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The institutions in charge of Greece’s bailout have reached a “common position” on how to proceed, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has announced.

Wolfgang Schaeuble’s comments appear to indicate that deadlock between the EU and the IMF over the next steps may have been resolved.

The IMF has said Greece needs more leeway to pay its huge debts before further rescue funds can be released.

However, the eurozone has been reluctant to go much further.

Arriving for a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, Wolfgang Schaeuble said: “I believe the institutions have a common position and that we will get to a point today where the technical mission can go to Athens so we can get a result.”

In its most recent assessment of the Greek economy, the IMF said: “Greece cannot grow out of its debt problem. Greece requires substantial debt relief from its European partners to restore debt sustainability.”

Eurozone governments have provided some debt relief already, in the form of lower interest rates and extended repayment periods. IMF staff thinks Greece needs more concessions.

However, the IMF has said there was no need for what it calls an “upfront haircut” – a reduction in the principal that has ultimately to be repaid.

In another development, Klaus Regling, the CEO of the European Stability Mechanism – the eurozone’s bailout fund – said in a newspaper interview that Greece’s finances were improving faster than expected.

He told Germany’s Bild that Greece would probably need far less than the agreed maximum loan of 86 billion euros by August 2018 as a result.

Athens has made a 2 billion euro repayment to the bailout fund as expected, which Klaus Regling said showed “Greece is a reliable contract partner. It is a sign that the restructuring of the Greek banking sector is progressing well”.

The UK voted to leave the European Union with 52% to 48% despite London, Scotland and Northern Ireland backing staying in.

The Brexit referendum turnout was 71.8% – with more than 30 million people voting – the highest turnout at a UK-wide vote since 1992.

Nigel Farage – who has campaigned for the past 20 years for Britain to leave the EU – told cheering supporters “this will be a victory for ordinary people, for decent people”.

Germany’s foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier described the referendum result as “a sad day for Europe and Great Britain”.

Leave supporting Tory MP Liam Fox said voters had shown great “courage” by deciding to “change the course of history” for the UK and, he hoped, the rest of Europe.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the EU vote “makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union” after all 32 local authority areas returned majorities for Remain.Brexit wins in UK referendum

Britain is set to be the first country to leave the EU since its formation – but the Leave vote does not immediately mean Britain ceases to be a member of the 28-nation bloc.

That process could take a minimum of two years, with Leave campaigners suggesting during the referendum campaign that it should not be completed until 2020 – the date of the next scheduled general election.

Once Article 50 has been triggered a country cannot rejoin without the consent of all member states.

UK’s PM David Cameron previously said he would trigger Article 50 as soon as possible after a Leave vote but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who led the campaign to get Britain out of the EU have said he should not rush into it.

They also said they want to make immediate changes before the UK actually leaves the EU, such as curbing the power of EU judges and limiting the free movement of workers, potentially in breach the UK’s treaty obligations.

The UK’s government will also have to negotiate its future trading relationship with the EU and fix trade deals with non-EU countries.

In Whitehall and Westminster, there will now begin the massive task of unstitching the UK from more than 40 years of EU law, deciding which directives and regulations to keep, amend or ditch.

The Leave campaign argued during a bitter four-month referendum campaign that the only way Britain could “take back control” of its own affairs would be to leave the EU.

Leave dismissed warnings from economists and international bodies about the economic impact of Brexit as “scaremongering” by a self-serving elite.

Polls have opened in the UK for a historic referendum on whether the country should remain a member of the European Union or leave.

An estimated 46,499,537 people are entitled to take part in the vote.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 BST and will close at 22:00 BST.Brexit referendum 2016

It is only the third nationwide referendum in UK history and comes after a four-month battle for votes between the Leave and Remain campaigns.

The referendum ballot paper asks the following question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.

After the referendum polls close, sealed ballot boxes will be collected and transported to the count venue for each of the 382 local counting areas.

These represent all 380 local government areas in England, Scotland and Wales, plus one each for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

Individual areas’ results will then be declared throughout the night, along with results from 11 regional counts.

Depending on how close the poll is, the result may become clear before the final national result is officially declared by the Chief Counting Officer, who will be based at Manchester Town Hall.

The Electoral Commission estimates a final result “around breakfast time” on June 24.

Russian energy giant Gazprom has been charged by the European Commission with abusing its dominant market position in Central and Eastern European gas markets.

The EC said its preliminary view was that Gazprom was breaking EU anti-trust rules.

It added the company may have limited its customers’ ability to resell gas, potentially allowing it to charge unfair prices in some EU member states.

Gazprom rejected the EC’s objections, calling them “unfounded”.

“Gazprom strictly adheres to all the norms of international law and national legislation in the countries where the Gazprom Group conducts business,” the company said in a statement.

The company now has 12 weeks to respond to the Commission’s allegations.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The move could further sour relations with Moscow, which are already strained over the Ukraine crisis.

Brussels began investigating Russian state-controlled Gazprom in 2012, but Moscow says the Commission’s allegations are politically motivated.

The EU’s new anti-monopoly chief, Margrethe Vestager, said the Commission had found that Gazprom “may have built artificial barriers preventing gas from flowing from certain Central European countries to others, hindering cross-border competition.

“Keeping national gas markets separate also allowed Gazprom to charge prices that we, at this stage, consider to be unfair.

“If our concerns were confirmed, Gazprom would have to face the legal consequences of its behavior.”

Brussels’ competition authority has the power to impose fines of up to 10% of Gazprom’s global turnover.

The EC questioned the formulae Gazprom used to come up with the different prices at which it sold gas to individual countries.

