China to help Pakistan avert fiscal crisis: One Demon Bailing Out Another: For A Price

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA NEWS AGENCY)

 

China to help Pakistan avert fiscal crisis, ‘more talks needed’

Pakistan’s foreign reserves have dwindled, causing PM Khan to decry the financial situation he inherited.

The last time Pakistan received an IMF bailout was in 2013, when it received $6.6bn [Jason Lee/Reuters]
The last time Pakistan received an IMF bailout was in 2013, when it received $6.6bn [Jason Lee/Reuters]

China is willing to provide Pakistan with economic aid to help it deal with its deteriorating finances but more discussions are needed on the details, according to a top Chinese diplomat.

The comments on Saturday by Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou came after a meeting in Beijing between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Pakistan’s foreign reserves have plunged 42 percent since the start of the year and now stand at about eight billion dollars, or less than two months of import cover.

Late last month, Saudi Arabia pledged to give Pakistan a six billion dollars rescue package, but officials say it is not enough and the country still plans to seek a bailout from the IMF to avert a balance of payments crisis.

It would be Pakistan’s 13th rescue package from the multilateral lender since the late 1980s.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People following Khan’s talks with Li, Kong said his country would help.

“During the visit, the two sides have made it clear in principle that the Chinese government will provide necessary support and assistance to Pakistan in tiding over the current economic difficulties,” Kong said.

“As for specific measures to be taken, the relevant authorities of the two sides will have detailed discussions,” he added, without giving details.

Pakistan’s fiscal crisis partly comes from limited restraints on spending and a failure to institute genuine tax reform [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Khan, whose party swept Pakistan’s July elections, told Chinese President Xi Jinping the previous day that he had inherited “a very difficult economic situation” at home.

Though China is Pakistan’s closest ally, Khan’s newly elected government has sought to re-think the two countries’ signature project, the $60bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which Beijing touts as the flagship infrastructure programme in its vast Belt and Road Initiative.

Pakistan has looked to amend CPEC to put greater emphasis on projects that focus on social development, rather than purely on infrastructure.

In his meeting with Li, Khan invited the Chinese premier to visit Pakistan and see for himself the difference the megaproject has made in the country.

“CPEC in 2013 was just an idea. Now, it is on the ground. And it has caught the imagination of the people of Pakistan,” he said.

“We feel that this a great opportunity for our country to progress, to attract investment. It gives us an opportunity to raise our standard of living, growth rate.”

For his part, Li praised the relationship, saying “China and Pakistan are all-weather partners.”

Commenting on CPEC, Kong said there were no plans to scale back the economic corridor, but he added that it would be altered somewhat to “tilt in favour of areas relating to people’s lives”.

Meanwhile, Khan’s office said in a statement that the two governments had signed a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding in the fields of agriculture, poverty reduction, forestry, law enforcement and socioeconomic development.

A history of the IMF

EMPIRE

A history of the IMF

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

King says Jordan to reclaim land leased to Israel under 1994 deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA)

 

King says Jordan to reclaim land leased to Israel under 1994 deal

King Abdullah II says Amman will terminate parts of peace treaty which allowed Israeli farmers to use Jordanian land.

by

Jordan's King Abdullah II [File: Jordan Pix/Getty Images]
Jordan’s King Abdullah II [File: Jordan Pix/Getty Images]

Jordan has told Israel that it intends to reclaim two tracts of territories leased under a 1994 peace treaty, King Abdullah II has announced, in a move that was welcomed by activists and civil society groups opposing the deal.

As part of the agreement, Israel leased about 405 hectares of agricultural land in the southern sector of its border with Jordan called al-Ghumar, as well as the small al-Baqura area near the confluence of Jordan and Yarmouk rivers.

The territories – water-rich farmlands currently cultivated by Israeli farmers – were leased for 25 years, with a 12-month notice period needed to prevent an automatic extension. The deadline for renewing the leases is Thursday, October 25.

“We have informed Israel of an end to the application of the peace treaty annexes regarding al-Baqura and al-Ghumar,” the king said on Sunday, according to Petra state news agency.

“Al-Baqura and al-Ghumar have always been on top of my priorities. Our decision is to end the annexes of the peace treaty based on our keenness to take all that is necessary for Jordan and Jordanians,” the king added.

“Al-Baqura and al-Ghumar are Jordanian land and will remain Jordanian.”

عبدالله بن الحسينPrime Minister 

@KingAbdullahII

لطالما كانت الباقورة والغمر على رأس أولوياتنا، وقرارنا هو إنهاء ملحقي الباقورة والغمر من اتفاقية السلام انطلاقا من حرصنا على اتخاذ كل ما يلزم من أجل الأردن والأردنيين

Following the king’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would negotiate with Jordan an extension of the leases, which expire next year.

“We will enter into negotiations with [Jordan] to option an extension of the existing lease agreement,” Israeli media quoted him as saying.

It is unclear how and when the territories will be returned back to Jordan’s ownership. The territories have been under Israeli control since 1948.

Growing pressure

Jordan is only one of two Arab countries that signed a peace treaty with Israel – the other being Egypt.

Observers said the king’s announcement is expected to be positively received by the Jordanian public amid increasing efforts by activists and civil society groups aimed at forcing the government to end the leasing of Jordanian territories to Israel.

It also comes a week after 85 Jordanian members of parliament signed a petition urging the king to intervene so that the lease agreement would not be renewed, according to MP Khalil Atiyeh.

