- - Monday, March 21, 2011

ISRAEL

Israel returns to Russia ownership of site

JERUSALEM | Israel is handing back to Russia ownership of a czarist-era landmark in the heart of Jerusalem, defusing a long-simmering dispute between the two countries right before Israel’s leader visits Moscow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has not disclosed the agenda for Thursday’s visit, but he is expected to urge Moscow not to sell sophisticated missiles to Syria and to support efforts to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check.

The return of ownership of the property known as Sergei’s Courtyard, approved in 2008, appeared to be a goodwill gesture ahead of the visit.

The hewn-stone building, built in 1890 to accommodate Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land, is a prominent edifice on the Jerusalem landscape with its soaring turret and lush garden. About a dozen workers were moving crates out of the building Monday and loading them into trucks.

EUROPEAN UNION

Lawmakers resign amid bribery scandal

VIENNA | Two European Parliament lawmakers have resigned and a third has stepped down from his party position after a British newspaper reported they had agreed to propose legislation in return for bribes.

The Sunday Times reported this weekend that former Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser, former Slovenian Foreign Minister Zoran Thaler and former Romanian Deputy Prime Minister Adrian Severin agreed to put forward amendments in the European Parliament in exchange for money.

The report was the outcome of an eight-month investigation in which undercover Sunday Times reporters posed as lobbyists, the paper said.

The story has caused a stir in Brussels and claimed its first casualty on Sunday when Mr. Strasser resigned after Austrian Finance Minister Josef Proell, who heads the Austrian People’s Party, issued a harsh statement demanding that he do so.

PORTUGAL

Government nears collapse amid crisis

LISBON | Just as Portugal appeared to have dodged a bailout like those taken by Greece and Ireland, a domestic political spat was set Monday to worsen its financial troubles and possibly spoil Europe’s efforts to put the sovereign debt crisis behind it.

Portugal’s main opposition parties told the beleaguered minority government they won’t budge from their refusal to endorse a new set of austerity measures designed to ease a huge debt burden that is crippling the economy.

The new steps are likely to be rejected in a parliamentary vote expected Wednesday, and the timing could not be worse.

A defeat in the vote, Prime Minister Jose Socrates warned, would trigger his government’s resignation, consigning Portugal to at least two months of political limbo just as officials were hoping to boost investor confidence in the country’s future.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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