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Germany is proposing that Greece should temporarily cede sovereignty over tax and spending decisions to a powerful eurozone budget commissioner before it can secure further bailouts, an official in Berlin has said.

The initiative is being discussed among the 17-nation currency bloc's finance ministers because Greece has repeatedly failed to fulfil its commitments under its current multi-billion pound lifeline, the official said.

The proposal foresees a commissioner holding a veto right against any budgetary measures and having broad surveillance ability to ensure that Greece will set its priorities on repaying its debt as scheduled, the official said.

Greece's international creditors - the so-called troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank - are currently negotiating another 130 billion euro rescue package for the heavily indebted country.

But German news magazine Der Spiegel cited an unnamed troika official as saying that Greece might need a total of 145 billion euros in its second bailout package amid the country's prolonged and sharp recession.

The German proposal is likely to spark controversy in Greece. A powerful budget commissioner would further diminish the political leeway of Greece's government, just as politicians there are gearing up for an election set to take place this spring.

 

The Arab League on Saturday suspended its controversial observer mission in Syria, a day after the monitors' chief said killing had spiked this week, with the death toll approaching 200.

The announcement came as the opposition Syrian National Council said its leader would travel to New York to appeal to the UN Security Council for protection from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

SNC chief Burhan Ghaliun's trip comes amid a new bid by Arab and European states for UN action over the deadly 11-month crackdown on dissent hit immediate opposition from staunch Syrian ally Russia.

"The decision to suspend the Arab League mission in Syria has been taken because of the upsurge in violence, and an official announcement will be made later," an Arab League official in Cairo told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The head of the Arab League monitors said unrest had soared since Tuesday "in a significant way," especially in the flashpoint central cities of Homs and Hama and in the northern Idlib region.

The violence "does not help... to get all sides to sit at the negotiating table," General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi said.

According to a tally by AFP taken from reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and official Syrian media, 193 people have been killed since Tuesday.

That compares with the figure of more than 5,400 given by the United Nations last month since anti-regime protests erupted in March.

Amid the upsurge in killing, the country's umbrella opposition group has "decided to head to the Security Council tomorrow, led by Burhan Ghaliun, to present the Syrian case... and demand protection," executive committee member Samir Neshar told an Istanbul news conference.

He spoke after the Gulf Arab states and Turkey, which have led regional condemnation of the Damascus regime, met in Istanbul and called on Assad to accept an Arab League proposal for him to step down and turn over power to his deputy before formation of a unity government.

Syria has categorically rejected the proposal.

Ministers also agreed that international efforts should focus on bringing the bloodshed to an "immediate end" and paving the way for the initiation of a political transition process in line with "legitimate demands of the people."

"We are adamant to turn the Middle East region into a basin for peace, stability and prosperity," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Deadly clashes and an ambush on a bus transporting soldiers claimed at least 15 lives on Saturday, according to activists and state media.

Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP three deserters were killed in Rastan, and five soldiers were killed in similar clashes in nearby Al-Hula, also in Homs province.

The Observatory also reported fierce clashes on the outskirts of Damascus as security forces backed by tanks raided the towns of Saqba, Hamuriyeh, Jisrin and Erbin. There was no immediate word on casualties.

And an ambush on a bus near the rebel stronghold of Douma, just north of Damascus, killed seven soldiers, the official SANA news agency reported, blaming a "terrorist group."

Damascus does not recognise the scale of the protest movement, insisting instead that it is fighting "terrorist groups" seeking to sow chaos as part of a foreign-hatched conspiracy.

Elsewhere, the Observatory said a child was killed in the oil province of Deir Ezzor when a shell struck his house, and a pipeline was also ablaze in Quriah in Deir Ezzor.

At least 384 children have been among the dead in the uprising against Assad's regime, and almost the same number detained, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

 

 

French police on Thursday arrested Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the PIP breast implant company that sparked a global health scare by using substandard silicone, as part of a manslaughter probe.

"Jean-Claude Mas was arrested at 7:00 am and taken into custody" on the orders of an investigating judge, Marseille prosecutor Jacques Dallest told AFP.

He said the arrest was made in connection with a manslaughter investigation opened by prosecutors in the southern port city of Marseille in December and that Mas could be held in custody for up to 48 hours.

A police source told AFP that Mas was arrested at the home of his companion in the south of France.

Dallest said police were carrying out a search of his companion's home, in the town of Six Fours, for evidence in the case.

 

The European Central Bank (ECB) has revealed it lent nearly 489 billion euro (£409.3 billion) to the continent's banks in a bid to boost confidence in the eurozone.

The ECB said 523 unnamed banks had taken up the loans, which will be offered on a three-year term for the first time, in the biggest liquidity operation ever for the central bank, surpassing the 442 billion euro (£369 billion) in one-year loans in June 2009.

The move boosted sentiment towards the wider sector with Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays all climbing to the top of the FTSE 100 Index.

