said in a statement it will move to boost commodities supplies. "When necessary, temporary intervention measures will be implemented on prices of some important daily necessities and production materials," it added in the statement, according to Reuters.

Markets fear China will next move to hike interest rates again in a bid to cool a hot economy.

"This move follows public comments from Premier Wen yesterday stating that the government will act to curb inflation," RBC Dominion Securities said in a research note.

"These measures are said to include the release of reserves and steps to curb speculative activity, with subsidies to low-income households also floated as part of the government's response to concerns about increases in the cost of living.

"The recent increase in inflation highlight the main risk associated with Beijing's delay in normalizing policy this year and suggests that greater urgency will be needed in the months ahead."

In a report yesterday Capital Economics suggested price control would not work well, and that there are better alternatives, including raising subsidies, as Beijing did today.

"Price controls may appeal to officials eager to be seen to be doing something about rising inflation, but China's experience with controls has not been encouraging," said economists Mark Williams and Qinwei Wang.

"For markets, they could play either way. Investors may conclude that such a step makes conventional monetary tightening less urgent. More likely, the need to resort to such a step would fan fears that the government was going all-out to tame inflation."

The two economists said Beijing should be wary of price controls, citing a 2008 initiative that went nowhere and were formally abandoned at the end of the year.

"Those producers that can will respond by exporting more to take advantage of higher prices overseas," they wrote.

Over the medium term, many will limit output. In either case, the result will be domestic shortages of essential goods, which are arguably more damaging than inflation. The periodic queues at filling stations over the past few years underline that price controls, in this case for fuels, do not necessarily leave consumers better off.

"For this reason, we suspect that, if price controls are introduced, they are unlikely to affect too many products or be in place for very long."

Inflation numbers support Fed Inflation remains tame in the United States, according to a government report today that may help take the heat off the Federal Reserve, which has been criticized over its $600-billion (U.S.) quantitative easing program.

Consumer prices edged up 0.2 per cent in October, while the so-called core rate, which factors out volatile items, was flat. Both numbers are shy of what economists had expected.

The U.S. central bank has launched a plan to help juice the economy, and lift inflation, by buying longer-term Treasurys to help drive down longer-term rates. The Fed was criticized in the wake of that announcement, dubbed QE2, though today's numbers lend support to its program.

"October's U.S. CPI inflation figures support the stance taken by a number of Fed officials that they would have launched QE2 even if the Fed's mandate was to target price stability alone," said Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

"This isn't just about a stubbornly high unemployment rate. Core consumer prices were unchanged in October for a third month in a row. The annual rate of core inflation fell to only 0.6 per cent, from 0.8 per cent, while the three-month annualised rate dropped to 0.2 per cent."

Ireland to work with EU-IMF mission Ireland is now working with a joint EU-International Monetary Fund commission on ways to aid its embattled banking industry, which observers said could pave the way for a bailout despite the fact the Irish government is resisting such as move.

The mission from the EU and IMF will be in Ireland tomorrow.

"What we want to concentrate on now is in a focused way, over coming days, to sit down and see in what way can assistance be provided to ensure that these issues can be dealt with properly and appropriately," Prime Minister Brian Cowen told his parliament.

Ireland's troubles have sparked fears of contagion, and that the next shoe to drop may in other debt-burdened countries such as Portugal.

"Ireland continues to refuse to bow to EU pressure to accept a bailout, and cracks have already started to appear in the united Europe front of recent weeks," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

"Austria's decision to withhold its portion of bailout cash for Greece, saying that the Greeks haven't met their commitments to the EU on public finances, could be the beginning of the unravelling of the emergency bailout fund, or EFSF as it is known. Finland has also served notice that it is opposed to bailout cash for Ireland.

"Pressure continues to mount on Greece, Portugal and Spanish bond yields as fears of a contagion effect start to escalate.

"Speculation continues to grow that Ireland may be forced to accept funds to keep its banks funded, however Irish officials have continued to straight bat any proposals that lead to that conclusion, especially given the fact that they don't have to return to the bond markets until June next year, and the risks to their own fiscal sovereignty such a step would bring."

Loblaw warns of pressures Loblaw Cos. Ltd. posted a healthy jump in third-quarter profit but warned today of increasing pressure on sales and margins.

Loblaw earned $213-million or 77 cents a share, compared to $189-million or 69 cents a year earlier. Sales climbed to almost $9.6-billion from almost $9.5-billion.

"The company continues to make progress towards the final stages of its renewal program in a market which remains highly competitive and under deflationary pressures," executive chairman Galen G. Weston said in a statement.

"These factors, combined with the significant risk and cost associated with the major systems and infrastructure programs the company is undertaking, will continue to put future sales and margins increasingly under pressure."

Metro Inc. today also reported higher profits, of $93.4-million or 88 cents a share in its fourth quarter, saying in a statement that "although the economic and competitive environments remain challenging, we are confident that we can continue to grow in 2011."

"Management's outlook remained cautious due to the coincidence of a difficult external market environment and transformational internal projects," said Desjardins analyst Keith Howlett.

"Loblaw appears to be making steady progress towards its goal of best-in-class supply chain and competitive information technology. The period of highest risk related to this transformational effort should pass by summer 2011."

Vale to invest more in Canada Vale, the mining giant that now owns Canadian nickel miner Inco, says it will invest more than $10-billion over five years to strengthen and expand its Canadian operations.

The Brazilian miner made the announcement today, calling it an indicator of the "bright future" it sees in the country, The Globe and Mail's Brenda Bouw reports.

"These investments represent an important building block for the future of our Canadian operations," said Tito Martins, chief executive of Vale Canada. "The dollars invested here will improve environmental performance, unlock new market opportunities, increase efficiencies and strengthen our global competitiveness for years to come."

The five-year investment program includes projects already underway as well as new ones, the company said in a statement.

FT names top women in business The Financial Times has dropped Heather Reisman from a list of the world's top 50 business women.

Ms. Reisman, the force behind Indigo Books & Music was edged out by others being added to the list she was on in last year's rankings by the newspaper.

Topping the FT list is Indra Nooyi of Pepsico.

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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