Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has named Evangelos Venizelos as the country’s new finance minister, tasking him with addressing the country’s debt crisis, even as members of his own party have rejected austerity measures that Greece must take by the end of this month in order to receive an aid package from the International Monetary Fund and European Union. A $160 billion aid package passed last year, $17 billion of which is set to be disbursed in July. Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Athens this week to protest the measures.
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Papandreou faces a declining majority in parliament and is attempting to reshuffle his cabinet before a possible vote of confidence. According to the Washington Post:
The possibility that Papandreou will fail — and be unable to commit the country to an austerity program negotiated with the IMF and European officials — is considered one of the chief risks pushing Greece toward a default on its bond payments and what the Obama administration and others consider potentially calamitous economic fallout.
Greece’s woes have added to alarm in the United States and elsewhere as a growing number of countries face the reality of heavy debt.
Syrian Troops Take Northwest Town of Maaret al-Numan
After retaking the restive town of Jisr al-Shughour last weekend, Syrian troops, tanks and helicopters have seized the town of Maaret al-Numan, some 28 miles from the border with Turkey, causing some of the town’s 100,000 residents to flee and compounding an already growing refugee crisis in nearby Turkey.
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Thousands of protesters turned out Friday as the three-month-old opposition movement continued to call for the ouster of President Bashar Assad. International criticism of Assad and the government’s crackdown has grown steadier; on Friday France and Germany called for heavier sanctions against Syria.
Though outside media have been restricted, witnesses report summary executions, detentions of prisoners in large-scale sweeps, and other human rights abuses. Human rights groups estimate 10,000 have been arrested in addition to the 1,400 killed around the country.