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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran's Mousavi urges defiance

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the politician at the centre of Iran's opposition movement, has encouraged his followers to continue their protests over the presidential election.

In a statement on his website on Sunday, Mousavi said that people had the right to protest against "lies and fraud", but urged them to show restraint as they take to the streets.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the conservative incumbent president, was declared the winner of the June 12 election with a landslide victory, but Mousavi and another challenger have complained that it was rigged.

Mousavi's statement appeared on the website of his Kalameh newspaper as reports emerged of police attacking a vigil by about 100 people outside the offices of the United Nations in Tehran.

The capital had been largely calm until then after state television reported that at least 13 people had been killed as police and pro-government militia clashed with protesters the previous day."I as one of the mourners invite my dear people to self-restraint. The nation belongs to you," Mousavi said.

"The revolution is your legacy. To protest against lies and fraud is your right. Be hopeful that you will get your right and do not allow others who want to provoke your anger ... to prevail."

'Terrorist groups'

Television reports on Sunday blamed rioters and "terrorist groups" for the previous day's violence, saying two petrol stations and a mosque had been set alight, and a military outpost attacked.

About 3,000 opposition protesters had tried on Saturday to enter the area, undaunted by a warning from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, not to continue demonstrations against Ahmadinejad's re-election.

Security forces responded with live rounds, batons and tear gas, while protesters fought back with stones and set fires in the streets.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the foreign spokesman for Mousavi, defended the actions of the protesters.

"These people are in the streets to say 'We don't want atomic bombs, we want democracy'," he told Al Jazeera from Paris.

Witnesses said that dozens of people were hospitalised after being beaten by police and the pro-government Basiji militia.

The New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said that scores of injured demonstrators had been arrested as they sought medical treatment.

It said doctors in Tehran's hospitals had been ordered to report injuries to the authorities, and that some seriously wounded protesters had sought refuge at foreign embassies in a bid to evade arrest.

"The arrest of citizens seeking care for wounds suffered at the hands of security forces when they attempted to exercise rights guaranteed under their own constitution and international law is deplorable," Hadi Ghaemi, the spokesman for the campaign, said.

Reports on community-driven websites such as Twitter claimed that a number of protesters were killed by police.

One video uploaded to YouTube on Saturday alleged to show a teenage girl - referred to as Neda on social networking sites - dying on the street after being shot by police.

British blamed

As the clashes took place, local news agencies said that a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up outside the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution in 1979, injuring at least two people.

Government-run television said members of the exiled Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK)opposition group were arrested in connection with Saturday's unrest.

The report claimed they were acting under British influence.

Al Jazeera was unable to verify the authenticity of the video or other reports of violence due to an official ban on independent reporting in the capital.

State broadcaster IRINN said 100 people were injured Saturday's violence.

Amnesty International (AI) cautioned that it was "perilously hard" to verify the casualty figures.

"The climate of fear has cast a shadow over the whole situation," Drewery Dyke, AI's chief Iran researcher, said.

"In the 10 years I've been following this country, I've never felt more at sea than I do now. It's just cut off."

Scholars critical

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was key figure in the Islamic revolution in 1979 but is now under house arrest after falling out with the current religious leadership, criticised the crackdown and called for three days of mourning for the dead.

"Resisting people's demand is religiously prohibited," he said in a statement on his website.

Mohammad Khatami, a former president, also spoke out, criticising the decision to allow the Guardian Council, the country's top legislative body, to rule on the legitimacy of the vote.

Five members of Rafsanjani's family were arrested after Saturday's protests [EPA]
"Referring the dispute to a body which has not been impartial regarding the vote, is not a solution," he said in a statement reported on the Mehr news agency.

The Guardian Council has offered a partial recount of ballots in order to appease protesters, but Makhmalbaf told Al Jazeera: "We want [a] revote, not [a] recount."

"We ask all people around the world not to confirm Ahmadinejad as our president," he said.

Five family members of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, another prominent Iranian politician and former president, were reported to have been arrested on Saturday, including his eldest daughter, for taking part in an illegal protest.

Last week, state television showed images of Faezeh Hashemi speaking to hundreds of Mousavi supporters.

After her appearance, pro-Ahmadinejad students gathered outside the Tehran prosecutor's office and accused her of treason, state radio reported.

All apart from his daughter were later released.

Rafsanjani heads two very powerful groups in Iran: the Assembly of Experts, which can elect and dismiss the supreme leader, and the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

NBK raises Boubyan Bank stake

by Rania El Gamal
National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) raised its stake in Boubyan Bank to more than 12 percent, becoming the third-largest shareholder in the Islamic lender to help boost its Sharia-compliant business.

NBK, the country's biggest bank by assets, increased its stake to 12.43 percent from 10.16 percent, according to data on the Kuwait Stock Exchange on Thursday.

Islamic banking is one of the world's fastest growing financial sectors, rising 15-20 percent a year, according to industry estimates.
Kuwait Investment Authority, the country's sovereign wealth fund, is the largest shareholder in Boubyan with a 20 percent stake while Commercial Bank of Kuwait (CBK) owns 19.19 percent, the data showed.

"We've been buying those shares through the Kuwaiti bourse," a spokesman for NBK said.

NBK has said it has central bank approval to buy up to 40 percent in Boubyan. The current approval period ends on June 21, according to a previous statement by NBK. It was not immediately clear if this approval could be renewed.

On Sunday, NBK said it reached a deal with CBK to buy its stake of about 19 percent in the Islamic lender for around KD120 million ($417 million) as it wants to tap growth in Islamic banking.

But the deal was halted after Investment Dar said it had won a court ruling against CBK to suspend the sale of Boubyan shares.

Dar, the Islamic finance firm that owns half of British luxury car maker Aston Martin, filed a complaint last month against CBK over a 19.2 percent stake in Boubyan.

Dar sold the stake to CBK in December with the right to buy it back, as it sought financing and to restructure its debt. But CBK has since said that Dar and its related firms have lost their right to buy back the stake.

A Kuwaiti court has suspended selling any shares in Boubyan currently under CBK's name until it settles the dispute between CBK and Investment Dar and rules in another lawsuit, for which the hearing is set for September 9.

Boubyan Bank, which complies with Islam's ban on interest, competes with larger rival Kuwait Finance House and Kuwait International Bank.

In February, Boubyan faced a wave of resignations with all of its board members stepping down without giving a reason.