“For over a year, we have been demanding the scrapping of this agreement that was not in the interest of Jordan or the Jordanian people,” Atiyeh told Al Jazeera.

Oraib al-Rantawi, a political analyst in Jordan’s capital, Amman, said “the king saw the popular rejection against keeping this agreement with Israel, especially in the last few months where economic decline in the country has led to mass protests – and he wisely decided against it”.

Thousands of angry Jordanians took to the streets in June to protest against price hikes, an income tax reform bill and official corruption, in a country where national poverty and unemployment rate stand at around 20 percent.

Political activist Hussam Abdallat praised the king’s decision as one that would “endear him to the public”.

Sufyan al-Tell, a former United Nations environmental official and outspoken critic of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, told Al Jazeera the king’s announcement is “timely and reflects the will of the people of Jordan”.

Public sentiment in Jordan against Israel is strong because of its continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its treatment of Palestinians.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

Israeli jets pound Gaza after Hamas rocket hits home

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE AL-JAZEERA NEWS AGENCY)

 

Israeli jets pound Gaza after rocket hits home

One Palestinian killed, eight injured in Israeli attacks; Hamas says it’s an attempt to undermine truce.

Israeli jets pound Gaza after rocket hits home
The mother of the Palestinian who was killed by the Israeli air raid at the hospital in Gaza [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Israel says its fighter jets have struck 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, killing one Palestinian and injuring eight others.

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, Naji Ahmad al-Zaneen, 25, was killed in the attack in northern Gaza early on Wednesday.

Among the wounded are six children who were on their way to school in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

Palestinian sources said several rockets fired by Israeli warplanes targeted sites south of Gaza City, while another blast rocked the central region of the Gaza Strip. A powerful explosion also rocked Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The Israeli army stated that it carried out air raids in response to a rocket that hit a home in Beersheba in southern Israel, causing damage but no injuries.

“At 4am [01:00 GMT] Israelis in the city of Beersheba were running to bomb shelters after a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel,” the Israeli army said on Twitter.

“We will defend Israeli civilians,” it added.

The Israeli army said Hamas, which governs the besieged enclave, bears “full responsibility” for the rocket fire but the Palestinian movement denied their role.

In a joint statement with allied armed groups, Hamas said it rejected “all irresponsible attempts” to undermine Egyptian efforts to broker a new long-term truce.

It was one of the first rockets fired in months from the Palestinian territory under Israel’s devastating 11-year blockade and comes at a time of renewed tensions between Israel and Gaza.

Another rocket from Gaza reportedly fell into the sea near Tel Aviv. No injuries were reported.

Israeli fighter jets struck numerous sites in Gaza on Wednesday [Reuters]

‘Heavy Blow’

The rocket was the first to hit an Israeli home since the devastating 2014 Israeli military assault on the besieged enclave.

It comes a day after Israel’s defence minister said the time had come to deliver a “heavy blow” to Hamas after the Israeli army killed seven Palestinians on Friday, including two teenage boys, during demonstrations along Israel’s separation fence.

It was unclear who fired the projectiles but the Israeli army says it holds Hamas accountable for what is happening in the territory under its control.

The rocket fire comes after months of demonstrations in Gaza by the Israeli separation fence.

The protesters are demanding to return to their homes in what is now Israel, under the UN Resolution 194, which stipulates their right of return.

At least 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees, their families been expelled or forced to flee the violence during the 1948 creation of the state of Israel.

They are also demanding an end to the crippling 11-year Israeli-Egyptian siege.

Since the Great March of Return demonstrations began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 205 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave, including journalists and paramedics, and have injured more than 18,000.

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, 68 Palestinians have had their limbs amputated due to serious injuries.

In response to last week’s demonstrations in which some Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers and burned tyres, Israel halted Qatari-donated fuel shipments to Gaza’s power plant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened “very painful blows,” saying Israel was very close to waging a “different kind of activity”.

“If it has any sense, Hamas will cease its fire and violent outbursts – now,” he said.

A member of Palestinian security forces inspects the scene of an Israeli air raid in southern Gaza [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Closing borders, cutting off fuel 

On Wednesday Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the closure of both of Israel’s border crossings with Gaza – the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods and the Erez crossing for people.

The permitted fishing zone along the Gaza coast has also been reduced to three nautical miles from six, the defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.

Under the Oslo Accords, Israel is obligated to permit fishing for Gazans up to 20 nautical miles, but this has never been implemented; the widest range Israel has ever allowed is 12 nautical miles.

Lieberman said on Tuesday the protests could not be allowed to go on.

“We are not prepared to accept the level of violence we see week after week,” Avigdor Lieberman told troops and commanders at an army base near southern Israel’s border with Gaza.

He also suspended shipments of fuel that had been trucked daily into Gaza over the previous week under a deal brokered by the UN and backed by the United States, Israel and others.

It had seen thousands of litres brought into the fuel-starved Gaza strip.

The UN says Israeli blockade of the enclave has resulted in a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation.

Gaza’s two million residents endure dire living conditions including a shortage of safe drinking water and regular power cuts, partly because of the lack of fuel for the strip’s power station. Residents typically receive about four hours of electricity a day.

Interpol chief Meng Hongwei resigns after detention in China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Interpol chief Meng Hongwei resigns after detention in China

Interpol says France received Meng Hongwei’s resignation as president with immediate effect.

