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Germany on Monday poured cold water on a reported plan by the European Central Bank to set a cap on the borrowing costs of debt-wracked eurozone countries, terming it "very problematic."

The ECB itself dismissed the report as "absolutely misleading," saying no such decision had yet been taken.

"Purely theoretically and speaking in the abstract, such an instrument would of course be very problematic but I am not aware of any plans in this direction," said Martin Kotthaus, a spokesman for Germany's finance ministry.

"You know that we basically do not comment on the ECB, which is an independent institution, but I can still say that I do not know about these plans," added Kotthaus in a regular government briefing.

Der Spiegel newsweekly reported on Sunday that the ECB was planning to set a limit on the borrowing costs of individual countries and intervene on the markets to maintain this level.

Spain and Italy have seen their borrowing costs shoot up during the eurozone crisis to levels that forced Greece, Portugal and Ireland to seek a bailout.

The so-called spread, or difference, between benchmark German bonds and those issued by debt-wracked countries would be decisive for the proposed rate cap, Spiegel said.

ECB President Mario Draghi announced earlier in August that his institution "may" buy bonds of struggling countries if they first apply for EU bailout funds and accept tough conditions in return.

He said the details would be worked out before the next meeting of the ECB, scheduled for September 6.

Spiegel said that ECB governors would decide then whether to implement the proposed borrowing cost cap.

 

Twin earthquakes that devastated rural villages in northwest Iran at the weekend killed a total of 306 people -- most of them women and children -- and injured 3,037, Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi said on Monday.

 

Kofi Annan has quit as peace envoy to Syria with a blistering attack on world powers, ending a frustrating six-month effort that failed to achieve even a temporary ceasefire as the country plunged into civil war.

Former United Nations secretary general Mr Annan also had harsh words for the Syrian regime, saying it was clear President Bashar Assad "must leave office".

Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr Annan blamed the Syrian government's intransigence, the growing militancy of the rebels and a divided UN Security Council that failed to forcefully back his effort.

Since he took on the job, Russia and China have twice used their veto power to block strong Western and Arab-backed action against Assad's regime.

The White House said Mr Annan's resignation highlighted the failure of Russia and China to support action against Assad and called the regime's continued violence against its own people "disgusting".

"It is impossible for me or anyone to compel the Syrian government and also the opposition to take the steps to bring about the political process," said Mr Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. "You have to understand, as an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than the security council or the international community for that matter."

 

A one-ton rover as big as a Mini is due to land on Mars on Monday in one of the most daring space missions ever attempted.

The rover, Curiosity, is designed to search for clues about possible past life in a crater that might once have been filled with water.

The £1.59 billion six-wheeled machine is twice as long and five times as heavy as the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity which landed on Mars in 2004.

Two British scientists are members of the team which will direct the rover and analyse the data it collects. Before they can do their work Curiosity must land safely on the Red Planet - a challenge that has tested the best brains at the American space agency Nasa.

Because Curiosity is so big and heavy, getting it onto the Martian surface has required a great deal of "thinking out of the box".

The solution is so bold it has been described as "crazy". After entering the Martian atmosphere at 13,200mph, the capsule containing Curiosity will be slowed by friction and then a supersonic parachute.

An "upper stage" resembling a flying bedstead will then be deployed, firing retro rockets to brake its descent. As it hovers over the landing site, the upper stage will transform itself into a "sky crane" and lower Curiosity to the surface on the end of a tether. It will then break away, and deliberately crash.

Statistically the odds do not look good. Two-thirds of all Mars missions have failed, including Britain's ill-fated Beagle 2, which was lost on Christmas Day 2003.

 

A Mississippi couple got the shock of their lives when the pastor at the church they attended told them the wedding they planned could not be held there because they are black, ABC television reported.

Pastor Stan Weatherford told the network there had never been a wedding for blacks at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, since it was opened in 1883.

He said some of the white congregarion so virulently opposed the wedding of Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson, who are black, that they threatened to have him fired.

Weatherford, a pastor who is white, offered to wed the Wilsons down the road at a mostly black church, he told the network.

 

Syrian government troops using tanks and helicopters massacred more than 150 people in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while a rebel leader put the toll at more than 200.

Government troops bombarded the village of Treimsa using tanks and helicopters, according to the Observatory, which earlier put the death toll at more than 100.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone that the bodies of 30 villagers had already been identified following the sustained attack, which brought the day's total death toll in the conflict-torn nation to over 200.

Rebel leader Abu Mohamad, chief of a group based further to the north, told AFP early Friday that the attack using helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket-launchers had killed more than 200 people in the village.

Abu Mohamad said he had been in phone contact with a resident of Treimsa who told him that government forces were on hills a few kilometres (miles) outside the town.

The army and the Shabiha, pro-regime militia who are said to accompany troops to make sure they do not desert, started to bombard Treimsa "Thursday around 11:00 am (0800 GMT) and finished around 9:00 pm," Abu Mohamad said.

But a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi told AFP via Skype that regime troops started shelling the village earlier, at around 6:00 am.

"That was followed by clashes with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, but the FSA does not have a big presence in Treimsa and could not fight long," said the activist.

