Must-Reads from Around the World: February 16, 2012

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A job centre is pictured in Bromley, south-east England, on February 15, 2012. Britain's unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent in the three months to December, which was the highest level for 16 years

Jobless Woes—Unemployment in the U.K. rose by 48,000 to 2.67 million in the three months to December, official figures show. The BBC reports that while this is the smallest increase in over a year, the country’s unemployment rate hit a 17-year-high of 8.4 percent. Putting a spotlight on the female workforce, The Guardian notes that women accounted for two-thirds of the increase in unemployment and 531,700 women now claim unemployment benefits – the highest level since 1995.

Up in Flames —More than 300 inmates were killed in a prison fire in central Honduras, officials said Wednesday. The fire was one of the worst tragedies of its kind in decades in Latin America and focused renewed attention on the often poor conditions of prisons in the region. Honduran prisons are notorious for overcrowding and violence, the New York Times reports, a problem exacerbated as drug gangs have overrun the nation and set up staging grounds to move cocaine from South America to the United States. TIME’s Tim Padgett calls on Central America’s elites to shoulder some responsibility and take action.

Al-Qaeda’s Merger – Last week’s announcement of a merger between al-Qaeda and al-Shabab, a Somali terrorist group, mostly fell on deaf ears. Foreign Policy‘s J.M. Berger has a re-work that grabs attention: “Dozens of Americans join al-Qaeda.” Al-Shabab apparently has the most success recruiting Americans, with some 40 American members, along with dozens more working in support roles on U.S. soil. Berger points out, disturbingly, that al-Qaeda is now in its best position to carry out attacks in the U.S. than at any time in the past 10 years.

Heartland Charms – The China Daily reports that Vice President Xi Jinping “charmed” residents of Muscatine, Iowa, on Wednesday. It was Xi’s second visit to the Iowa farm town, 27 years after he first came on an agricultural exchange. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin wonders if there is more to his visit then winning over America’s heartland. Could China’s presumed next president learn a thing or two about how rural American towns govern themselves?

Fatal Flaw – The series of events leading to the death of U.S. Immigration agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico began with the quiet sound of a car door unlocking. The Washington Post looks at how a basic feature such as doors that automatically unlock when the car is put in park can render useless $160,000 of bullet proofing.

Rags to Riches? – The Atlantic argues that countries like China and India have to find a new development model because the Industrial Revolution can only happen once. What, dear readers, do you think?