“Gazprom’s specific price formulae, which link the price of gas to the price of oil products, seem to have largely favored Gazprom over its customers,” it said.

The Commission said that, in its preliminary view, Gazprom was hindering competition in the gas markets in eight Central and Eastern European member states – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.

Russia supplies about a third of the EU’s gas requirements, with half that amount going through pipelines that cross Ukraine.

According to German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, Greece would struggle to find creditors outside the EU and IMF.

Wolfgang Schauble said Greece would be welcome to try to find investment from Beijing or Moscow, but may have difficulties.

His warning came after fears of a Greek debt default saw its borrowing costs jump 3.5 percentage points to 27%.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his government refuses to consider leaving the EU: “Toying with Grexit… is profoundly anti-European.”

Yanis Varoufakis also promised to “compromise, compromise, compromise without being compromised” to satisfy current creditors.

Wolfgang Schauble and Yanis Varoufakis were speaking at talks in Washington.

On April 15, ratings agency S&P downgraded Greece’s credit rating.

Yields also rose on longer-term Greek borrowing, with the 10-year bond yield – the amount investors demand for lending – rising one percentage point to 13%.

Wolfgang Schauble said that the Greek government needs to find creditors.

“The Europeans have said, OK, we are ready to do it [lend money] until 2020… If you find someone else, whether it’s in Beijing, in Moscow, in Washington DC, or in New York who will lend you money, ok, fine, we would be happy. But it’s difficult to find someone who is lending you in this situation amounts [of] €200 billion.”

He added that Greece must focus on increasing its competitiveness and primary surplus.Germany and Greece finance ministers

Wolfgang Schaeuble was speaking after the Greek government’s borrowing costs surged on April 16.

According to the Financial Times, Greece had made an “informal approach” to the International Monetary Fund to have its bailout repayments delayed, but had been rebuffed.

However, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said at the World Bank spring meeting in Washington: “We have never had an advanced economy asking for payment delays.

“Payment delays are analysed as additional financing granted to that country. Additional financing means additional contribution by the international community – some of which are in much direr situations than the country eventually seeking those delays.

“Payment delays had not been granted by the board of the IMF in the last 30 years and it was eventually granted to a couple of developing countries and that delay was not followed by very productive results.

“It’s clearly not a course of action that would actually fit or be recommendable in the current situation.”

Greece owes the IMF some €1 billion ($1.06 billin) in repayments next month.

Many in the markets think the Greek government will struggle to make those payments if it does not agree an economic reform package with European creditors soon.

Failure to agree a plan with creditors will mean that the country will default, a development that could force the government to put limits on money transfers and even lead Greece to leave the euro.

EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on April 16 that the EU was “not satisfied with the level of progress made so far” in debt negotiations.

Wolfgang Schauble had warned that he did not expect an agreement between Athens and its creditors in the next week.

However, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on April 16 said he was “firmly optimistic” the Greek government could reach a deal with its creditors.

“Despite the cacophony and erratic leaks and statements in recent days from the other side, I remain firmly optimistic that there will be an agreement by the end of the month,” Alexis Tsipras said.

According to Alexis Tsipras, several points of agreement had been found since talks first started, including on areas such as tax collection, corruption and initiatives to distribute the tax burden on those who have the ability to pay.

HEe said the two sides still disagreed on four areas: labor issues, pension reform, an increase in value-added taxes and privatizations, which he referred to as “development of state property”.

In a later tweet, Alexis Tsipras said he was “certain that Europe will choose the path to democracy”.

Greece has missed the February 23 deadline in sending a list of reforms aimed at securing a bailout extension to EU partners.

The Greek government will send the list on Tuesday morning, officials say.

The list must be approved by international creditors to secure a four-month loan extension.

Analysts say the deal’s collapse would revive fears Greece will exit the euro.

Minister of state Nikos Pappas says the list will include measures to fight tax evasion and trim the civil service.Greece reform list deadline

German newspaper Bild, citing an unnamed source, reports that Greece aims to recover 7.3 billion euros ($8.3 billion) with measures to combat tax evasion.

A spokesman for the German finance ministry, Martin Jaeger, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency that Berlin expected the Greek plan to be “coherent and plausible”.

Greece agreed at a meeting with its EU and IMF lenders on February 20 to submit the list of reforms before Tuesday, February 24.

But officials said later that the Eurogroup had agreed to a delay though no reason was given.

“The list of reforms will be sent to the finance ministers of the Eurogroup on Tuesday morning, while a teleconference will take place in the afternoon,” one official told Reuters news agency.

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The Greek government is preparing to present a list of reforms to lenders in order to secure a bailout extension.

The list to be submitted on February 23 must be approved by international creditors to secure a four-month loan extension.

Analysts say a collapse of the deal would revive fears of a Greek exit from the euro.

Minister of state Nikos Pappas said the list would include measures to tackle tax evasion and streamline the civil service.

German newspaper Bild, citing an unnamed source, reports that Greece aims to recover 7.3 billion euros ($8.3 billion) with measures to combat tax evasion.Greece bailout 2015

A spokesman for the German finance ministry, Martin Jaeger, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency that Berlin expected the Greek plan to be “coherent and plausible”.

Greece agreed at a meeting with its EI and IMF lenders on February 20 to submit the list of reforms before February 24.

Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper, was publicly attacked on February 20 by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis who remarked about an earlier story: “One must believe @BILD’s tall stories [about Greece] at one’s peril.”

In a new article, the newspaper breaks down what it says is a tax hit list devised by the Greek government.

It will reportedly seek to raise 2.5 billion euros from the fortunes of rich Greeks, 2.5 billion from back taxes owed by individuals and businesses, and 2.3 billion from a crackdown on tobacco and petrol smuggling.