Source : Reuters

Israel to pump $250m into settlements

Mohammed Mar’i
RAMALLAH, West Bank: The Israeli government has allocated one billion shekel ($ 250 million) for West Bank Jewish settlements over the next two years, Israeli Army Radio reported yesterday.

The report said that the 2009-2010 budget, which passed its first reading in the Knesset last week, calls for $125 million for various security expenses and most of the remainder for housing construction.

The $159 billion budget must pass two more readings in the Knesset.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Al-Malki said Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank are the main obstacle to peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel. “Everyone knows that settlement activities are the basic obstacle and the Israelis are trying to change the facts on the ground,” Al-Malki said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads an expanded coalition of extremist parties, has rejected US demands to freeze settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, including so-called “natural growth”. More than 280,000 Jewish occupiers live in the occupied territories.

Peace talks have been stalled since Israel launched a military offensive in the Gaza Strip in January.

The installation of Netanyahu’s government early in April contributed to the freezing of the peace process.

Source : Arab News

Friday, June 19, 2009

Israeli air strikes target Gaza tunnels: army

Jerusalem - Israeli warplanes staged two overnight attacks against contraband tunnels under border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, an Israeli military spokeswoman said early Sunday.

The raids followed a rocket being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which caused no injuries or damage, the spokeswoman said.

Israeli warplanes have regularly targeted the tunnels, which have become vital to the Gaza economy since Israel and Egypt sealed the Palestinian territory off from all but vital aid after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power there nearly two years ago.

Israel has accused Hamas of using the tunnels to smuggle in weapons, while tunnel operators insist the vast majority of the trade is in food, fuel and household appliances.

Source : Antara News/AFP

Kuwait to deport 100,000 expats - paper

by Neeraj Gangal
TOUGH STANCE: Kuwait to prevent single expatriate workers from living in private residential areas. (Getty Images)

Kuwait is likely to arrest and accordingly deport close to 100,000 expatriates for being registered with bogus companies, according to a report.

Highـranking security sources in the state told the local Al Watan daily: "A relatively large number of private firms have been issued commercial licenses but do not actually have offices or business activities in the country."

The sources added that it was likely that the owners of the licenses brought expat manpower into the oil exporting country in return for money, without giving them the promised jobs in return.
According to the daily, informed sources said that Kuwait's cabinet has assigned a taskforce to bring to book all those companies engaged in the malpractice.

Al Watan said that the sources suggested that a large section of such manpower engages in menial jobs to make their ends meet, while the majority of them are jobless.

In a related development, Al Watan reported that the minister of public works and minister of state for municipal affairs Dr Fadhil Safar on Thursday affirmed the government''s determination in preventing single expatriate workers from living in private residential areas.

According to the daily, "The minister also expressed shock over the fact that some private companies were found operating within private residential areas without obtaining a clearance from the relevant municipal authorities, noting that the ministry does not condone such malpractices in residential areas."

Early last year, a report revealed that expatriates made up 69% of Kuwait’s total population.

Khamenei: Vote protests must end

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has backed the outcome of the country's presidential elections and warned protests against it must stop.

"Street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders, but we will not bow in front of them," he said in a sermon during Friday prayers at Tehran University.

"I want to tell everyone these [protests] must finish."

He said that any doubts concerning the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president after the June 12 election would be investigated through legal channels.

If the supporters of defeated candidates fail to halt the protests "they will be responsible for its consequences, and consequences of any chaos," he said.

The speech was a rare public address by Khamenei, who usually only speaks in public at the end of Ramadan and the anniversary of the Iranian revolution, which brought the theocracy to power.

'Enough is enough'

"Candidates were put forward into public eye, everyone could judge for themselves ... they have identified the person they wanted," he said, adding the result was an "absolute and definitive victory".

"The Islamic establishment will never manipulate people's votes and commit treason ... the legal structures and electoral regulations of this country do not allow vote rigging," he said in his first public address on the issue since the election.

Farzad Agha, an Iranian analyst, told Al Jazeera: "This clearly is a threat to the demonstrators and supporters of the opposition candidates ... He is saying, 'if you continue, we will deal with you'."

Robert Fisk, a correspondent with the UK-based Independent newspaper, said Khamenei's message to the demonstrators seemed to be "enough is enough".

"He clearly wants them to obey him and go home," Fisk said.

Khamenei called for calm following days of protests over the election results.

"When you have peace of mind and soul you can decide wisely ... Today our society is in need of peace and tranquility," he said.

"Since the beginning of the Islamic revolution 30 years ago ... various incidents [occurred], some of which could have toppled the establishment, which could have brought turmoil to the nation, as you have seen in other nations.

"High objectives"

"But in this nation which is moving firmly ... this ship did not find any agitation in stormy sea.

"I do believe with the help of God this nation will reach all of its high objectives."

Despite some protesters saying that a march was planned from Tehran's Revolution Square to Freedom Square on Saturday, Mir Hossein Mousavi, a defeated presidential candidate, said there was no demonstration scheduled in the coming days.

"Mousavi has no plans to hold a rally tomorrow or the day after tomorrow and if he decides to hold a rally it will be announced on his website," an unnamed ally told the Reuters news agency.

Khamenei said that the "great accomplishment" of the 85 per cent turnout at the polls conveyed the legitimacy of the country's leadership and "people's solidarity with their establishment".

"If people do not feel free they will not attend the voting stations, trusting the Islamic establishment was evident in this vote."

Khamenei said that foreign media were trying to say that the poll was a fight between inside and outside the establishment, which he denied, saying, "It is only differences of opinion within the establishment."

"The enemies [of Iran] know that without confidence there would be low turnout. When there is low turnout then the legitimacy would be in doubt. That is what the enemy wants."

He said that Iran's enemies had made allegations that the elections were rigged to harm the ruling system.

"The enemies [of Iran] are targeting the Islamic establishment's legitimacy by questioning the election and its authenticity before and after [the vote]," Khamenei said.

Post-election unrest

Thousands of people massed outside the packed hall and cheered Khamenei.

Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi, reporting from Tehran, said that the huge crowds at Tehran University "were his staunchest supporters".

"They were smiling most of the time and also cried when he said he was willing to give his life for the Islamic revolution.

"They chanted slogans several times, interrupting the supreme leader's speech, and in some cases he had to stop them and ask them to listen," he said.

Khamenei has the final say in all of Iran's affairs under the constitution, and thus has the authority to annul elections and establish new polls.

The sermon was delivered amid reports of a developing split between Khamenei and Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads the powerful Assembly of Experts, which, in theory, has the constitutional right to replace the supreme leader.

