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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 9:35 pm 
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Welcome to the continuation of our coverage of the Global Crisis.

Let's hope this second part will also document the road to recovery and sanity.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 1:58 pm 
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Met cuts ticket prices following box office slump
26 February 2013
By RONALD BLUM

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This May 20, 2010, file photo shows the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Metropolitan Opera is cutting ticket prices by an average of about 10 percent next season, when music director James Levine returns from a spine injury that led to a two-year absence.

In the company's first season without Wagner since anti-German sentiment in 1918-19 caused by World War I, the Met will present six new-to-New York productions, the fewest since Peter Gelb's first season as general manager in 2006-07. New stagings include Johann Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus," Borodin's "Prince Igor" and Massanet's "Werther." There will be new-to-the-Met productions of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," Nico Muhly's "Two Boys" and Verdi's "Falstaff' that already have debuted in Europe. An intended new staging of Bellini's "I Puritani" was scrapped in favor of a revival.

The Met said Tuesday more than 2,000 of its 3,800 seats will have lower prices next season and its average ticket price will drop from $174 to $156. There will be a minimum 15 percent discount for evening subscriptions and 10 percent for Saturday matinees. "I think we're slightly overpriced. I think we were perhaps too ambitious in our pricing for this season," Met General Manager Peter Gelb said. Gelb said the Met projects it will sell 80 percent of available tickets this season, down 2-3 percent from last season. The company increased prices for 2012-13 by an average of 4.2 percent for subscriptions and 7.6 percent for individual tickets. Part of the decrease in ticket sales may be attributable to the Met's successful simulcasts to movie theaters. "Although we have expanded the paying audience for the Met through the HD transmissions, we've also cannibalized a little bit our local audience in the opera house," Gelb said.

Levine, sidelined since May 2011, will lead revivals of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" starting Sept. 24 and Berg's "Wozzeck" beginning March 6, the company said Tuesday, and a new-to-the-Met staging of Verdi's "Falstaff" (Dec. 6) that appeared at London's Royal Opera in 2012 and Milan's Teatro alla Scala this year. "This is I think an intelligent and prudent re-entry season," Levine said during a telephone interview Friday.

Levine, who turns 70 on June 23, has been the company's leading force for four decades as principal conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004 on) and artistic director (1986-04). He has had three spinal operations since his last performance on May 14, 2011. When the Met announced his planned return in October, the company said he will conduct a concert performance of the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall this May 19. Because he had been unable to walk, a podium that elevates is being designed for his use. "With a spinal injury, the rule of thumb is it takes about two years to have some idea how the fullness of the recovery is," Levine said. "I have the potential to have everything completely return."

Levine had no lower body movement after he fell in September 2011 but said he has made progress in walking as the result of six-days-a-week therapy. "I'm working on all kinds of things to make my muscles be ready as the nerves return, and so far it's working very well," he said. "It's very slow and it's very difficult, but it's also very exciting because you get these great breakthroughs".

The Met didn't present any Wagner operas in 1917-18 and 1918-19 during U.S. involvement in World War I, the only seasons until now without the composer since the company began in 1883. The company did not present any staged operas in 1892-93 and 1897-98. In the second half of a year marking the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth, the Met originally planned a revival of "Parsifal" for next season but changed it to "Wozzeck" to accommodate Levine's comeback. "There's a tremendous amount of Wagner in our future plan," Levine said.

The season opens Sept. 23 with conductor Valery Gergiev leading "Eugene Onegin," in a Deborah Warner production that opened at the English National Opera in November 2011. Anna Netrebko sings Tatiana in her third consecutive Met opening night. "Two Boys" has its U.S. premiere Oct. 21 in a revised version of the Bartlett Sher staging that opened at the ENO in June 2011. The Met co-commission is a fictionalized account of a British teenager who used the Internet in an attempt to arrange his own murder in 2003.

Looking to future seasons. the Met has joined with the Royal Opera and the Salzburg Festival to commission Thomas Ades' "The Exterminating Angel," based on the Luis Bunuel film. It will premiere at Salzburg in 2015, go to London in the spring of 2017 and open at the Met that fall. The Met's joint commissioning program with Lincoln Center Theater will conduct a workshop this spring of Scott Wheeler's "The Sorrows of Frederick," with a libretto by the late Romulus Linney based on his 1960s play.

