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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Confusion Over Greek Extension to Deficit Targets

Greece’s negotiations over its deficit reduction targets and deadlines were thrown into confusion by statements made by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras. He announced early on Wednesday that the country had obtained two additional years to achieve its deficit reduction targets, a claim backed by reports in the German press, but then told the Greek Parliament that the government was “trying for improvements”. The deal on the two-year extension was also denied by European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble during a press conference with reporters at the Bundestag in Berlin. Schäuble said a deal would not be possible until the troika, composed of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, concluded its report on Greece’s progress and until the eurozone’s finance ministers had read it. The country needs to unlock further tranches from its bailout agreement as it is just three weeks away from running out of cash.

UN Envoy Says Syria Agrees to Ceasefire During Eid al-Adha

The United Nations envoy to Syria, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, has said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to a ceasefire during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. He told reporters in Cairo the government and most opposition factions had agreed to abide by the terms of the ceasefire, but that the Syrian government would only announce its final decision on Thursday. “If this humble initiative succeeds, we hope we can build on it in order to negotiate a longer and more effective halt of military operations, which could be part of a comprehensive political process”, said Brahimi. The leader of the main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, said that it would hold a ceasefire if the government stopped shooting first. “The FSA will stop firing if the regime stops”, said General Mustafa al-Sheikh to the AFP news agency.

Sudan Accuses Israel of Bombing Weapons Factory in Khartoum

A Sudanese minister has accused Israel of striking a weapons factory in the capital, Khartoum, on Wednesday morning. “Four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant”, said Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman, adding that the planes had approached the site from the east. The explosions at the military factory caused widespread panic throughout the city, but there were no reports of deaths. Nearby buildings were damaged by the blast, with many having windows shattered and roofs blown off by the shockwaves. Israeli daily Haaretz reported that senior officials in Jerusalem refused to comment on Israel’s alleged involvement in the air strike. Sudan has blamed Israel for similar attacks in the past, such as an air strike that killed two people in Port Sudan in April 2011.

Prisoners ‘Should Not Get the Vote’, says U.K. Prime Minister

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs in the House of Commons that prisoners would never get the vote during his government, in direct contradiction to Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, who had said earlier on Wednesday that the country would abide by a European Court of Human Rights ruling that inmates should be given that right. The U.K. risks being thrown out of the Council of Europe, as well as being subject to large compensation claims, if it does not comply with ruling. “No one should be in any doubt. Prisoners are not getting the vote under this government”, said Cameron. “I do not want prisoners to have the vote, and they should not get the vote—I am very clear about that. If it helps to have another vote in Parliament on another resolution to make it absolutely clear and help put the legal position beyond doubt, I am happy to do that”, said the Prime Minister.

Women Win Landmark Equal Pay Battle at U.K. Supreme Court

Women who earned less than their male counterparts despite being on the same pay grade at Birmingham City Council have won a battle for equal compensation at the U.K. Supreme Court on Wednesday. The judges ruled that the 170 former council employees can launch compensation claims. They were among female workers denied bonuses similar to those handed out to employees in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave-diggers. Before the ruling, only workers who were still employed or had recently left could make claims in an employment tribunal. Many had been caught out by a six-month deadline for launching claims. Former care assistant Pam Sounders said she was “over the moon“, adding that from now on “whatever we get is a bonus”.

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