Martin Jaeger said the Greek reform plan, once received, would be examined by Greece’s three creditors – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF.

Once the three lenders had delivered their opinion, it would be discussed by eurozone finance ministers in a conference call on February 24, he said, according to Reuters.

Yanis Varoufakis has said the bailout agreement will be “dead” if the list of reforms his government is drafting is not approved.

The new Greek government, led by PM Alexis Tsipras, was elected by promising to reverse austerity.

The four-month extension deal is widely regarded as a major climb-down for PM Alexis Tsipras, who won power vowing to reverse budget cuts.

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Greece’s PM Alexis Tsipras says he believes it will be possible to find a solution to the stand-off with the EU over his country’s debt.

Alexis Tsipras said he was “optimistic” after meeting the heads of the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament in Brussels.

The new prime minister and his finance minister are on a diplomatic offensive to reassure eurozone leaders about their plans.

Alexis Tsipras has pledged to renegotiate the terms of a €240 billion bailout.

His far-left party Syriza was elected last month on a promise to end austerity measures.

“We respect the rules of the European Union,” Alexis Tsipras said after his meetings on February 4.

“I’m very optimistic… Of course we don’t have already an agreement but we are in a good direction to find a viable agreement.”Alexis Tsipras EU talks Brussels

Speaking at the joint news conference, European Parliament President Martin Schulz described their talks as “fruitful” but said there were difficult times ahead.

Meanwhile, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his talks with ECB chief Mario Draghi in Frankfurt had also been encouraging.

“We had a very fruitful discussion and exchange,” Yanis Varoufakis told reporters.

He is keen to convince the ECB that Greece’s debt payments could be linked to the performance of the economy – the more it grows the more interest Greece would pay – through the use of debt swaps.

However, a report in the Financial Times quoted officials involved in the negotiations as saying that the ECB would oppose a crucial part of his plan – the sale of short-term treasury bills to raise €10 billion.

Today’s talks were the latest in a series of European trips to reassure leaders about the plans of a government elected on January 25 on a promise of writing off most of Greece’s spiraling debt.

Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party had also sparked alarm on the markets and among eurozone officials when it said it would refuse a new tranche of bailout funding, prompting questions about how it would finance itself.

Greece’s current program of loans ends on February 28. A final €7.2 billion is still to be negotiated, but the new government has already begun to roll back austerity measures.

Yanis Varoufakis is hoping to obtain quick cash for Greece while a new plan is agreed amongst the various eurozone members.

Eurozone finance ministers are due to meet on February 11 to discuss Greece’s debt proposals.

Earlier, Alexis Tsipras met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk.

Jean-Claude Juncker was expected to press Alexis Tsipras for a “technical” extension of Greece’s current deal. The Greek leader is to travel to Paris to meet President Francois Hollande later.

On February 5, Yanis Varoufakis is expected to meet Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister.

Wolfgang Schaeuble has emerged as the one of the toughest critics of the new Greek government, previously saying: “Elections change nothing. There are rules.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out Greece’s debt cancellation, saying creditors had already made concessions.

Greece still has a debt of €315 bilion – about 175% of GDP – despite some creditors writing down debts in a renegotiation in 2012.

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People in Moldova are heading to polls to vote in parliamentary elections which are widely seen as a contest between pro-EU parties and those backing closer ties with Russia.

Recent opinion polls gave a lead to the pro-Westerners, but tough post-election bargaining is predicted.

On the eve of the vote, one pro-Russian party was banned from the poll – a move criticized by Moscow.

The elections have taken on a wider significance in the shadow of the bloody crisis in neighboring Ukraine.

The crisis began last November after Ukraine’s former leadership made a last-minute U-turn, refusing to sign a landmark association and free trade deal with the EU – under huge pressure from Russia.

This triggered mass protests in Ukraine that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, and Kiev later signed the EU deal. But the protests, in turn, led to Russia annexing southern Crimea peninsula in March and throwing support behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Moldova – which also signed the EU agreement – has been under growing Russian pressure to change course.

About 2.7 million people are eligible to cast their ballots, electing a single-chamber 101-seat parliament by a system of proportional representation.

However, residents of the Russian-backed breakaway region of Trans-Dniester are not taking part in the election.

Moldovan PM Iurie Leanca’s Liberal Democratic Party wants the country to achieve EU candidate status by 2017 and full membership by 2020.

Its coalition partner, the Democratic Party, is more moderately pro-European.

The most strongly pro-EU and pro-NATO party, the Liberals, left the ruling coalition and went into opposition last year.

The opinion polls predict that the three pro-Western parties may get up to 43% of the vote.

The main opposition party is the Communist Party – a Soviet-era survivor that still uses the hammer and sickle as its symbol.

Poll ratings of another pro-Russian party – the Socialists – have been recently boosted by its populist campaigning, including concerts by Russian pop stars.

Pro-Moscow forces are also expected to pick additional votes after the ban of the Fatherland party. It was barred from the elections on the grounds that it illegally received foreign funding.

The party – whose leader has fled to Russia – denies the claim.

The opposition also hopes to capitalize on the growing economic problems under the pro-Western government in Moldova – one of Europe’s poorest countries.

The situation worsened after a Russian ban on Moldova’s import of agricultural products – including wine, meat, fruit and vegetables.

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Ex-USSR states Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed partnership agreements with the EU, in a move strongly opposed by Russia.

The pact – which would bind the three countries more closely to the West both economically and politically – is at the heart of the crisis in Ukraine.