Iran has been in a state of political unrest since Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

Opposition figures, led by Ahmadinejad's main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, have said that the vote was rigged and hundreds of thousands of Iranians have held daily street protests since the poll results were announced.

Amnesty International, a UK-based human rights group, said on Friday that it believed 15 people had been killed as the protests have spilled over into violence, compared with just seven deaths reported on Iranian state radio.

The protests have continued despite the Guardian Council - a body of top Iranian clerics - saying it was investigating 646 complaints of poll violations submitted by Mousavi and two other defeated presidential candidates.

The council, which oversees elections, has also invited the trio of defeated candidates to set out their grievances on Saturday, with a decision about any possible recount of the vote expected on Sunday.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Emerging economies want more say

The world's biggest emerging markets have called for a bigger say in the global financial system at their first summit.

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric) called for a "more diversified" currency system, but backed away from Russian calls for a new "supra-national" currency to replace the dollar.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, said the "historic" meeting in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg "must create the conditions for a fairer world order".

Medvedev read out a final statement alongside presidents Hu Jintao of China and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, as well as Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister.

"The emerging and developing economies must have a greater voice and representation in international financial institutions," a joint communique said.

"We also believe that there is a strong need for a stable, predictable and more diversified international monetary system," it said.

Dollar pressure

Medvedev's comments that "the existing set of reserve currencies, including the US dollar, have failed to perform their functions" contributed to the dollar's slide across the board on Tuesday.

China, which holds nearly $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves, suggested in March that the dollar could be replaced as the world's main reserve currency, but it was silent on Tuesday, suggesting that there is little unity on any potential challenge to the dollar.

And Medvedev's chief economic aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, emphasised that Moscow did not want to see a sudden plunge in the dollar's value.

"There is an understanding that the last thing we need now is turmoil on financial markets," Dvorkovich said.

"No one wants to ruin the dollar, including us."

The Bric term was coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to describe the growing power of emerging market economies.

Tuesday's summit was an attempt to give the grouping a bigger political voice. The four nations account for 15 per cent of the $60.7 trillion global economy.

Goldman Sachs has predicted that in 20 years time they could together dwarf the G7 group of industrial nations and that China will overtake the US as world's largest economy.
Source: Agencies

Shuaa Capital seeks to enter sukuk market

>by Asma Alsharif
Shuaa Capital plans to structure and sell the Islamic bond issues by Saudi firms after the launch last week of a bond market in the kingdom, the head of its Saudi unit said.

"We are working hard to be active players in this market," said Omar al-Jaroudi, the chief executive of Shuaa's Saudi affiliate.

"We are seeking mandates and going after those companies that require financing that do not wish to open their equity base but are willing to open bonds." he said.
Saudi Arabia launched on Saturday a new market for Islamic bonds, or sukuk, diversifying Saudi companies' financing options amid a global financial crisis that has caused banks to be more cautious towards lending.

"Not only there is demand for sukuk, not only there is an interest in sukuk issuance, but there is also support from regulators to support this market," said Jaroudi.

The governor of the Saudi central bank Muhammad al-Jasser said in February that commercial banks and firms seeking financing should tap into the debt market with bond issues.
Source : Reuters

US govt unfairly targets Muslim charities: ACLU

By Barbara Ferguson

WASHINGTON: Harsh measures meant to combat terrorist financing are violating Muslim charities' rights by discouraging Muslims from the charitable giving of zakah, the American Civil

Liberties Union said in a report this week.

An expansion of laws and policies since 2001 has given the US Treasury Department virtually unchecked authority to designate charities as terrorist organizations and freeze assets without adequate safeguards to protect against mistakes or abuse, the study concluded.

But Federal prosecutors say some of these charities have served as fronts for terror-financing operations.

According to the ACLU report, government efforts to stop terror financing are too vague and are often applied unfairly to Muslim charity organizations.

It says the statutes are overly broad and enforced in a discriminatory manner, and permits a lack of due process.

This has resulted in starving Islamic charities of money and impeded Muslims' ability to fulfill zakah (one of the five pillars of Islam, a religious requirement to make charitable donations) in this manner.

The report is based on interviews with more than 100 Muslim community leaders as well as experts on antiterrorism laws and regulations. Though it gives no estimate of the decline in donations to Muslim groups, it says a total of nine Islamic charities have closed as a result of government action against them since the Sept. 11 attacks.

That action ranges, it says, from declaring a group to be under investigation to designating it a terrorist organization and freezing its assets.

The author of the report, Jennifer Turner, told reporters that US Muslims are being denied an important part of their religious practice by policies that target their charities. She also said such policies are counterproductive. While it is possible to give zakah informally, Islamic tradition recommends the money be amassed through charitable organizations that can do more effective charitable work collectively, such as building a hospital.

"They undermine America's reputation in the Muslim world, they alienate American Muslims who are key allies in the war on terror financing, and they kill legitimate humanitarian aid in parts of the world where charities' good works could be most effective in winning hearts and minds," Turner said.

Advocates for Muslim donors and organizations say the rules governing charitable giving are opaque or poorly defined. Donors could, for instance, find themselves in trouble for past gifts to an organization newly designated a terrorist group.

The leaders of one former charity, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, were convicted in November of funneling more than $12 million to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The US has designated Hamas a terrorist organization, making contributions to it illegal. Two founding members of Holy Land, once the nation's largest Muslim charity, were each sentenced last month to 65 years in prison.

Paradoxically, Access and one of the largest mainstream Muslim-American charities-Islamic Relief USA-say they have benefited from aggressive enforcement of antiterrorism laws.

Islamic Relief USA, an aid organization with affiliates around the globe, has seen annual donations rise to about $25 million last year from roughly $7 million at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, with an additional $50 million in in-kind gifts, the group's spokesman, Mostafa Mahboob, told reporters.

But US government agents and prosecutors view the ACLU allegations with skepticism. Jim Jacks served as the lead prosecutor in the federal government's case against the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas last year. He read the ACLU report and found it wanting.

"There is essentially nothing in there that presents the evidence from the government's point of view," Jacks said. "We were never, obviously, contacted or sought to be contacted by the author, so, in that sense, you have to question the bias of the report and its validity."

Juan Zarate, a former Treasury Department official who investigated terrorist financing, told reporters that the tension between religious liberties and national security arises because of the way many terrorist organizations work. Groups like Hamas, Hezbollah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad actually do run hospitals and feed orphans and widows.