Interpol president Meng Hongwei vanished during a trip to China in September [File/AFP]
Interpol president Meng Hongwei vanished during a trip to China in September [File/AFP]

France has received the resignation of Meng Hongwei as president of Interpol with immediate effect, according to the international police agency.

The development came on Sunday shortly after China said Meng, who went missing 12 days ago, was under investigation for unspecified violations of Chinese law.

The National Supervisory Commission, which handles corruption cases involving public servants, said in a statement that Meng “is currently under investigation on suspicion of violating the law.”

Earlier on Sunday, Meng Hongwei’s wife, Grace, said her husband sent her an image of a knife before he disappeared during a trip to their native China.

Making her first public comments on the issue, Grace Meng told reporters in Lyon, France, that she thought the knife was her husband’s way of trying to tell her he was in danger.

She said she has had no further contact with him since the message that was sent on September 25. Grace also said four minutes before Meng shared the image, he had sent a message saying: “Wait for my call.”

Grace Meng told journalists that she thought the knife emoji meant her husband was in danger [Jeff Pachoud/AFP]

Grace Meng would not speculate on Sunday on what might have happened to him.

Asked if she believed that he has been arrested, she said: “In China, what happened, I’m not sure.”

She read a statement during her press conference in Lyon, but would not allow reporters to show her face, saying she feared for her own safety and the safety of her two children.

Meng is a senior Chinese security official as well as president of the International Criminal Police Organisation.

The Lyon-based international police agency said on Saturday it has used law enforcement channels to inquire with China about Meng’s status.

Grace Meng would not allow her face to be shown over fears for her safety [Jeff Pachoud/AFP]

His disappearance was made public on Friday, when French authorities said they were opening an investigation to find out what happened to Meng, a Chinese national who served a lengthy term as the vice minister for public security.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post newspaper, Meng was taken in for questioning by Chinese authorities. The paper, which based its reporting on an unnamed source, said the reason for Meng’s questioning was unknown.

Meng’s disappearance was originally reported by his wife, who told French police in the city of Lyon she had not heard from him since he traveled to China.

Meng served a lengthy term as China’s vice minister for public security [File: Xinhua via AP]

According to Interpol’s website, Meng has nearly 40 years of experience in criminal justice and policing, and has overseen matters related to legal institutions, narcotics control and counter-terrorism.

Following the appointment, critics suggested that Meng’s appointment gave Beijing a chance to enlist more international help in tracking down alleged economic criminals, including corrupt officials, targeted by President Xi Jinping‘s anti-corruption campaign.

But Interpol has, in the past, denied this, saying its head does not intervene in day-to-day operations, which are handled by Secretary-General Juergen Stock who is German.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938: Stalin Murdering 2 Saudi Diplomats Didn’t Help

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn’t killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

by

How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabi”s King Salman attend a welcoming ceremony before their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 5 [Reuters/Yuri Kadobnov]

Last week, Saudi King Salman was greeted in Moscow with a lot of pomp and media attention. The 81-year-old monarch arrived with a 1,500-strong delegation amid high expectations for major political and trade deals.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia was rich in diplomatic courtesies, but it lacked in substance. What came out of the three days of meetings was much more modest than expected.

The two countries signed only a handful of agreements, most of which were memorandum of understanding. An agreement was reached to establish a $1 billion energy investment fund and a $1 bn hi-tech investment fund. The two sides also negotiated the sale of S-400 defense systems. But against the backdrop of the $15 bn-worth of arms contracts the US recently approved for Saudi Arabia, the Moscow-Riyadh agreement seems quite modest. It very much seems like the high-level meetings in the Kremlin failed to create an appearance of a political and economic breakthrough in relations.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising given that Russia and Saudi Arabia had a 54-year break in relations, during which the US became Riyadh’s dominant partner and security guarantor. Perhaps the outcome of King Salman’s visit could have been very different, if it weren’t for an incident that spoiled Russian-Saudi relations 80 years ago and caused the break.

It is a little-known fact that Riyadh and Moscow used to enjoy remarkably warm relations in the 1920s and 30s. The Soviet Union was, in fact, a diplomatic pioneer in Saudi Arabia: It was the first state to recognize Abdulaziz Al Saud (King Salman’s father) as the King of the Hijaz and the Sultan of Nejd in February 1926.

King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1930 [AP]

The Soviet charm offensive in the Arabian Peninsula in the 1920’s was the culmination of numerous attempts by Moscow to gain a foothold in the region prior to that. As early as 1900, Russian imperial military vessels started frequenting the Gulf and making port calls in Kuwait among other destinations. The famous Russian Varyag cruiser visited Kuwait in December 1901 and its captain was greeted by Emir Mubarak Al Sabah despite his agreement with Great Britain not to receive foreign military guests. It was during this visit that the Russians were first introduced to Abdul Rahman Al Saud who was exiled in Kuwait at that time, along with his elder son Abdulaziz, who a year later retook Riyadh from their rivals, the House of Rashid.

As the House of Al Saud was seeking international backing, London looked at young Abdulaziz with a lot of skepticism, which is why he came in contact with the Russian consul in the Persian city of Bushehr inviting him for a visit. The consul visited Kuwait in 1903 accompanied by a Russian military vessel, which caused an outcry in London.

