Former South Korean President Given 8 More Years in Jail

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Former South Korean President Given 8 More Years in Jail

Friday, 20 July, 2018 – 09:30
Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye is shown on her way to a court appearance. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Disgraced former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to eight more years in prison on Friday after a court found her guilty on charges of causing loss of government funds and interfering in a 2016 parliamentary election.

She now faces the prospect of more than three decades behind bars. She’s already serving a 24-year prison term over a massive corruption scandal that led to her removal from office last year.

Seoul Central District Court found her guilty of causing substantial losses to state coffers by unlawfully receiving about 3 billion won ($2.6 million) from chiefs of the National Intelligence Service during her presidency and sentenced her to six years in prison.

However, she was found not guilty of bribery charges related to the money transfers. The court said it was unclear whether the spy chiefs sought or received favors in return.

The court separately sentenced Park to two years in prison for breaking election laws by meddling in her party candidate’s nomination while attempting to win more spots for her loyalists ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2016.

“Park’s private use of the funds weakened the principles of executing government funds, and barred the country’s chief spy agency from using the funds for its core duty of protecting the country and the people,” presiding judge Seong Chang-ho said as he delivered the verdict.

“However, the defendant has shifted blame to her assistants and refused to appear in court,” Seong said.

As the judge handed down the verdict, Park’s supporters attending the trial reportedly shouted “Release the innocent president,” and “Is this a law?”

All sentences must be served consecutively, a court spokeswoman said.

Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office last year when the Constitutional Court ordered her out over a scandal that exposed a web of corruption between political leaders and the country’s powerful conglomerates, or chaebol.

Park, 66, has denied wrongdoing and was not present in court. It was immediately unclear whether Park would appeal.

Hamas Delegation in Cairo to Discuss Palestinian Files

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Hamas Delegation in Cairo to Discuss Palestinian Files

Thursday, 12 July, 2018 – 07:45
Gaza – Asharq Al-Awsat
A senior delegation from Hamas Politburo arrived in Cairo on Wednesday upon an invitation from Egyptian intelligence officials who are seeking to resolve pending Palestinian files.

The delegation is led by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the Hamas Politburo, who came from abroad along with Moussa Abu Marzouq, Hussam Badran and Izzat al-Rashq. Two officials – Khalil al-Hayya and Rouhi Moshtaha – came from the Gaza Strip. The head of the movement in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, could not join the delegation for health reasons.

Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the movement, said in a press statement that the delegation would discuss with the Egyptian officials bilateral relations and developments in the Palestinian and Arab affairs.

The movement’s Politburo has held important meetings over the past few days, through safe means of communication between its members, in Gaza and Turkey simultaneously.

In a statement on Tuesday, the movement said it had decided to accept the Egyptian invitation for dialogue, underlining its willingness to achieve national reconciliation and unity on the basis of partnership in the resistance and the decision-making.

“The optimal condition for achieving this reconciliation is to immediately lift unjust sanctions on the Gaza Strip and to rebuild the PLO through a new national unity council, according to the Beirut 2017 outputs and the comprehensive implementation of the Cairo Agreement of 2011,” the statement said.

Sources in Hamas told Asharq Al-Awsat that the delegation would confirm to the Egyptian side that based on its “positive initiative”, it has facilitated many measures to allow the government to assume its duties in Gaza Strip.

The sources added that the movement would stress that it was not responsible for the assassination attempt against Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah during his visit to Gaza on March 13.

The delegation will also express to Cairo its dissatisfaction with the attitude of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority for blaming the movement for the incident, noting that investigations conducted by Hamas have shown that the attack was perpetrated by militants with extremist ideology, who were recruited by members of the Palestinian and Israeli intelligence.

Other sources in Hamas said that the delegation would discuss in Cairo the need to resolve crises in Gaza and alleviate the humanitarian situation there.Hamas and Fatah leaders shake hands following the signing of a reconciliation deal at the Egyptian intelligence services headquarters in Cairo in October 2017. (AFP)

Israel Retaliates to Syrian Drone Incursion by Hitting Regime Positions near Golan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel Retaliates to Syrian Drone Incursion by Hitting Regime Positions near Golan

Thursday, 12 July, 2018 – 09:00
Israeli soldiers stand on tanks in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli forces carried strikes against Syrian regime positions near the Golan Heights on Thursday in retaliation to a Syrian drone incursion a day earlier.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it hit three targets in retaliation for the incursion by a Syrian drone, which was shot down over northern Israel.

“We are still looking into why it crossed – whether it was on a military mission and crossed on purpose, or it strayed,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman. He said a stray drone was “not common”.

Israeli-issued black-and-white surveillance footage showed missiles hitting what appeared to be a hut, a two-storey structure and a five-storey structure amid hilly terrain.

