Iran says worried about US presence in Afghanistan DOHA, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Iran’s defence minister said on Sunday his country was worried about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and dismissed as baseless U.S. reports that Iran was interfering in Afghan affairs or harbouring al Qaeda fighters. “Originally, the U.S. had said it would leave Afghanistan soon after the war against the Taliban was over. But now they are bringing new ideas, propositions and it seems they intend to maintain their presence in the region,” Ali Shamkhani said. “It is certainly a matter of worry for us,” he told reporters at the end of a three-day visit to Qatar. The United States launched its military campaign in Afghanistan in October to flush out Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group, blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities, and to punish their Taliban protectors. The head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said last week Washington was worried that al Qaeda operatives had escaped Afghanistan through Iran. Earlier this month U.S. President George W. Bush warned Tehran not to destabilise the new Afghan government or harbour fleeing al Qaeda members. Iranian authorities have emphatically denied helping al Qaeda members to escape from Afghanistan or seeking to undermine the interim Afghan government. “It is one of those usual false allegations…Our borders are firmly secure and impregnable,” Shamkani said. “We are fully supporting the interim government and we want peace and stability in Afghanistan. We are not arming any group,” he said. The United States was Iran’s chief ally until the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the late Shah. But the two countries broke ties in 1980 after revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage. Shamkhani told Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani during his visit that Iran wanted to extend military cooperation with the six Gulf Cooperation Council states — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Non-Arab Iran opposes the deployment of U.S. and Western forces in the Gulf region and is keen to sign defence agreements with its Gulf Arab neighbours. But Gulf Arab states, which look to the West for military support, have declined Iran’s offer. Ties between Iran and Gulf states have improved in recent years.
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said Sunday his country is in full control of its border with Afghanistan and rejected U.S. accusations that al-Qaida members were sheltering in Iran. Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush warned Iran against harboring al-Qaida fighters fleeing Afghanistan. Washington officials cited intelligence reports that Tehran was providing sanctuary for a small number of al-Qaida fighters. The United States, which led the military campaign that toppled the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, also has warned Iran to stay out of Afghan politics. U.S. officials cited reports that Tehran is sending pro-Iranian Afghan fighters and money into Afghanistan to back allied factions and co-religionists of the Shiite Muslim minority. Shamkhani on Sunday reiterated Iran’s rejection of the charges. “Iran is in full control of its border. The accusations are not true. No member of al-Qaida or Taliban infiltrated into Iran,” Shamkhani said. “Iran had faced difficulties during the rule of the Taliban, which precludes any cooperation.” Iran, which shares a 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) border with western Afghanistan, has in the past supported Taliban opponents and has pledged to back the Kabul’s interim government. Iran has reinstated visa requirements for Gulf Arabs to remove the possibility of al-Qaida members infiltrating the country. Iran said it was also canceling a year-old visa waiver for Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, beginning Jan. 21. Shamkhani said “current security conditions” dictated the visa restrictions and denied that Iran had caught any Gulf nationals belonging to al-Qaida. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He and many of his followers are Arab and remain on the run or in hiding since the Taliban fell. Although Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism worldwide, Iranians and Americans found themselves united in toppling the Taliban.
Shamkhani is on the first visit by an Iranian defense minister to Qatar in more than six years. He called for expanded military cooperation with other Arab countries across the Gulf.
A L K U W A I T (Itar-Tass news digest of January 25)– US and British aircraft dealt strikes at targets in the Iraqi territory for the third time this week. According to a statement of spokesman for the US army circulated in Manama, Bahrain, the bombing strike was dealt on Thursday at the base of the Iraqi air defenses 450 kilometres south of Baghdad. The US army spokesman asserts that the Iraqi air defences provoked the bombings by firing with surface-to-air missiles at US and British aircraft patrolling the “no-fly zone.” The Iraqi news agency INA confirmed the fact of an “enemy bombing” stressing that “civilian facilities had been attacked”.
Czech Airlines denies report of attacker …
PRAGUE, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Czech Airlines (CSA) denied a newspaper report on Friday that an armed man had tried to break into the cockpit of CSA plane on a flight from Dubai to Prague earlier this month. The report, in the free-distribution Czech daily Metro, said the crew and passengers of the Boeing 737 plane had overpowered the man on the January 19 flight. The Czech national carrier said there was an incident involving an Arab man who turned on his mobile telephone during the OK 401 flight, but he was not armed and did not try to break into the cockpit. “I can with utmost certainty confirm that the man was not armed and showed no aggressive behaviour. He did not have (a knife) and was not trying to break into the cockpit,” CSA spokesman Dan Plovajko told Reuters. “His behaviour was atypical but not aggressive. He did not fight with anyone,” he said. The airline said in a statement that the man walked up to the front of the plane with a mobile telephone turned on, which is against air safety rules. It said the crew hand-cuffed him after he failed to react to requests that he turn the telephone off. He put up no resistance, the statement said. The crew then handed the man over to police in Bahrain, where the plane made an unscheduled landing, it said. Metro said Plovajko had confirmed the incident, but he told Reuters he had never spoken to the newspaper on the issue. Some airlines are introducing measures to reinforce cockpit doors during flights to prevent intruder access in the wake of the September 11 suicide hijack attacks on the United States.
A senior al-Qaida leader: A plan to bomb the U.S. Navy base in Bahrain
23 January 2002
By JOHN J. LUMPKIN Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior al-Qaida leader in U.S. custody told interrogators of a plot to bomb the U.S. Navy base in Bahrain, officials said Wednesday. The Navy apparently did not take any overt action in response. Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaida training camp commander, spoke of the plot, said two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Authorities, however, aren’t sure if the threat was real. Bahrain serves as headquarters to the U.S. 5th Fleet and the largest U.S. Navy base in the Persian Gulf. A senior Navy official said he was unaware of any precautionary moves taken in response to a warning. In recent weeks, al-Libi also told of an imminent plot to use a truck bomb to attack the U.S. Embassy in San’a, Yemen, according to U.S. and Yemeni officials. In response, the embassy closed last week, and security was increased. Authorities haven’t verified if the Yemen plot was real. Al-Libi, a top al-Qaida commander, has been in U.S. custody for at least several weeks and it wasn’t clear when he spoke of the plot. He was captured by Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities, and is considered the highest-ranking al-Qaida leader known to be in U.S. hands. He is believed to be providing some information to interrogators, but it’s unclear how helpful that information has been. That is frequently the case in the U.S. anti-terror effort, officials said. Intelligence or law enforcement officials receive threat information about a possible terrorist attack in the works, and responsed to it. Sometimes, they only have enough details to increase security or close an embassy. If no attack takes place, they are left to wonder if they somehow prevented the attack — if it was never planned at all. Other plots, however, are verified, and terrorist cell members are arrested. The Navy facilities at Bahrain would be an inviting target for terrorists seeking to disrupt U.S. military operations in the Middle East. The 5th Fleet has responsibility for the Persian Gulf and provides ships to support the operations of U.S. Central Command, which is running the war effort in Afghanistan. It also supports the enforcement of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, the U.N. economic embargo against Iraq and the monitoring of sea traffic from the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The 5th Fleet’s ships normally include an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, an attack submarine and a number of cruisers, destroyers, frigates and support vessels. A second aircraft carrier is also currently in the area. U.S. officials have said information found in Afghanistan and gleaned from prisoner interrogations has led to arrests and disrupted several attacks in the works. “Interrogations from al-Qaida members detained here in Afghanistan as well as documents … has prevented additional attacks against U.S. facilities around the world,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller, in a surprise visit to the U.S. military base in Kandahar on Wednesday. Despite questions about al-Libi’s information, U.S. and foreign authorities are certain they have broken up at least three major al-Qaida operations since Sept. 11. Singapore authorities last month arrested suspects they said were plotting attacks against the naval facilities and the U.S. embassy, helped partly by hand-written notes and a videotape found in Afghanistan. An planned suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy in Paris after Sept. 11 was also believed disrupted with the arrests of several alleged al-Qaida members. Alleged al-Qaida members are in prison in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France in connection with the plot. A French-Algerian, Djamel Beghal, in French custody, allegedly releaved the plot to investigators. In addition, Richard C. Reid, also known as Abdel Rahim, is accused of trying to to blow up an American Airlines jet flying from Paris to Miami in December. The plane’s flight crew and passengers subdued him after he tried to ignite explosives in his shoes in December. The British citizen is in jail in Boston and is suspected by intelligence officials of being an al-Qaida operative named Abdul Ra’uff.