"They do have these social mechanisms that endear them to the local population, that give them resources," Zarate said. That enables them "to enlist the sons and daughters of those helped to then strap on bombs and suicide belts to carry out the terrorist agenda."

The ACLU report outlines clear measures the Obama administration and Congress should take to ensure American Muslims can exercise their religion while protecting charities from mistaken targeting and abuse, and simultaneously promoting national security and humanitarian aid.

In his speech in Cairo this month, President Barack Obama addressed the oversight of Muslim charities, saying the "rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakah."

Civil libertarians and Muslim advocates say the Obama administration has yet to take steps to address the problems.

The report is available at:

Source : Arab News

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Trustee seeks clarity on sukuk status

MANAMA: The trustee of a $650 million sukuk issued by Saudi's Saad group said yesterday it had requested clarity from the group over the bond's status. Citicorp Trustee Company Limited said in a note to holders of the Golden Belt 1 Sukuk Company, a special purpose vehicle registered in Bahrain, that it had requested Saad to provide it with funds to secure against liabilities.

Saad Group is undergoing debt restructuring after it said last month it ran into unspecified difficulties and parts of it were downgraded by Moody's.

The sukuk, the next coupon payment for which is due in November, last traded at 51.75 cents to the dollar, according to ThomsonReuters data, a heavy discount as investors priced in greater risk.

Saad has sold off parts of its international investments, including a stake in UK construction company Berkeley Group. Its billionaire chairman Maan Al Sanea, whose bank accounts have been frozen by the Saudi Monetary Agency, owns a stake in HSBC.

Analysts at Bahrain-based SICO Investment Bank said yesterday they saw little chances for those who have entered into unsecured lending to Saad Group to recover their funds from the proceeds of those sales.

"We believe that most of the recovery from the offshore liquid assets could be used for paying back secured loans leaving unsecured exposures at a higher risk," they said. The legal form of sukuk structures in the Gulf region is being tested by insolvencies for the first time.

Netanyahu endorses Palestinian state

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday endorsed for the first time the creation of a Palestinian state, provided it was demilitarised, after weeks of pressure from Washington.
GAZA PROTEST: Palestinians take to the streets to protest against Israeli occupation earlier this year. (Getty Images)

But he also said the Palestinians must recognise the Jewish character of Israel, a condition Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has long rejected, and ruled out a halt to all settlement activity as demanded by the United States.

"If the Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people, then we arrive at a solution based on a demilitarised Palestinian state alongside Israel," Netanyahu said.

"The Palestinian territory will be without arms, will not control air space, will not be able to have arms enter, without the possibility of striking alliances with Iran or (the Lebanese Shiite militia) Hezbollah."
Netanyahu also ruled out a complete stop to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank - which the Palestinians have said is a condition for relaunching negotiations - and said Palestinian refugees would not be resettled inside Israel's borders.

"The heart of the (Middle East) conflict has always been the Arabs' refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state," Netanyahu said. "The withdrawals that Israel has carried out in the past have not changed this reality."

The Palestinians recognised Israel as a state in 1993 as part of the Oslo accords but have refused to recognise it as "Jewish" as doing so would effectively mean giving up the right of return for Palestinian refugees, a key Palestinian demand since Israel was created in 1948.

The Palestinians slammed the speech, saying it was aimed at sabotaging peace efforts.

"This speech torpedoes all peace initiatives in the region," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

"It hobbles all efforts to save the peace process, in a clear defiance of the US administration."

The speech was billed as a response to Obama's address to the Muslim world 10 days ago in which he reiterated Washington's "unbreakable" bond with Israel but also said the Palestinian situation was "intolerable."

Obama has vowed to aggressively pursue a two-state solution and in recent weeks Washington had ramped up pressure on Israel's new government to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state and halt all settlement activity.

The blunt words to Israel from Obama's administration have raised fears in the Jewish state that main ally Washington may ease its support as it tries to improve its relations with the Muslim world.

It has also put Netanyahu in a difficult position, as his heavily right-wing 10-week-old government could collapse if he gives in to too many of Washington's demands.

"It was a brilliant speech but it had one miserable phrase that laid the cornerstone for the creation of a state of Palestine," Likud MP Danny Danon said following the address.

"I will do everything in my power in parliament to prevent this from happening."

Former US president Jimmy Carter told the Israeli Haaretz daily on Sunday that Israel risked a head-on collision with Washington over the settlements.

But a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said the speech "is certainly encouraging and gives us a lot of work with."

"I think everyone understands Israel's concerns and the demand for a demilitarised (Palestinian) state has always been part of the agenda."

Washington provides Israel with 2.4 billion dollars of annual military aid as well as diplomatic support, making the United States its most important ally.

Israel and the Palestinians relaunched their negotiations at a US conference in November 2007, but the talks made little progress and were suspended during Israel's blistering war on Gaza in December and January.

Netanyahu also responded to the elections in Iran, saying the "biggest threat to Israel, the Middle East and the entire world is the crossing of a nuclear weapon with radical Islam."

"During my next trips, I will work in particular toward an international coalition against the nuclear arming of Iran," he said.

Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, has accused Iran of racing to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, allegations vehemently denied by Tehran.
Source : AFP

Landslide win for Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN: Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was yesterday declared winner by a landslide in Iran’s presidential vote, triggering riots by opposition supporters and furious complaints of cheating from his defeated rivals.

Ahmadinejad went on television to declare the election a “great victory,” even as baton-wielding police clashed with protesters in the streets of the capital in unrest not seen for a decade.

Thousands of supporters of main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi swept through Tehran shouting “Down with the Dictator” after final results showed Ahmadinejad winning almost 62.6 percent of the vote.

Moderate ex-Premier Mousavi cried foul over election irregularities and warned the outcome of the vote could lead to “tyranny,” as some of his supporters were beaten by riot police.

Ahmadinejad rejected the allegations. “The election was completely free ... and it is a great victory,” he said in his television address.

The interior minister said Mousavi had won less than 33.75 percent of the vote, giving Ahmadinejad another four-year term in a result that dashed Western hopes of change and set the scene for a possible domestic power struggle.

Iran’s all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed Ahmadinejad’s victory and urged the country to unite behind him after the most heated election campaign since the 1979 revolution.

Khamenei described Ahmadinejad’s victory as a “feast.” “The enemies may want to spoil the sweetness of this event ... with some kind of ill-intentioned provocations,” he said. “The president elect is the president of the entire Iranian nation and ... all should support and help him.”

Mousavi protested at what he described as “numerous and blatant irregularities” in the vote which officials said attracted a record turnout of around 85 percent of the 46 million electorate.