Russia said that while the signing of the deal was the right of any state there could be grave consequences.

A ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine is due to end on Friday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the signing as Ukraine’s most historic day since independence in 1991, describing it as a “symbol of faith and unbreakable will”.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the signing of the partnership agreement with the EU

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the signing of the partnership agreement with the EU (photo Reuters)

Petro Poroshenko also said he saw the signing as the start of preparations for joining the bloc.

“Ukraine is underlining its sovereign choice in favor of membership of the EU,” he said.

Meanwhile European Council President Herman van Rompuy described it as a “great day for Europe”.

“The EU stands by your side, today more than ever before,” he told leaders of the three countries, adding that there was nothing in the agreements that might harm Russia in any way.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax news agency that the move was fraught with difficulties.

“The signing of this serious document is, certainly, a sovereign right of each state,” he said.

“[But] the consequences of the signing by Ukraine and Moldova no doubt, will be serious.”

Earlier senior Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev described Petro Poroshenko as a “Nazi” and said his presidency was illegitimate because parts of Ukraine did not vote in the May elections.

Sergei Glazyev also said that Petro Poroshenko had no constitutional right to sign the treaty, which would damage the Ukrainian economy.

However, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media that Sergei Glazyev’s comments did not reflect the official Kremlin position.

Petro Poroshenko’s predecessor Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal under pressure from Russia and protests led to his overthrow.

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The European Commission will launch a formal investigation into Apple, Starbucks and Fiat in relation to tax arrangements with three EU countries.

The companies’ respective arrangements with Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg will be investigated.

Announcing the move, tax commissioner Algirdas Semeta said that “fair tax competition is essential”.

Last year, a US Senate investigation accused Ireland of giving special tax treatment to Apple.

The European Commission will look at whether the companies’ tax affairs breach EU rules on state aid.

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: “In the current context of tight public budgets, it is particularly important that large multinationals pay their fair share of taxes.”

Countries in Europe cannot allow certain firms to pay less tax than they should, Joaquin Almunia added.

The European Commission will launch a formal investigation into Apple in relation to tax arrangements with three EU countries

The European Commission will launch a formal investigation into Apple in relation to tax arrangements with three EU countries (photo AFP)

The investigations will focus on “transfer pricing”, or whether the countries allowed the multinational companies to charge one part of the company over the odds for goods or services from another part of the company as a way of shifting profits.

Under Commission rules, companies must charge their subsidiaries market rates.

Sanctions for a breach of tax rules could include an attempt to claw money back from Apple, Starbucks and Fiat.

Apple said that it had not had “any special tax deal with the Irish government”.

“We have received no selective treatment from Irish officials,” the company said.

“Apple is subject to the same tax laws as scores of other international companies doing business in Ireland.”

The Irish finance ministry said Apple “did not receive selective treatment and there was no <<special tax rate deal>>”.

“Ireland is confident that there is no state aid rule breach in this case and we will defend all aspects vigorously,” the Department of Finance said.

Last year’s US Senate committee investigation revealed that Apple had been able to funnel profits into Irish subsidiaries or “ghost companies” that had no declared tax residency anywhere in the world, cutting billions from its tax bill.

The Senate committee hearing revealed that Apple designated its Irish entities as unlimited companies, which meant it did not have to publish annual accounts.

The Irish arrangement allowed Apple to pay just 1.9% tax on its $37 billion in overseas profits in 2012, despite the fact the average tax rate in the OECD countries that make up its main markets was 24% last year.

In a 40-page memorandum, the Senate committee said: “Ireland has essentially functioned as a tax haven for Apple.”

Coffee giant Starbucks has been embroiled in a tax controversy for a number of years.

In 2012, the multinational admitted that it had a special tax deal with the Dutch government which allowed it to transfer money to its Dutch sister company in royalty payments.

Starbucks said on Wednesday that its Dutch tax arrangements conformed with financial law.

“We comply with all relevant tax rules, laws and OECD guidelines and we’re studying the Commission’s announcement related to the state aid investigation in the Netherlands,” a Starbucks spokesperson said.

The Dutch finance ministry said it was confident that its tax system was “robust”.

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The EU is imposing further sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine after self-rule referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions say 89% and 96% respectively voted in favor of “self-rule”.

Earlier the head of the rebel Donetsk election commission, Roman Lyagin, said joining Russia “would probably be an appropriate step”.

The EU is imposing further sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine after self-rule referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk

The EU is imposing further sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine after self-rule referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk

Two Crimean companies and 13 individuals have been added to the sanctions list – the names are likely to be announced officially within the next 24 hours.

The sanctions impose travel bans and asset freezes. EU ministers are also discussing what might trigger a broader package of sanctions against the Russian economy.

In a brief statement, the Kremlin described the referendums as “the will of the people” and noted the “high turnout”.

The Kremlin denounced what it claimed had been “attempts to disrupt the votes, with the use of force, including the use of heavy weapons, against civilians”.

The Russian authorities said they expected the results of the vote to be implemented in a civilized manner, without any repetition of violence and called for dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Later Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said there were no plans to hold fresh international talks on the crisis – he accused the West of an “information blockade” over events in Ukraine and of “shameless lies”.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is to travel to Kiev on Tuesday to promote “dialogue” between the different parties.

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In a letter to European leaders, President Vladimir Putin has warned Europe that Ukraine’s delays in paying for Russian gas have created a “critical situation”.

Pipelines transiting Ukraine deliver Russian gas to several EU countries and there are fears that the current tensions could trigger gas shortages.

Armed pro-Russian separatists are holed up in official buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a European human rights body has stripped Russia of voting rights.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) monitors human rights in 47 member states, including Russia and Ukraine.