The Israeli army “holds the Syrian regime accountable for the actions carried out in its territory and warns it from further action against Israeli forces,” the Israeli statement said after the strikes.

Syrian regime media said the positions were near Hader village in Quneitra province, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel has grown deeply alarmed by the expanding clout of Iran during the seven-year war in Syria.

Its air force has struck scores of Iranian deployments or arms transfers to Lebanon’s Iran-backed “Hezbollah”.

In Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged President Vladimir Putin, the regime’s key ally, to encourage Iranian forces to quit Syria, a senior Israeli official said.

David Keyes, a Netanyahu spokesman, said: “We don’t get involved in the civil war. We will act against anyone who acts against us.”

The Israeli official who requested anonymity said Russia was working to distance Iranian forces from the Golan and had proposed that they be kept 80 km (50 miles) away but that this fell short of Israel’s demand for their full exit along with that of Tehran-sponsored militias.

Russian officials had no immediate comment on the meeting.

Israel has been on high alert as regime forces advance on opposition factions in the vicinity of the Golan, which Israel took from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel worries the regime could allow its Iranian allies to entrench near its lines.

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‘Human Trafficking’ from Lebanon to Syria a Thriving Business

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

‘Human Trafficking’ from Lebanon to Syria a Thriving Business

Monday, 9 July, 2018 – 08:15
Syrian refugees arrive in Wadi Hamayyed, on the outskirts of the Lebanese northeastern border town of Arsal, to board buses bound for the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on August 2, 2017. AFP
Beirut – Sanaa Al-Jack
Human trafficking is currently spread at the Lebanese-Syrian borders as a thriving business due to the presence of some Syrian refugees who wish to return to their country without paying imposed
fines.

Asharq Al-Awsat witnessed how a group of brokers managed the smuggling of Syrian refugees from a travel agency near the vegetable market in the Sabra area in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut.

Those brokers, who operate at “administrative” offices, hunt their clients and bargain their safe and secure penetration through the borders, prettifying the adventure, which in many times could cause
their killing.

Most clients include Syrian refugees with uncompleted Lebanese residency permits. The Lebanese Security General does not allow them to leave the country before paying fees related to arranging their
papers.

Here comes the role of the smuggling. Amal told Asharq Al-Awsat about her experience with one of the brokers responsible for smuggling Syrians.

The broker had promised her husband, who works in the construction sector, to secure his safe passage by car through the border to his village in the countryside of Hama in return of $400.

The man paid the sum and left with his wife to the Masnaa border crossing in the Bekaa where they spent the night and were asked to remain in complete silence.

The brokers had told Amal that crossing the mountains from Lebanon to Syria would take one hour and that a vehicle would wait for them in the Syrian part of the border to take them home.

“They lied. We stayed running for more than eight hours in the dark. I lost my shoes and my feet were bleeding,” she said.

Even during the periods of tight security measures implemented at the borders by the Lebanese authorities, the illegal smuggling of Syrians does not stop, but only witnesses an increase of fees.

A security official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the trafficking of humans and goods is almost as old as the age of the borders between the two countries.

“We are exerting all our efforts to contain the smuggling but such mission remains impossible at the eastern borders with Syria which stretches around 145 kilometers,” the official said.

China Criticizes Iran for Threatening to Block Hormuz Strait Oil Shipments

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

China Criticizes Iran for Threatening to Block Hormuz Strait Oil Shipments

Friday, 6 July, 2018 – 09:15
Trading shows and ships are docked on the Arabian Gulf waters near the town of Khasab, in Oman. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
China condemned on Friday Iran for threatening to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran should make more effort to ensure stability in the Middle East and get along with its neighbors, said Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong.

He made his remarks during a news briefing ahead of a major summit between China and Arab states that kicks off in Beijing next week.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and some senior military commanders have threatened to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf countries if Washington tries to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

Carrying one-third of the world’s seaborne oil every day, the Strait of Hormuz links Middle East crude producers to key markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond.

Asked about the Iranian threat to the strait, Chen remarked that China and Arab countries had close communications about Middle East peace, including the Iran issue.

“China consistently believes that the relevant country should do more to benefit peace and stability in the region, and jointly protect peace and stability there,” he added.

“Especially as it is a country on the Gulf, it should dedicate itself to being a good neighbor and co-existing peacefully,” he continued. “China will continue to play our positive, constructive role.”

Ministers from 21 Arab countries are attending the summit, as well as Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber al-Sabah. Chinese President Xi Jinping will give the opening address on Tuesday.

The United States Navy vowed on Thursday to protect oil routes and international navigation in the Hormuz Strait in wake of Iran’s threats.