But it wasn’t until after the Bolshevik revolution that Moscow decided to seriously focus on the Gulf. Just like the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union saw the value of diplomatic presence in the region as a way to stand up to Britain.

Apart from pursuing relations with the House of Al Saud, the Soviet Union looked at the Kingdom of Hejaz whose ruler Sharif Hussein controlled Mecca and Medina as a way to reach out to the entire Muslim world. Being at odds with London, Hussein was on the lookout for strong foreign allies, which is why his representative in Rome engaged in talks with Russia.

Extensive diplomatic communication between Georgy Chicherin, the Soviet People’s commissar for foreign affairs, and Soviet diplomats reveals just how important his vision of the Arabian Peninsula and its role in the Muslim world was. Advocating the appointment of a Soviet Muslim as envoy to Hejaz, Chicherin noted in his memo to Joseph Stalin that “Getting into Mecca is of crucial importance to us because it would increase our influence in Arabia and beyond.” He recognized that the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, was a perfect opportunity to reach out to thousands of Muslims from the British and French colonies and flare up anti-colonial sentiment.

In August 1924, Soviet Consul General Karim Khakimov, a Soviet Muslim of Tatar descent, arrived in Jeddah. Soon after Khakimov’s arrival in Jeddah, Abdulaziz launched his campaign to take over Hejaz, which left newly arrived Soviet diplomats with a dilemma of whom to side with.

Diplomatic dispatches from the Soviet commissar for foreign affairs ordered Khakimov to position himself as an ally of all Arabs without openly showing a preference for either side. “If Ibn Saud pursues a policy of uniting the Arabs, this will be in our interests, and we will also have to try to get closer to him, as we did with respect to Hussein, who tried to unite Arabia,” Chicherin wrote to Khakimov. The Soviet Union saw the unification of Arabs as the first step towards empowering Muslims in the region and undermining British rule over them.

By December 1924, Abdelaziz took Mecca and Khakimov was convinced that the time was right for him to try to introduce himself to Ibn Saud. In April 1925, when Jeddah was under siege, he was allowed to perform Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca, where Ibn Saud was based, thus getting a chance to meet him – something that no Western non-Muslim diplomat had been allowed to do. Khakimov’s letters to Moscow reveal that his meeting with Abdulaziz went exceptionally well and that even his idea of Soviet mediation between Hejaz and Nejd was perceived positively by Ibn Saud.

By the end of 1925, Ibn Saud controlled Jeddah, and in February 1926 he declared himself King of Hejaz and Sultan of Nejd. As soon as the Soviet mission learned the news, Khakimov did what ultimately earned him the respect and friendship of Ibn Saud. On February 16, Karim Khakimov drove his personal car mounted with a Soviet flag through gunfire from Jeddah to Ibn Saud’s residence in the desert to hand over a formal note recognizing his status as the king. The Soviet Union was the first state to recognize his new title. Abdulaziz responded with a letter thanking the Soviet Union for its neutrality during the war with Hussein and expressed readiness for “relations with the government of the USSR and its citizens”.

Soviet-Saudi relations improved further when the Pan-Islamic Congress of Mecca was called in June 1926, whose objective was to resolve the dispute over Mecca and Medina. At the time, Ibn Saud’s control over these holy sites had many opponents among Islamic notables, which is why it was paramount for the king to earn recognition at the congress.

Karim Khakimov and Emir Faisal in Moscow in 1932 [Wikipedia]

Realizing this, the Soviet Union did what contradicted the fundamentals of its atheistic ideology: it sent six Soviet Islamic scholars to take part in the congress. Moscow with its 30 million Soviet Muslims threw its weight behind King Abdulaziz, providing the votes for him to be elected the president of the congress. What is more, as a result of Khakimov’s efforts, a Soviet delegate was elected the vice-president of the conference. Having established full diplomatic relations with King Abdulaziz, the Soviet Union dispatched, in 1928, a new head of mission to the kingdom, Nazir Bey Turyakulov.

London’s key concern about the Soviet influence in Jeddah was that it was spreading Communist propaganda among Muslims during the Hajj. Indeed, this was one of the ideas that Moscow had for its diplomats in Jeddah, but in reality, the Soviet mission had a hard time reaching out to both locals and pilgrims.

Faced with a lot of resistance, Soviet diplomats decided to focus on the creation of trade links between Soviet Black Sea ports and Hejaz. Khakimov managed to convince King Abdulaziz to lift restrictions against Soviet goods that existed in the kingdom due to London’s lobbying. In 1929-1930, Soviet goods poured into the kingdom from the port city of Odessa. The biggest achievement of Soviet diplomats in Jeddah was entering the kerosene and benzine market that was almost entirely dominated by the British. The Soviet Union also sent a group of medics to the kingdom to take care of pilgrims during the Hajj.

As a result of Khakimov’s efforts to further develop his ties with Ibn Saud, his son Prince Faisal (who became king in 1969) visited the Soviet Union during his extensive European trip in 1932. Moscow went out of its way to impress Faisal and his entourage by introducing them to the achievements of the Soviet industry, forgiving the Saudi debt that had accumulated by then and, most importantly, offering one million British pounds in financial aid that King Abdulaziz badly needed. While visiting Soviet Azerbaijan, what was going through an oil boom of its own, Prince Faisal was impressed with the country’s oil industry expressing a desire to employ the same technology in the kingdom.