Protesting against Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month, PACE suspended Russia’s voting rights as well as Russian participation in election observer missions.

The Russian delegation had boycotted the meeting. Its leader, Alexei Pushkov, described the proceedings as a “farce”.

Vladimir Putin has warned Europe that Ukraine's delays in paying for Russian gas have created a critical situation

Vladimir Putin has warned Europe that Ukraine’s delays in paying for Russian gas have created a critical situation

Russian state gas giant Gazprom says Ukraine’s debt for supplies of Russian gas has risen above $2 billion (1.4 billion euros).

Gazprom said on Wednesday it could demand advance payments from Kiev for gas but President Vladimir Putin said the company should hold off, pending talks with “our partners” – widely believed to mean the EU.

President Vladimir Putin warned that the “critical” situation could affect deliveries of gas to Europe, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.

Vladimir Putin suggested “special” measures, he added, without elaborating. Nearly one-third of the EU’s natural gas comes from Russia.

Previous Russian gas disputes with Ukraine have led to severe gas shortages in several EU countries. The EU says it has extra gas supplies and reverse-flow technology to deal with any such disruption now.

In Kiev, the authorities said Ukraine would not prosecute pro-Russian activists occupying official buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk if they surrendered their weapons.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stirring up the unrest, a claim Moscow denies.

NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s border.

Ukraine fears that the Russian separatist actions are a provocation similar to the protests that gripped Crimea days before Russian troops annexed the peninsula last month.

The separatists in the east – a mainly Russian-speaking region with close ties to Russia – are demanding referendums on self-rule. In Donetsk they have declared a “people’s republic”.

Russia, the US, Ukraine and the EU are to hold talks in Geneva next Thursday to try to resolve the impasse, EU diplomats have said.

They will be the first four-way talks since the crisis began.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State John Kerry by telephone on Wednesday that the meeting should focus on fostering dialogue among Ukrainians and not on bilateral relations among the participants.

In another development, President Vladimir Putin sacked 14 generals, Russian media report.

It was not immediately clear if the move was a routine step. Russia has some 800 generals in its army alone.


The US and EU have decided to imposed “deeper sanctions” against Russia if there are “further incursions into Ukraine”.

President Barack Obama said “energy is obviously a central focus of our efforts”, acknowledging it “will have some impact on the global economy”.

Barack Obama was speaking after talks in Brussels with EU leaders Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy.

At a news conference the three men spoke of the special relationship between the transatlantic partners.

Barack Obama said: “The world is safer and more just when Europe and America stand as one.”

Herman Van Rompuy, European Council president, called it a “crucial” relationship.

Their talks at the headquarters of the 28-nation EU bloc also covered plans to finalize a transatlantic trade partnership, as well as efforts to tackle Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s chemical weapons.

Barack Obama praised the EU for the steps it had already taken – along with the US – to penalize Russia. These have included visa bans and asset freezes against a number of Russian officials.

Barack Obama was speaking after talks in Brussels with EU leaders Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy

Barack Obama was speaking after talks in Brussels with EU leaders Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy

He said those actions were taken after Russian forces moved in to annex Crimea, and they now must consider “the potential for additional, deeper sanctions” should Moscow attempt to do the same in other parts of Ukraine.

“We recognize that in order for Russia to feel the impact of these sanctions, it will have some impact on the global economy as well as on all the countries represented here today,” Barack Obama said.

Acknowledging that some EU countries are more dependent than others on Russia for energy, he said “this entire event has pointed to the need for Europe to look at how it can further diversify its energy sources”.

Barack Obama said NATO must remain a “regular presence” in those eastern European countries who are now feeling vulnerable to possible Russian intervention. He also voiced concern at the falling defense budgets of some countries.

Herman Van Rompuy called Russia’s actions in Crimea “a disgrace in the 21st century, and we will not recognize it”.

Ukraine’s southern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia earlier this month after a referendum which Kiev and the West considered illegal.

It follows the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych at the end of February following months of bloody protests over his decision to seek greater ties with Moscow rather than the EU.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high. Moscow accused Ukrainian officials on Wednesday of preventing Russian commercial pilots and crew from disembarking at Kiev International Airport.

This is Barack Obama’s first official visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels.

He began his trip to Belgium with a visit to a cemetery in Flanders, where US soldiers killed in World War One are buried.

He paid tribute to fallen US soldiers at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Waregem, to mark 100 years since the start of WW1. Belgian King Philippe and Prime Minister Elio di Rupo were also in attendance.

Following his talks with Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Barack Obama will meet NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

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The EU and the US have imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a number of Russian and Ukrainian officials following the controversial referendum in Crimea.

The moves follow Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, in which officials say 97% of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.

The individuals targeted by the sanctions are seen as having played a key role in the referendum, which Kiev, the US and EU deem illegal.

Pro-Russian forces have been in control of Crimea since late February.

Moscow says the troops are pro-Russian self-defense forces and not under its direct control.

The EU and the US have imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a number of Russian and Ukrainian officials following the controversial referendum in Crimea

The EU and the US have imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a number of Russian and Ukrainian officials following the controversial referendum in Crimea

President Barack Obama said in a press conference that Washington stood “ready to impose further sanctions” depending on whether Russia escalated or de-escalated the situation in Ukraine.

If Moscow continued to intervene in Ukraine, Barack Obama warned, it would “achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world”.

The EU published a list of sanctions against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. The list includes the acting prime minister of Crimea, the speaker of Crimea’s parliament, three senior Russian commanders and several senior Russian parliamentary officials.

