Syria forces retake Damascus suburbs; showdown at UN

Syrian government forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs on Tuesday after beating back rebels at the capital’s gates as diplomatic pressure mounted on President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations.

Western and Arab diplomats pushed for a U.N. Security Council resolution which would call for Assad to step down to defuse a 10-month-old uprising against his family’s dynastic rule.

They will make the case for a resolution adopting a plan by the Arab League for Assad to quit, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Britain’s William Hague presenting a united western front.

The resolution’s fate depends on whether the Arabs and their Western backers can persuade Russia not to veto it.

More than 60 dead in East European cold snap

More than 60 people have died in a cold snap across Eastern Europe, authorities said on Tuesday, forcing some countries to call in the army to help secure food and medical supplies and set up emergency shelters for the homeless.

The temperature in Ukraine sank to minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27 Fahrenheit), the coldest in six years, while eastern Bosnia experienced lows of minus 31C and Poland, Romania and Bulgaria minus 30C.

Forecasters said the cold spell would last until Friday with further heavy snow expected across the region on Wednesday.

At least 30 people, most of them homeless, have died in Ukraine in the past five days, the Emergencies Ministry said. Another 500 people were treated in hospital for frostbite and other cold-related ailments.

China dissident tried over Skype messages, poem

Chinese prosecutors cited a poem and messages sent on Skype against a dissident who stood trial on Tuesday, his son and his lawyer said, in the latest case highlighting the Communist Party’s drive to silence political challengers.

Veteran activist Zhu Yufu faced trial in the prosperous eastern city of Hangzhou, where police arrested him in April and charged him with “inciting subversion of state power”, his lawyer, Li Dunyong, said.

The court did not deliver its verdict straight away. But Zhu, who turns 59 in February, appears likely to follow other Chinese dissidents who have received stiff prison terms from the party-run judiciary on subversion charges, which are often used to punish ardent advocates of democratic change.

Eurozone jobless hits highest level since birth of euro

Eurozone unemployment has risen to its highest level since the euro single currency was introduced, data showed on Tuesday, a day after EU leaders promised to focus on creating millions of new jobs to try to kickstart Europe’s floundering economy.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment among the 17 countries sharing the euro rose to 10.4 percent in December, on a par with an upwardly revised November figure, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said.

It was the highest rate since June 1998, before the introduction of the euro in 1999.

December unemployment 9.3 per cent


UNEMPLOYMENT in Cyprus rose to 9.3 per cent in December, one of the highest increases registered in the EU.

According to the EU’s statistical service Eurostat, the jobless rate in the EU was 9.9 per cent in December – unchanged since November but 0.4 per cent up year-on-year.

The unemployment rate in the eurozone was 10.4 per cent in December – a 0.4 per cent increase year-on-year.


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Bus drivers to strike over wages

STAFF at Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca bus companies have announced an indefinite strike starting tomorrow because they have not been paid their January wages.

The strike will start at 5am.

Personnel unions PEO and SEK said they had no other choice as the company’s action was a “blatant violation of the workers’ basic right, which was non-negotiable.”

Looming threat of wider strike action

LABOUR relations in the private sector are hanging from a thread as Labour Minister Sotiroulla Charalambous holds meetings with both the unions and the employers’ federation in an effort to avert widespread strikes.

Charalambous met with SEK and PEO union members yesterday afternoon, while she is set to meet employers and industrialists federation (OEV) representatives this morning at 8.30am.

OEV yesterday reiterated the need to introduce austerity measures in order to keep companies afloat, while unions warned that unilateral decisions should be withdrawn.

Unions insisted that they were only willing to enter negotiations in industries that were widely accepted to be struggling.

Our View: Employers forced the unions into taking a hard line

THE EMPLOYERS and Industrialists Federation (OEV) were being excessively optimistic in thinking that they could bash out a deal for a two-year pay freeze on pay rises, including CoLA with the two main union federations. Negotiations between the two sides achieved nothing apart from making the unions talk about red lines, businesses that were flourishing and the need to protect workers’ rights.

Mother electrocuted while using slimming machine

A 48-YEAR-OLD woman was electrocuted yesterday while using an electrical slimming device at a beauty parlour in the Nicosia suburb of Dhali.

Marianna Themistocleous, a mother of three, was electrocuted after the device seemingly malfunctioned, a post mortem confirmed.

The device did not bear the CE marking showing it had passed EU regulations, nor did it have a brand name or any other information showing where it was from. 

It was described to the Cyprus Mail as a metallic box with wires sticking out which were connected to the body and administered an electrical current.

The police handed over the machine to the state’s department of electrical and mechanical services for further tests.