In the months before Sept. 11, authorities disrupted plots to bomb the U.S. embassy in Indonesia and the European Parliament and other targets in Strasbourg, France.
Bahrain bans Japanese beef over mad cow fears
MANAMA, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Bahrain imposed on Wednesday a ban on beef imports from Japan because of fears of the spread of mad cow disease, the official Bahrain News Agency reported. It said Commerce and Industry Minister Ali Saleh al-Saleh issued a decision banning the import of all types of beef from Japan on health gounds after the discovery of Japan’s first case of mad cow disease in September last year.
STRAIN IN U.S.-SAUDI ARABIA TIES
DUBAI, Jan 22, 2002 (Inter Press Service) — Long-time allies in the Middle East, the United States and Saudi Arabia’s close relationship is starting to unravel. Last week, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said that the United States may pull its forces out of Saudi Arabia in favor of “a more hospitable” base in the region. His comments were followed by a report in the Washington Post quoting a senior Riyadh official, who said his government may itself call for the Americans to leave. While the official stance by both countries is that the subject has not been raised and that both maintain a strong and viable diplomatic bond, the possibility of U.S. troops leaving their Saudi base according to a mutually acceptable timeframe is more likely to happen sooner than later, analysts say. From the time the alliance came into being when the kingdom was created 70 years ago, and was strengthened after U.S. forces were invited to Saudi Arabia for security following Iraq’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait in 1991, the U.S.-Saudi Arabia diplomacy has been rooted in strategic interests. The relationship has been perpetually tense and full of suspicion. Still, it took the terror attacks of Sep. 11 and the events thereafter to make their policies come full circle and inch toward the realm of realpolitik. Beyond the controversy and debate, both versions of the story — the United States wanting to pull out and Saudi Arabia telling the United States to leave — fit in with the present international scenario and how it will evolve. Two senior State Department officials visited Riyadh last week: Assistant Secretary for the Near East William Burns and Assistant Secretary for Political and Military Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield. It is quite possible that some reassessment discussions did take place and those concerns were blown out of proportion. When Bloomfield reached Saudi Arabia, U.S. Ambassador in Riyadh Robert Jordan was quoted as saying: “He is here for consultations with the Saudi government to review our presence here and to discuss what we need and what we don’t need.” A Saudi official said the two countries have not “officially” discussed an eventual departure. What it meant is the Saudi royal family and the U.S. administration “privately” discussed the possibility, the likelihood of which has been emphasized by Saudi dissidents outside the country. “The Saudis may be aiming to kill two birds with one stone,” said P.V. Vivekanand, editor of a Gulf-based daily. “The kingdom believes that Iraq, despite Saddam Hussein’s unstoppable rhetoric, will not indulge in any imperialistic misadventure in the near future and hence sees the U.S. presence on its soil as unwarranted.” “Second, the withdrawal of foreign soldiers, whose presence has come to be seen as a political liability, will also quell the discerning and potential domestic discontent,” he added. The ruling House of Saud is nervous about an internal revolt by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network and other extremists. The Saudis, including one camp in the royal family, have long been against a security arrangement that is lodged in the presence of an outside military power to protect its internal interests. “Disquiet among the Saudis is now stronger due to the change in tone of the Bush administration on the Middle East crisis. Washington’s recent support for an eventual creation of a Palestinian state, was quickly followed with the support for Israel’s policy of isolating Palestinian President Yasser Arafat,” Vivekanand said. An increasing number of Americans also believe that Saudi Arabia — Washington’s closest Arab ally — is not playing a responsible and reliable role in the fight against terror. Many Americans have been upset not only because Saudi Arabia is bin Laden’s native country, but also because 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in the Sep. 11 attacks were from the kingdom. Media reports say that about 200 Saudis have been captured in Afghanistan fighting with the al Qaeda network and the Taliban. Three of the most popular and influential U.S. newspapers – the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times — have castigated the Saudi government and its citizens for their indirect and direct involvement respectively in the Sep. 11 attacks. They have questioned the White House’s rationale in prolonging ties with a “terror-monger and violator of human rights.” There is also a huge well of resentment among politicians, policymakers and the intelligentsia that, after the United States fought to push back Iraq in 1991 and has protected Saudi Arabia since, Riyadh refused to provide active military help during the Afghan campaign. From the view of its ordinary citizens, the United States has had to pay a price for guarding the interests of the Saudi regime against threats from Iraq and Iran. A Saudi official, however, says it is more hurt feelings, not hard military or political calculation, that are the reason for Riyadh’s grouse. “It’s not a question of logistics, but probably a Saudi pressure tactic to stop the unfair media campaign (against it),” he said. Secretary of State Colin Powell, asked if the United States should take Saudi public opinion seriously, said: “I’m not aware that the Saudi family is under such great pressure from the population for us to leave. I think we are good guests…we have come to their aid before.” More practically, one of the reasons the United States would not want to withdraw its 4,500 to 5,000 troops from the Prince Sultan air base south of Riyadh is that it could be perceived as a propaganda victory for bin Laden. He had often protested the presence of “non-believers” so close to the Muslim holy sites in Mecca and Medina. There is no doubt that the U.S-Saudi ties were under the microscope even before Sep. 11, not least because of a school of thought that the U.S. presence in the Gulf makes the region less, not more, stable. In August, Crown Prince Abdullah wrote to President George Bush, saying the world’s biggest oil producer and exporter would have to review bilateral ties unless Washington acted to resolve the Middle East conflict. In November, the New York Times quoted Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal as saying that Bush’s refusal to meet Arafat “makes a sane man go mad.” While maintaining the status quo, the United States has been also been considering a scenario without Saudi Arabia. It is looking beyond the “benign dependence” theory in the region that has had its premise in the oil-security relationship. Washington has been encouraged in this area by changes in the oil market that has seen a steady growth of non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) supplies. Wary about the stability of its allies in the Middle East, the United States in late 2001 proposed a military alliance with India for the fight against terror. The United States has also been working to have a base in the oil-rich Central Asian countries. There are some unanswered questions, however, which make the present controversy between the United States and Saudi Arabia improbable. Would either country be ready to be independent of each other so soon after Sep. 11? The United States needs Saudi support to make a success of its war against terror, just as Riyadh needs Washington’s assistance to keep its domestic detractors at bay. If the kingdom is overthrown by extremist elements, what happens to the oil? What would be the fate of the huge arms cache that the United States has sold to the Saudis over the years? The United States could in theory use its aircraft carriers in the Gulf and switch to bases in Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and elsewhere, but analysts say there is no ready and cheap alternative to the high-technology Saudi base, which played a crucial logistical role in the Afghan bombings. The U.S. policy of containing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a priority for the Bush administration, would be set back if Washington withdraws from the Saudi base.
“We think we’re doing things for them,” a U.S. official who oversees Saudi relations, says of Riyadh, “but they think they’re doing things for us.”
Bahrain Alba invites four firms for $1.7b project
MANAMA, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) has invited four major firms to bid for a $1.7 billion expansion project that will raise the smelter’s capacity by 50 percent, Deputy Chief Executive Jeremy Nottingham said on Tuesday. “We have sent out a request for tenders on both portions of the project — the power station and the smelter,” Nottingham told Reuters. Nottingham said Alba, one of the biggest smelters in the Middle East, had asked the companies earlier this month to submit their bids for engineering, procurement and construction management. He did not name them, but said bids close in early March. Nottingham said Alba in December also invited four consultants to bid for the engineering construction management for the power station. Bids will close earlier in February. Work was expected to start late in 2002 and would take 33 months. When the expansion is completed, the smelter’s output capacity will increase to 750,000 tonnes a year. Nottingham said Alba produced a record 513,000 tonnes of finished aluminium in 2001 and was aiming to produce more than that this year. Alba sells 65 percent of its products in the local market and neighbouring Gulf Arab states. The rest goes mainly to the Far East and Southeast Asia. Nottingham said competition in the aluminium market was tough, “but we still find market for all of our products.” Aluminium is currently trading around $1,378 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange. Nottingham said a 450,000 tonnes coke calcining plant built under a $400 million project would be officially opened next week. The project includes a water desalination plant and a jetty facility. Alba, which has been importing around 200,000 tonnes a year of calcined coke from the United States and Argentina, will still import coke but as a raw material, known as green coke.
