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March 24, 2013 at 10:00 PM   |   Comments

Report: Cyprus, EU deal reached

BRUSSELS, March 24 (UPI) -- Eurozone finance ministers in Brussels have agreed to a deal to keep Cyprus in the eurozone and prevent the collapse of Cyprus' banking system, officials said.

Cypriot leaders and eurozone bankers scrambled Sunday to come up with a bailout deal ahead of a Monday deadline for Cyprus to secure a $13 billion bailout. A deal reached last week collapsed when the Cypriot Parliament rejected a plan for a one-time tax on all bank deposits so the government could raise matching funds to secure the bailout.

Officials in Brussels agreed to a deal calling for a levy on bank deposits of more than 100,000 euros ($130,000), and some reports indicated the levy on deposits at Cyprus' second-largest bank -- Laiki Bank -- could be as great as 40 percent, the BBC reported.

The deal may also call for Laiki to be divided into "good" and "bad" banks. Citing an EU official, the BBC said earlier Sunday a draft agreement called for Laiki Bank to be wound down.

It was unclear whether the Cypriot Parliament would agree to a tax on deposits of more than $130,000, the report said, but the BBC reported the provision on deposit taxes will, at the insistence of the IMF, not be subjected to a parliamentary vote.

Asian financial markets were up on news of the agreement.

The Nikkei average was up 1.38 percent to 12,508.71 in early trading and the HangSeng was up .97 percent to 22,330.16.

The Bank of Cyprus -- the nation's biggest lender -- said Sunday it would further restrict depositors' ability to take cash out of ATMs, limiting daily withdrawals to 120 euros ($155). Laiki Bank said it would limit daily ATM withdrawals to 100 euros ($130), the Cyprus News Agency reported.

Banks have been closed for a week and many retailers are refusing to accept payment in anything but cash, the BBC said.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades flew to Brussels for the meeting with Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and other financial officials, The New York Times said Sunday.

If no deal is made and no extension is offered, European funding essentially propping up Cyprus' two main banks will stop and they will collapse, officials said.

"The situation is very difficult," Anastasiades said in a statement.

It is estimated the banks need about 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) to recapitalize.


No agreement to halt Iranian arms flights

BAGHDAD, March 24 (UPI) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Sunday rebuffed a U.S. call for Iraq to stop Iran from using Iraqi airspace in sending weapons to Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Baghdad on an unannounced visit, told Maliki shipments of arms from Iran are undermining U.S. efforts to bring the Syrian civil war to an end. He said many Americans do not understand how Iraq would allow the shipments to go on after the United States "tried so hard to be helpful" in helping rebuilding Iraq following the war that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Kerry told reporters "the overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping [Syrian President Bashar] Assad" but Maliki said there is no conclusive proof that the shipments contain anything but humanitarian aid.

A senior official traveling with Kerry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters the number of overflights "is, in itself, an indication that these can't possibly be only humanitarian flights" and Kerry is convinced the flights " include weapons and fighters and that this is absolutely contrary to the international goals with Syria and is dangerous for Iraq."

Kerry said the United States agreed to provide the Iraqi government with more information on the Iranian cargo, CBS News reported.

Speaking at a news conference at the American Embassy in Baghdad, Kerry said Iraq allowing the Syrian flights -- and supporting Assad -- is "problematic" and not representative of "common goals" between the United States and Iraq, The New York Times reported.

Kerry said there are members of Congress "who are increasingly watching what Iraq is doing."

Kerry's meeting with Maliki was part of his first visit to Iraq as secretary of state and the first visit of a U.S. secretary of state to the country since Hilary Clinton in 2009, The Washington Post reported.


Syrian opposition leader Khatib quits

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 24 (UPI) -- The head of the official political opposition in Syria said he was resigning this weekend following an unproductive meeting with the European Union.

Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said in a written statement he had reached his limit after what he called two fruitless years of appealing to the international community for help in ending the nation's bloody civil war.

"All the destruction of Syria's infrastructure, the detention of tens of thousands of people, the forced flight of hundreds of thousands and other forms of suffering have been insufficient for the international community to take a decision to allow the people to defend themselves," Khatib said.

A spokesman for Khatib told al-Jazeera the decision to step down from Syria's National Coalition was officially announced after a meeting with an EU delegation "which resulted in achieving nothing."

The National Coalition has been recognized by the Arab League as the official representative of Syria.

Al-Jazeera described Khatib as a moderate Islamist and former clergyman who had been an independent dissident in Syria over the years. Khatib said he planned to continue his efforts with a greater freedom than he had while part of the National Coalition.


Rand Paul: Minimum jail term for marijuana

WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Sunday he supports relaxing laws against smoking marijuana because mistakes people make in their youth shouldn't ruin their lives.

In an appearance on " Fox News Sunday," Paul said he's working on a bill with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to institute mandatory minimums for possession of marijuana.

"The main thing I've said is not to legalize them but not to incarcerate people for extended periods of time," Paul said. "There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for non-violent crimes. And that's a huge mistake. Or prisons are full of non-violent criminals."

Paul said he doesn't want to encourage people to smoke marijuana because he believes it takes away the incentive to work and do things "you should be doing."

"There are a lot of young people who [smoke marijuana] and then later on in their 20s, they grow up and get married and they quit doing things like this, I don't want to put them in jail and ruin their lives," he said.

"Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don't get lucky. They don't have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things and I think it's a big mistake," he added.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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