“No one can imagine such rigging, with the world watching, from a government which holds commitment to Shariah-based justice as one of its basic pillars,” said Mousavi in a letter posted on his campaign website.

“What we have seen from dishonest (election) officials will result in shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic system, and a dominance of lying and tyranny,” he said in a separate statement.

In the heart of Tehran, thousands of Mousavi supporters voiced their disbelief and frustration at the results, with some throwing stones at police who struck back with batons.

Angry crowds first emerged near Mousavi’s campaign office in central Tehran, where protesters were hit with sticks as riot police on motorbikes moved in to break up the gathering. “They have ruined the country and they want to ruin it more over the next four years,” shouted an irate mob outside Mousavi’s office.

Plumes of dark smoke streaked over the city, as burning barricades of tires and garbage bins glowed orange in the streets. Protesters also torched an empty bus, engulfing it in flames on a Tehran street. An Associated Press photographer saw a plainclothes security official beating a woman with his truncheon.

There were no immediate reports of violence elsewhere in the county.

Reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who came a distant fourth with less than one percent of the vote after ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai, also declared the result “illegitimate and unacceptable.”

The White House said it was monitoring the reports of irregularities, while Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said he was “deeply concerned” about the allegations. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped the result of the election “reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.” In Moscow, the chairman of the Duma (Parliament) Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev hoped for more “understanding and wisdom” from

Ahmadinejad in the new term.

The Hamas movement praised the results, saying they proved the “success” of the incumbent government and were a victory for Iranian democracy. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez telephoned Ahmadinejad to congratulate him.

The victory “represents the feeling and commitment of the Iranian people to building a new world,” Chavez said in a statement.

Source : Agencies

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Iran's presidential candidates

On Friday, June 12, Iran holds its tenth presidential election since the revolution that created the Islamic Republic.
Following a vetting process by the Guardian Council - a powerful legislative oversight body consisting of six theologians appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament - four candidates have been deemed eligible to stand.

To win the presidency, a candidate must receive more than 50 per cent of the total vote. Otherwise, the contest will go to a run-off vote usually held the following week.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president, is running against two reformist candidates and one fellow conservative.

For the first time since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1981, the race for the presidency is expected to be closely run, with Mir Hossein Mousavi, the frontrunner reformist candidate, gathering a groundswell of support.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The incumbent 52-year-old is seeking a second term as Iran's president.

Prior to his victory four years ago, Ahmadinejad was mayor of Tehran as well as a member of Iran's influential Revolutionary Guards.

He is generally viewed as religiously and politically conservative.

His modest background is one factor behind his appeal with the masses, whom he has pledged to reward with fairer distribution of the country's vast oil wealth.

Ahmadinejad has said he favours dialogue with the US, as long as it is based on mutual respect.

Mir Hossein Mousavi

The leading candidate running against President Ahmadinjead is 67-year-old Mir Hossein Mousavi.

He is best known as the country's last serving prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. During the war he pioneered the country's food rationing and distribution system.

Since then, he has largely been out of politics, heading Iran's Academy of Art which is responsible for safeguarding the country's national heritage.

Mousavi played a key role in the Islamic Revolution and had close ties with the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

As part of his return to politics in this election, he has pledged to change Iran's image abroad.

However, he believes Iran should refuse to back down on its nuclear programme and maintains the country's right to nuclear technology.

In another of his campaign pledges, he has committed to reviewing discriminatory laws against women and stopping the operation of so-called morality policies.

Mehdi Karroubi

The 72-year-old is a mid-ranking cleric.

He is considered a reformist and heads Iran's National Trust Party, as well as having previously been parliamentary speaker.

Karroubi has been one of the most outspoken critics of President Ahmadinejad's policies, and is a well-known figure on Iran's political scene. He has already been endorsed by several high ranking figures.

His election campaign is based on the slogan "change", leading some to call Karroubi the "reform sheikh".

He has pledged to nationalise the country's vast oil profits, and to redistribute the money to every Iranian over the age of 18 through a system of stocks.

He has also pledged to protect civil rights and improve the status of women in Iran.

The cleric also says he favours dialogue with the international community.

Mohsen Rezai

The 55-year-old is the current secretary of the Expediency Council, a major body that arbitrates on disputed legislation, and the only candidate running against Ahmadinejad who is also considered to be a conservative.

Rezai is the former head of the Revolutionary Guards, one of the most powerful paramilitary organisations in Iran.

He is currently on the Interpol wanted list, for suspected links to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires. He is banned from entering the US and the EU.

Rezai holds a doctorate in economics and says, if elected, his priority will be to "revolutionise" the economy.

One of his main pledges is to greatly increase the role of the private sector and to guarantee an increase in foreign investment.

Rezai has also been critical of Ahmadinejad's comments about the holocaust.

He says he has formulated a step-by-step plan to improve relations with the US, and that he also believes Iran should improve its strategic role in the Middle East by closing ranks with its regional neighbours.

Source: Agencies

Aceh receives $12.88m projects in quake relief

By Ghazanfar Ali Khan

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has handed over post-tsunami and earthquake reconstruction projects worth $12.88 million to the government of Aceh, a special territory of Indonesia, where more than 226,000 people were killed following an Indian Ocean earthquake a few years back.

The projects include two Saudi-funded orphanages and education centers in Aceh region.

“The Kingdom has disbursed many forms of assistance, both during the time of the crisis and also during the post-quake rehabilitation and reconstruction period,” said Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Abdulrahman Muhammad Amin Al-Khayyath, in a press statement, yesterday.

The orphanages and the educational centers are situated on the outskirts of Banda Aceh.

“Some 450 houses and supporting facilities worth $6.88 million were also handed over,” said Al-Khayyath.

He said that the Kingdom had completed $45 million worth of projects, including the restoration of the iconic Baiturrahman Mosque situated in the center of Banda Aceh, the first place in Southeast Asia where Islam was introduced.

The diplomat said that the ongoing Saudi-funded projects include a medical center and the development of housing units at Syiah Kuala University, and Syariah Court residence, including public facilities and mosques in Aceh.

Speaking on this occasion, an Indonesian Embassy spokesman said that the two new orphanages have been named Makkah and Madinah. The embassy has expressed its deepest gratitude for the assistance provided by Saudi Arabia, which had been instrumental in reconstruction efforts for Aceh.

“It is obvious that providing basic needs for the victims, restoring the government and building facilities and infrastructure, supports the acceleration of Aceh’s development,” said the embassy’s spokesman.

