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Students and professors protest California education cuts

SACRAMENTO — Angered by increases in tuition and cuts in state funding, thousands of students, parents and faculty protested across California on Thursday, demonstrating at colleges, universities and even elementary schools to plead for help with the state’s ongoing educational crisis.

Dubbed a “strike and day of action to defend public education” by organizers, the demonstrations were boisterous and occasionally confrontational — campus and building entrances were blocked at several schools — but peaceful.

The largest demonstration took place here on the northern steps of the State Capitol, where more than 1,000 people used drums and bullhorns to try to get their message across.

“How are we going to save the future if we can’t even get into our classes?” said Reid Milburn, the president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, drawing a large cheer from the crowd, many of whom were students avoiding classes as a means of protest.

California’s public education system has been racked by cutbacks in the wake of the state’s ongoing financial problems, which include a looming $20 billion deficit. Layoffs and furloughs have hit many districts and school systems, along with reductions in class sizes, grants, and courses.

China declares slowdown in military spending

China’s official military budget will rise by just 7.5 percent in 2010, a government spokesman said Thursday, a rate that is about half the official increase in recent years and the first to fall below 10 percent since 1989.

The announcement by Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, gave no explanation for the slowdown. Some analysts speculated, however, that China’s huge economic stimulus program and other efforts to address unemployment and welfare had eaten into monies that in a normal year would go toward defense.

It is also possible that China reduced the growth of its publicly acknowledged defense spending to help allay international concerns about its rising power, which have been fueled in part by heavy investment in new weapons systems.

While China’s government has disclosed more information about military spending in recent years, much of its spending plans remains secret.

IMF help for Greece is a risk

Greece skirted disaster this week by convincing investors and politicians that it is finally on track to fix its finances.

But even before the dust settles, the government is setting the stage for a potential conflict with Germany, France and other European governments that may raise doubts about the sustainability of the euro project.

In the last two days, Greece’s finance minister has threatened to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout if Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and other European politicians resist pledging aid to help Greece cope with its newfound frugality. Asking the fund for help could create a new round of financial and political turmoil by sending the message that Europe cannot resolve its own problems, analysts said.

“It would be damaging for the euro zone going forward because it would sow seeds of doubt about whether this is really a currency union, or just a group of countries that share a currency,” said Simon Tilford, the chief economist of the Center for European Reform in London.