King Faisal meets US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Riyadh on March 19, 1975 [AP]

The 1932 visit to the Soviet Union was the highlight of the Saudi-Soviet relations. King Abdulaziz used Moscow’s offer of financial aid to push London to provide aid and never accepted the USSR’s offer. From that point on, the relations between the two states stagnated. As the power of Joseph Stalin was growing stronger, the relationship between the communist regime and Islam was becoming uneasy. In 1932, the Soviet Union unofficially banned its Muslims from performing Hajj.

Soviet medics continued to work in the kingdom and the diplomatic mission continued to function spreading Soviet propaganda among Saudis. In 1937, the wife of the Soviet consul, a doctor herself, even stayed with the favorite wife of Prince Faisal for several months.

After spending a few years in Yemen and Moscow, Karim Khakimov returned to Jeddah as the Head of Mission in 1935, hoping to revitalize the relationship that during his absence gradually came to a halt. Khakimov tried negotiating new trade contracts with the king, but Moscow was no longer interested. It was the time when Hitler was growing stronger in Europe and Stalin, who was skeptical about the USSR’s presence in the Gulf from the beginning, no longer saw the partnership with King Abdulaziz as beneficial. In fact, dropping any political ambitions for the Gulf was a gesture that Moscow thought would help it partner with England, whose support the Soviet Union sought against Hitler.

The career of the Soviet Lawrence of Arabia ended abruptly when he fell victim to Stalin’s political terror in 1937. In September that year, he was recalled to Moscow for a routine visit to the foreign ministry, but upon his arrival, he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy. His colleague Turyakulov who worked with him on the Saudi file was executed in October 1937. Khakimov was executed in January 1938.

King Abdulaziz was outraged at the news that the two Soviet diplomats whom he considered his friends were killed. Two months after Khakimov was executed in Moscow, American geologists discovered the world’s largest deposits of crude oil in Dhahran. This prompted the Soviet Union to appoint a new head of mission in Jeddah in 1938. King Abdulaziz, however, turned the appointment down saying that he does not wish to see anyone other than Khakimov or Turyakulov in Jeddah. He accused Moscow of inciting a revolution in the Muslim world and broke diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. In September 1938, all remaining Soviet diplomats left Jeddah and the mission was shut down. With the USSR eliminated as a rival, Britain and later the US took over the development and exploitation of Saudi oil.

Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia were fully restored only in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been 25 years since then and Russian-Saudi relations have not developed beyond symbolic visits. Karim Khakimov’s diplomatic efforts to create strong and lasting ties between Moscow and Riyadh remain unparalleled.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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Italy: Bridge collapse near Genoa kills At Least 22

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA EUROPE)

 

Italy: Bridge collapse near Genoa kills several

Search for survivors under way after Morandi bridge breaks in Genoa, sending vehicles 100 metres to the ground.

Rescue workers are searching the rubble for survivors after an estimated 20 vehicles fell from the bridge [Vigili Del Fuoco via AP]
Rescue workers are searching the rubble for survivors after an estimated 20 vehicles fell from the bridge [Vigili Del Fuoco via AP]

A bridge has collapsed in Italy’s northwestern city of Genoa sending vehicles falling nearly 100 metres to the ground and killing at least 22 people, according to local authorities.

The death toll is expected to rise, Italian Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi said, after part of the Morandi Bridge on the A10 motorway caved in around midday local time (10:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

About 200 firefighters were deployed to the scene, the fire service said, with two survivors reportedly pulled from the rubble and flown to hospital by helicopter.

The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear, although weather services in the region had issued a storm warning Tuesday morning.

Some 20 vehicles were on the viaduct when it collapsed, according to firefighters.

Television images showed the bridge in the mist with a huge chunk missing, with Italian media reporting that about 200 metres of the bridge had fallen away.

About 20 vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed, according to local media reports [Italian Firefighters Press Office handout via Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Emma Hayward, reporting from London, said part of the bridge had “dissapeared”.

“There were multiple vehicles on the bridge at the time of the collapse, plunging more than 100m below to a stream and some rail tracks,” Hayward said.

“The focus now is on trying to reach any survivors of this incident.”

‘An immense tragedy’

Police footage showed firemen working to clear debris around a crushed truck, while other fireman nearby scaled broken slabs of the collapsed bridge support.

Restructuring work on the 1.2km-long bridge, a major artery to the Italian Riviera and to France’s southern coast, was carried out in 2016.

The highway operator said work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse, adding that the bridge was constantly monitored.

Tancredi Palmeri, an Italian journalist, told Al Jazeera from Milan that the collapse took place on a usually busy stretch of road.

“Genoa is a port city that is linked to the right to Milan and the other parts of Italy and to the left is linked to Italy’s border with France,” he said.

“The bridge is one of the main two gates to the city, everybody that has been to Genoa by car has passed by this highway bridge.”

As details emerged, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the incident was “an immense tragedy”, adding he was travelling to the scene of the collapse.

“I am following with the greatest apprehension what has happened in Genoa,” Toninelli wrote on Twitter.

The office of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he was heading to Genoa in the evening and would remain there on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta, meanwhile, said the army was ready to offer manpower and vehicles to help with the rescue operations.

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered Italy his country’s help following the incident.

Italian media reports said about 200 metres of the bridge had fallen away [Italian police handout via AFP]

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Lebanese woman sentenced to eight years for ‘insulting’ Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Lebanese woman sentenced to eight years for ‘insulting’ Egypt

Tourist Mona el-Mazbouh complained about sexual harassment in profanity-laced video, with Egyptians responding in kind.