“The US and its partners provide, and promote security and stability in the region,” Central Command spokesman Navy Captain Bill Urban said in an email to Reuters.

Asked what would be the US naval reaction if Iran blocks the strait, he said: “Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”

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Saudi Banking Sector Exceeds Basel I Requirements

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Banking Sector Exceeds Basel I Requirements

Friday, 6 July, 2018 – 10:45
The Kingdom Centre Tower is seen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 5, 2017. Picture taken November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Riyadh – Fateh al-Rahman Youssef
A Saudi official has said that Saudi banks capital adequacy in the first quarter of this year exceeded 20.4 percent, surpassing the Basel I committee’s requirements of capital adequacy by two and half times.

Secretary General of the Committee on Information and Awareness Raising in Saudi Banks Talaat Hafez told Asharq Al-Awsat that liquid assets reached in the current year 20.6 percent, a high rate of financial efficiency in terms of liquidity size in the banking sector.

He noted that more than 18,000 ATMs and above 310,000 points of sale are distributed in the kingdom to support the development of e-services.

He pointed out that the liquid assets for short-term requirements reached in the first quarter of the current year 32 percent, a sign of good liquidity in banks and high financial solvency.

Hafez stressed that banks are working hard after announcing the financial sector development program, one of the 12 ambitious programs linked to Saudi Vision 2030, which focuses on supporting the private sector.

“The Saudi financial sector is currently working on developing the products’ base and reinforcing financial inclusion in which services are available for all clients,” he added.

Hafez continued that there are ongoing efforts under the supervision of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority to develop the digital structure as one of the requirements of the vision, transformation program and development of the financial sector to have a digital Saudi society.

Japan Lowers Readiness of North Korea Missile Alert System

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

(IF PRIME MINISTER ABE OR THE PEOPLE OF JAPAN ACTUALLY BELIEVE THE WORDS SPOKEN BY THE IGNORANT FOOL DONALD TRUMP OR BY THE MASS MURDERER KIM JONG UN, THEN MR. ABE AND THE PEOPLE OF JAPAN ARE NOT THE WISE PRACTICAL PEOPLE THAT I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED THEM TO BE.) (oped by: oldpoet56)

Japan Lowers Readiness of North Korea Missile Alert System

Sunday, 1 July, 2018 – 09:30
A passerby in Tokyo looks at a TV screen reporting news about a North Korean missile launch in September 2017. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Japan decided to ease the level of military readiness of its North Korea missile alert system, a report said Sunday, citing multiple unnamed sources close to the matter.

The report came as Japan finds itself under pressure to soften its hardline stance against Pyongyang following US President Donald Trump’s landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.

Japan’s Self Defense Forces on Friday dropped their program to always deploy Aegis warships in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) that detect and intercept incoming missiles, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

But Japanese forces will remain ready to intercept missiles detected via spy satellite images, the newspaper said.

Japanese defense officials told the Asahi that Tokyo was following in the footsteps of the United States, which has already lowered its alert level in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan has also suspended public evacuation drills simulating a North Korean missile attack.

Japanese defense ministry officials were not available for immediate comment.

Japan has long maintained a tight-lipped stance about its exact defense posture against North Korea, including the locations of the high-tech Aegis vessels.

The outlook of the North’s denuclearization efforts remain unclear at best, with the Washington Post reporting Saturday that Pyongyang plans to keep some of its nuclear stockpile and production facilities while potentially concealing them from the US.

Trump has since the June 12 summit in Singapore buoyantly declared “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

Evidence collected since the historic meeting points to secret production facilities and the development of methods to conceal weapons creation — implying Pyongyang is aiming to hide plans to continue its nuclear program from the US, having made contrary, if ambiguous, commitments to Washington.

Over the weekend NBC News first reported that Pyongyang has in fact recently been increasing fuel production for nuclear weapons at several hidden sites.

The US network, citing intelligence officials, said North Korea’s regime was readying to “extract every concession” from the White House rather than giving up its atomic arsenal.

“There’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” NBC quoted one US official as saying.

“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” the official said, despite Pyongyang’s recent curtailment of missile and nuclear tests.

The only uranium enrichment spot North Korea has acknowledged publicly exists is Yongbyon — though reports of secret facilities have surfaced.

Experts have voiced fear that Washington may accept a lukewarm deal centered exclusively on Yongbyon that disregards known underground sites.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he plans to meet with Kim to “flesh out” details of the nuclear disarmament promise, but has insisted the North Korean leader is serious.

“There’s a lot of work between here and there. My team is already doing it. I’ll likely travel back before too terribly long,” the top US diplomat said recently.

“We still need to flesh out all the things that underlay the commitments that were made that day in Singapore.”

