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BC-AP--AP European News Digest at 1200 GMT, AP

February 23, 2015

TOP STORIES FOR MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2015:

IRAN-NUCLEAR TALKS

GENEVA — Officials say the U.S. and Iran are shaping the contours of a deal that could allow Iran to progressively ramp up its nuclear program over the last few years of its duration. Western officials cite long-awaited progress on many elements that would have to go into a comprehensive deal being negotiated Monday. SENT: 600 words, photos. By Bradley Klapper and George Jahn.

BRITAIN-SYRIA-MISSING GIRLS

LONDON — The families of three British schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join the Islamic State extremist group have issued emotional public appeals urging them to come home as police searched for them in Turkey. The girls, all 15 to 16 years old, disappeared from their homes Tuesday. Authorities said they boarded a plane to Turkey. SENT: 300 words, photos. By Sylvia Hui.

NORWAY-OIL PAINS

STAVANGER, Norway — Losing his job on a Norwegian oil rig meant more to Kristoffer Sandberg than saying goodbye to a high salary and convenient work shifts. It has caused a shift down in lifestyle and expectations, something an increasing number of people in this small oil-rich country are struggling to come to terms with. After a decade of an oil and gas boom, plunging energy prices are shaking the Norwegians out of a Utopian reverie. UPCOMING: 730 words, photos, by 1300 GMT. By Mark Lewis.

EU-BRITAIN-LOBBYING-STING

LONDON — Two former senior British government ministers have denied wrongdoing after being caught in a hidden-camera sting appearing to offer access to politicians and diplomats in return for cash. Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary under Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Conservative former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, were secretly filmed by reporters posing as representatives of a fictional Hong Kong-based communications agency. The reporters said they were seeking top U.K. politicians to join the firm’s advisory board. By Gregory Katz. SENT: 300 words, photos. By Gregory Katz.

UKRAINE

KIEV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian military spokesman says continuing attacks from rebels are delaying Ukrainian forces’ pullback of heavy weapons from the front line in the country’s east. Under a peace agreement reached on Feb. 12, both sides are to withdraw their heavy weapons anywhere from 25 to 70 kilometers to create a buffer zone. Ukrainian officials said Sunday that they were planning to begin. SENT: 130 words, photos.

VATICAN-ARMENIANS

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has given a gift of sorts to Armenian Catholics commemorating the 100th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, declaring a revered 10th-century mystic and poet, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church. The Vatican said Monday that Francis had agreed to bestow one of the highest church honors on Gregory after the decision was taken by the Vatican’s saint-making office. The designation, however, clearly reflects a desire of Francis, who as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was particularly close to the Armenian community in Buenos Aires. SENT: 300 words. By Nicole Winfield.

EU-FRANCE-IRAQ-

PARIS — France has deployed an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to strengthen its military operation against Islamic State extremists in Iraq. President Francois Hollande announced days after deadly attacks by Islamic radicals in Paris last month that France would dispatch the Charles de Gaulle carrier to the Middle East, to work more closely with the U.S.-led coalition. SENT: 130 words.

EU-GREECE-BAILOUT

ATHENS, Greece — Greece is due to submit a list of proposed reforms to its debt inspectors by Monday night to get final approval for an extension to its rescue loans. The government and its creditors agreed Friday to extend the country’s rescue loans by four months. In return, Greece would have to commit to a series of budget measures meant to keep a lid on debts and improve the economy.

BRITAIN-LLOYDS

LONDON — Britain’s government has cut its stake in Lloyds Banking Group by another 1 percent, recouping about 500 million pounds ($768 million) for taxpayers who rescued the bank at the height of the financial crisis. Chancellor George Osborne announced the sale Monday, updating plans for reducing the government’s stake that were announced in December. The Treasury has reduced its stake to 24 percent from 40 percent, raising just under 8 billion pounds. The Treasury says all of the shares were sold for more than the 73.6 pence a share paid to acquire the stake. SENT: 130 words.

BRITAIN-HSBC

LONDON — HSBC, Europe’s largest bank by market value, saw its full-year net income drop by 16 percent to $13.7 billion amid geopolitical headwinds and consolidation in the group. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver acknowledged Monday that 2014 profits disappointed, but said a tough fourth quarter “masked some of the progress made over the preceding three quarters.” SENT: 130 words.

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