Ricky Ian Gordon is composing "Intimate Apparel," with Lynn Nottage adapting her 2003 play about an African-American seamstress in 1905 New York, and composer Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner are working to expand "A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck," their one-act opera based on Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill that opened at Cooperstown's Glimmerglass Opera in August 2011.

Online: Metopera.com
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 2:11 pm 
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In grim French north, worker protests seem doomed
26 February 2013
By LORI HINNANT

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Goodyear employee burns tires, outside the Goodyear tyre company, in Amiens, northern France, Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013.
(AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

AMIENS, France (AP) -- Workers at a dying French tire factory who have become the butt of American jokes staged a last-ditch protest on Tuesday to defy anyone - plant owner Goodyear, prospective buyers, even the French government - to try and take their jobs away.

They've say they've been fighting for 62 months to keep the factory operating and prevent Goodyear from shifting work to China. Goodyear says the tires made in their factory no longer sell, and the European market for tires - just like for cars - is contracting. But the workers' efforts seem doomed in a larger sense as a labor model that features high wages, long vacations and short work weeks is increasingly being called into question amid a weak economy.

It's a growing problem across France, particularly as the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande is under pressure from the European Union and financial markets to focus on cutting debt, rather than trying to prop up loss-making industries.

The protests at the plant in the northern city of Amiens came after efforts to find a new buyer for the struggling factory fizzled. The most promising prospect, an American executive, sent a letter last week to the French government saying that the country's economic model is too worker-friendly and discourages investment. The factory's closure was announced five years ago by Goodyear when workers refused to accept any layoffs. It will be at least 2014 before the French government intervention runs its course and the plant ultimately shuts down.

"I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!" Maurice Taylor, the CEO of Titan tires, wrote to the French government official trying to find a buyer. "How stupid do you think we are?"

The stinging letter infuriated France's political class and even drew a rebuke from the director of Goodyear France, who insisted that the accusations against the workers he's trying to lay off were "unfair." "It is logical that companies make money. It is their first goal. But at some point, they also must divide the wealth fairly," said Mickael Wamen, a union leader at the factory who organized Tuesday's protest.

Figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show France has one of the highest rates of productivity - measured as economic output per hour worked - in Europe. In fact, it is close to that of the U.S. But that productivity rate in France also costs more because of higher taxes for companies. As a result, analysts and politicians say France, the continent's second-largest economy after Germany, is rapidly losing its competitiveness.

For weeks now, French government officials have hinted, warned and then finally outright acknowledged that the country was going to miss its EU-mandated deficit targets, that unemployment was certain to rise even beyond the current 10.7 percent, and that drastic spending cuts were going to hit every city and town for years to come. Hollande was blunt on Saturday as he warned both European authorities and the French that things would get worse before they improved. "2013 will be marked by more unemployment," he said.

Stephen Lewis, chief economist for Monument Securities, said Hollande's options were dwindling fast and was relying on the EU's leniency on deficit targets. The EU expects France's budget deficit to be 4.6 percent of annual GDP in 2012, well above the bloc's 3 percent target. "His short-term option is to try to persuade the EU authorities to give him more leeway. Then he'll be able to continue with his budgetary policies and not impose more austerity on what already is an austere situation," Lewis said. "The moment that the EU acknowledges France has a problem is the moment when we have a major euro crisis."

For Amiens, with an unemployment rate at 12.5 percent and rising faster than all but one region in France, the future is here. "Our country - like Europe in general - is on the verge of a social explosion," said Wamen, the union leader. "These who don't listen to the people, who don't listen to the rising anger are, in my opinion, dangerous arsonists because I think we are on the verge of a social explosion."

For Peter Morici, a conservative economist at the University of Maryland, the French need to come to terms with the fact that both their own economic model and that of the European Union have failed them. "If they cut spending the economy will start to shrink. If they don't cut spending, they will go bankrupt," he said. "The realization is emerging in Europe that Europe is not going to get better." Morici said it's clearly too late for countries like Greece, Spain and even Italy, where this week's elections called into question the country's very ability to govern itself. And France is out of options, he added.