Aceh was the closest point of land to the epicenter of the massive 2005 Indian Ocean earthquake, which triggered a tsunami in that region.

Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society (SRCS) has built four community health centers in Aceh region. The health center projects were fully funded by the Kingdom, but the SRCS was asked to implement the projects.

Source : Arab News

Friday, June 12, 2009

Primary results say Ahmadinejad is winner of elections

Tehran, June 13, – Primary results of the 10th Presidential Elections show that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has got the majority of the votes.

According to the head of Elections Headquarters Kamran Daneshjoo, Ahmadinejad has recieved 69.04 percent of the counted votes until 23:50 hours local time.
Daneshjoo said Mir Hossein Mossavi has got 28.42 percent, Mohsen Rezaee 1.62 percent and Mehdi Karrobi 0.9 percent of the votes.

Source : IRNA

UAE, Saudi among world's top website censors - project

by Neeraj Gangal

The UAE ranks high among countries that have blocked most websites, a recent report has revealed.

Internet users in the country reported the eleventh highest rate of blocked websites from among the countries in the world, according to the Herdict project.

Herdict is a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. It seeks to gain insight into what users around the world are experiencing in terms of web accessibility. As on June 12, 11am UAE time, UAE users reported that 509 different webpages were flagged as “inaccessible”, the Herdict Web project statistics revealed.

China is the most reported country when it comes to website censorship, according to the report. From among the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia ranked at No.4. and Bahrain at No.6 in the top 10 slots.

A noteworthy aspect of the report is that the Western countries were equally vigilant about restricting websites. Germany was ranked at No.2, US at No.3, France at No.7, Australia at No.8 and the UK at No.9.

According to the website, Herdict is a portmanteau of 'herd' and 'verdict' and seeks to show the verdict of the users (the herd).
Speaking to the UAE’s The National newspaper, Jillian York, the social media manager for the project said that the websites that were found by UAE users to have been blocked ranged from pornography and dating websites to religious pages.

“But then, you also get some sites where you’ve got to wonder why they’re blocked – like Flickr.”

Top 10 countries that reported the most-restricted sites as on June 12, 11am, UAE time:

1. China (4,969)
2. Germany (6,972)
3. United States (5,162)
4. Saudi Arabia (2,364)
5. Iran (990)
6. Bahrain (1,004)
7. France (1,530)
8. Australia (911)
9. United Kingdom (1,237)
10. Philippines (909)

Jerusalem plan nixed over too much zoning for Arabs

By Mohammed Mar’i

RAMALLAH: Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has instructed his ministry staff to nix a master plan for Jerusalem on the grounds that it allocates too much territory for Palestinian construction, the daily Haaretz reported yesterday.

In recent days Yishai instructed Ruth Yosef, tapped as the ministry’s new supervisor for Jerusalem, to shelve the program - the fruit of several years of labor by dozens of Israeli architects.

According to the report, the master plan was intended to outline the city’s development over the next few decades and to remedy a situation in which, since 1959, the controversial city has not been developed according to a comprehensive agenda.

The plan emphasizes, among other things, increased building in the eastern part of the city. It calls for the construction of 13,500 more housing units for the city’s Palestinian population, particularly in the neighborhoods of Al-Tour, Beit Hanina, Shoafat and Jabal Al-Mukkaber, and for developing those neighborhoods’ infrastructure.

The outline was submitted to an Interior Ministry committee for approval, but city officials discovered this week that Yishai had ordered that the program not be authorized, lest significant portions of the eastern city areas be designated for Palestinian construction. Instead, the interior minister threw his support behind another program, drafted in 2000, which set aside less territory for new construction in Palestinian neighborhoods.

City officials expressed frustration at Yishai’s decision. They said the Interior Ministry also recently canceled a specific program allowing the construction of a new Arab neighborhood along the city’s southern outskirts, in an area known as the “Gates of Bethlehem.”

Source : Arab News

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ahmadinejad vows to expedite country's development

Tabriz, East Azarbaijan, June 7, IRNA – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday “We are to expedite the country's development.”
The president made the remark during his visit to Tabriz, East Azarbaijan, where thousands of enthusiastic people welcomed him and his entourage.

“We believe reconstruction ear in Iran should be based on justice and fair distribution of wealth and facilities among our people,” he said.

The Iranian nation is determined to seriously counter bullying powers, pointed out the president.

Referring to the remarks made by the US president in Cario, President Ahmadinejad said due to heroic resistance of the Iranian nation, the US president has sincerely declared that they need Iran’s assistance to cope with regional and global developments.

“If I am elected for the second term in office, I will never stop dealing with the enemies of the Iranian nation,” he said.

Commending the role of Azari people, he said the people in Azarbaijan have always played a leading role in major development taking place in the past such as tobacco and constitutional movement s as well as nationalizing of Iranian oil industry.

Saudi urges Obama to impose Mideast solution - paper

by Ulf Laessing

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has urged US President Barack Obama to impose a solution on the festering Arab-Israeli conflict if necessary, a Saudi newspaper said on Sunday.
BARACK OBAMA: Saudis urging US president to get tough with Israeli prime minister. (Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia and other Arab states want Obama to get tough with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has balked at Palestinian statehood and defied US calls to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements.

King Abdullah told Obama during his visit to Riyadh last week that Arab patience was wearing thin and that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be the "magic key" to all issues in the region, al-Hayat said, quoting what it called informed sources.
"We want from you a serious participation to solve the Palestinian issue and impose the solution if necessary," the Saudi monarch told Obama, according to the paper, which is owned by a nephew of the monarch. It did not elaborate.

Saudi Arabia was the driving force behind an Arab peace initiative first put forward by Arab states in 2002 offering Israel recognition in return for withdrawal from Arab land occupied in 1967 and a Palestinian state.

Israel has reacted coolly to the offer, renewed in 2007, saying a return of Palestinian refugees to areas now inside Israel would destroy the Jewish character of the state.

"We (Arabs) want to devote our time ... to build a generation capable of confronting the future with science and work," King Abdullah said, according to al-Hayat.
Source : Arabian Business

Monetary union pact signed

By Ghazanfar Ali Khan

RIYADH: A landmark accord on monetary union among four members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was signed here yesterday.

This long-awaited common currency agreement signed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar at the Conference Palace here calls for the establishment of the GCC Monetary Council this year that will pave the way for setting up a regional central bank in Riyadh.