But Martin van Vliet, analyst at ING Bank, said doubts remain over whether the money will be used to support weaker eurozone economies.

 

President Barack Obama has saluted troops back from Iraq, applauding their "extraordinary achievement" and declaring that the nearly nine-year conflict was ending "not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home."

Marking the conclusion of the war at Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed several thousand troops and several hundred military families.

All US troops are to be out of Iraq by December 31, although Mr Obama has pledged the US will continue to help Iraq.

"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," he said.

He highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of US forces now on their way back home. He recalled the start of the war, a time when he was only an Illinois state senator and many of the warriors before him were in grade school.

 

Syria has entered a state of civil war with more than 4,000 people dead and an increasing number of soldiers defecting from the army to fight President Bashar Assad's regime, the UN's top human rights official has said.

Civil war has been the worst-case scenario in Syria since the revolt against Mr Assad began eight months ago.

Damascus has a web of allegiances that extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy, raising fears of a regional conflagration.

The assessment that the bloodshed in Syria has crossed into civil war came from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

The conflict has shown little sign of letting up. Activists reported up to 22 people killed on Thursday, adding to what has become a daily grind of violence.

"We are placing the (death toll) figure at 4,000 but really the reliable information coming to us is that it's much more than that," Ms Pillay said in Geneva.

"As soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, that there's going to be a civil war," she added. "And at the moment, that's how I am characterising this."

 

David Cameron said that he has received assurances from Libyan leaders that captured fugitive Saif al-Islam will be tried in line with international standards.

Britain will offer "every assistance" to Libya's government to ensure Muammar Gaddafi's son is brought to justice over his role in the "barbaric" reign of terror, the Prime Minister added.

Al-Islam was seized in southern Libya with two aides, who were trying to smuggle him out to neighbouring Niger, officials confirmed.

Mr Cameron said: "The Libyan government's announcement of Seif al-Islam's arrest shows we are near the end of the final chapter of the Gaddafi regime.

"It is a great achievement for the Libyan people and must now become a victory for international justice too.

"He could have contributed to a more open and decent future for his country, but instead chose to lead a bloody and barbaric campaign against his own people. The fate of the Gaddafis should act as a warning to brutal dictators everywhere.

 

Low-cost airline Ryanair has announced a jump in profits but said passenger numbers will fall 10% this month as it grounds more planes this winter.

The Dublin-based operator posted profits of 544 million euro (£467.5 million) in the six months to September 30, an increase of 20%, as a 13% rise in average fares helped it offset a 37% hike in fuel costs.

The company is pulling 80 of its aircraft to reduce winter losses amid soaring fuel prices and expects traffic to fall 4% in the second half, with 500,000 fewer passengers flying in November.

The strategy will improve its full-year profit forecasts by 10% to 440 million euro (£378.2 million), reflecting a boost to its margins.

Ryanair, which has a fleet of 272 planes, said average fares rose as a result of a better mix of new routes and as competitors put up their prices in response to higher costs.

Revenues were up 24% to £2.7 billion, while passenger numbers rose 12% to 44.7 million.

Outspoken chief executive Michael O'Leary also hit out at BAA's decision to call for a judicial review into a ruling that it must sell Stansted Airport as "pointless".

He said: "These delays allow BAA Stansted to continue to charge excessive fees and generate monopoly profits, even as Stansted's traffic declines from less than 24 million passengers in 2007 to less than 18 million in 2011."

He called on the Competition Commission to end the "interminable delays" and force an early sale of the airport.

 

British aid agencies have raised £72 million for drought victims in East Africa, the highest total ever for a food crisis.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal in July after Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and the Republic of South Sudan suffered one of the worst droughts in 60 years.

One hundred days since the appeal's launch, the total raised is the third largest in the charity's 45-year history.

More money has only been raised by the tsunami earthquake appeal of December 2004 (£390 million) and Haiti earthquake of January 2010 (£107 million), the charity said.

It is also the largest total for any African appeal, and the highest for one where conflict was a principle cause of a disaster.

The disaster left more than 12 million people in need of food, water and emergency healthcare.

 

Afghan intelligence officials have broken up a cell which was plotting to kill President Hamid Karzai, arresting six people in Kabul whom they claimed were affiliated with al Qaida and the Haqqani militant group, it has been revealed.

The cell included one of Mr Karzai's bodyguards as well as a professor at Kabul University and three college students, intelligence service spokesman Latifullah Mashal said.

Mr Mashal described the cell as the "most sophisticated and educated group in Kabul" and said it had assisted Pakistani militants sent to the Afghan capital to carry out terror attacks. He did not say when they were arrested.

He said the group, which was also allegedly planning attacks in Kabul, the US and Europe, were recruited by an Egyptian and a Bangladeshi based in Pakistan.

Afghan officials have been increasingly vocal in publicly accusing Pakistan and its ISI intelligence agency of maintaining ties with militants, including the Haqqani group.