That realization appears to be sinking in already in Amiens, despite the workers' promises to sue Goodyear and Titan and find a way to keep the factory going. After a brief protest in the morning, they took a few hours off in the middle of the day before staging another demonstration march. But by mid-afternoon, all but a few dozen of the workers had trickled away, and only a handful returned to the parking lot to burn tires. Those, at least, were easy to find.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 7:39 am 
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British MoD announces 5,300 army job cuts
by Nick Hopkins
Tuesday, 22 January 2013



Up to 50 brigadiers and other senior officers are expected to be axed as part of a sweeping round of army redundancies that will result in up to 5,300 troops leaving Britain's forces over the next year.

In what is thought to be the biggest tranche of redundancies faced by the army since the early 1990s, infantry battalions are likely to be worst hit as the military reorganises itself for the post-Afghanistan era.

Special forces units will be spared any losses, but officials made clear that this round of job cuts would take "a large slice out of the army in one go". Separately, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) also admitted more medical staff from the army, Royal Navy and RAF staff were likely to face redundancy later this year. Setting out the scale of the task facing the army, the MoD said it had identified 260 fields from which posts had to go, and it was down to commanders to spell out the options to personnel who would be interested in taking voluntary redundancy.

The army is bracing itself for having to make further compulsory redundancies – it has already had two tranches in which about a quarter of staff were forced out. The redundancies form part of the cuts announced in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which will see the regular army reduced to 82,000 by 2020.

Announcing the details on Tuesday, the chief of the general staff, General Sir Peter Wall, said: "The army is unfortunately reducing to 82,000 by 2015 and this tranche of redundancy is essential to achieving that. I fully recognise the unwelcome uncertainty and pressure for those who will be liable in the employment fields announced today. For some it may present an opportunity; for others it will curtail their service prematurely. Our aim now is to apply the process as fairly as possible and to prepare to support those individuals who are selected as they and their families transition to civilian life."

Redundancy notices will be issued on 18 June. Despite pressure to relax some of the rules over exemptions, any personnel preparing for, serving on, or recovering from operations on that date will not lose their jobs unless they have applied for redundancy. However, the units that will deploy to Afghanistan this autumn will not be confirmed until April.

In a written statement, defence minister Mark Francois said: "The redundancy programme will not impact adversely on current operations in Afghanistan, and no one who is serving on specified operations on the day the redundancy notices are issued on June 18 2013 will be made redundant unless they are applicants. Similarly, those preparing for, or recovering from such operations on the day the redundancy notices are issued will not be made redundant unless they have applied. There is likely to be a need for a further tranche for army personnel and medical and dental personnel from the RN [Royal Navy] and RAF in due course."

In first tranche in September 2011, 2,860 forces personnel were made redundant, while the second, in June 2012, involved 3,760. The defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said: "The army is actively managing recruitment to reach the target numbers, but unfortunately redundancies are unavoidable due to the size of the defence deficit that this government inherited and the consequent scale of downsizing required in the army. We will have smaller armed forces but they will in future be properly equipped and well-funded, unlike before. These redundancies will not affect current operations in Afghanistan, where our armed forces continue to fight so bravely on this country's behalf."

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 7:41 am 
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'Italian incomes lowest since 1986'
22 January, 2013

Rome (ANSA) - Average Italian incomes will be the lowest since 1986 this year, a report said Tuesday.

Per capita income fell 4.8% last year and a further drop will take it down to 16,955 euros this year, compared to 17,337 euros in 2012, said Rete Impresa Italia, a business association. The last time per capita income was below 17,000 euros was 17 years ago, in 1986, it said.

Source: ANSA.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 02, 2013 12:39 pm 
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Caterpillar to cut 1,400 jobs at plant in Belgium
28 February 2013

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BRUSSELS (AP) -- Construction equipment maker Caterpillar says it will cut more than one in three jobs at its Belgian plant because of high labor costs and sluggish growth in its European market.

Caterpillar Inc. says Thursday it plans to cut 1,400 of the 3,400 jobs at its Gosselies plant south of Brussels alongside other measures aimed at restoring the site's competitiveness.