“This is a landmark accord,” said Saudi economist Ihsan Bu-hulaiga. “But it is highly desirable that other two members should also come on board and I am hopeful that the UAE and Oman will join at some point of time.”

The UAE recently announced it was pulling out of the deal after expressing opposition to the central bank being located in Riyadh. Oman backed out in 2006.

“The GCC Monetary Council will manage the transition toward monetary union, which is targeted to be operational in 2013,” said a GCC spokesman, Abdelaziz Al-Uwaisheg, here yesterday. The original target date for minting a common currency was 2010, but that was later postponed so that member states could have more time to work out differences.

“The currency union is the ultimate culmination of this integration and if that takes a bit longer it doesn’t worry me,” said Bu-hulaiga. The agreement will still have to be ratified by each of the four GCC governments of the remaining participants before it can be enacted.

GCC officials have said the Monetary Council will be in session before the end of the year. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at SABB, said the states that stayed out will eventually understand that “the benefits of joining far outweigh the costs of opting out.”

He, however, said much remains to be done. “The European Monetary Union didn’t happen overnight. Much was compromised by all sides as supranationalism took greater hold.”

Speaking on the occasion, GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah said the GCC foreign ministers would meet today to discuss many other regional issues. He said that today’s ministerial meeting would take stock of US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia and his speech in Egypt addressing US relations with the Muslim world.

All six GCC foreign ministers, including Anwar Mohammad Qirqash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, have arrived in Riyadh for today’s ministerial meeting.

Al-Attiyah, who met Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi here yesterday, said they jointly reviewed aspects of cooperation between the GCC and Yemen and other issues of mutual interest.

As a prelude to today’s meeting, the GCC and Yemen discussed the steps to be taken to integrate Yemen’s economy into economies of the GCC states through supporting the development process in Yemen.

Al-Attiyah and Al-Qirbi also talked about the agenda of the 4th joint meeting of the foreign ministers of GCC and Yemen. The agenda of that meeting also includes several issues related to promoting the partnership and cooperation between Yemen and GCC states.

Source : Arab News

Friday, June 5, 2009

Israel rubbishes Obama call to halt settlements

JERUSALEM: In complete defiance to US President Barack Obama’s powerful appeal to halt settlement activity in the Palestinian territory, officials said yesterday that Israel would not heed to halt work on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state.

The government plans to allow construction inside existing West Bank settlements to accommodate growing families (a policy dubbed “natural growth”), said the officials, explaining a position that looks sure to cause a serious policy clash with the United States.

Meanwhile, Jewish occupiers yesterday built a new settlement outpost in the West Bank.

Israeli Radio said that occupiers built the new outpost near Kokhav Yaakov settlement to the north of Jerusalem and cynically called it Givat Obama, or Obama Hilltop.

The radio quoted the occupiers as saying that the name is “in recognition of the president’s actions, which have led to a dramatic increase in the number of outposts being built throughout the West Bank.”

The government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to go beyond the formal response, said that instead of halting all settlement activity, Israel planned to take down 22 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank in the coming weeks. That balancing act — taking down outposts while pressing ahead with so-called “natural growth” construction in the settlements — is not likely to go down well in Washington.

Meanwhile, prodding the international community in Germany, Obama yesterday called “for all of us to redouble our efforts” toward a two-state solution. The president announced he was dispatching special envoy George J. Mitchell back to the region next week to follow up on his speech in Cairo. Alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel following his Mideast trip, Obama said: “The United States can’t force peace upon the parties.” But he said America has “at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart.”

The president urged Palestinians and Arab neighbors to do their part by making “tough choices” to defuse the situation in the region.

Merkel said she believed Obama’s efforts could make headway toward a two-state solution. “I believe that with the new American administration, with President Barack Obama, there is actually a unique opportunity now to see to it that this peace process — or let’s perhaps be more careful — this negotiation process to be revived again,” she said.

Meanwhile, the chief Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said that 40 percent of West Bank is “under the control of the empire of Jewish settlers.” Erekat added the “ongoing settlement activities contradict the international law and legitimacy.”
Source : Agencies

Russia extends hands to Arabs now

by Amie Ferris-Rotman
Russia, entrenched in economic woes, is positioning itself as a firm trading partner with Arab nations who are keen to rekindle their Soviet-era alliance, government officials said on Thursday.
TRADE TIES: Trade between the Arab world and Russia currently totals $8bn a year. (Getty Images)

Trade between the Arab world and Russia currently totals $8bn a year - a figure dwarfed by that of Russia's heavyweight partner, the European Union, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars - but Russia hopes a wave of new investments will cement trade for years to come.

"The Russians are coming, and not to plunder your wealth," Russia's Vice Premier and the cabinet's top anti-crisis manager, Igor Shuvalov, told a group of Arab ministers at a conference in the country's second city St Petersburg.
"Investment to the Arab world and from the Arab world to Russia is all important and we'll work on it."

Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 10.5 percent year on year in April, making it the worst hit major emerging market in the global financial crisis, and its companies owe $400 billion abroad.

Shuvalov said Russian banks are currently "in talks with Muslim banks" over possible joint ventures and said combined Russian-Arab trading platforms should be set up.

The Arabs welcomed the offer, saying they want Russia to help develop their infrastructure and develop energy.

"Saudi Arabia is open (to Russia), like many others in the region," said Amr Dabbagh, the head of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.

Kuwait's Trade Minister Ahmad al-Haroun said the Gulf Arab state is banking on Russia -- through joint ventures or direct investment -- to construct railway networks, build car-making plants and develop a port in the north of the country to serve neighbouring Iraq.

"That ($8bn) is not the number we want to obtain here. We have possibilities to enhance trade turnover between our two countries... The investment climate is good," he said.

Another top government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said he hoped trade between Russia and the Arab world would reach $10 billion either this year or in 2010.

Qatar's Finance Minister Youssef Kamal said the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) wants to develop more mutually beneficial projects in the energy sphere with Russia over the next 10-15 years.