Selection of officials targeted:

  • Dmitry Rogozin – Russian deputy PM (US)
  • Valentina Matviyenko – head of Russia’s upper house (US)
  • Sergei Aksyonov – acting PM of Crimea (US and EU)
  • Vladimir Konstantinov – speaker of Crimean parliament (US and EU)
  • Viktor Yanukovych – former Ukrainian president (US)
  • Andrei Klishas – member of Russia’s upper house (US and EU)
  • Leonid Slutsky – head of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) parliamentary committee in Russia (US and EU)
  • Sergei Zheleznyak – deputy speaker of Russia’s state Duma (EU)
  • Alexsandr Vitko – commander of Black Sea Fleet (EU) [youtube HRY6OyI5F0k 650]
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The EU has named 18 Ukrainians who will have their assets frozen including ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, his son and former PM Mykola Azarov.

The EU has named 18 Ukrainians who will have their assets frozen including ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and his son

The EU has named 18 Ukrainians who will have their assets frozen including ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and his son

Early on Thursday, the European Union revealed the names of those targeted by its sanctions. The list appears to include Viktor Yanukovych’s closest aides, including a former interior minister, justice minister, the prosecutor general, the head of the security services and the ousted president’s son.

The EU sanctions also target the former PM Mykola Azarov and his son.

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis, after all-night talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers.

Viktor Yanukovych’s statement said the agreement would be signed later.

However, the French foreign minister voiced caution, saying the deal was not definitive, and the opposition has not confirmed Viktor Yanukovych’s claim.

Protesters and police are still locked in a stand-off in Kiev, a day after dozens were killed in violent clashes.

Hours after Viktor Yanukovych announced the deal, more violence was reported in central Kiev.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis

The police said they had traded gunfire with protesters, and Ukrainian media said riot police were patrolling inside parliament during a session.

The protests first erupted in late November when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Thursday was the bloodiest day since the unrest began.

Police opened fire after protesters tried to push them away from the makeshift camps they have been occupying in central Kiev.

The health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday, and another 577 were injured. But activists suggested the death toll was likely to be much higher.

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EU foreign ministers have decided to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials “responsible for violence and excessive force”.

According to a statement released by the EU foreign ministers, targeted sanctions including asset freezes and visa bans would be introduced “as a matter of urgency”.

At least 21 anti-government protesters died in clashes in Kiev on Thursday.

Officials said that one policeman had also died and that 67 police had been captured by protesters.

“No circumstances can justify the repression we are currently witnessing,” the statement from EU foreign ministers said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the “prime responsibility” to get talks between the two sides under way lay with President Viktor Yanukovych.

At least 21 anti-government protesters died in clashes in Kiev on Thursday

At least 21 anti-government protesters died in clashes in Kiev on Thursday

Speaking after an emergency meeting of EU foreign minsters in Brussels, Catherine Ashton said ministers had expressed their “dismay” at the latest violence and had agreed to “suspend export licences for equipment for internal repression”.

Implementation of the measures “will be taken forward in light of developments in Ukraine”, she added.

The EU has until now refrained from imposing sanctions on Ukraine, preferring to emphasise dialogue and compromise.

The US state department had already announced visa bans on 20 members of the Ukrainian government but has not provided any names.

At least 21 protesters were killed by security forces in Kiev on Thursday following the breakdown of a truce the previous day. Officials say 67 people have now died in violence since Tuesday.

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Brussels for talks on Turkey’s EU membership bid, amid EU concerns over a purge of senior Turkish officials.

The negotiations are beset by problems.

EU politicians have voiced concern about the state of Turkey’s democracy, including the independence of its courts and media freedom.

Several of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s allies have been arrested over a corruption scandal. He blamed a “foreign plot” and sacked prosecutors and police chiefs.

The scandal has pitted Recep Tayyip Erdogan against a former ally, US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, who has many supporters in the police and judiciary.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Brussels is his first in five years.

He will meet European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs EU summits, and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Turkey’s accession talks resumed in November, after being suspended for nearly three-and-a-half years. The negotiations were launched in 2005.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Brussels for talks on Turkey's EU membership bid

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Brussels for talks on Turkey’s EU membership bid

However, several EU countries, notably Germany, France and Austria, have deep reservations about Turkey joining the EU. Critics believe it is culturally far-removed from Europe, and that because of its sheer size it could change the nature of the EU.

Supporters say it would be a dynamic addition to the bloc.

There are 35 policy areas, or chapters, in which candidate-states must meet EU standards in order to join the 28-member bloc. So far Turkey and the EU have only opened 14 chapters, and just one has been provisionally closed.

Eight chapters remain frozen because of a long-running trade dispute between Turkey and Cyprus.

The EU’s 2013 progress report on Turkey criticized “excessive force” used by police against demonstrators, along with other human rights violations.

Last week Turkey adopted a law making it a crime for doctors to provide emergency first aid without government authorization.

Some medical professionals see it as a tool to prevent doctors and other medics from treating protesters injured in clashes with police. The US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says action was taken against medics during anti-government protests last June.

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EU leaders are gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, for a summit rocked by Ukraine’s shock decision not to sign a far-reaching agreement.

The conclusion of the trade and reform deal was planned as the highlight of a summit aimed also at building ties with other East European states.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych is likely to face tough questions from EU leaders on why he stopped the deal, apparently under Russian pressure.

Viktor Yanukovych has requested more EU financial aid.

Pro-EU protests are continuing in Ukrainian cities against the government’s decision to back out of the deal.