It says the facility is hampered by Europe's low growth prospects and labor costs that are so high that "it currently costs less to import machines to Europe from some other Caterpillar locations than to produce them in Gosselies."

The Belgian plant, one of Caterpillar's largest globally, produces hydraulic excavators, loading vehicles, engine parts and components. The Peoria, Illinois-based company is the world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:55 am 
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'Stealing to eat' cases increase as austerity bites
by Patrick Butler and Jim Norton
Friday 25 January 2013

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Greater Manchester police said that while shoplifting offences overall were falling, the proportion involving groceries was increasing.
Photograph: Denis Closon / Rex Features

The data may still be sketchy and the evidence largely anecdotal, but there are signs that shoplifting food is becoming an austerity-era shoplifting phenomenon: more people stealing to eat because they cannot afford basic groceries.

Teenage asylum seeker Amine Ahnini was almost destitute when he stole a sandwich from Sainsbury's last year. Ahnini, who is not allowed to work, had £35 a week for food, clothes and travel, and said he would often go for one or two days without eating.

But it is not just asylum seekers driven to desperation thefts. Charities and police say that as living costs rise and incomes shrink, "stealing to eat" is increasing and the shoplifter demographic is widening. Officers say food shoplifters can be mothers struggling to feed their children, or hungry pensioners. In many cases they have no criminal record. The rise is more marked in deprived areas.

For instance, cases logged by South Yorkshire police include four instances of grocery shoplifting by mothers in 2012. Among them were a 31-year-old who stole baby milk and fabric conditioner worth £17.50, and a 19-year old who took baby milk and clothes worth £70. All told police they had shoplifted to feed and clothe their children. Three of the four had no previous convictions. All were given a fixed penalty notice.

South Yorkshire chief superintendent Jason Harwin said: "There should be no excuse for committing a criminal offence. These examples, however highlight the desperation some individuals face, that they are turning to crime to support their family."

Last year Greater Manchester police said while shoplifting offences in its patch overall were decreasing – the British Retail Consortium's 2011 Retail Crime Survey found shoplifting in the UK at its lowest level in seven years – the proportion involving groceries was rising.

Ch Supt Chris Sykes told a conference: "It's our feeling that a significant proportion of that is people stealing for themselves rather than stealing to sell on a big joint of beef, for example. In the past, you had stealing to order but now people are stealing for their own use." In Glasgow officers reported a similar increase in "stealing to eat" crimes. "We had an old man who had taken three tins of salmon. He could not afford to feed himself," Ch Insp Ann Hughes said last year.

Forces across the country are referring some shoplifters to food banks. In south London, a Metropolitan police safer neighbourhoods team said it had given out 75 vouchers for the Norwood and Brixton food banks since the partnership began six months ago. An officer said: "I've brought some young people into custody and realised they haven't eaten for 36 hours or so. You give them food bank vouchers, which they can use at the local church."

Adrian Curtis, the network director of the food bank charity Trussell Trust, said he regularly heard stories about desperately hungry people stealing food. "They were not stealing high-priced items, but food to feed their family," he said.

In a survey of 45 food parcel recipients by Coventry food bank, which feeds more than 210 people every week, just under half answered yes to the question "Have you ever needed to steal to feed you or your family?" Shane Feeney, who gathered the data, said: "Some people said they regretted having to steal but didn't have any other option; others felt embarrassed about the question. The number might be higher than recorded as people may have thought they might get in trouble if they answered yes."

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 9:05 am 
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Belgians feel bite of austerity
25 January 2013
By Matthew Price

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The EU provides milk for the poor

Has Europe put the worst of its economic woes behind it?

European officials in Brussels say they believe the continent has turned a corner in its debt crisis but, as a social crisis develops across much of the continent, that is not how it feels just a short distance away in northern Belgium.

Tania Godefroot keeps her coat on while she waits her turn. The food bank she has come to is barely heated, and winter's frigid chill has made it feel like a refrigerator. Eventually she gets to the front of the queue. A litre of milk, provided by the European Union to help the poor, goes into her bag. She takes some eggs, a few other provisions. Not much but every little bit counts these days.

