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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cyprus Turns to Moscow For Relief

The Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris could not close a deal with Russia to refinance a €2.5 billion loan made in December 2011 and extend a further €5 billion in credits on Wednesday afternoon, the latest attempt by the Mediterranean island to avert a financial crisis that could seriously impact the eurozone. The move follows the country’s parliament rejection of a plan to impose a tax on bank deposits that sought to raise €5.8 billion towards a €10 billion bailout extended by the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sarris said he would remain in Moscow for more talks with his Russian counterpart, Anton Siluanov, until a deal could be reached. “We had a very good meeting, very constructive, very honest discussion. We’ll now continue our discussion to find the solution by which we hope we will be getting some support”, said Sarris, hinting that Russian aid could go beyond the simple refinancing of a loan. “No, we are looking at things beyond that”, he added. Russian businesses are reported to have more than 25 percent of all deposits currently held in Cypriot banks, hence Russia’s role as a potential saviour.

Despite Slashing Growth Forecast, UK Chancellor Says Economy Is Rebounding

British Chancellor George Osborne delivered his 2013 Budget statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday, telling MPs that the government’s plans were working despite a slash to growth forecasts. He said economic recovery was taking longer than expected, but that the government was “slowly but surely fixing our country’s economic problems”, saying that “if you want to work hard and get on; we are on your side”. Osborne predicted the country would avoid a triple dip recession, with growth in 2013 predicted at 0.6 percent, half of the 1.2 percent estimated four months ago. The chancellor also announced a cut in corporation tax to 20%, saying the UK’s was the lowest in the world, and froze petrol duty rises. Opposition leader Ed Miliband, of the Labour Party, delivered a scathing rebuke to Osborne’s statement, saying that effectively the chancellor had said “we still need four more years of pain, tax rises and spending cuts. In other words, after all the misery, all the harsh medicine, all the suffering by the British people, three years, no progress, deal broken”.

US President Barack Obama Arrives in Israel for First Overseas Trip of Second Term

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel for the first overseas trip of his second term in what was primarily described as a listening exercise to try to find common ground on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, with no great breakthrough expected during this visit. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Obama at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport by thanking the president for choosing to “stand by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East”. President Obama later met Israeli President Shimon Peres, who lauded the United States’ “impressive record of answering our needs”, particularly in regards to national security. Obama answered by recognising Israel’s fears about Iran’s nuclear programme, adding that “the State of Israel has no greater friend than the US.” Obama is expected to see the Dead Sea Scrolls on Thursday before carrying on to Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, to meet President Mahmoud Abbas.

South Korean Military On Alert After Hackers Attack TV Stations, Banks

South Korean authorities are investigating an attack that brought down the computer systems of three major broadcasters and two of the country’s biggest banks on Wednesday morning, with the country’s army raising its level of preparedness at the suspicion of North Korean involvement. Broadcasters YTN, MBC and KBS were affected, as well as Shinhan Bank and NongHyup Bank. Some of the computers had files deleted. The affected banks have managed to restore operations, but the TV networks have yet to recover their systems. A local police officer said that teams were sent to the affected sites and were now “assessing the situation, this incident is pretty massive and will take a few days to collect evidence”. Some internet users posted an image that purportedly showed a group calling itself the “Whois Team” had claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the claim was not immediately verified. North Korea had last week complained that its own websites had been hacked, blaming the United States for carrying out “sabotages” against the country.

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