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By Kylie MacLellan LONDON (Reuters) - Britain plans to extend a scheme to encourage house building and develop a new town close to London, Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne said on Sunday, ahead of a budget announcement this week that will stick closely to his austerity programme. The government will extend until 2020 its programme of providing equity loans to buyers of newly built homes, adding a further 6 billion pounds to the scheme. "I want to extend the Help to Buy scheme for newly built houses," Osborne told BBC television. The government is seeking to boost construction of homes to help address a shortage that is helping to push up prices.
Simferopol (Ukraine) (AFP) - Crimeans took to the polls on Sunday for a referendum on breaking away from Ukraine to join Russia that has precipitated a Cold War-style security crisis on Europe's eastern frontier. Cossacks and self-defence militias were seen patrolling some polling stations and Russian flags were being flown everywhere from city buses to convoys of bikers roaming the streets. Ukraine's new government and most of the international community except Russia have said they will not recognise a result expected to be overwhelmingly in favour of immediate secession. "This is a historic moment, everyone will live happily," Sergiy Aksyonov, the local pro-Moscow prime minister, told reporters after casting his ballot in the regional capital Simferopol.
Syria's army said Sunday it had seized the rebel stronghold Yabrud, where it is backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah and pro-regime militias, dealing the opposition a heavy symbolic and strategic blow. "After a series of special operations, the Syrian Arab army, in coordination with the (paramilitary) National Defence Forces, returned security and stability to the town of Yabrud and its surroundings in northern Damascus province," an army statement said. State television broadcast images of dead fighters, and its correspondent on the ground said traffic was moving normally along the nearby highway that links the capital Damascus to Syria's third city Homs.