The Bahraini government owns a 77 percent stake in Alba and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund 20 percent. The remaining three percent is held by German group Breton Investments.
FEATURE-Bahraini opposition embrace growing freedoms
By Abbas Salman
MANAMA, Jan 20 (Reuters) – A year ago Hassan Mushaimea was languishing in a Bahrain jail for his dissident activities and Mansoor al-Jamri was in exile, working as a spokesman for an opposition group.
Now the two Shi’ite Muslims are back in the fold in Bahrain, openly involved in political discussions of sensitive issues — a rare phenomenon in the conservative Gulf region.
Bahrain was shaken by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s when the Shi’ite majority demanded reforms and jobs from the Sunni Muslim-led government. Landmark reforms launched by the emir have transformed it tangibly.
Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who took power in 1999 on the death of his father, pledged last year to give his people a bigger role in running the island state. In a bid to unify the country he pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, allowed exiles to return and abolished emergency laws.
“There is keenness to make the necessary liberalisation on the political and economic levels,” a Western diplomat said.
“Security fears are something of the past in Bahrain.”
Jamri, Mushaimea and activist Abdel-Rahman al-Noaimi, who has returned after 30 years in exile, held a debate in a local club this month about the planned revival of municipal elections. Around 1,000 people attended.
“Since the emir launched the reforms, Bahrainis are allowed to express their opinions about important issues freely through seminars and councils,” said Mushaimea, who was freed under the emir’s pardon last year after five years in prison.
Bahrain has pledged to revive municipal elections this year, in which women will have the right to vote and stand as candidates. It is the first solid step taken towards the pledged reforms.
The former British protectorate had municipal elections from the 1920s until they were suspended in the 1960s. The councils have since been appointed by the government.
MORE LIVELY PRESS
“We can look forward to the municipal elections with confidence. They will confirm the soundness of Bahrain’s emerging democracy and will provide a good test run for national elections,” said British ambassador Peter William Ford.
“The emergence of associations, the more lively media and the obvious independence of the judiciary are all healthy signs,” he added.
This month, a court reversed an Information Ministry ban on an outspoken local journalist for inciting sectarian strife in the Gulf Arab state, where many reporters observe self-censorship.
Bahrain, which has a population of 650,000, has licensed two new pro-reform newspapers since December.
One is being set up by Jamri, who returned last year after 15 years of self-exile.
“The emir has undertaken daring steps in the past 12 months, transforming Bahrain into a much more civilised country,” said 40-year-old Jamri.
He was one of a dozen activists who in 1982 founded the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement (BFM).
OPPOSITION TONED DOWN
Many exiled activists have returned to Bahrain since the amnesty. But some have chosen to remain abroad, such as London-based BFM members Saeed al-Shehabi and Alaa al-Youssef.
BFM activists say the movement has now suspended a monthly newsletter which had criticised alleged human rights abuses. Its London-based Website (www.vob.org) now focuses on reforms.
Bahrainis last year approved a reform charter proposed by Sheikh Hamad which calls for an elected parliament by 2004 alongside an appointed advisory body, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary.
Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, two years after it was set up. It now has a 40-member advisory Shura Council which has no legislative powers.
Bahrain urges Gulf unity against global challenges
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Regional financial hub Bahrain urged fellow Gulf Arab states on Saturday to set aside economic self-interest and band together to face global challenges. Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa said the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) must break down internal trade barriers and diversify away from oil, their main commodity. Speaking at an economic forum in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah, Sheikh Salman also said economic expansion had failed to keep pace with population growth in the GCC countries. “All of us have competitive advantages that we try to hold on to like low labour costs in some and the low cost of energy in others. But if we want to unify, what we need to do is to bring our economic structures in line,” he later told reporters. Unable to match the oil power of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, Bahrain has converted itself into a financial and offshore banking and investment centre. “The biggest challenge for the GCC will be committing to the ideal of a free market economy,” Sheikh Salman said. “There will be adjustment, there will be pain and we have to forge our way through it.” The GCC, grouping Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, has agreed to set up a customs union by 2003. The loose political and economic alliance, which sits on half the world’s oil reserves, was created in 1981 and only achieved a joint defence pact in 2000.
Iraq Ready to Receive Kuwaiti Officials on POWs Issue
BAGHDAD, Jan 19, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Iraq has expressed its readiness to receive Kuwaiti officials in Baghdad to probe the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners of war (POWs) inside Iraq from the 1991 Gulf War, the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported on Saturday. In a statement by Iraqi Information Ministry, Uday al-Ta’aee, adviser to Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahaf, refuted a claim made by a Kuwaiti official who said he was certain about the custody of Kuwaiti prisoners inside Iraq and that Iraqi government manoeuvred in the matter. Abdullah al-Nibazi, member of the Kuwaiti National Council, made the comment during his visit in Bahrain on Saturday. Ta’aee responded by saying that he welcomes the visit by Nibazi to Baghdad “to inform Iraq and the whole world if he finds any Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq’s jails.” Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Ahmed has also said that Iraq welcomes a Kuwaiti delegation to Baghdad to examine the issue of Kuwaiti POWs and the missing since the Gulf War. Kuwait claims that more than 600 Kuwaiti and other countries’ nationals disappeared during Iraq’s occupation of the small emirate from August 1990 to February 1991. Iraq has denied any knowledge of the fate of these Kuwaitis.
Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and was evicted out of the country after a seven-month occupation by the United States-led multinational coalition in the Gulf War.
19 Jan: Iran reinstates visas for Gulf Arabs as precaution
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has reinstated visa requirements for Gulf Arabs to prevent the members of the al-Qaida terror network from infiltrating the country, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Saturday. Announcing the decision, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, was quoted as saying the measure was taken to “remove the possibility of al-Qaida members’ use of the Iranian soil to travel to other countries.” Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush warned Iran against harboring al-Qaida fighters fleeing Afghanistan with the aim of destabilizing the country’s new government. U.S. officials cited intelligence reports that Iran was providing sanctuary for a small number of al-Qaida fighters. Iran denies the accusation. “Members of the al-Qaida group have never found their way into the Iranian territory,” Hosseinian was quoted as saying. “They have never been able to use the Iranian territory. We are resolute on maintaining this trend in the future.” Iran said it was canceling a year-old visa waiver for Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, beginning Monday. Al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. Bin Laden remains at large after the collapse of the his protectors, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, in the U.S.-led war campaign. Bin Laden’s network has over the years managed to recruit Arabs and lure them — some with their families — to Afghanistan for the fight against the United States. Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism worldwide. The two countries have not had ties since the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic revolution in 1979. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, which Iran has condemned, Washington has quietly praised its longtime foe for its help in the war on international terror. Iranians and Americans found themselves working for a common goal in Afghanistan, ending the rule of the Taliban with whom Iran had had bad relations and creating a new government.
Jobless Bahrainis stage peaceful protest
MANAMA, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Around 150 unemployed Bahrainis, some holding up loaves of bread, marched in Manama on Wednesday in the latest of a series of demonstrations to demand jobs. “We want jobs. We want jobs,” chanted the demonstrators as they marched in a busy street in the capital of the Gulf Arab state. “We are not rioters, we are seeking jobs,” they shouted. Some held up loaves of bread while others carried their university certificates to press the government to create jobs for them. The march was the third by jobless Bahrainis this month. A ministerial committee approved on Wednesday a programme to offer 700 jobs, currently occupied by foreigners, to unemployed nationals this year, the official Bahrain News Agency reported. Bahrain has banned foreigners from some professions as part of efforts to ensure more job opportunities for Bahrainis. Official figures released earlier this month showed 15,800 Bahrainis had registered as unemployed with the Labour Ministry in December. The figure was the highest reported in the island state, which was rocked by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s by the majority Shi’ite Muslim community seeking political and economic reforms. The figure represents five percent of the total workforce of 308,341 in Bahrain, which has a population of 651,000 — over a third of whom are foreigners — mostly unskilled labourers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines. Alarmed by the growing number of jobless, Bahrain has launched a programme to provide financial aid to unemployed nationals for six months.
It has also set aside $25 million dinars ($66 million) for 2001/2002 to help create jobs and provide vocational training. But the programme has so far failed to solve the problem.
