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IMF Calls for 'Urgent Action' to Boost Palestinian Economy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Thursday called for "urgent action" to help revive the Palestinian economy, saying it had been choked by Israeli restrictions and political uncertainty.

"Urgent actions are needed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), by the Government of Israel, and by donors to stabilize the fiscal position and rekindle economic growth over time," the IMF said in a statement.

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EU Leaders Walk Tightrope between Austerity, Growth

European Union leaders meet Thursday, seeking a balance between austerity and growth amid rising fears of social unrest as unemployment soars and Europe's economy remains stuck in the doldrums.

The stakes are high. A brash anti-austerity party won a stunning 25 percent of the vote in last month's Italian elections, a warning for austerity hardliners such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who faces polls later in the year.

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Smart Card Maker Gemalto Reports Record 2012 Sales

The world's leading manufacturer of smart cards, Gemalto, posted on Thursday a 25-percent jump in 2012 net profit on record sales, and forecast double-digit growth for this year built on growth in the international mobile telephone and security markets.

Gemalto's net profit climbed to 201 million euros ($260 million) on sales that rose 9.0 percent to a new record of 2.25 billion euros as demand grew for plastic cards equipped with embedded computer chips.

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Swiss Central Bank Vows to Keep Defending Forex Floor

The Swiss central bank pledged Thursday to defend the franc's exchange rate floor against the euro, while maintaining its record low interest rates.

The Swiss National Bank, which fixed a minimum exchange rate of 1.20 Swiss francs to the euro in September 2011, said it would "enforce this minimum rate with the utmost determination."

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India Bank Chief Warns of 'Stubborn' Inflation

India's central bank chief has said "stubborn" inflation remains a major obstacle to growth in India, dimming expectations of an interest rate cut when policymakers meet next week.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slashed the main interest rate in January for the first time in nine months after a fall in inflation and calls from the government and business leaders for lower borrowing costs.

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U.S. CEOs Optimistic about Economy, Wary of Hiring

Chief executives at the largest U.S. companies are much more optimistic about their sales prospects than they were three months ago, though many remain cautious about hiring.

The Business Roundtable said Wednesday that 72 percent of its members expect sales will increase in the next six months. That's up from 58 percent at the end of last year. And 38 percent plan to invest more in plant and equipment, up from 30 percent in October-December quarter, when the Roundtable released its last report.

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Iraq: 7 Oil Companies Qualified for Key Oil Field

The Iraqi Oil Ministry says seven international oil companies have qualified to bid for developing a promising oil field and build a refinery in the country's south.

Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said on Wednesday that the companies will vie for developing the 4.4-billion-barrel Nasiriyah field and the construction of a 300,000 barrel a day refinery nearby. Jihad added that the actual date for receiving bids has not been set yet.

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Zara Owner Inditex Sees 2012 Net Profit up 22 Pct

Spanish clothes retailer Inditex, which owns the Zara store chain, has posted a 22 percent increase in net profit in 2012 thanks to growth in eastern Europe and in online sales in Canada and China.

Inditex said Wednesday that profit for last year grew to €2.36 billion ($3.08 billion). Sales were up by 16 percent to €15.9 billion.

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Political Crisis Threatens Bulgaria's Fragile Economy

After weeks of protests, Bulgaria's new technocrat caretaker government must urgently restore trust in state institutions or risk exacerbating an already dire economic situation in the European Union's poorest country, analysts say.

"If protests continue and political instability drags on, it is set to pose problems for the economy by pushing new investors away and prompting those already here to postpone any development plans," Institute for Market Economics analyst Kaloyan Staykov told Agence France Presse.

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Philippines Opens Bid to Join Global Gambling Elite

The Philippines makes its biggest bet this weekend in a high-stakes bid to join the world's elite gaming destinations, with the launch of a $1.2-billion casino on Manila Bay.

Solaire Manila Resorts is the first of four enormous entertainment venues slated to rise over a giant chunk of prime, reclaimed land that industry and government leaders expect will attract millions of cashed-up Asian tourists.

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