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Eurozone releases next set of loans for Greece

ATHENS, Greece — Eurozone officials on Monday approved the release of 2.8 billion euros, or $3.7 billion, in loans to Greece, the country’s Finance Ministry said, paving the way for the approval of an additional 6 billion euro installment at a meeting of the currency union’s finance ministers in mid-May.

The Greek Parliament late Sunday approved a controversial plan to dismiss 15,000 civil servants by the end of next year as part of a new package of economic measures asked for by Greece’s foreign creditors: the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

The $3.7 billion approved Monday in Brussels was originally to have been disbursed in March but was delayed after negotiations stalled over the creditors’ demands for civil service cuts. The May installment is dependent on further action by Athens, including an overhaul of the tax collection system.

The Greek government’s latest measures passed in a vote held shortly before midnight with 168 votes in the 300-seat House.

A last-minute amendment allowing local authorities to hire young Greeks for less than the minimum wage of 586 euros a month fueled angry protests by the political opposition. But the inclusion of measures intended to ease some of the financial burden on homeowners, including a 15 percent reduction in a new property tax, clinched the support of lawmakers in the three-party ruling coalition.

—Niki Kitsantonis, The New York Times

Syrian prime minister escapes assassination attempt

BEIRUT — In the latest reported attack on a high-ranking Syrian official, Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi survived what appeared to be an assassination attempt Monday in an upscale neighborhood of the capital, Damascus, when a car bomb exploded near his convoy, according to state-run media and opposition reports.

The reports said that a bodyguard was killed in the attack, which took place in Mezze, a central district where many senior officials live. The prime minister was reportedly unhurt, although state media said others had been injured. Video on state television showed a car reduced to a charred skeleton and, nearby, a bus with its windows shattered.

The assault fit a pattern of attempts to attack high officials. Less than two weeks ago, another official — Ali Balan, the government’s chief coordinator of emergency aid distribution to civilians — was killed by gunmen with silencer-equipped weapons at a restaurant in the same heavily guarded neighborhood, close to buildings housing government and military institutions.

In July, an explosion at a security headquarters in the Syrian capital killed or wounded several key aides loyal to President Bashar Assad, who has been fighting a growing revolt that began with street protests in March 2011 and has escalated into a bloody civil war with insurgents battling for positions across the land, including the outskirts of Damascus.

State television in Syria called the attack a “terrorist explosion” that was “an attempt to target the convoy of the prime minister.” Terrorist is the word used by the authorities to depict their armed adversaries.

The television said the prime minister was “well and not hurt at all,” Reuters reported, but his condition could not immediately be independently confirmed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and draws information from a network of opposition sources inside Syria, said initial reports showed that a bodyguard had been killed.

Al-Halqi has been part of an effort by Assad to wage an energized diplomatic campaign to persuade the United States that it is on the wrong side of the civil war.

—Anne Barnard and Alan Cowell, The New York Times