The day before being arrested, Mona el-Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians [Al Jazeera]
The day before being arrested, Mona el-Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians [Al Jazeera]

A Lebanese tourist who was arrested last month for posting a video on Facebook complaining about sexual harassment and conditions in Egypt, was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Cairo court on Saturday, her lawyer said.

Mona el-Mazbouh was arrested at Cairo airport at the end of her stay in Egypt after she published a 10-minute video on her Facebook page, laced with vulgarity and profanity against Egypt and Egyptians.

During her tirade, Mazbouh called Egypt a lowly, dirty country and Egyptian men pimps and women prostitutes.

Mazbouh, 24, complained of being sexually harassed by taxi drivers and young men in the street, as well as poor restaurant service during Ramadan, in addition to an incident in which money and other belongings were stolen.

Mazbouh said in the video that she had visited Egypt several times in the past four years.

A Cairo court found her guilty of deliberately spreading false rumours that would harm society, attacking religion and public indecency, judicial sources said.

An appeals court will now hear the case on July 29, according to Mazbouh’s lawyer, Emad Kamal.

“Of course, God willing, the verdict will change. With all due respect to the judiciary, this is a severe ruling. It is in the context of the law, but the court was applying the maximum penalty,” he said.

Kamal said a surgery Mazbouh underwent in 2006 to remove a blood clot from her brain has impaired her ability to control anger, a condition documented in a medical report he submitted to the court.

She also suffers from depression, Kamal added.

The video went viral, prompting many Egyptian women to take to social media with their own videos to express their anger at Mazbouh, while responding in kind against Lebanon and Lebanese women.

The day before she was arrested, Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians.

Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst crackdown in their history under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, accusing him of erasing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

His supporters say such measures are needed to stabilise Egypt after years of turmoil that drove away foreign investors and amid an uprising concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

‘Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia warn Israel against Turkey’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HAARETZ NEWSPAPER AND AL JAZEERA NEWS AGENCY)

 

‘Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia warn Israel against Turkey’

Israeli daily Haaretz alleges the three Arab states have warned Israel of creeping Turkish influence in East Jerusalem.

The report notes that senior officials from the three Arab countries told Israel that Turkey was "extending its influence in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem." [EPA-EFE]
The report notes that senior officials from the three Arab countries told Israel that Turkey was “extending its influence in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.” [EPA-EFE]

Saudi ArabiaJordan and Palestine have warned Israel on separate occasions about Turkey’s creeping influence in East Jerusalem, according to a reportby Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The report notes that senior officials from the three Arab countries told Israel that Turkey was “extending its influence in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem” which they said was “part of an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “claim ownership over the Jerusalem issue.”

Israeli sources claimed to have been aware of Turkey’s expanding influence and say they have been monitoring Ankara’s efforts for more than a year.

According to the report, Jordanian officials are said to have been upset with Israel‘s slow response which they described as “sleeping at the wheel”, especially since the signing of a 2016 reconciliation agreement which Israel is adamant to maintain.

Officials from the Palestinian Authority also expressed concern at Turkey’s drive to further its influence in East Jerusalem which comes in the form of donations to Islamic organisations in Arab neighbourhoods or through organised tours by Turkish Muslim groups with close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Israeli defence officials told the Israeli daily that the phenomenon had reached its peak in 2017 with hundreds of Turkish nationals establishing “a regular presence in and around the city” and increasingly clashing with police forces during Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.

“They’re trying to buy real estate and strengthen their political standing,” an unnamed police source is quoted as saying.

“It’s also a source of concern for the PA, which doesn’t want to have another country claiming responsibility for East Jerusalem.”

Jordan’s concerns stem from the fact that Turkey’s efforts to widen its influence risk compromising the Hashemite Kingdom’s position as the custodian of Islam’s third holiest site.

Saudi Arabia for its part is worried that Erdogan’s ambitions in Jerusalem may help boost his image in the Arab and wider Muslim world which would, in effect, present him “as the only leader truly standing up to Israel and the Trump administration”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

New mobile apps are shaping Iran’s civil society

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA)

 

New mobile apps are shaping Iran’s civil society

Iranian rights activists are creating hi-tech solutions to promote civil liberties, despite frequent internet shutdowns.

by

 During recent protests, the Iranian government shut down messaging apps Telegram and Instagram [Vahid Salemi/AP]
During recent protests, the Iranian government shut down messaging apps Telegram and Instagram [Vahid Salemi/AP]

popular uprising took hold of Iran in the final week of 2017, with thousands taking to the streets to protest against the dire economic situation in the country.

Using smartphone apps such as Telegram and Instagram, demonstrators quickly spread their message, and within days, protests erupted in dozens of cities across Iran.

In the government crackdown that followed, more than 25 people were killed and hundreds arrested.

The spread of protests once again showed the power of technology and social media, highlighted by repeated efforts by the government to block access to the mobile apps used by the protesters.

After realising the potential of these apps, many in Iran – a country with about 48 million smartphones – are looking at ways to leverage technology in their pursuit of civil liberties.

One of the latest apps is Hafez, which translates as “to protect”. Named after the famous Persian poet whose words frequently targeted religious hypocrisy, the app offers users a collection of human rights-related information.