Jobless Bahrainis hold protest march in key financial district
16 Jan 2002, MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Nearly 150 unemployed, banner-toting Bahrainis marched peacefully Wednesday in the island’s key financial and commercial district, disrupting traffic as they paraded through the streets demanding jobs. “We want jobs, we want jobs,” they shouted as they marched through the Diplomatic Area, which houses the central bank and hosts other major international offshore banks, embassies, local law courts and other commercial enterprises. “If we don’t have jobs how can we feed our families,” said Sadeq, 28, a father of two, who was one of the demonstrators. Though many of the demonstrators appeared to be unemployed, a few said they had jobs but wanted better-paying posts. The protestors, who marched around the district for more than two hours, causing traffic jams as they moved along, said they would continue to hold similar demonstrations until their demands, which include, giving nationals jobs priority over foreign workers are met. They also urged Bahrain’s ruler Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to find a solution, some suggesting that the hiring of non-Bahrainis was part of the problem. There are an estimated 50,000 illegal workers in the tiny nation of 700,000. Most are believed to be Indians, who number more than 100,000 in Bahrain. Other illegal workers come from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Millions of unskilled Asian workers have been drawn to Bahrain and other oil-rich Gulf states by jobs in the construction, factories, restaurants and households. Many foreigners are also hired in the country’s security force. While Wednesday’s crowd dispersed peacefully as police looked on, a similar protest last week outside the Labor Ministry ended with police firing tear gas and arresting five people after the demonstrators entered the ministry’s building and disrupted work. Jobseekers appear to be organizing the protests among themselves, spreading meeting times by word of mouth. Labor Minister Abdulnabi al-Shoa told The Associated Press that the protestors were demanding jobs for which they had no qualification or experience. He urged them to be reasonable in their expectations. Unemployment has long been a problem in Bahrain. It was a factor in the Shiite Muslim-led wave of unrest that gripped Bahrain in the mid-1990s. Some 15,000 citizens have registered as job seekers, of which 60 percent are women. The unofficial unemployment figure is, however, believed to include more than 20,000 people.
Last June, the government launched a dlrs 66 million program to train and find jobs for thousands of citizens. am/db
Iraqi foreign minister in talks with Bahraini emir
MANAMA, Jan 15 (Reuters) – Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, on a rare visit to Bahrain, held talks on Tuesday with the Gulf Arab state’s emir, the Bahrain News Agency reported. It said Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Sabri discussed steps Iraq has to take to help end crippling U.N. economic and trade sanctions. Sabri delivered a message from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on regional and international issues, the agency said without giving details. Iraq’s relations with Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and other Gulf Arab states have been strained since Baghdad invaded Kuwait in 1990. Iraq last year appointed a new ambassador to Bahrain in a sign of improving relations, but diplomats said on Tuesday the island state had reservations over restoring full cooperation with Baghdad. “Bahrain, working closely with its Gulf Arab allies, prefers to wait until Iraq abides by all U.N. resolutions,” a diplomat said. A commercial sea link between Bahrain and Iraq, closed for nearly a decade under U.N. sanctions, reopened in late 1999.
Iraq’s foreign minister to visit Bahrain this week
BAGHDAD, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will begin an official visit to Bahrain on Sunday for the first time in years, Iraqi television said on Saturday. “Our visit to Bahrain comes within growing relations between Iraq and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members,” Sabri told al-Shabab (Youth) television, run by President Saddam Hussein’s eldest son Uday. The GCC groups Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Iraq’s relations with Bahrain and other GCC states were strained after Baghdad’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But Sabri said Iraq now maintained good economic and political ties with four Gulf Arab states — Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Omman. A commercial sea link between Bahrain and Iraq, closed for nearly a decade under U.N. sanctions, reopened in late 1999.
Iraq last year appointed its first ambassador to Bahrain since Baghdad occupied Kuwait
With respect to the visit by the Iraqi minister, a leading Bahraini figure called on the Bahraini government to ask him about the eight Bahrainis who disappeared from Najaf in 1991. They are: Sayyed Hassan Ali Khadhem Sharaf Sheikh Fadhel Abbas Ahmad Al Omani Sheikh Mohammad Jawad Abdul Rasool Hussain Sheikh Jaffar Mukhtar Sheikh Ahmad Abdulla Al Mawt Isa Hassan Abdul Hussain Sheikh Fadhel Al Sa’di Sheikh Redha Abdul Nabi Shehab They disappeared in March/April 1991 following the removal of the Iraqi army from Kuwait and the crushing of the Iraqi popular uprising. Amnesty International highlighted their case in Document No MVE/4/2/93.
Bahrain c.bank says issued Islamic bank regulations
MANAMA, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Bahrain’s central bank said on Saturday it had introduced new regulations for Islamic banks and financial houses operating in the banking and financial hub. “The new regulations are very unique and have been designed to suit the special nature of Islamic banks,” said Khalid Ateeq, Executive Director for Banking Control at the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA), the central bank. Ateeq said the regulations required Islamic banks in Bahrain to implement a new capital adequacy from the first quarter of this year. “The regulations introduce new directives on larger exposures, assets quality, management of investment accounts, earnings quality and liquidity,” Ateeq told a banking symposium. The regulations also establish new requirements on risk management and corporate governance for Islamic banks, including the setting up of an audit committee of which the majority of its members should be non-executives. Islamic banks and finance houses do not pay or charge interest — the core of the Western banking system — as it is considered usury by many Muslims. Instead, they generate profits from approved trading and investments. Bahrain, which hosts 18 Islamic banks and finance houses, in November signed a pact to establish an International Islamic Financial market to help meet the needs of Islamic banks and financial institutions.
Unemployed Bahrainis stage peaceful protest
MANAMA, Jan 12 (Reuters) – About 100 unemployed Bahraini citizens staged a peaceful protest in the Gulf Arab state on Saturday to demand jobs, witnesses said. The protesters carried banners outside the Labour Ministry urging Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to intervene to resolve the unemployment problem in Bahrain which has a population of 651,000 — over a third of whom are foreigners. “Unemployment can be resolved by a decision from the emir,” one banner read. “There are 200,000 foreign workers, but Bahrainis don’t have jobs,” another banner said. Official figures released this month showed around 15,800 Bahraini job seekers registered as unemployed with the Labour Ministry in December. The figure — the highest reported in the country — represents five percent of the total workforce. Police last week used tear gas to disperse protesters seeking jobs. Six people were detained but later released. Alarmed by the growing number of jobless, Bahrain has launched a programme to provide financial aid to unemployed nationals for six months. It has also allocated $60 million to help create jobs in 2002.
11 January 2002
Political reform in Saudi Arabia: Can Bahrain show the way?
Road to change may lie along King Fahd causeway
Role reversal as neighboring nation leads the latest Gulf revolution
Special to The Daily Star
LUND, SWEDEN: On Boxing Day, the Al-Jazeera satellite channel interviewed Mohammed Saeed Tayyeb, a well-known Saudi intellectual and one-time prisoner of conscience, about his country’s political future in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
The live discussion program was inundated with telephone calls from viewers, many from Saudi Arabia. Amid the wide-ranging debate that ensued on a range of issues relating to Saudi Arabia’s current problems and future options, one thing that stood out was the praise voiced by both Tayyeb and a number of Saudi callers for the political reform process in Bahrain.
Many people in other Gulf countries, including liberal intellectuals, the business community and public figures, may well share Tayyeb’s sentiments.
They were echoed in a recent feature article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan applauding the emir of Bahrain, whose brave political reform initiatives have within less than two years transformed anti-government protests on the streets of Manama into peaceful celebrations of his reign. The reforms included the granting of full political rights to women, which while not a controversial issue in Bahrain was of regional significance, coming as it did in the wake of the Kuwaiti Parliament’s rejection of an emiri proposal to extend political rights to Kuwaiti women.
Bahrain has acquired a new image in the Gulf and particularly among residents of its neighboring “Big Sister,” which has in turn nurtured a new breed of Saudi tourists.
The inflow of Saudi visitors via the 28-kilometer King Fahd Causeway, linking Bahrain to the kingdom, has been a boon for the country’s tourism and entertainment sectors. Since it was opened in 1986, tens of thousands have driven across each weekend to enjoy the services of Bahrain’s nightclubs and bars. But over the past year or so, they have been joined by other Saudis, lured by quite different attractions. They come to attend the public debates and lectures organized by the newly formed political associations and cultural forums that have flourished in Bahrain. Most of these cultural/political “tourists” hail from the kingdom’s Eastern Province, whose ethnic make-up and history of contention bear many resemblances to Bahrain’s.