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Tania Godefroot, Mother in Ghent: "The crisis has made it really hard to find work”.

"At the moment I'm surviving on 180 euros [£151; $240] a month," she says. "That's what left when the bills are paid - rent, electricity and hospital bills." Her daughter has been seriously ill. She does not see any sign of things getting better: "There's less food to go round here because there are more people coming [to the food bank]. As for jobs - the crisis has made it really hard to find work."

That may sound like a repetition of what you have heard out of Europe for several years now, but this is slightly different. The food bank Tania goes to is in the town of Ghent, in northern Belgium - the region of Flanders. Half an hour down the train tracks from Brussels, Ghent is the kind of classic Belgian city whose affluent, picturesque cobbled streets attract tourists throughout the year. It is in one of the richer regions in Europe. Yet even here, while officials in Brussels express a sign of relief that, in their opinion, the worst of Europe's economic crisis is behind them - the poor are getting poorer.

Credit squeeze

Poverty is increasing, according to Peter Heirman from the Flemish Network Against Poverty: "Not spectacularly - but it's increasing.

"People are now losing their jobs. Companies have postponed the crisis for a couple of years, but now they have used all their reserves and there is no space left to keep the people employed. I think the social crisis is starting right now."

Belgium is one of the core countries of Europe, a founding member of what became the EU. It is doing better than the southern nations of this continent. Yet even here it is predicted that 2013 will be a year of stagnation. Last year, bankruptcies hit record levels.

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Walter Verstraeten and his daughter Charlotte work on an industrial estate

Among those at risk right now are Walter Verstraeten and his daughter Charlotte. In a small room on an industrial estate they are carefully measuring chemicals into glass tubes for a series of tests they are conducting. For 10 years they have been building up their family firm, H&V Chemicals. Now they have just gone into bankruptcy protection.

"It's very difficult to get credit from the bank, especially if you are a small company and have had some difficulties," says Mr Verstraeten. "If you look at the number of unemployed, the number of companies going bankrupt, the difficulties of companies getting some money, then I think it's just as bad [as elsewhere in Europe]," he adds.

Things are getting worse, but actually it is not as bad as Spain or Greece. Not that that is any comfort to the Verstraetens, as they struggle to keep their company afloat. Unemployment in Flanders - at some 7% - is far below the record levels of southern Europe. Public spending is coming under control. While total debt is still very high, this year the central government in Belgium expects its budget deficit to fall below the EU's target of 3% of GDP.

Broken taboos

According to economists like Koen Schoors at the University of Ghent, that is largely thanks to the crisis itself, which has forced governments like Belgium's to make unpopular, but necessary, changes. "You see countries taking reforms that were not only unspeakable but also unthinkable - real taboos," he says. "The European crisis is helping to create the sense of opportunity [for this]. I'm much more optimistic than a few years ago. Now a lot of [reforms] are happening and a lot of them in the right direction."

Image

Among the changes that have helped Belgium's public finances is pension reform. People now have to work longer to get a full pension. Unemployment benefit is also being changed, meaning that people who claim the payments will get less. Good for the state coffers, perhaps - but it helps to explain why Europe's debt crisis is now becoming an economic and social crisis in even the continent's stronger economies.

Nowhere, perhaps, is that more apparent than in the eastern Belgian city of Genk (not to be confused with Ghent in the west).

'No future'

From atop a road bridge over the river, you can look down on a car park containing several thousand brand new Ford vehicles. They are expensive bargaining chips in the battle between management and workers.

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Mario Vannoppen and Debby Metten. Car workers like Mario and Debby face redundancy.

Ford announced last October that it was closing its Genk factory. Some 4,000 jobs will go by the end of next year at the plant. One study predicts some 7,000 more will vanish in the local area as suppliers are also hit. With Europe in recession, Ford simply has not been selling enough vehicles to keep Genk open. So the workers went on strike, set up a picket outside the factory gates and told managers they would not allow the cars to be shipped off to buyers until a decent redundancy package had been drawn up.

