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Greece in Last-Minute Rescue Appeal as Default Looms

Greece requested a two-year rescue deal with the EU in a race down to the wire Tuesday, after admitting it would fail to make an IMF payment with just hours left before its EU bailout expires.

The zero-hour appeal came amid a flurry of actions aimed at preventing a chaotic eurozone exit which could have untold repercussions on international markets and the European Union.

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Syrian Pistachio Production Down 50%

Syria, once one of the world's top exporters of pistachios, said on Tuesday that production of the nuts has plunged 50 percent over the past year.

The agriculture ministry said the slump was both the result of the ongoing conflict and frosty conditions last winter.

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Orange Reaches a Deal for Split with Israel's Partner after Spat

French mobile company Orange reached a deal with Israel's Partner to retake control of its brand, it said in a statement Tuesday, as it seeks to move on from a major diplomatic spat.

Orange will pay up to 90 million euros ($100 million) to regain direct control of the brand in Israel within two years, which had been licensed to Partner until 2025. 

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Hamas Closes Offices of Gaza's Only Mobile Phone Company

Hamas on Tuesday closed the offices of Gaza's only mobile telephone company after accusing it of tax-dodging, a move experts said could halt all cellular services in the Palestinian territory.

Police in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, shut the offices of Palestinian telecoms provider Jawwal in Gaza City and left notices proclaiming it was "on the orders of the (Hamas) public prosecutor", an AFP correspondent said.

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Oil Prices Down as Greece Default Looms

Oil prices extended losses in Asia Tuesday on expectations Greece will miss a key debt repayment later in the day and edge closer to a eurozone exit, analysts said. 

U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for August delivery fell 23 cents to $58.10 while Brent crude for August eased 15 cents to $61.86 in late-morning trade.

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Qatar's Troubled 'Kafala' System Proves Hard to Change

Despite claims of its imminent demise, Qatar's controversial "kafala" sponsorship system -- which critics say is a direct cause of misery and abuse for many foreign workers -- clings stubbornly to life.

On Monday, in a sign of how entrenched the issue has become, Qatar's normally quiet government used its new communications office to make a rare public statement and reassure critics that change to the system, which limits the rights of movement for foreign workers, really is on the way.

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Chinese Media See International Bank as Diplomatic Coup

The creation of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a bigger coup for Beijing than its hosting of the 2008 Olympics, state-run media said Tuesday after 50 countries signed its legal framework.

China was spurred to create the AIIB after "unfair treatment" by Washington-led institutions, the Global Times said in an editorial, apparently referring to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

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Sony Plunges 8.25% on Massive Share Sale Plan

Shares in Sony plunged 8.25 percent Tuesday on dilution fears after the Japanese electronics giant announced plans to raise $3.6 billion through stock and bond sales.

The stock closed at 3,461.5 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, down 8.25 percent from the previous day, while the benchmark index ended up 0.63 percent.

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Swiss Bank Acts to Halt Franc Rise as Investors Seek Refuge in Greek Crisis

Switzerland's central bank was forced Monday to intervene "in order to stabilize the markets," which have tumbled over Greece's escalating crisis, the bank's chief Thomas Jordan said.

Jordan did not specify the amount spent on the intervention aimed at halting the rise in the Swiss franc -- a refuge currency -- but reiterated that the bank had always said it was ready to intervene if necessary.

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Italy Does not Fear Greek Contagion

Italy's finance minister on Monday played down the threat of Italy being hit by the fallout from market instability linked to the Greek crisis.

"I would not be surprised but neither would I be that concerned if there was an increase in market volatility. The European Central Bank has all the instruments at its disposal to deal with it," Pier Carlo Padoan said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

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