Bahrain’s fortunes changed almost overnight following the accession to the throne of Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa in March 1999 on the death of his father. He immediately let it be known that he intended to introduce political reforms and facilitate the country’s entry into “an era of change for the better in all areas.”
His plans envisage a series of measures to reform the political system, with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and a bi-cameral legislative body as the two key declared objectives. The initial skepticism of Bahraini opposition groups was overwhelmed by the extent of public approval of the new ruler’s plans. This was manifest in the massive turnout at the plebiscite held to endorse them, in which women participated, and the reported 98.4 percent vote in favor. Everyone was declared a winner. To his, by now loyal, opposition, the emir effectively offered to restore the Parliament his father had dissolved back in 1975, in exchange for their active participation in mobilizing popular backing for, and bestowing legitimacy on, his constitutional monarchy project.
Sheikh Hamad’s sizeable achievement seems to have engaged the attention of officials in Saudi Arabia as well as the kingdom’s media, intellectuals and cultural tourists. Cloning the Bahraini experiment could prove to be an attractive proposition for the kingdom. This would be an ironic reversal of roles. In the past, there was a consensus among Bahrainis that Saudi intervention was partly to blame for their rulers’ resistance to demands for the restoration of Parliament and the initiation of reforms. Fears that the Saudis will try to constrain or abort the current process have been replaced by hopes that they might actually emulate it themselves.
As in Bahrain, the ruling family in Saudi Arabia is the main channel for wealth distribution in the country. It oversaw the building of infrastructure, while seeking to limit the impact of modernization on political institutions and relationships.
Throughout the Gulf, expanding economies helped the region’s ruling families win popular support and ensure the loyalty of various traditional structures, be they tribal, ethnic, or religious. They thus effectively retained their monopoly of political and economic power, and managed to sustain their multiple roles as makers and enforcers of the law, as well as being the ultimate arbitrators between their competing beneficiaries. Attrition, co-optation or demoralization meanwhile reduced numerous political activists including many well-known figures who spent years in detention or exile to passivity or transformed them into highly visible defenders of the status quo.
But also as in Bahrain, the Saudi ruling family’s grip on power faces some growing challenges from its domestic and external sources of support and legitimacy. Its financial difficulties limit its options and make it harder to sustain its traditional reluctance to yield to internal and external pressures to modernize its political system. It is evident that, in the post-Sept. 11 world, pressures from both sources are likely to increase.
The severity of the problem is openly acknowledged by official sources. Saudi Arabia’s national budget for the current year anticipates a 27 percent drop in revenues. The kingdom’s internal debt, to local Saudi banks and financial institutions, exceeded 630 billion Saudi riyals ($168 billion) at the end of 2001, while its acknowledged external debt stands at some $35 billion. The projected budget deficit of 45 billion Saudi riyals forces the state to borrow from both external and internal lenders. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, and similar institutions have their own external debt problems as well.
Saudi Arabia is not Argentina. It is not in a desperate situation. Relying on its considerable assets, including its oil reserves, the kingdom can persevere for a good while in spite of its current woes. But recent pronouncements by senior members of the ruling family including Crown Prince Abdullah, the powerful Defense Minister Prince Sultan, and the outspoken Prince Talal testify to a general awareness that reforms are indispensable to the survival of the Saudi regime. The kingdom has already embarked on some economic restructuring programs in order to cut government spending and reduce the state’s dominant role in the economy.
The state is already the major employer in Saudi Arabia, allocating 55-60 percent of the annual budget to wages. This is likely to increase if the government lifts its current recruitment freeze. Indeed, the current five-year development plan envisages providing government employment for over 800,000 additional Saudis by 2005.
While this would certainly increase the financial burden on the state, due to population growth it could have only a marginal impact on reducing the unemployment rate, currently estimated at some 15-20 percent. Nor is it likely to rectify the imbalance in the Saudi labor market, where imported manpower accounts for two-thirds of the economically active population.
Crown Prince Abdullah, as de facto ruler, is purported to have recently held a series of meetings with “representatives” of various segments of Saudi society to sound out their views on these issues. In the course of his Al-Jazeera interview, Tayyeb predicted that within five years Saudi Arabia would hold its first elections. There are good grounds for his optimism.
Dr. Abdulhadi Khalaf is a Bahraini sociologist teaching sociology of development at the University of Lund
Bahrain approves first independent dailies
By ADNAN MALIK Associated Press Writer 8 Jan 2002, MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — The government has given its go-ahead for the first independent newspapers to be published by a former dissident in the tiny Gulf monarchy, the Information Ministry and the publisher said Tuesday. A letter of approval authorizes Mansoor al-Jamri, the former London-based spokesman for Bahrain’s exiled opposition, to publish the Arabic-language Al-Wasat daily and the sister publication, Gulf Observer, in English, al-Jamri said. Before Al-Wasat can hit the stands later this year, and Gulf Observer six months later, al-Jamri is required to find a suitable office and register with the Commerce Ministry, a Ministry of Information official said on condition of anonymity. Al-Jamri, 40, who returned last month after 14 years in self-imposed exile, said he was filing the necessary paperwork so the newspapers can serve “as watchdogs for the society and reflect public opinion.” The four local newspapers in Bahrain are all government-controlled. Al-Jamri said in an interview he was grateful to the county’s ruler, Emir Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, for “keeping his word” on political reforms under a national charter that won an overwhelming approval in a February 2000 referendum. The charter provides for an elected parliament — dissolved since 1975 — and equal rights for all citizens. Bahrain’s Shiite Muslims, who make up the slight majority of the island’s 500,000 citizens, began a campaign for political freedoms in the mid-1990s, which turned violent with more than 40 people killed and hundreds jailed. The Shiites felt they did not enjoy economic and social parity with the Sunni Muslims, members of the mainstream Muslim sect to which the ruling family belongs. Al-Jamri said the emir gave his consent for the newspapers last April through his father, Abdul-Ameer al-Jamri, a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric who spent 3 1/2 years in detention on charges of espionage and inciting unrest. “The newspapers’ main objective will be to support the reforms laid by the Emir,” al-Jamri said. The privately owned newspapers with a paid up capital of 2 million dinars (dlrs 5.3 million) are backed by 40 private investors, including al-Jamri. “They will be totally independent newspapers serving the people,” said al-Jamri.
MANAMA, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Bahrain licensed on Monday its second new pro-reform newspaper to support landmark reforms launched by the conservative Gulf Arab state’s ruler. Mansoor al-Jamri, chairman of the planned Arabic-language al-Wasat newspaper, said the daily would support the reforms introduced by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa last year. Jamri is an opposition activist who returned to Bahrain last year after 15 years of self-exile. “The Information Ministry has in principle approved the issuance of the paper,” Information Minister Nabeel Yacoub al-Hammer said in a letter to Jamri. A copy of the letter was obtained by Reuters. “The newspaper, al-Wasat, will support a reform charter initiated by Emir Sheikh Hamad, and will reflect the Bahraini people’s hopes,” Jamri, former spokesman of the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement, told Reuters. He said publication would start later this year, but did not specify a date. Jamri returned to Bahrain after Sheikh Hamad launched political and economic reforms to reunite his country, which was shaken by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s. Most of Bahrain’s exiled opposition activists have returned home since the emir issued a general amnesty in February. Bahrain in December licensed another pro-reform newspaper, Al-Mithaq (the Charter). There are currently two Arabic and two English-language pro-government newspapers in Bahrain, which has a population of 650,000. Bahrainis in February approved the reform charter, which calls for an elected parliament alongside the appointed advisory council, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. The proposed reforms followed years of unrest by the majority Shi’ite Muslim community demanding political and economic reforms from the Sunni-led government.
Last month, the Information Ministry banned an outspoken local journalist from writing for allegedly inciting sectarian strife, but dropped its case against Hafez al-Shaikh after a court ruled in his favour earlier this week.