They are back at work now, after some negotiation, but the cars remain "impounded" while talks continue. Huddled by a fire to keep them warm, several dozen workers stand by. Among them is Debby Metten. "I'm feeling very insecure because I don't know what's going to happen," she says. "I think I'm going back to school to train for a job where there is a future." In this area, though, work is hard to find and her partner, Mario Vannoppen, knows it. "I worked here 22 years," he says. "I thought when I started - when I was 18 - I would get my pension here. Now, nobody has a future here."

Source: BBC.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:04 pm 
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Over half of Greek homeowners can't pay tax
28 January 2013

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A view of Lycabettus Hill as seen from the Acropolis, Athens.

ATHENS - Just over half of Greek homeowners say they will not be able to pay all their property taxes this year, according to a new poll, daily Kathimerini reports.

The Kapa Research survey for the Hellenic Property Federation (POMIDA) found that of 1,414 people questioned, 54% said they would not have enough money to cover the cost of a range of property taxes that have to be paid in 2013. Just under 50% said they doubted whether they would be able to meet their mortgage repayments this year, while about 25% are already falling behind in their monthly payments. Regarding landlords who rent out their properties, 82.7% said that they are losing money from their real estate assets rather than making a profit.

Property taxes were doubled by former Finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, now head of the PASOK Socialist party that is a partner in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' coalition government.

Source: ANSAmed.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:02 am 
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Thomas Cook cuts 2,500 UK jobs and shuts 195 high street travel agencies
by Rupert Neate
Wednesday 6 March 2013

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Thomas Cook said the job cuts would hit the back office hardest. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel firm, is cutting 2,500 British jobs and closing 195 of its high street travel agencies.

Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook's Europe and UK chief executive, said it was "never easy" to make job cuts but insisted the company had to make sure its administrative costs were "as low as possible".

The company, which has already cut more than 1,100 jobs over the past year, will shed up to 1,600 jobs in its high street shops with the remainder coming from administrative positions. Jobs at its head offices in Peterborough and Preston are most at risk, while its Accrington office will be shut.

The new jobs cuts represent more than 15% of Thomas Cook's 15,500 staff. Having recently shut 149 stores, Thomas Cook will be left with 874 travel agencies across the UK and Northern Ireland. Many of the branches being closed are Co-operative Travel stores, which Thomas Cook's previous boss Manny Fontenla-Novoa bought just two year ago.

"It is never easy to make decisions that impact directly on our people, but we also owe it to our customers to shape the business effectively and ensure that, when they book their holiday with us, our administrative costs are as low as possible," Fankhauser said. He said the cuts would make the company "better" and "more profitable".

Thomas Cook, which has been struggling since the 2011 Arab spring uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa put off holidaymakers, lost £590m in the year to the end of September 2012. The company, which was founded by cabinet maker Thomas Cook in 1841, has debts of more than £1.5bn.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents employees, said it was "shocked and angry" at the scale of the job losses. General secretary Manuel Cortes said: "This constant policy of slash and burn, with the axing of one in four stores and the loss of jobs, is simply self-defeating. The company needs new products if it to come to terms with the age of the internet and prosper in the 21st century. "That is the only way to stop this spiral of decline which repeated bad management decisions over the past five years has led them."

Thomas Cook takes 23 million people from across Europe on holiday every year.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 10, 2013 9:33 am 
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Jessops shuts shops, cuts 1,370 jobs: administrators
11 January 2013

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A woman leaves a branch of Jessops camera shop in Central London on January 9, 2013.

AFP - British camera retailer Jessops will close its remaining 187 branches and vanish from the high street with the loss of 1,370 jobs around the country, administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers announced on Friday.

The dire news comes one day after Jessops collapsed into administration after struggling over the key Christmas trading period.

"Since my appointment, we have reviewed the position of the business and held extensive discussions with suppliers around their support for ongoing trading," said PwC joint administrator and partner Rob Hunt in a statement. "It is apparent that we cannot continue to trade and as a result we have had to make the difficult decision to begin the closure of all 187 Jessops stores at the close of business today. Regrettably, this will result in around 1,370 job losses across the stores with further job losses likely, in due course, at the head office in Leicester."

Remaining stock would be collected over the coming days and be returned to suppliers if they are entitled to it, he added, while the group would no longer accept returned products.

