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Press digest

The following are the top stories in the Maltese and overseas press.

The Times reports how an Enemalta officer wanted cash to influence tenders for the privatisation of the petroleum division. It also reports how Malta is expected to grind to a halt on Monday, with many establishments not planning to open.

The Malta Independent reports how an Enemalta officer accepted gifts from George Farrugia but denied soliciting him. It also says that 8,200 voting documents remained uncollected.

MaltaToday says Labour is going into the election with a lead of 11.7 points, although 15% said they were undecided and 9% refused to answer.

In-Nazzjon quotes the prime minister saying the people's choice is for a secure future and job creation.

l-orizzont tops its front page with a statement by the GWU that it will ensure that the party in government keeps its promises. It also reports on a corruption case going back to 1987 and says the case was revealed by persons who were close to then minister Ninu Zammit.

The overseas press

According to images broadcast on Globovision, the coffin of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was half opened as his body lay in state at a military academy on Wednesday at the start of a three-day farewell for the leftist leader. The wooden casket was surrounded by four tall candelabras as his children, senior aides and three Latin American leaders – the presidents of Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia – looked on. Earlier, his flag-draped coffin floated over a sea of supporters in Caracas on its way to the academy, where it will lie in state until his funeral, which promises to draw leaders from all over the world. Tens of thousands lined the streets or walked with the casket, many weeping as the body approached. Chavez died on Tuesday aged 58 after a long battle with cancer.

High Russian and US representatives meet in London today to find a common approach to the Syrian crisis. Russian sources quoted by AGI, said Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's vice foreign minister, will meet his US counterpart, William Burns. The London summit was called following Friday's telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The two leaders agreed on “the need of progress in Syria's political transition” and to “put an end to violence as soon as possible”. Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers have offered the Syrian opposition coalition the country’s seat at the Arab League on condition that it first forms a representative executive council.

Al Jazeera says the United Nations refugee agency has reported there were now one million Syrians in the Middle East region who have fled the civil war in their country. Urging an end to the conflict. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Syria was spiralling “towards full-scale disaster”.  Most Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Around half are children mostly aged under 11.

Al Arabiya says about 20 peacekeepers in the force charged with monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syrian troops on the Golan Heights have been detained by armed fighters. UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the UN observers were stopped near an observation post which sustained damage and was evacuated last weekend following heavy combat. He said the UN peacekeeping mission has dispatched a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution.

Romania and Bulgaria's hopes of joining Europe's huge passport-free Schengen zone were again dashed as EU officials said there was no consensus on admitting the eastern states. A source in the EU's current Irish presidency told AFP there would be no vote, and no decision at talks today in Brussels by the bloc's 27 interior ministers and those of four non-EU nations also in the zone – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Joining the passport-free area, home to 400 million Europeans,  requires a unanimous vote from its current members. Of the 27 EU states, Britain, Cyprus and Ireland have not applied to join.

The Irish Examiner reports new rights for bus and coach travellers in the EU are to come into effect this week. The new measures will give passengers the right to pursue compensation where journeys are delayed or do not function as advertised. Up to 70 million EU citizens make bus and coach journeys each year.

The Wall Street Journal says the European Union has fined Microsoft €561 million for breaking a pledge to offer personal computer users a choice of Internet browsers when they installed the company's flagship Windows operating system. The penalty imposed by the EU's executive arm, the Commission, is a first for Brussels: no company has ever failed to keep its end of a bargain with EU authorities before.

Il Tempo reports Italian centre-left leader and would-be premier Pier Luigi Bersani has presented an eight-point platform to govern after Italy's general election failed to a produce a clear winner. It centres on public investment to boost growth, jobs and social welfare, streamlining Italy's political institutions and cleaning up government. The points are broadly in line with the manifesto of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) of ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, who rode a huge protest vote to become the biggest party in the House and hold the balance of power in the Senate.

Al-Ahram reports Egypt's Administrative Court haas overturned a presidential decree that called a general election next month, saying the law covering the polls needed to be reviewed by the Supreme Court to determine whether it conformed to the constitution. Egypt's Islamist president Mohammed Morsi had said the election would begin on 22 April, taking place in four stages over two months. National Salvation Front said it would not contest the polls under an election law which critics said favours Islamists. Morsi denies this claim.

The New York Times says a man suspected of fleeing the scene of a grisly crash in New York City that killed a pregnant woman and her husband was arrested in Pennsylvania on Wednesday after a friend arranged his surrender with New York authorities. Police say Julio Acevedo, 44, was travelling at twice the speed limit when he hit a taxi carrying Nachman and Raizy Glauber, both 21, on Sunday in Brooklyn. Both were pronounced dead at hospital and the baby died a day after being delivered by caesarean section.

Ansa says bathrooms inside Rome's major courthouse began donning signs on their doors warning those who entered to “bring their own supplies” due to an austerity-driven toilet-paper shortage. In response, the justice ministry issued a statement saying that the court had received €80,904.43 in funding a month ago that should have covered all sanitary needs.

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