ANALYSIS-Gulf bourses’ face uphill 2002 on oil slump
By Inal Ersan DUBAI, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Gulf Arab bourses are facing an uphill 2002 as global economic downturn casts a pall on revenue from oil, the region’s principal export, but analysts say relief could come from a possible return of funds invested abroad. “It surely is a year of uncertainty,” said a Saudi Bank treasurer. “If we see a good rise in oil (prices) we would be looking at a (relatively) good year,” he added. But analysts do not expect a quick revival in oil prices that continue to command the economies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. Oil prices plunged by about a third after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities, forcing OPEC and rival producers to tighten their taps to boost prices, but the effort seemed far from achieving what they see as an ideal level of $22-$25 a barrel. Current international benchmark prices are around $21-$22. However, some analysts argued that the shockwave sent by the attacks throughout the world could spark a partial repatriation of about $1 trillion invested abroad, boosting regional markets. “If markets in the West do not shake up, there could be large capital inflows (to the Gulf). This could stimulate markets throughout the region,” an economist said. Saudi Arabia’s leading consultancy, Bakheet Financial Advisors (BFA), echoed the same view. “There is a golden chance for Arab governments to improve their performance to attract migrating capital,” it said in an annual report on Arab bourses. But, “Gulf countries still lack the power to influence their economies when oil prices are low, but fortunately there are reasons to believe that oil prices would improve in the second half of 2002,” an official in another Gulf country said. So far the region’s stock exchanges are largely limited to nationals of the six monarchies, while foreign residents are allowed to invest through mutual funds. Despite the so-called 9-11 syndrome impact on bourses’ performance in the last four months of 2001, the exchanges of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were among the best performers among a dozen Arab bourses in 2001. They rose by between 7.6 percent and 41.6 percent, a BFA report showed. GLOOMY NEW YEAR Saudi analyst Abdul-Aziz al-Dakheel, also a former Finance Ministry undersecretary, expects the Arab world’s largest bourse to make a dismal show on the back of even lower oil prices. “After two years of outstanding performance of the Saudi economy, the year 2002 looks like a dire year,” Dakheel said of the market that ended 2001 at 2,430.11 points, a rise of 7.6 percent over the year before. The rise came despite the dominance of the banks, the most sensitive sector to the backlash of the September events. Most Gulf bourses are dominated by banks and industry shares, although sizeable oil firms in the region are owned by respective states. Cement companies registered the biggest gains in the Saudi market, while blue chip Saudi Basic Industries Corp SABIC the market’s most active share fell 17.1 percent. Riyadh Bank, also one of the most actively traded shares registered a 22 percent rise. In neighbouring Kuwait, whose bourse was one of the emerging markets’ best performing exchanges last year, leading economist Jassem al-Saadoun also predicts a less lustrous 2002. “In general I think the performance of the Kuwaiti bourse in 2002 will be weaker than that of 2001,” Saadoun told Reuters. “The economy is largely linked to the performance of oil, which I expect to be lower than (levels reached in) 2001,” he added. Kuwait’s share index rose by a respectable 27 percent in 2001, to end the year at 1,716.9 points after hitting a year peak of 1,810.6 points before the attacks. Economic and political reforms in Qatar propelled its bourse to be the best performing Arab market rising 41.6 percent despite global downturn. In the United Arab Emirates, which has no official index, trading value in the bourses of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the parallel market rose 50 percent to about $572 million in 2001. Bahrain’s Stock Exchange index shed 2.5 percent ending the year at 1,761.46 points, but traders foresee a recoup in the first quarter of 2002. Oman’s Muscat Securities Market registered the region’s biggest decline of 24.4 percent despite reforms that have failed to reverse negative sentiment among local investors. “Last year’s performance proves how unpredictable Gulf markets are,” said an Arab economist. “But this can’t be the rule always. If the global downturn persists, all will suffer.”
(Additional reporting by Roland Rahal in Kuwait)
Qatar signs MoU to provide Bahrain with gas
DOHA, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Qatar Petroleum signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Tuesday with Bahrain to supply natural gas to the island state as part of a plan to build a regional gas pipeline grid. The state-owned firm did not give further details, but senior Qatari energy officials said the two sides have discussed supplies of 500 million cubic feet (14.16 million cu metres) a day as of late 2005 or early 2006, rising to 800 million cu ft/d eventually. The signing “of the MoU represents a major step forward towards further progress and economic development for Qatar and Bahrain,” said Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, Qatar’s Minister of Energy and Industry, after signing the MoU his Bahraini counterpart, Sheikh Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa. The move “supports Qatar’s plan to establish a gas grid between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” he said. The GCC economic and political group also comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Officials said the MoU sets the principles for a final sale-and purchase agreement (SPA). Qatar will supply gas from its Enhanced Gas Utilisation (EGU) project which is run by ExxonMobil under a 25-year production sharing agreement. The U.S. energy giant was also a party to the deal with Bahrain.
In December, Qatar signed a final agreement with Abu Dhabi-based Dolphin Energy to supply two billion cu ft/d of gas to the UAE.
Bahrain c. bank says froze two suspect accounts
MANAMA, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Tuesday it had frozen two accounts suspected of being linked to Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States. “We have recently frozen two accounts,” said Khalid Ateeq, Executive Director for Banking Control at the Bahrain Monetary Agency, the central bank. “One belonged to a financial institution and the other to an individual,” Ateeq told reporters on the sidelines of an anti-money laundering conference. He declined to name them. The U.S. Treasury has sought to track and identify sources of funding for what it calls global terrorism, including bin Laden, since the September attacks. Washington has since frozen accounts of scores of groups and individuals and asked world countries to do the same. Ateeq said the BMA had asked the U.S. Treasury Department to justify its request to freeze the suspects’ accounts. He said the freeze will be lifted if the Treasury Department failed to justify the decision. There are more than 100 banks and financial houses operating in Bahrain, the Gulf’s financial and banking centre, with combined assets of more than $100 billion.
7 Jan 2002
Bahrain police disperse protesters seeking jobs
By ADNAN MALIK Associated Press Writer MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Police fired tear gas Monday to disperse a crowd of about 150 unemployed, banner-toting Bahrainis who stormed the Labor Ministry demanding jobs. Five demonstrators were arrested after the hours-long protest outside the ministry in Isa Town, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of the capital, Manama, protesters said. “We want jobs and this is our right,” said Ali Kadhem, 37, one of the demonstrators. Their demands included giving nationals jobs priority over foreign workers. There are an estimated 50,000 illegal workers in the tiny nation of 700,000. Most are believed to be Indians, who number more than 100,000 in Bahrain. Other illegal workers come from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. “They are asking for jobs, but they are asking for specific jobs which don’t match their qualifications and experience,” Labor Minister Abdulnabi al-Shoa’la told The Associated Press. “The ministry is trying its best to meet their demands and we understand their frustration, but they have to be reasonable in their demands and expectations.” Al-Shoa’la could not confirm any arrests or police involvement in dispersing the crowd, but he said that protesters entered the offices and distrupted the ministry’s work. “When a demonstration goes inside the building it becomes unconventional,” he said. Unemployment has long been a problem in Bahrain. It was a factor in the Shiite Muslim-led wave of unrest that gripped Bahrain in the mid-1990s.
Some 15,000 citizens have registered as job seekers, of which 60 percent are women. The unofficial unemployment figure is, however, believed to include more than 20,000 people.
MANAMA (Reuters) – Bahrain’s police used tear gas on Monday to disperse a group of unemployed people who gathered at the Labor Ministry to demand jobs, and arrested at least six of them, witnesses said. Labor Minister Abdel-Nabi al-Shula said around 50 job seekers entered his ministry Monday morning and refused to leave, but he gave no further details. Unemployment among Bahrainis was one of the main reasons for the 1994-1998 anti-government unrest by the island state’s majority Shi’ite Muslim community. The violence was the first since the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa announced a host of political and economic reforms last February to enhance national unity. Official figures released earlier this month showed around 15,800 job seekers registered as unemployed with the Labor Ministry in December. The figure, the highest reported in the Gulf Arab state, represents five percent of the total work force in Bahrain, which has a population of 651,000 — over a third of whom are foreigners. More than 181,000 foreigners — mainly unskilled low-paid laborers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines — make up 60 percent of the total workforce of 308,341. Bahrain, alarmed by the growing number of jobless, has launched a program to provide financial aid to unemployed nationals for six months. It has also set aside $25 million dinars ($66 million) for 2002 to help create jobs and provide vocational training. REUTERS
Journalist back to work after Bahrain drops appeal
MANAMA, Jan 6 (Reuters) – A Bahraini journalist, banned from working after being accused of writing articles seen as inciting sectarian strife, returned to work on Sunday after the government dropped an appeal against a court ruling in his favour. Information Minister Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer said in a statement late on Saturday that his ministry would respect the verdict of the court and allow journalist Hafez al-Shaikh to resume writing for the Arabic-language Akhbar al-Khaleej daily. “Everything has returned to normal and the case has been cancelled,” Shaikh told Reuters on Sunday. “I hope the travel restrictions imposed on me will also be lifted soon.” The minister said the ruling demonstrated the independence and integrity of the judiciary in the Gulf Arab state. “We are all committed to justice and to the rights of people to justice,” he said without elaborating on the ministry’s decision. The minister and Shaikh took each other to court last month in the first case of its kind in the conservative country after the ministry banned Shaikh from writing for allegedly violating press laws by writing articles seen as inciting sectarian strife in Bahrain, which was shaken by anti-government unrest in the 1990s. Some of Shaikh’s articles were about the majority Shi’ite Muslim community, which had agitated for political and economic reforms in the 1990s, Iranians living in Bahrain and other sensitive issues. Shaikh had argued that the ban was illegal and filed a lawsuit against the ministry to get it lifted. Bans are rare in Bahrain where many journalists observe self-censorship.