"The number of martyrs is very high partly because the army shelled a mosque where scores of people had taken shelter, to treat the wounded and hide from the bombs," Abu Ghazi added.

"But it is obvious that the regime knows no limits. The mosque was shelled, it collapsed, and that killed the people in it."

The village, which had a population of 7,000, he said, "is empty now. Everyone is dead or has run away."

"Almost 30 army vehicles arrived, and surrounded the village completely. There wasn't a single way out," said Ibrahim, another activist from Treimsa. "Anyone who tried to escape through the fields was shot."

Pro-regime militiamen from neighbouring Alawite villages entered the village after the army raided it, Ibrahim told AFP via Skype. "After the shelling, the army came in with light weapons, and the shabiha (militiamen) followed, armed with knives."

Clashes inside the besieged village were vicious, he said, noting that "whole families were killed. There was a real street war for several hours."

Treimsa is located near Qubeir, where at least 55 people were killed on July 6, according to the Observatory. Like Qubeir, Treimsa is a majority Sunni town situated near Alawite villages.

President Bashar al-Assad belongs to the Alawite community -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- although the vast majority of Syrians are Sunni.

The state-run SANA news agency said there had been clashes between the army and an armed "terrorist" group in the village but made no mention of a massacre and gave no overall death toll.

"There were heavy losses among the ranks of the terrorists," said the report, adding that three government soldiers were killed.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdel Basset Sayda, voiced outrage about the latest killings and called for a tough UN resolution that allows for military intervention against the Damascus regime.

"This was a massacre perpetrated by the Syrian regime," he said, speaking to Al Jazeera TV.

 

Russia on Monday held a day of mourning for at least 171 people who died in its worst flooding disaster as questions mounted over whether officials did enough to warn of the impending calamity.

Flags flew at half-mast over the Kremlin and other official buildings and entertainment programmes were shelved as Russians asked how so many people lost their lives and property in the catastrophe in the southern Krasnodar region.

More than 25,000 people lost part or all of their belongings in the flooding, which overwhelmed the town of Krymsk after torrential rains and also caused significant damage in the neighbouring cities of Gelendzhik and Novorossiisk.

Several funerals took place at a cemetery outside the devastated town, where tractors had to be used to dig graves, while grieving relatives accused the authorities of failing to give a flood warning and lying about the true toll.

The embattled local governor described the floods as a "great surprise," but both pro-government and opposition newspapers showed rare unanimity in saying the authorities had badly failed to provide sufficient warning to the local people.

"The tragedy of Krymsk was a perfect demonstration of what slovenliness and hoping against hope brings about," said the pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily in a scathing assessment of the official reaction.

The Vedomosti daily said that flooding in the Krasnodar region was in no way a novelty and authorities were well aware of the risk, particularly after deadly floods in the summer of 2002 that also hit Krymsk.

"The catastrophe shows up the inability of the authorities to protect the population from natural disasters," said the opposition-inclined economic newspaper.

"People were not evacuated and were not warned about the threat," it said.

The staunchly pro-government Komosmolskaya Pravda asked simply in a stark headline over a picture of the Krymsk devastation: "Why so many dead?"

It noted that residents had received warnings about the severe weather through SMS messages and also information on the news ticker of local TV. "But, as the inhabitants of Krymsk say, most people knew nothing about this."

The Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper said tersely: "The Krymsk catastrophe could have been foreseen and averted.

 

Rolls-Royce has announced a £118 million order from the US Army.

M250 engines, which power the US Army's fleet of Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters, are to be serviced under the new contract.

Starting on July 2012 for a year, the contract will support 500 M250 engines on more than 300 aircraft, and the US Army has options to extend it for four additional years.

The new deal was announced as the Farnborough Air Show opened on Monday in Hampshire.

Rolls-Royce also unveiled the first jet engine to be made entirely from Lego.

The engine is a half-size replica of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 which powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Indian police have arrested a key suspect accused of co-ordinating the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 166 people were killed and more than 300 wounded, media reports said Monday.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency quoted unnamed police sources as confirming the arrest of Abu Hamza, also known as Sayed Zabiuddin, an Indian-born member of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Hamza was allegedly one of the handlers based in Karachi, Pakistan who issued instructions by telephone to the 10 Islamist gunmen as they stormed two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, a restaurant and a train station in Mumbai.

Hamza, who has used a string of aliases, was arrested at Delhi international airport on June 21 when he arrived from the Middle East and he has since been remanded in custody, PTI reported.

Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only gunman caught alive during the 60-hour assault on Mumbai in November 2008, was handed down a death sentence by the Bombay High Court last year.

PTI described Hamza as the 30-year-old "Hindi tutor" to the gunmen and said that he came from the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.

 

France's new Socialist government will need to find between seven billion euros (£5.6 billion) and 10 billion euros (£8.1 billion) for the 2012 budget to meet its deficit-cutting goals, the country's finance minister has said.

But Pierre Moscovici insisted the shortfall would not be made up by painful spending cuts.

"I object to all talk of austerity," he said on i-tele television.

The government will present a new budget on July 4 which is expected to include new tax measures.

President Francois Hollande has promised to cut the deficit to 4.5% this year.