Late last year Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, Iran and Qatar agreed to form a "gas troika" to strengthen cooperation in gas production.
Source : Reuters

Ahmadinejad, Circles of power,wealth detached,revolution, people

Isfahan, June 5, IRNA – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said here Friday in past, circles of power and wealth took shape whose relations with revolutionary masses and revolution’s mentality were totally detached.
According to IRNA’s dispatched Presidential Affairs reporter, Ahmadinejad added in his address for his supporters in Isfahan, “These groups that had assumed they were the nation’s elites used a literature and a certain dialogue jargon that is typically that of the masters of nations, and the people, according to them, had to be entirely at their service.”
Ahmadinejad said that the achievements of the Islamic Revolution are rarely if ever seen elsewhere before, even unique, and they are entirely causes for feeling proud.
Hew added, “There were obstacles, too, such as the fact that four to six yeas after the victory of the Islamic Revolution a group took the helm of the country’s macro-scale management in their hands whose thoughts, ethical values and behavior were deviated, or at a sharp slanting slope, with those of the nation and the revolution.”
The head of the country’s Executive Force said, “Rather than heeding the interests of the revolution, the nation, and its prestige, cared merely for the interests of themselves and their group.”
He added, “By and by a circle of managers took shape in the country that not only did not consider themselves the servants of the people, but regarded themselves as the masters and the superiors of the people, and the absolute owners of the country.”
Ahmadinejad one more time reiterated, “They regarded high priority for themselves and their group and their family members, in taking advantage of and enjoying the national assets, compared to the nation.”
The president considered the Iranian nation worth leading the world, civilization builders, and culture builders.
He emphasized, “This characteristic should be a model and a guideline for the other nations and the Iranian nation, too, should continue its ever-onward progress in scientific and technological fields.”
The president pointed out that the revolution unleashed the nation of the chains, adding, “The nation became ready to fly, although after a few years new obstacles emerged and new stones were thrown in the path of our nation’s progress, but our nation resisted.”
Source : IRNA

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Islamic bank chief refuses to rule out future merger

by Claire Ferris-Lay

CONSOLIDATION CALL: The CEO of Noor Islamic Bank said he could not rule out a merger in the future.
The CEO of Noor Islamic Bank on Thursday called for greater consolidation of the UAE’s banking sector and said he would not rule out a merger in the future.

Hussain Al Qemzi told Arabian Business that the UAE needed fewer and larger banks if it was to compete with other financial economies across the world.

“When you live in an isolated economy you don’t need it, but today we are facing the world…we need bigger banks to survive,” said Al Qemzi.
“We should have less banks and bigger banks and we should have banks that can add value and create the right mix that can reflect what the UAE is.

“The UAE exists to serve many countries around us – we do business with the sub-continent, with the Iranians, Africa and China – we should have strong banks with links to these economies.”

Islamic banking institutions have boomed on the back of high oil prices. While few have announced losses amid the global economic downturn, growth has slowed.

In April Noor, which is 25 percent owned by Dubai’s government and 25 percent by the emirates ruler, announced profits of $139m (AED511m). But it also said it would be putting a hold on its global expansion plans.

Al Qemzi said Noor, which was established in January 2008 with plans to become a global Islamic lender, would not dismiss a merger in the future if the opportunity arose.

“Noor was born with this aspiration that we want to grow and we want to become big. If that merger meets our interests…and it has mutual benefits to us - monetary or strategically - yes we will,” he said.

He added that mergers during the economic crisis were not viable and instead financial institutions should focus on strengthening the banking system.

“I think we need to save our energy to look at the main crisis first and then after that yes, I think after that we should spare no effort to go back to look at consolidating and strengthening our banking system.”
Source : Arabian Business

Obama seeks closer Saudi ties

By Ghazanfar Ali Khan

RIYADH: Talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and US President Barack Obama here yesterday focused on joint efforts, closer coordination and more Saudi support to revive the Middle East peace process while many other regional and international issues were also taken up for discussion by the two leaders. Some of them included the nuclear standoff with Iran, oil and global energy market as well as US relations with the Muslim world.

“I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty King Abdullah’s counsel,” Obama said before the talks.

The US president said he was confident that, working together, the United States and Saudi Arabia could make progress on a host of issues for the benefit of the two countries.

“Obviously, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a long history of friendship, we have a strategic relationship,” Obama said.

King Abdullah thanked Obama for visiting Saudi Arabia and said, “The visit was not surprising for the two countries because the US is a friend and an ally of Saudi Arabia since the days of the late King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

The meeting between King Abdullah and the US president took place at the king’s sprawling Janadriya ranch, 45 km north of Riyadh.

The king presented Obama with the King Abdul Aziz Medallion, which is the Kingdom’s highest honor, and called him a “distinguished man who deserves to be in this position.”

On the Middle East peace process, Obama said that there are a lot of Israelis “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”

The talks also focused on cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

After the first round of talks, King Abdullah and the US president broke off into a private session that lasted at least two hours.

The US president pointed out that leaders in the region should be more candid about their concerns.

“Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly,” he said. “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.”

The presidential visit was condemned by Al-Qaeda in a video message aired by Al-Jazeera yesterday. Both countries dismissed the message as irrelevant and predictable.

Obama is scheduled to fly to Cairo today where he will deliver his much-awaited speech to try to build bridges with the Muslim world. He will also meet with President Hosni Mubarak.

Referring to the speech the US president is to deliver in Cairo today, a statement released by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) said that the Muslim world would keep an eye on what Obama says. Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC secretary-general, left for Cairo to attend the event following an invitation by the Egyptian government.

Ihsanoglu also renewed OIC’s commitment to cooperate in order to boost constructive dialogue between the US and OIC member states.

Obama’s speech in Cairo is said to be an opportunity to deliver a “broader message about how the United States can change for the better” its relationship with the Muslim world.

Soure : Arab News

Iran, Turkey call for expansion of telecommunication cooperation

Ankara, June 4, IRNA - Iran’s Minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology Mohammad Soleimani conferred on Thursday with Turkish Minister of Industries and Commerce Nihat Ergün on expansion of mutual cooperation.
The Iranian minister heading a technical and specialized delegation arrived in Ankara Wednesday night.

At the meeting, the Iranian minister congratulated the Turkish minister on appointment to his new post and wished him success during his tenure.

Iran believes that ties and cooperation between the two countries should be further bolstered at mutual, regional and international levels, Soleimani said.

He hoped to witness further expansion of mutual relations and cooperation to a more desirable level.

Iran has made significant progress in the field of telecommunication and technological know-how and is to identify such potentials in both countries to allow their private sectors to play a more active role in this regard.

The Turkish minister, for his part, said a 35-member delegation arrived in Iran last week to review expansion of mutual cooperation in the field.

He expressed the hope that Iran would help remove existing obstacles and prepare the grounds for active presence of Turkish companies in Iran.

Current level of annual trade exchange between the two countries stands at dlrs 10 billion which is not satisfactory, he said.

The Iranian delegation is to attend the second meeting on Iran-Turkey telecommunication cooperation Thursday afternoon.