In February, Bahrainis backed a charter proposed by the emir which calls for an independent judiciary, an elected parliament alongside an appointed advisory body and a constitutional monarchy — part of political reforms to reunite the island state after unrest between 1994 and 1998.
3 Jan: Court issues verdict in favor of banned Bahraini journalist…
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A Bahrain court has overturned an information ministry ban on writings of a Bahraini free-lance journalist, the journalist and the information ministry said Thursday. Hafedh ash-Shaikh Saleh, who had been banned from writing for the local Arabic-language daily Akhbar al-Khaleej, welcomed Wednesday’s decision in a case in which he had challenged the ministry’s ban. “This is my means of earning a living and this is my profession and I will continue to express my opinion by all means,” Saleh told The Associated Press. Saleh also writes for newspapers outside Bahrain, including the Qatar-based Al-Sharq newspaper. An information ministry official said that the ministry was studying whether to appeal the verdict. In addition, the ministry has a separate court case against Saleh’s writings. Saleh, was banned last November by the ministry, which alleged that his articles incited divisions in the Gulf island nation. All local newspapers in the tiny Gulf island are government-controlled. Akhbar al-Khaleej Chief Editor Anwar Abdulrahman would not say whether Saleh would be allowed to continue writing for the paper. “We have to wait and see whether the information ministry will appeal the case or not,” Abdulrahman said. “But I hope this case will be resolved in a friendly manner.” Saleh earlier told The Associated Press that he believes a Nov. 5 commentary he wrote for a Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, is the main reason behind the legal action. In it, he wrote that Crown Prince Sheik Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa’s recent visit to the United States “caused widespread consternation” in Bahrain and Gulf Arab states. He also questioned whether his country was moving toward democracy or toward U.S. servitude. Ministry officials however said the case against Saleh is based on several articles they say were designed to create tension in Bahrain. Bahrain is home to a half million people of Arab and Persian descent who follow separate branches of Islam. Bahrain’s majority Shiites, largely of Persian descent, rose up against the Sunni leadership in the 1990s, calling for democratic reforms. In the past two years, the government has begun to implement reforms that meet some of their demands. A new national charter paves the way for reinstituting an elected parliament. am/db
Bahrain court rules in favour of newsman
MANAMA, Jan 3 (Reuters) – A Bahraini court has ruled to allow a local journalist to resume writing after he was banned on charges of violating the press and publication laws. But Bahrain’s Information Minister Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer said on Thursday the state had appealed against the ruling. “The court on Wednesday ruled that I can resume writing in Bahrain with immediate effect,” journalist Hafez al-Shaikh, who works at the Arabic-language Akhbar al-Khaleej daily, told Reuters on Thursday. The minister and Shaikh took each other to court last month in the first case of its kind in the conservative Gulf state. The Information Ministry banned Shaikh from writing in December for allegedly violating press laws by writing articles seen as inciting sectarian strife in the small state, which was shaken by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s. “We have appealed the court’s decision,” Hamer said. “We will not allow any incitement or damage to national unity by any person under any circumstances.” Some of Shaikh’s articles were about the majority Shi’ite Muslim community — which had agitated for political and economic reforms in the 1990s — Iranians living in Bahrain and other sensitive issues. Shaikh had argued the ban was illegal and filed a lawsuit against the ministry to get it lifted. Bans are rare in Bahrain where many journalists observe self-censorship. The Bahrain Human Rights Society, an independent body formed earlier this year, deplored the ban as a violation of the constitution and the national charter. In a referendum in February, Bahrainis overwhelmingly backed the charter proposed by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa as part of political and economic reforms aimed at reuniting the country after the 1994-98 unrest by Shi’ite Muslim community.
It calls for an elected parliament alongside the appointed
Unemployment in Bahrain hits record high of 15,800
MANAMA, Jan 2 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Wednesday that around 15,800 Bahraini nationals had registered as job seekers in December, the highest level seen in the Gulf Arab state. Labour Minister Abdul-Nabi al-Shula said the figure represented five percent of the total workforce in Bahrain, which has a population of 651,000 — over one third of whom are foreigners. Around 9,670 Bahrainis had registered as job seekers at the Labour Ministry in April 2001. Shula said 181,220 foreigners — mainly unskilled labourers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines — make up 60 percent of the total workforce of 308,341. Alarmed by a growing number of jobless, Bahrain has launched a programme to provide financial aid to unemployed nationals for six months. It has set aside 25 million dinars ($66.3 million) to 2002 to help create jobs and provide vocational training. The island state has also banned foreigners from some professions to ensure more jobs for Bahraini nationals. Shula said the ministry would not extend a six-month grace period ending on January 31 for some 50,000 illegal foreign workers to legalise their status or leave the country. “This is the second amnesty given by the Bahraini government to them in the past two years,” Shula said, adding that many foreigners have since left. He did not give a number. Shula said Bahrain, the Gulf’s financial and banking hub, still needed foreign workers to boost the national economy.
Single Gulf Currency Needs Monetary Coordination: …
KUWAIT CITY, Jan 1, 2002 (Xinhua) — Kuwaiti Finance Minister Youssef Hamad al-Ibrahim said on Tuesday that to unify the Gulf currencies requires determination and continuous coordination in monetary policies of the Gulf states. In order to launch the single Gulf currency by the year 2010, “the Gulf countries should coordinate their financial policies with regard to deficits in the budgets, the monetary reserves and policies of interest rates,” the minister was quoted as saying by the official KUNA news agency. Al-Ibrahim also voiced hope that the year 2010 will ultimately witness the unification of Gulf currencies. On Monday, leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) signed an economic agreement at the end of a two-day annual summit in Oman to advance the setting-up of a customs union to the year 2003 from 2005 and establish a single currency by 2010. Responding to analysts who said that the GCC states are unable to launch a single currency due to variation of their economies, al-Ibrahim, who is also minister of planning and minister of state for administrative development affairs, said that any collective work “needs sacrifice of member states.”
GCC, a regional political and economic alliance established in 1981, groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman,Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Yemen welcomes new role in Gulf Arab alliance
ADEN, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Yemen hailed on Tuesday a long-awaited decision by its oil-rich neighbours allowing it to gradually join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance, the official news agency Saba reported. A cabinet statement said the government “welcomes what came in the (GCC summit) communique regarding Yemen joining some of the council’s institutions.” Saba quoted the statement as saying Yemen was looking forward to further enhancing ties with the GCC countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest states, first applied to join the GCC in 1996, but its request had been put on hold. Leaders of the GCC states said on Monday after a two-day summit in Oman that Yemen would be allowed to join the GCC health, education, labour and soccer institutions. The GCC is a loose political and economic alliance forged in 1981. The leaders said in their communique that “this step will be followed by steps in economic and other fields of cooperation.” Yemen is a small oil producer. Its GCC neighbours command nearly half of the world’s crude reserves. Sanaa has said it qualified to join the group because of its geographic location and its historical ties with the GCC. But it is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula with officially recognised political parties, opposition newspapers and active Islamist participation in the government. Yemen has ironed out differences with most Gulf Arab states over its apparent support for Baghdad during Iraq’s 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait and last year resolved a long-standing border row with Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s dominant power. The border agreement allows Yemen to access potentially oil-rich areas which it could not explore during the dispute.
