China expects economic growth of 7.5% this year as it looks for more sustainable expansion, prepares for a change in leadership and rides out a global slowdown. Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled the target at the start of the annual National People's Congress. Despite setting a target of 8% growth over the past eight years, China has regularly grown more quickly. This has caused problems including high inflation and a widening wealth gap.
President Barack Obama says the US "will not hesitate" to use force to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but says diplomacy could still succeed. Addressing an influential pro-Israel lobby group, Mr Obama also warned against "loose talk" of war in the dispute with Tehran. Earlier, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Iran was "a danger to the world". The US and its allies suspect Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies. As tension in the region rises, speculation has been mounting that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites.
Shares in Gap jumped 7% after it reported strong February sales. Unusually warm weather has encouraged US shoppers and Gap said its spring products have been selling well. After a sluggish holiday season, Target reported a 7% rise in February sales, one of its best months since late 2007. It said that customers spent more on its food and health care products. It was also a strong month for Limited Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works. It reported an 8% increase in same stores sales. Consumer spending accounts for almost 70% of economic activity in the United States, so economists watch closely the fortunes of the big retailers. "This was a very strong month. A new life has been breathed into the retailers,'' said Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics. "Consumers are starting to feel much better about their overall situation.''
A Catholic clergyman who described gay marriage as "madness" faced criticism on Sunday when he was accused of prejudice and Downing Street reiterated the prime minister's personal support on the issue. In an article for a Sunday newspaper, Cardinal Keith O'Brien accused the coalition of trying to "redefine reality" with its proposal for legalising gay marriage, which is due to go out for consultation later this month. The letter reignited a sometimes passionate debate over the issue, which David Cameron made a personal crusade when he used his party speech two years ago to support gay marriage. A Downing St spokesman said there was no change in the government's pledge to legalise gay marriage, though he said Cameron was "relaxed" about church criticisms, which have also been voiced by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Brazil has declared a fresh "currency war" on the US and Europe, extending a tax on foreign borrowings and threatening further capital controls in an effort to protect the country's struggling manufacturers. Guido Mantega, the finance minister who was the first to use the controversial term in 2010, said the government would not "sit by passively" as developed nations continue to pursue expansionary monetary policies at the expense of Brazil. "When the real appreciates, it reduces our competitiveness. Exports are more expensive, imports are cheaper and it creates unfair competition for businesses in Brazil," he said on Thursday after announcing changes to the so-called IOF tax.
President Dilma Rousseff later weighed in on the debate, vowing to defend Brazilian industry and stop developed countries' policies from causing the "cannibalisation" of emerging markets.
Up to 2,000 Syrians are crossing into northern Lebanon to flee the violence in their home country. Meanwhile, Red Cross aid workers are still being blocked from entering the stricken neighbourhood of Baba Amr. It comes amid reports that Syrian government forces have raped 200 women in revenge attacks. China and Russia insist on preventing the UN to impose tougher sanctions on Syria in spite of criticisms from all over the world.