Foremost, it is a virtual rolodex of human rights lawyers in Iran, which allows users to access legal information regarding human rights.

However, Hafez is more than just a list of telephone numbers, Keyvan Rafiee, an Iranian human rights activist, told Al Jazeera.

“Users receive daily human rights news; [it] allows them to send news of human rights violations securely; [it] disseminates important legal information to users if they are arrested, and provides the contact information for attorneys who can assist,” said Rafiee, the founder of Human Rights Activists Iran (HRAI).

Rafiee, who has been arrested for his activism six times, said having a record of human rights violations is instrumental for protesters in Iran.

“Monitoring violations that take place on a daily basis can improve human rights conditions since independent organisations are not permitted to work in Iran,” Rafiee said.

Hafez is just one of several apps Iranians are using to promote civil liberties and human rights.

“The technology is a tool, not an end result,” said Firouzeh Mahmoudi, founder of United4Iran, an organisation focussed on promoting civil society.

“For us, the main question was how to engage with the vast majority of Iranians who do not go out on the street for every protest,” she said. “We saw this niche that was not being filled; building Iran’s civic tech sector.”

One of its most prominent projects is the Iran Prison Atlas, a compendium of judges, prisons and, most importantly, political prisoners currently held by the Iranian government.

The database has played an important role in creating an overview of the number of political prisoners in Iran and has been used by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a source in their evaluations of the human rights situation in the country.

“The atlas also helps when people get out of Iran,” Mahmoudi told Al Jazeera. “When they apply for asylum, our documentation is a good way to prove they are not making up the story, since we have a record of it.

“We share and compare lists with a large number of people we work with because what we don’t want to have is false positives,” she said.

READ MORE

Inside Iran’s ‘Silicon Valley’

“A lot of time, when people leave prison, they are quiet about it, and we don’t want a situation where the government says our information is not accurate’.”

Although technologies like Prison Atlas allow for more transparency, working on it also comes with inherent risk in a country that regularly cracks down on dissent or activism.

To ensure the safety of the people working on and using the applications, Mahmoudi says there is a certain degree of anonymity.

“It is very much a decentralised network of people, we use secure methods to communicate, and we have an extensive security protocol in order to guarantee the safety of the people involved,” Mahmoudi said.

But not all apps are at odds with the authorities’ goals, which has led to some surprising results.

“Governments are not a monolithic thing; rather they have many different sides, so sometimes they end up promoting one of our apps,” Mahmoudi said.

That’s because not all the apps are political; some promote sexual health or combat domestic violence, for example.

Mahmoudi said women’s rights in Iran are not well protected, especially in marriage. Therefore, two of the apps provide examples of language for marriage contracts to make it easier for women to retain their rights to a divorce and custody of their children.

“Our sexual health app also has information on sexually transmitted diseases, a menstruation calendar and information about contraceptives, which made it one of our more popular apps,” Mahmoudi said.

“The domestic violence app allows users to contact people within a trusted circle with the push of a button in case you’re in danger, and it outlines people’s rights when confronted with abuse,” she added.

As a result, women have approached Mahmoudi and her organisation to thank them, saying the information provided by the apps made them feel safer and helped them leave their husbands.

READ MORE

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Rafiee said the same thing happened with Hafez, the app that promotes human rights.

“We were surprised by the scope of the usage of the application; people from small villages to large cities around Iran, who reported various data, from corruption to bureaucratic mismanagement,” he said.

“Additionally, a number of attorneys reported that they have been contacted for legal consultation.”

However, reaching more people remains a challenge, mainly because the Iranian government regularly blocks internet access, especially during protests.

READ MORE

What unblocking Telegram app means to Iranians

During the most recent protests, the government shut down messaging apps such as Telegram and Instagram, preventing people from communicating with each other.

“Iranians are young, they’re technologically savvy, and they’re educated, so it’s really critical Iran stays online,” Mahmoudi said. “When the internet was shut down for a short time during the last uprising, it was an issue.”

According to Rafiee, the reason behind these blocks is more than just preventing protesters from organising. “Free and uncensored circulation of information opens the society to changes and accelerates the process of democratisation,” Rafiee said.

To get around these obstacles, Hafez uses built-in VPN technology, which allows the app to circumvent attempts by the government to block the app.

Rafiee’s organisation is also looking to circumvent government censorship. It recently launched Toosheh, an app that allows people who do not have internet access to receive information using satellite TV technology.

“We are hoping to become more technologically advanced in order to use such tools for the purpose of advancing awareness and human rights conditions in Iran,” Rafiee said.

Mahmoudi reiterated that these apps are just tools created to help achieve a bigger goal. “The most important thing we can do is build a culture of transparency, accountability and civic engagement,” she said.

“How human rights leaders, ethnic and religious minorities and those persecuted are treated is a litmus test for the human rights conditions in a country,” Mahmoudi added.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

 

IS DONALD TRUMP Psychologically Unstable And Unfit For Office?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE INTERCEPT’ NEWS AND AL-JAZEERA)

 

 

IS DONALD TRUMP psychologically unstable and unfit for office? Does the president of the United States have a dangerous mental illness of some shape or form?

Ask his fellow Republicans.

During the GOP primaries, Marco Rubio suggested he was a “lunatic,”Rand Paul dubbed him a “delusional narcissist,” and Ted Cruz denounced him as “utterly amoral” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.” Mitt Romney opined, “His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader,” and Jeb Bush declared, “He needs therapy.”