EU leaders are gathering in Vilnius for a summit rocked by Ukraine's shock decision not to sign a far-reaching agreement

EU leaders are gathering in Vilnius for a summit rocked by Ukraine’s shock decision not to sign a far-reaching agreement

Viktor Yanukovych has dismissed an EU condition for signing the agreement – that Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and opposition leader, be freed from jail.

The dispute has increased tension between the EU and Russia, with Ukraine complaining it is becoming a “battleground” between the two.

EU leaders said in a statement that they “strongly disapprove” of Moscow’s pressure on Ukraine not to sign – while Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the EU of “blackmail”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is expected to have talks with Viktor Yanukovych on Friday, said Russia should not view relations between the 28-state bloc and ex-Soviet republics as a threat.

“We should overcome the ‘either us or them’ mentality,” Angela Merkel said.

“The Cold War is over.”

The two-day event, billed as the third Eastern Partnership Summit, is being held in the capital of Lithuania, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

The leaders are due to hold informal talks at a dinner on Thursday evening, with the official business of the summit to be conducted on Friday.

Initial political association agreements with Georgia and Moldova are due to be signed, as well as a visa agreement with Azerbaijan.

However, the centrepiece of the summit had been the association agreement with Ukraine. Such agreements, which promote democratic values and economic co-operation, are seen as a key step towards EU membership.

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Russia had urged Ukraine to delay signing a trade deal with the EU, Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov has admitted, as mass protest rallies continue across the country.

Mykola Azarov said Moscow had offered to hold trilateral talks on the issue, without giving “any ultimatums”.

Kiev last week put on hold the association and free trade deal with the EU, prompting Brussels to accuse Moscow of exerting pressure on Ukraine.

The move triggered huge pro-EU protests in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied putting any pressure on Kiev, accusing instead the EU of “blackmailing” Ukraine into signing the agreement.

Speaking to reporters in Kiev on Tuesday, Mykola Azarov acknowledged that Russia had suggested “to delay signing the treaty and to conduct negotiations” between Kiev, Moscow and the EU.

He said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would still attend this week’s EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss the possible consultations with Brussels and Moscow.

Russia had urged Ukraine to delay signing a trade deal with the EU

Russia had urged Ukraine to delay signing a trade deal with the EU

It had been originally planned that Ukraine would sign the treaty with the EU at the 28-29 November summit.

Mykola Azarov said such three-way talks would be in the best interests of Ukraine: “We absolutely do not want to be a battlefield between the EU and Russia. We want to have good relations with both the EU and Russia.”

He also added that separate “road-map” talks with Russia aimed at reviving economic ties would start next month and no agreement had been finalized on possible new financial support from the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, President Putin said it was solely up to Ukraine whether to sign or not the agreement with the EU.

During a visit to Italy, Vladimir Putin also urged EU leaders to refrain from “sharp words” on the issue.

Ukraine’s government said last Thursday it was halting preparations for signing the deal with the EU, amid concerns this would have a negative impact on Kiev’s trade relations with Russia and cause mass job losses as a result.

Moscow had earlier warned it would be forced to defend its market by raising custom duties on Ukrainian goods.

In a statement on Monday, Viktor Yanukovych said he had been forced to halt treaty preparations by economic necessity and the desire to protect those “most vulnerable”.

Tens of thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets of Ukraine’s major cities since last week.

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Ukraine has suspended preparations for a trade deal with the EU after a government statement said the decision had been taken to protect the country’s “national security”.

Hours earlier MPs rejected a bill that would have allowed jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country – which the EU had demanded as a condition for the deal to proceed.

Ukraine had come under intense pressure from Russia not to sign the historic EU deal at a summit next week.

The Ukrainian government said on Thursday that it was instead looking into setting up a joint commission to promote ties between Ukraine, Russia and the EU.

Russia wants Ukraine to join its own customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which it sees as a prototype rival to the EU.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was later quoted by AFP as saying Ukraine “will work further on this path, this path to EU integration”, although it is not clear how this tallies with the suspension of preparations for the deal.

On Thursday MPs threw out six drafts of the bill which would have allowed Yulia Tymoshenko to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Ukraine has suspended preparations for a trade deal with the EU

Ukraine has suspended preparations for a trade deal with the EU

The EU is sending a top envoy to Kiev.

Stefan Fuele, European commissioner for enlargement, is travelling to the Ukrainian capital on Thursday, for the second time this week.

The bill failed to pass after MPs from President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling Regions Party refused to cast their votes on any of the six proposed drafts.

The drafts all fell short of the 226 votes needed.

“It is President Viktor Yanukovych who is personally blocking Ukraine’s movement toward the European Union,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, parliamentary leader of Yulia Tymoshenko’s opposition Fatherland group, told parliament after the vote failed.

Opposition MPs responded by shouting “shame” as the bill was thrown out.

The legislation proposed that convicts be allowed medical treatment abroad.

Yulia Tymoshenko, 52, is serving seven years in jail after a controversial conviction on charges of abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia.

The EU has made clear it believes the judicial campaign against Yulia Tymoshenko has been politically motivated.

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The European Union and Singapore have clinched a free-trade agreement (FTA) – the second such deal between the 27-nation bloc and a major Asian trading partner.

Last year EU-Singapore trade was worth about 74 billion euros ($97 billion).

Singapore is the second largest Asian investor in the EU after Japan. The EU Commission says the deal – not yet signed by politicians – will help EU exports of cars and financial services.

An EU-South Korea FTA has been in operation since July 2011.

The EU is Singapore’s second biggest trade partner after neighboring Malaysia, Reuters news agency reports. The plan is to initial the FTA in early 2013.

The EU is also conducting FTA negotiations with Malaysia and Vietnam – like Singapore, members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The new deal is expected to ease EU companies’ access to Singapore’s banking and financial services, and to its public procurement markets.

