Syria's more confident Assad gives Eid prayers in Hama
BEIRUT Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered prayers for Islam's Eid al-Fitr holiday in Hama on Sunday, the furthest he has traveled inside Syria in years, showing his growing confidence.
BUCHAREST Romania's Prime Minister-designate Dacian Ciolos unveiled a cabinet of technocrats with a one-year term on Sunday, including European Union experts, diplomats and civil society leaders, which is expected to win broad support in parliament.
Last week, President Klaus Iohannis named the former European Commissioner Ciolos, 46, to head a cabinet to replace that of leftist Victor Ponta, who quit on Nov. 4 due to public anger over a deadly nightclub fire which killed 55 people.
Among the line-up, Ciolos said he selected Anca Paliu Dragu, an economic analyst at the European Commission and former IMF expert, to take over the finance ministry and Cristina Guseth, an anti-corruption expert, as justice minister.
Mihnea Ioan Motoc, ambassador to Great Britain, was proposed for defense minister. Former EU ambassador Lazar Comanescu will be foreign minister and Victor Grigorescu, a member of the board of power company Electrica, will be energy minister.
"I wanted to pick competent and expert people in their fields, open to dialogue. They come from the private sector, Romanian and European administrations, civil society experts," Ciolos told reporters.
"I do hope to have parliament hearings tomorrow and complete them with a final vote in parliament on Tuesday to have an active functioning government as soon as possible."
The new cabinet's first task will be to prepare a 2016 budget and pass it through parliament. Parliament had already earmarked tax cuts including a reduction in general value added tax to 20 percent from 24 percent in next year's plans.
Fitch Ratings said on Wednesday Romania's existing fiscal plans are unlikely to undergo significant changes following the nomination of a new prime minister to succeed Ponta.
"The main sovereign rating sensitivity remains the possibility that fiscal loosening jeopardizes the stability of public finances," it said.
The European Commission and the IMF warned about the scope of Ponta's tax cuts, and Romania's precautionary aid deal from the two lenders expired in September without a positive review.
Political commentators have said Ciolos's team will easily win Tuesday's vote of confidence and secure a functioning parliament majority comprising most groupings, but not the former ruling Social Democrats (PSD) of Ponta.
"On one side things are clear: they're going to surely win parliament endorsement. On the other hand, I'm skeptical this technocrat government could enforce any deep political reforms," said political commentator Mircea Marian.
The centrist Liberal opposition, a former Ponta junior ally, and ethnic minority groupings, including the Hungarian UDMR Party, which have a combined majority in parliament without the PSD, have all said they will lend support to Ciolos.
The large street demonstrations following the fire and focused against the rule of Ponta - now facing charges of forgery and money laundering - reflected growing anger at a culture of graft in one of Europe's most corrupt countries.
Local elections are scheduled in Romania in the first half of 2016 followed by parliamentary elections in December.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Dominic Evans and Digby Lidstone)
LAHORE, Pakistan An oil tanker crashed and exploded on a road in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 146 people, many of whom were collecting leaking fuel before it ignited, government officials and rescue workers said.