"This is an extremely sad day for Jessops and its employees. We are very grateful for the support we have received since our appointment and we will continue to ensure that employees are paid as they assist us during the closure," added Hunt.

Jessops is the latest British retailer to fall into administration -- which is the process whereby a troubled company calls upon independent expert financial help in an attempt to remain operational. Britain's electrical retailers operating out of stores are facing dual pressure from tough economic conditions and online competition, analysts say. Retail chain Comet had collapsed into administration late last year and shut its doors for the last time in December.

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 12:40 pm 
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JC Penney cuts an additional 2,200 workers
8 March 2013

NEW YORK (AP) -- J.C. Penney Co. confirmed Friday it's eliminating an additional 2,200 jobs as the struggling department store chain slashes costs after a year of plunging sales and mounting losses.

According to Joey Thomas, a company spokesman, those being axed work in back-office administration in stores and district offices. He noted that the cuts translate to an average elimination of two positions per store.

The cuts come as Penney lost $4.3 billion in revenue for the year as a strategy launched in early 2012 by CEO Ron Johnson to scale back most sales in favor of everyday prices has failed to resonate with shoppers. The pricing strategy is a key element of Johnson's bigger plan to reinvent Penney's business that also includes installing shops filled with hip new brands to replace racks of clothing.

Penney reported last month its quarterly loss widened to $552 million, or $2.51 per share. Revenue slid by a quarter to $12.98 billion. Results for the full year were even more staggering. Penney lost $985 million, or $4.49 per share, for the fiscal year, compared with a loss of $152 million, or 70 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue dropped 25 percent to $12.98 billion from $17.26 billion.

The latest blow to struggling Penney: One of its biggest shareholders confirmed Wednesday in a regulatory filing that it's sold more than 40 percent of its stake. The move by Vornado Realty Trust, whose Chairman and CEO Steve Roth sits on Penney's board, is perhaps the biggest indicator yet that investors are losing patience with the turnaround strategy.

Johnson said in New York State Supreme Court last week that the Plano, Texas-based company had eliminated 19,000 jobs since he came on board. That figure came up while he was testifying in a trial that pits Penney against rival Macy's Inc. over a partnership over the Martha Stewart brand.

When Johnson joined the retailer, Penney employed 134,000 people. That means the company has cut about 16 percent of its workforce since then. The company operates 1,100 stores.

"As with any reduction in force, we do our best to absorb those impacted into other positions if they choose to do so," said Thomas in an email to The Associated Press. He noted that affected workers were given 30 days notice, so their last day would not be effective until April 6. Those who are eligible for benefits will receive a severance package and outplacement assistance.

Penney's shares closed Friday up 29 cents, or nearly 2 percent, to $15.11. In the days after Johnson announced his vision for a new Penney in late January 2012, investors drove shares up 24 percent to $43, but shares have lost 65 percent of their value since then.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 12:43 pm 
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Google to cut 1,200 jobs at Motorola Mobility
8 March 2013

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The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

(Reuters) - Google's Motorola Mobility unit is to shed another 1,200 jobs or 10 percent of its workforce as the smartphone maker tries to return to profitability, Google said on Friday.

The lay-offs come on top of the 4,000 jobs cut at Motorola Mobility in August as Google seeks to make more smartphones and fewer simple handsets.

"These cuts are a continuation of the reductions we announced last summer," spokeswoman Niki Fenwick said in an email to Reuters. "It's obviously very hard for the employees concerned, and we are committed to helping them through this difficult transition," she added.

The Wall Street Journal reported the lay-offs earlier on Friday, citing a company email. The email about the job cuts, which will affect workers in the United States, China and India, said, "our costs are too high, we're operating in markets where we're not competitive and we're losing money," according to the Journal.

Google bought the money-losing cellphone maker for $12.5 billion last year, its largest acquisition ever, aiming to use Motorola Mobility's armory of patents to fend off legal attacks on its Android mobile platform and expand beyond its software business. But the acquisition raised concerns on Wall Street that Google was entering a business with much lower profit margins.

(Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bangalore and Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Greg Mahlich)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 12:45 pm 
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Fitch downgrades Italy on election uncertainty
8 March 2013

MILAN (AP) -- Fitch Ratings Agency on Friday downgraded Italy's credit rating to BBB+ from A- with a warning of a further downgrade, citing the uncertainty created by February's inconclusive elections.

Fitch said the failure to come up with a clear winner makes "it unlikely that a stable new government can be formed in the next few weeks," thereby harming prospects of further reforms.

The rating agency said Italy's recession was one of the deepest in Europe, with an expected contraction of 1.8 percent in 2013. Fitch added that the size of the country's debt as a proportion of its economy is expected to peak at 130 percent this year, higher than an earlier estimate of 125 percent.

Talks on forming a new government aren't expected to begin before March 20.

The Italian Finance Ministry responded with a statement highlighting the positives in the Italian economy, including a public sector deficit of 3 percent of GDP last year, and noting that the political uncertainty `'is part of a normal democratic process. `'

The ministry expressed confidence in Italy's ability to find political solutions and `'therefore continue the ongoing reform process." It noted that Premier Mario Monti's caretaker government remains in place in the meantime.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 7:32 pm 
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School throws safety net to hungry Portuguese kids
13 January 2013

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A child eats lunch at an elementary school on the outskirts of Lisbon on December 20, 2012.

AFP - It is hard to picture the scene in 21st-century Europe, but as debt-ridden Portugal heads into a new year of economic crisis, schools are stepping in to feed children who would otherwise go hungry at home.

One school in a poor district of north Lisbon stayed open over the Christmas break to serve up lunch to around 40 pupils, aged four to 18, out of its 800 enrolled students. "Otherwise the children risked going hungry for two weeks," explained its headmaster, who preferred to remain unnamed. "Pupils had been coming in on a Monday morning nearly faint with hunger, after several days without eating properly."

Nationwide, Portuguese schools have been offering free breakfasts to thousands of children since the start of the school year as part of a programme funded by donors in the food industry. By late November, some 13,000 children had been flagged up by schools participating in the scheme as facing nutritional problems, up 3,000 on a month earlier. The Lisbon school also started by offering breakfast to a handful of needy pupils.

"Now, with the crisis growing worse, we are seeing more and more children who are not getting enough food," its headmaster told AFP. Over the Easter break, the school expects to serve food to up to 100 children. Most of them have parents out of work -- like 16 percent of the Portuguese workforce -- but are not eligible for welfare, according to a social worker at the school.

The Lisbon school has been financing the free meals from the profits generated by its regular canteen, as well as by selling off school equipment. Social stigma ensured however that not all the children eligible for Christmas meals turned up. "However hungry they are, around half, mostly teenagers, preferred not to come rather than own up to their parents' poverty before their schoolmates," said the headmaster.

Under the national anti-hunger programme, children flagged as facing nutritional problems are supposed to receive help from social services, along with their families. But in practice, these services are often swamped. "Welfare officials tell us to send the families to one of the three social canteens run for children in the neighbourhood -- but there are no places left," said the Lisbon headmaster.

In the Lisbon suburb of Sacavem, primary and kindergarten headmistress Ana Parente tells a similar story. "A lot of parents who were fine up until now are jobless. For the first time we have been providing free breakfasts to 10 primary school children," she told AFP.

More than half of all families in Sacavem get state help with covering school costs, and all of those families signed their children up for the town's daycare programme run over the Christmas holidays -- which includes a free meal. Last year only half had registered, according to town officials.

"Since 2010, parents until then considered to be middle class have been slipping close to the poverty line," said Albino Almeida of the National Parents' Association, CONFAP. "The new food aid programme is a way to move faster and alleviate the problem -- but it doesn't solve it."

With a new wave of austerity measures set to kick in this month, campaigners expect worse to come. Portugal last year became the third European Union nation to be bailed out by international creditors after it negotiated a package worth 78 billion euros ($101.5 billion) from the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Its 2013 budget imposes an unprecedented austerity squeeze, including tax rises and cuts in unemployment and sick leave benefits.

"We are bracing for an exponential rise in the hardship faced by families," said Almeida. "The country as a whole is growing poorer, and we are seeing people slide into poverty like never before."

Source: France24.

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