In recent months, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has admitted she is “worried” about the president’s mental health, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has warned that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence” necessary for a successful presidency.

Ask the ghostwriter of his best-selling book, “The Art of the Deal.”

Tony Schwartz has called Trump a “sociopath” and has said “there is an excellent possibility” that the Trump presidency “will lead to the end of civilization.”

Ask the voters.

One in three Americans say they believe Trump’s mental health is “poor” while two out of three regularly question his temperament. Four in 10 voters in the swing state of Michigan — which helped deliver the White House to Trump — say they think the president is “mentally unstable” while a majority of them are worried that he has access to the nuclear codes.

Ask the experts.

In a new book published this week, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a group of 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts warn that “anyone as mentally unstable as this man should not be entrusted with the life-and-death-powers of the presidency.” Seemingly in defiance of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater rule,” which states “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement,” the various and very eminent contributors paint a picture of a president who has “proven himself unfit for duty.”

Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo — of the famous Stanford prison study — suggests the “unbalanced” Trump is a “specific personality type: an unbridled, or extreme, present hedonist” and “narcissist.” Psychiatrist Lance Dodes, a former Harvard Medical School professor, says Trump’s “sociopathic characteristics are undeniable” and his speech and behavior show signs of “significant mental derangement.” Clinical psychologist John Gartner, a 28-year veteran of Johns Hopkins University Medical School, argues that Trump is a “malignant narcissist” and “evinces the most destructive and dangerous collection of psychiatric symptoms possible for a leader.” For Gartner, the “catastrophe” of a Trump presidency “might have been avoided if we in the mental health community had told the public the truth, instead of allowing ourselves to be gagged by the Goldwater rule.”

“The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump” was conceived of and edited by Professor Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine, who writes of her profession’s moral and civic “duty to warn” the American public about the threat posed by their volatile, erratic, and thin-skinned president.

On the latest edition of my Al Jazeera English show, “UpFront,” I spoke to Lee about Trump’s mental state, the purpose of the book and the arguments put forth by her critics. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Mehdi Hasan: Why did you write this book and what is your main message?

Bandy Lee: We are a group of mental health experts who have come to a consensus conclusion about an issue that is of vital interest to the public  and that the public has a right to know: basically, that Mr. Trump in the office of the presidency is a danger to the public and the international community. We are not purporting to make a diagnosis. Assessing dangerousness is different from diagnosing someone for the purpose of treatment. I’m speaking on my own behalf and not representing the views of Yale University, Yale School of Medicine, or Yale Department of Psychiatry.

MH: According to a study by experts at the Duke University Medical Center, around one in four presidents have had some sort of mental illness while in office. So why is Trump so special?

BL: Mental illness itself does not involve an incapacity to carry out a duty. It’s really the specific symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, and the particular combination of … impulsive, recklessness, an inability to accept facts, rage reactions, an attraction to violence, a proneness to incite violence — all these things are signs of danger.

MH: Allen Frances, the famous psychiatry professor who wrote a manual on diagnosing mental disorders, has denounced your book, saying: “Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness. … Psychiatric name calling is a misguided way of countering Trump’s attack on democracy.” What’s your response to him?

BL: Actually, I don’t think we’re that much in disagreement. We are declaring dangerousness, which is different from making a diagnosis. I am of the camp that believes it is necessary to do a full interview and to [have] all the information, including any medical conditions, any other disorders, that could explain behavior before making a diagnosis. So, again, we are not purporting to make a diagnosis. The conjecture is that he shows signs of severe mental impairment. We are concerned enough that we are calling for an urgent assessment.

MH: A lot of presidents were narcissists, egomaniacs, incited violence, suffered from conditions such as depression. People didn’t question their fitness for office, did they?

BL: That is right. Very few conditions are dangerous. Very few conditions would make one unfit for duty. In this particular situation, we are declaring a danger to the public and to international security. I can tell you as an expert on violence that he has shown many signs of dangerousness. The most obvious ones might be verbal aggressiveness, history of sexual assault, incitement of violence at his rallies, attraction to violence and powerful weapons, [provoking] hostile nations, and, more recently, an endorsement of violence, during [the protests in] Charlottesville, and sparring with another nuclear power that has an unstable leader. All these things are signs of dangerousness.

MH: There’s been talk of setting up a commission of mental health experts to evaluate every future president and perhaps advise Congress on a president’s fitness for office. Should Donald Trump be removed from office based on his mental state? Should the 25th Amendment, which discusses how to remove a president if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” be invoked?

BL: Well, we’re merely recommending that procedures be put in place to evaluate every presidential candidate and every president, in the same manner that every military officer and every civilian service person is put through. That the commander-in-chief is not put to the same test is a glaring omission. Currently we are advocating the setting up of an expert panel to advise a commission and we’re recommending that the panel consist of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and neurologists.

MH: But you’re of the view that there is a case for removing Trump from office based on his mental state?

BL: There are many signs pointing in that direction and so we’re calling for an urgent evaluation.

MH: How worried should we be that Trump has access to the nuclear codes?

BL: Well, that is our critical concern: that his condition is actually probably far worse than people are detecting now; that [his] mental impairment goes deeper and is far more pervasive than people can understand when they are untrained in psychological matters. And that the worst is yet to come.

Top photo: Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on day two of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 30, 2014 in New Orleans.

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