US Defense Secretary James Mattis meanwhile has reassured key East Asian allies that the US commitment to Seoul is “ironclad” — despite Trump’s unilateral suspension of military exercises with South Korea and his lauding of Kim as a “talented guy.”

Air Pollution Contributes Significantly to Diabetes Worldwide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Study: Air Pollution Contributes Significantly to Diabetes Worldwide

Saturday, 30 June, 2018 – 07:15
via GETTY IMAGES
Asharq Al-Awsat
A study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis suggested that there are strong links between outdoor air pollution and an increased risk of diabetes worldwide.

According to the study, air pollution caused one in seven new cases of diabetes in 2016, adding that even low levels raised the chances of developing the chronic disease.

The study estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016 — or around 14 percent of all new diabetes cases globally that year, AFP reported.

“Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s senior author.

Pollution is believed to affect the production of insulin in the body, “preventing the body from converting blood glucose into energy that the body needs to maintain health,” the research elaborated.

Al-Aly said the research, published in the Lancet Planetary Health, proved a higher risk even with levels of air pollution currently considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“This is important because many industry lobbying groups argue that current levels are too stringent and should be relaxed. Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened,” he added.

According to AFP, diabetes affects more than 420 million people globally and is one of the world’s fastest growing diseases.

Turkey Hints at Reopening its Consulates in Mosul, Basra

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Turkey Hints at Reopening its Consulates in Mosul, Basra

Saturday, 30 June, 2018 – 09:30
Ankara – Saeed Abdelrazek
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced Friday that Ankara began taking measures to reopen its consulates in Mosul and Basra that have remained shut for years due to security threats.

Turkey closed its consulate in Mosul in 2014, shortly after ISIS advanced on the city and stormed the mission on June 11 of that year, kidnapping 48 people including the Turkish consul.

Among the captives were also employees at the consulate and their family members, including three children, as well as members from the Turkish special operations force.

The captives were released after three months.

Later, the former Turkish consul accused Ankara of handing him over, along with the consulate staff, to ISIS.

As for the Turkish consulate in Basra, the Iraqi foreign ministry announced on January 21 that it had struck an agreement with Turkey to reopen it following its closure in 2014 due to security threats.

In April, Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad Fatih Yıldız said that the Basra consulate will reopen soon. In remarks to Turkish media, he said that Turkey is a huge country and can’t be restricted to specific parts of Iraq.

Turkey has a border with southern Iraq, and has sent humanitarian aid to provinces in central Iraq, he said.

He added that the Turkish consulate building in Basra is still there and that talks must be held with local figures and tribal leaders before reactivating the diplomatic mission.

Saudi Arabia Added to MSCI Emerging Markets Index

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Arabia Added to MSCI Emerging Markets Index

Thursday, 21 June, 2018 – 11:00
Saudi market regulator has approved Awazel IPO. (File Photo: Reuters)
Riyadh, New York- Shuja Al-Baqmi and Asharq Al Awsat
Index provider MSCI said on Wednesday it will begin including Saudi Arabia in its classification as an emerging market, sharply broadening the investor base for the country in a move that could support their equity markets.

Meanwhile, Saudi stock market resumed its trading following the suspension for Eid Al-Fitr holiday, amid remarkable profit on the shares of leading companies, especially in the banking sector.

On Wednesday, Saudi stock market fell by about 100 points, but the decline did not restrain the shares of some of the small and medium-sized companies from rising, while the shares of the insurance sector rose about 1.23 percent, amid good gains made by sector shares.

The Saudi Stock Market index closed on Wednesday at a decline of 1.3 percent, 8166 points, with few transactions in terms of liquidity amounting to about $ 498.6 million.

These developments come after Saudi Arabia’s launch of the Financial Sector Development 2020 Program. The Program is one of the 12 executive programs launched by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030. The program seeks to develop the financial sector as a diversified and effective financial services sector to support the development of the national economy by stimulating savings, finance and investment.

The program’s objective is to create a thriving financial sector that serves as a key enabler in achieving Vision 2030’s objectives. By 2030, the sector is expected to grow large enough to fund Vision 2030 objectives, offer a diverse set of products and services through traditional and newly emerging players, give citizens thus far excluded from the financial system access to it with an inclusive structure, achieve a high degree of digitization and maintain financial stability.

Through its first pillar, “enabling financial institutions to support private sector growth”, the Program aims to promote a diverse and inclusive sector that drives innovation and serves the financial needs of a broader population. In doing so, it will open the sector to emerging FinTech players, remove obstacles that hinder the growth of finance companies, unlock financing for SMEs, and increase mortgage penetration. Further, the program will improve access to financing and enhance product offerings to better serve the needs of economic sectors.