EU microfinance: small amounts, big help
Microfinance projects are getting underway in Europe. The first two are in the Netherlands and Belgium. Making access to credit easier is one thing the EU is doing to help people in the wake of the financial crisis. So, how does it work?

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Rebel Libyan troops abandon bases
Fresh footage has emerged of Libyan military bases abandoned by troops who have joined protests against Moammar Gaddafi. Tobruk is one of many cities across the east where anti-Gaddafi demonstrators have risen up and overwhelmed government buildings and army bases. In many cases the protestors have been joined by local army units – fed up and frustrated they claim by years of mistreatment and abuse. According to some media reports, more than a thousand soldiers have deserted the military barracks, handing over all the weaponry and munitions to the rebels.

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Israel kills 8 in deadliest day for Gaza in months
At least eight Palestinians, including children, have been killed in Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip in the deadliest day of conflict in the enclave for months. Palestinian medics said three youths playing football, including a child of 12, died along with an adult relative when Israeli shells struck a house. Israel says it was responding to mortar fire and expressed regret for any civilian casualties. Elsewhere in Gaza, four militants from the Islamic Jihad group were killed in an air strike. Israel claims they had been preparing a rocket attack. Gaza’s rulers Hamas have vowed a tough response. Tension has risen on the Israeli-Gaza border in the past few weeks. The Israeli military says more than 130 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel this year from Gaza, around 60 of them since Saturday.

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Bahraini protesters clash with police
Pro-democracy protesters have clashed with police in Bahrain. Hundreds of mainly Shi’ite people held demonstrations on the outskirts of the capital, Manama, and in villages across the country. Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, although some 70 percent of the country’s population are Shia Muslims. Riot officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the demonstrations. One man was shot in the leg. The protesters want a greater say in the running of their country’s affairs. The Shi’ite majority has long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni minority. The use of police force appears to contradict earlier promises made by the Bahraini government to allow peaceful protests. The demonstrators called it a ‘day of rage’, a nod to the recent popular unrest in Tunisa and Egypt.

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Haiti votes in presidential run-off
Haiti’s second round presidential vote passed off relatively calmly with only a few incidents – according to the UN mission. Political newcomer, entertainer Michel Martelly is thought to be slightly ahead but opinion polls show it is tight. The run-off followed November’s turbulent first round which was marred by unrest and fraud allegations. Martelly’s rival is the former first lady Mirlande Manigat. Both face a major challenge whoever wins as the impoverished country is still trying to recover from last year’s earthquake. International donors are hoping Haiti can emerge from the vote with a stable and legitimate leadership able to steer a multi-billion euro reconstruction programme. UN peacekeepers guarded voting centres in Port-au Prince to be on hand in case of violence between feuding rival supporters. Preliminary results are due on March 31.

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Winter brings relief for Estonian drivers
Residents of four Estonian islands usually have to rely on the ferry to get to the mainland but wintry weather is offering them an alternative. The frozen sea has allowed the opening of six ice-roads, one of which is the longest in Europe, stretching for nearly 26 kilometres. “The ice-track has to be tested regularly for the safety of the approximate 1,000 cars a day that use the road,” said Roadmaster Raivo Kibuspuu. “The three most dangerous things for ice roads are high traffic density, which destroys the ice and creates cracks in the roads, as well as the sun and very strong temperature fluctuations, especially the cold, which makes the ice crack.” Despite the occasional car dropping through the ice, which has happened, the islanders have not been deterred from using the road. “It’s much faster and it costs less,” said one driver. “And it’s also very romantic and beautiful. My grandfather used to go by horse and carriage on such roads.” So until April at least the people of the islands will not be so isolated, until then the only people losing out, are the ferry operators.

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Tobruk’s people – driven to rebel
Although Tobruk is an impoverished city it has a reputation for being a bastion of resistance. In the last century Tobruk was the final town to fall under the control of an Italian colonial administration. Read our news file One local resident said: “This time the revolution was sparked for economic reasons as well as the absence of free of speech, the situation of the country was in a deplorable state.” As the fight continued the city’s prison was raised to the ground. “The cars were burnt by the police after they joined the uprising,” said another local. “The prison was burnt by the protesters because it is a dark symbol of the regime, a nightmare for Libyans, the prison represents 40 years or more of suffering.” According to Tobruk’s residents each room inside the prison is said to have been used for a different form of torture. Euronews correspondant Mohamed Elhamy explained, “inside the cells, political prisoners were detained for several days before being transferred to Tripoli for torture – that’s what the rebels claim. Now they are empty after the liberation of the city and Tobruk is governed by its people.”

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