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In brief: Arab League peace plan for Syria weakens

Wed., Jan. 25, 2012

Damascus, Syria – An Arab League peace plan for Syria appeared to be near collapse Tuesday as six Persian Gulf nations announced their intention to withdraw monitors from the country and urged the United Nations Security Council to take “all needed measures” to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.

The gulf monarchies, including regional giant Saudi Arabia, said in a statement that Assad’s government had failed to comply with demands by the 22-member regional bloc designed to curb months of bloodshed in Syria. The six nations – which also include Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – contributed 55 of the 165 monitors sent to Syria.

On Monday, Syria rejected as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty a proposed Arab League political road map that called for Assad to transfer power to his deputy and for the establishment of a national unity government within two months. Supervised parliamentary and presidential elections would follow, according to the proposal.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem was defiant Tuesday at a news conference in Damascus, assailing the league’s political plan and denouncing “a plot against Syria” abetted by Arab nations.

Tax push fuels backlash among Palestinians

Ramallah, West Bank – Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has sparked a furor with a push to get Palestinians to pay more taxes and reduce reliance on the massive foreign aid that has kept their self-rule government afloat for a generation.

Long accustomed to minimal taxes, the most powerful groups in the West Bank – private business, the civil servants’ union and the main political party, Fatah – are fighting back, including with threats of labor strikes.

It’s unlikely weary donor countries will rush to the rescue. They’ve cut back aid, paying less than promised in the past two years and triggering a series of financial crises. The survival of the Palestinian Authority is key to any deal with Israel on setting up a Palestinian state, but donors have become more frugal because of the global financial crisis and paralysis in Mideast diplomacy over the past three years.

Fayyad says the showdown over taxes is as much about the obligations of citizenship as about balancing the books. “This transcends money and finance,” Fayyad told the Associated Press.

The tax hike mainly targets the top earners, doubling the maximum rate from 15 percent to 30 percent. Business leaders complain that they’re being burdened unfairly and are threatening to refuse to pay.


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