Wealthy Gulf club allows poor Yemen gradual entry
MUSCAT, Dec 31 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and its oil-rich Gulf Arab allies agreed on Monday to allow their impoverished neighbour Yemen to gradually enter the wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance. Yemen first applied to join the GCC in 1996, but its request has been put on hold by the 21-year-old club whose members are Saudi, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Leaders of the GCC states, who also agreed to establish a customs union and single currency at the end of a two-day annual meeting in Oman, said Yemen would be allowed to join the GCC’s health, education, labour and soccer institutions. “This step will be followed by steps in economic and other fields of cooperation. The council hopes that this will help boost development and social prosperity and strengthen the ties of the people of the Arabian Peninsula,” said the summit’s final communique read by GCC Secretary-General Jameel al-Hujailan. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is a small oil producer. Its GCC neighbours command nearly half of the world’s crude reserves. An official Yemeni newspaper said in an editorial on the eve of the GCC summit that any rejection of the Arab state would imply “short-sightedness,” saying wealth should not be the only measure to qualify for entry to the Council. Sanaa has said it qualified to join because of its geographic location and its historical ties with the GCC. However, Yemen is the only country in the peninsula with officially-recognised political parties, opposition newspapers and active Islamist participation in the government. Yemen has ironed out differences with most Gulf Arab states over its apparent support for Baghdad during Iraq’s 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait and last year resolved a long-standing border row with Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s dominant power. The border deal allows Yemen to access potentially oil-rich areas, which it could not explore during the territorial dispute.
By JAMAL HALABY Associated Press Writer MUSCAT, Oman (AP) — Gulf leaders urged Western countries on Monday to “resort to reason” and not to hold Islam responsible for actions and practices such as the Sept. 19 terror attacks in the United States. The statement was delivered at the end of a two-day summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which condemned terrorism and finalized joint economic and defense projects. The leaders urged “followers of other religions” — a reference to non-Muslims — to “resort to reason and not to hold Islam responsible for actions and practices which are very distant from the spirit of Islam and its noble doctrines,” a clear reference to what Arabs regard as a Western media campaign against Muslims following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. Speaking to reporters, Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi described Western media criticism of Saudi Arabia for failing to make any arrests related to the Sept. 11 attacks as a campaign against all GCC countries and “simply (a) political blackmail.” At least half the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers are believed to be Saudi, although Saudi authorities have insisted that hasn’t been proved. “This is a terrorist campaign, to terrorize the GCC, and especially Saudi Arabia,” he told a news conference after the summit closed. He also reiterated a common Arab view that militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad listed by the United States as terrorist organizations were “legitimate organizations struggling for their rights.” The final statement reiterated the council’s condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks, but added that “combating terrorism must be carried out within the framework of international legitimacy.” The Gulf leaders favor convening an international conference to discuss ways to “outline international mechanisms and pillars to combat terrorism and its causes,” the statement said. The leaders also agreed to set up a joint defense council and boost the GCC’s combined forces fourfold to 20,000 men. The Supreme Defense Council will oversee the implementation of a joint defense pact agreed upon in Bahrain last year, delegates told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The statement only said the Gulf leaders agreed to set up the council, but did not provide other details. According to the agreement, the current 5,000-men force, set up in 1986, will be developed into a mechanized infantry division. Hafr al-Baten, a northeastern Saudi base near the border with Iraq, will house 30 percent of the new force, called the Peninsula Shield, the delegates said. The remainder will be deployed in member countries. The summit also endorsed a plan for Yemen’s step-by-step membership in the GCC. The plan envisions Yemeni representation on the council’s education, health, social affairs and sports bodies, but not political and economic ones for the time being. On Middle East peacemaking, the GCC leaders held Israel accountable for the mounting violence in the Palestinian territories. The statement said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was using “savage means” against the Palestinians and said Israel’s decision to cease contacts with the Palestinian Authority showed the Jewish state is “not serious about achieving a balanced and just peace.” “A just and lasting peace will not be achieved unless the Palestinian people regain all their legitimate rights,” including that to “self-determination and establishing an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the statement said. On the economic front, the summit endorsed plans for a customs union by January 2003 and a single currency by 2010. A unified customs rate of 5 percent is to be applied in January 2003. The rate varies from a low of 4 percent in the United Arab Emirates to a high of 15 percent in Saudi Arabia. The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a loose political and economic alliance formed in 1981.
The next summit will be held under Qatar’s one-year presidency in December 2002.
MUSCAT, Dec 31, 2001 (Xinhua) — The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) here on Monday signed an agreement to introduce an economic union in 2003 by unifying customs tariffs at 5 percent and a single currency by 2010. The agreement was signed at the 22nd GCC summit, which closed in the day. The deal replaces a joint economic agreement signed when the GCC, an economic, political and security bloc, was established in 1981 to give big boost to regional cooperation. According to the agreement, the GCC will unify their customs tariffs at 5 percent as of January 1, 2003, two years ahead of schedule, as a major step to realize economic integration in the Gulf region. A single currency will also be launched by 2010 among the GCC member states, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Economic topics are high on the agenda of the two-day Muscat summit, which was held at a crucial time amid the current regional and international situation.
By Ghaida Ghantous MUSCAT, Dec 31 (Reuters) – The six Gulf Arab states that own half the world’s oil reserves agreed on Monday to set up a customs union and single currency, paving the way for a long-sought trade deal with the European Union. Leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement at the end of a two-day annual summit in Oman to move forward setting up a customs union to 2003 from 2005 and to establish a single currency by 2010 — part of a planned joint trade zone. “The leaders decided to advance the date for implementing the customs union to January 1, 2003…and lowered tariffs on foreign imports to five percent,” said a communique read by Jameel al-Hujailan, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). A previous agreement lowering customs from the present 4-15 percent had set a start date of 2005. The deal paves the way for a free trade pact with the European Union, the region’s main trading partner. Gulf officials have accused the Union of foot-dragging over free trade, saying the GCC had fulfilled its requirements to reach a deal streamlining trade worth about $46 billion. They warned they may reconsider the pact if no progress is made in talks on the deal — hampered by EU demands for GCC common tariffs and by protectionist EU policies. “Now there are no more excuses for them to postpone signing the free trade zone (agreement) between the two blocs,” the GCC envoy to the European Union, Najeeb al-Rawas, told reporters. A main dispute is over a six percent EU duty on primary aluminium Gulf exports. Two aluminium smelters in Bahrain and the UAE produce more than a million tonnes per year, about 5 percent of the world’s total. MORE LEVERAGE Analysts said the customs union would also help the GCC attract foreign investors and speed up economic reforms to diversify its oil-dependent economies. They said the five percent levies deal was in line with World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements and would help Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s largest economy, to follow its GCC partners in joining the WTO. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah criticised Gulf governments on Sunday, saying they had done little to achieve their long-sought aim of economic and military unity. The prince, representing his country at the summit in the absence of ailing King Fahd, said: “We have not yet set up a unified military force that deters enemies and supports friends. We have not reached a common market, nor formulated a unified political position on political crises.” The GCC was set up in 1981 as a loose political and economic alliance. It started active steps towards military integration after failing to defend Kuwait when it was invaded by Iraq in 1990. A U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi troops seven months later. The GCC states, among the world’s largest arms importers, last year approved a joint defence pact to pool resources, expand a joint defence force four- or five-fold to 25,000 and equip it with a modern early warning system. They depend largely on the United States and Britain for protection against more powerful neighbours Iraq and Iran.
MUSCAT, Dec 31, 2001 (Xinhua) — Bahrain, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has called for enhancing regional defense alliance to meet the challenge of the day. “World events have proven the need to consolidate and deepen joint defense cooperation and coordination to defend our peoples and world nations against acts of violence and terrorism,” said Amir of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa here to mark the 22nd summit of the GCC, which is due to end on Monday in the Omani capital. He said that “Today’s gathering is significant and necessary to promptly encounter the newly emerging changes at regional and international arenas, with no delays nor waits.” “Yet, the current developments have, in the same way, necessitated the prompt upgrading, re-assessing and updating of the level of mechanism of work within the council, in a way which fosters collective action and copes with future requirements,” he stressed. It was in Bahrain last year that the GCC joint defense pact was signed to create a Supreme Defense Council which is expected to be approved by the Muscat summit.
The two-day summit aims to further deepen links between the six nations of GCC, which was established in 1981 and groups Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.