Acceptance of common standards should also help European car exporters – among the sectors hit especially hard by the current economic downturn.

The EU’s trade surplus with Singapore last year was 8 billion euros, with cars accounting for a big slice of the bloc’s exports.

Conservative MEP Syed Kamall will be the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on the FTA. He said it would offer London’s professional services sector “excellent opportunities”.

He called Singapore “a massive and growing market” and “a key trade hub” which would open up European access to other markets in South-East Asia.

European Union has decided to spend 3 million Euros to research “the potential of insects as an alternative source of protein”.

EU says that research projects will be selected during this year.

Food experts agree that insects would probably have to be disguised for European audiences, so the insect “food” could be used as an additive in burgers and other fast food.

The UN’s Food Standards Authority says of the research: “While insects have not traditionally been used for food in the UK or elsewhere in the European Union, it is estimated that about 2.5 billion people across the world have diets that routinely include insects.

“While many insects are regarded as pests, the UN’s Food and Agriculture authority is interested in promoting edible insects as a highly sustainable source of nutrition.”

Some worms contain three times as much protein as beef per ounce, while four crickets have as much calcium as a glass of milk.

Daniel Creedon, a chef who serves ants, locusts and bees in honey at the London Archipelago restaurant, said: “If insects start coming into the food chain they are probably going to have to be disguised.

“Food producers will probably get away with describing it as animal based proteins. Not many people will buy a locust burger.”

Website Treehugger said: “It is not hard to imagine the development of an insect-based food additive that enriches burger and nugget protein levels.

“Burgers with processed insect meal could be sold by chains under claims such as <<higher in protein>>, <<healthier fats>> and <<eco-burger>>.”

European Union has decided to spend 3 million Euros to research “the potential of insects as an alternative source of protein”

European Union has decided to spend 3 million Euros to research “the potential of insects as an alternative source of protein”

80% of countries on Earth already eat insects, and more than 2,000 insect species are often eaten by human beings.

Unlike conventional livestock, insects and bugs need little space and can be bred in sealed buildings under natural light where they live off waste, paper and algae.

The idea has previously been backed by the UN and EU as a way to tackle food shortages.

Some academics believe that the expense and environmental cost of raising livestock means that insect-eating will be inevitable – and it has been claimed that by the end of this decade, insect-eating will be widespread.

Prof. Marcel Dicke from Wageningen University in the Netherlands said: “The most important thing is getting people prepared, getting used to the idea. Because from 2020 onwards, there won’t be much of a choice for us.”

An estimated 2,000 insect species are consumed around the world, and people do not just eat insects, they relish them as delicacies. In Africa, caterpillars and winged termites are fried and eaten as roadside snacks (after wings, legs, and bristles are removed, of course), and often considered tastier than meat. Grasshoppers and bee larvae seasoned with soy sauce are favorites in Japan, where pricey canned insects are also available. Papua New Guinea is known for its nutty-flavored sago grubs (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus papuanus or R. bilineatus), beetle larvae that inhabit dead sago palm trees and are honored at annual festivals.

Insects often contain more protein, fat, and carbohydrates than equal amounts of beef or fish, and a higher energy value than soybeans, maize, beef, fish, lentils, or other beans. According to a 2004 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, caterpillars of many species are rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as B-vitamins. In some African regions, children fight malnutrition by eating flour made out of dried caterpillars. Pregnant and nursing women as well as anemic people also eat caterpillar species high in protein, calcium, and iron.

The European Union has agreed on new sanctions on 180 Iranian officials and firms over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

EU ministers meeting in Brussels also agreed to work on other measures that could target Iran’s energy sector.

The new sanctions follow a UN report linking Iran to the development of a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the claims.

The EU measures also come two days after hundreds of Iranian protesters stormed the UK embassy in Tehran.

Britain announced on Wednesday it was expelling all Iranian diplomats from London, after pulling its own out of Tehran.


The European Union has agreed on new sanctions on 180 Iranian officials and firms over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme

The European Union has agreed on new sanctions on 180 Iranian officials and firms over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme


A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the new sanctions would target 39 people and 141 companies and would include the freezing of assets and travel bans.

EU ministers said in a statement: “The council agreed to broaden existing sanctions by examining, in close co-ordination with international partners, additional measures including measures aimed at severely affecting the Iranian financial system, in the transport sector, in the energy sector.”

Foreign ministers failed to agree on an oil embargo against Iran because some EU countries are dependent on Iranian oil.

Ministers said a decision on future measures would be taken no later than January.

EU officials say the latest sanctions are not linked to the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday.

However, ministers denounced the attack and said the EU would take “appropriate measures in response”.

The EU statement did not specify what those would be.

Ahead of the Brussels talks, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he wanted “an intensification of the economic pressure”, particularly the isolation of Iran’s financial sector.

Last week the US, Canada and the UK announced new sanctions against Iran in the wake of the report from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that said Iran had carried out tests related to “development of a nuclear device”.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes.

The 27-member EU has already frozen the assets of hundreds of Iranian companies and has adopted measures to prevent new investment and technological assistance to Iran’s gas producing and refining industry.

The EU is yet to release details about the 180 officials and entities targeted by the sanctions.

Despite the IAEA report, Iran was not referred to the UN Security Council because Russia and China were opposed to the move.

Iran expressed regret for the attack on the UK embassy – and another UK diplomatic compound in Tehran – and said a number of protesters had been arrested.

However, the semi-official Fars news agency said on Thursday that police had freed 11 people held over the attacks. There was no explanation for their release.