Tunisia’s PM reshuffles cabinet to tackle economic crisis

Tunisia's Prime Minister Youssef Chahed speaks at the Assembly of People's Representatives in Tunis, Tunisia November 18, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 06 November 2018

Tunisia’s PM reshuffles cabinet to tackle economic crisis

  • Chahed will make changes to at least six portfolios, including Tourism, Energy, Health and Transport, one of the sources said

TUNIS: Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed named 10 new ministers on Monday in a cabinet reshuffle he hopes will inject fresh blood into his government which has been widely criticised for failing to fix an economic crisis.
Key portfolios such as finance, foreign and the interior ministries were kept unchanged.
Since the toppling of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia’s economy has been in crisis and nine cabinets have failed to resolve economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment.
Chahed named businessman Jewish Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism, only the third member of the small minority of 2,000 Jews to enter a cabinet since Tunisia's independence in 1956.
A former foreign minister under Ben Ali, Kamel Morjan, became minister in charge of the public service, the country's main employer.
"This reshuffle is to make the work of government more effective and to put an end to the political and economic crisis," Chahed said in a statement.
Impatience has been rising among lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, which have kept the country afloat with billions of dollars in loans.
The reshuffle came amid a political crisis as the president's son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is leader of the ruling party Nidaa Tounes, called for the dismissal of Chahed because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.
In a sign of the distrust inside the ruling party, President Beji Caid Essebsi rejected the resuffle as he had been informed too late about it without prior consultation, his spokeswoman Saida Garrach said.
Essebsi cannot stop the reshuffle. It needs to be approved by parliament where Chahed has assembled a majority of lawmakers backing him.
Nidaa Tounes rules with moderates who have backed Chahed.
Its demand has been supported by the powerful UGTT union which has also opposed Chahed's plans to overhaul loss-making public companies.
Tunisia has been hailed for its democratic transition since 2011 but the North African country has been hit by economic crisis and militant attacks since then.


Al-Shabab militants storm Somali jail, seven soldiers killed

Updated 37 min 23 sec ago

Al-Shabab militants storm Somali jail, seven soldiers killed

  • Al Shabab said it had freed at least 400 prisoners, many of them its members, in its assault on the main prison in Bosaso

BOSASO, Somalia: At least seven soldiers were killed when fighters of the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab stormed a jail in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland early on Friday, police and the group said.
Al-Shabab said it had freed at least 400 prisoners, many of them its members, in its assault on the main prison in Bosaso, Puntland’s largest city, in the early hours of Friday. The authorities did not confirm that figure.
“Last night many well-armed men attacked us from various directions. We fought back but finally they entered the central jail by force using explosions. They freed the prisoners and took most with them,” Mohamed Abdi, a prison guard, said.
“There was a hellish battle... As I fought inside, we lost five soldiers.”
He said two other soldiers who had been sent to reinforce the regular prison guards were killed in their car which was set on fire.
Al-Shabab confirmed that its fighters had carried out the attack and said they had freed at least 400 prisoners. The group often exaggerates its successes in such assaults.
“The prisoners included men and women who were Al-Shabab members and were in jail for over 10 years,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.
Al-Shabab frequently carries out such attacks in Somalia and elsewhere as part of its campaign to oust the central government in Mogadishu and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
Bosaso police commander, Col. Hussein Ali, said an operation was underway to recapture prisoners who had escaped or had been taken away by the fighters.


Massive security net in Iraq as Pope Francis begins visit

Updated 05 March 2021

Massive security net in Iraq as Pope Francis begins visit

  • Undercover intelligence and national security officers will also be deployed at gatherings attended by the pope
  • The 84-year-old will visit four cities, including the former Daesh stronghold of Mosul

ROME: Iraq is deploying thousands of additional security personnel to protect Pope Francis during his four-day visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised fears for the Catholic leader’s safety.A senior security official who has been briefed on the security plan said that forces involved had been trained to deal with worst-case scenarios, from street battles to bombings and rocket attacks.
Large-scale exercises included hypothetical threats among preparations for the March 5-8 visit, the first-ever by a pope to Iraq. As well as concerns over violence, the country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, further complicating preparations.
The 84-year-old will visit four cities, including the former Daesh stronghold of Mosul, where churches and other buildings still bear the scars of conflict. Francis will also visit Ur, birthplace of Prophet Abraham who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.
Interior Ministry special forces and the army will set up a security cordon around the pope wherever he goes, while the air force will operate drones around the clock to monitor the routes he will take. There will be an explosives team and
counterterrorism personnel on standby in case of any suspicious devices or street battles.
Undercover intelligence and national security officers will also be deployed at gatherings attended by the pope. A technical team can also jam or cut off suspicious phone calls or radio communications, he added.
About 10,000 security personnel will be deployed to protect Francis, who may travel in armored cars in what would be a departure from the norm for him.
Pope Francis said in a video message on Thursday that he wants to be seen by the Iraqi people as a “penitent pilgrim” asking God for “forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism,” and for “consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds.”
He added:  “I come among you like a pilgrim of peace and I repeat, you are all brothers. I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity animated by desire to pray together and to walk together, also with brothers and sisters belonging to other religious traditions.”
A special bronze medal has been minted by the Vatican to celebrate the pope’s visit. Vatican sources told Arab News that the medal will be one of the gifts that the pope will give to Iraqi representatives.
The medal has been designed by artists from the Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico, the dedicated branch of the Vatican State Post Office for stamps and coins. It features the map of Iraq, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a palm tree and Abraham leaving Ur. In the lower part of the medal, there is the inscription of the apostolic visit’s dates (March 5-8) in Latin, the official language of the Vatican. In its upper part the medal reads “Visit Iraquiam,” Latin for “Visit to Iraq.”


Massive security net in Iraq as pope begins visit ‘like a pilgrim of peace’

Updated 05 March 2021

Massive security net in Iraq as pope begins visit ‘like a pilgrim of peace’

  • Undercover intelligence and national security officers will also be deployed at gatherings attended by the pope
  • The 84-year-old will visit four cities, including the former Daesh stronghold of Mosul

ROME: Iraq is deploying thousands of additional security personnel to protect Pope Francis during his four-day visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised fears for the Catholic leader’s safety.A senior security official who has been briefed on the security plan said that forces involved had been trained to deal with worst-case scenarios, from street battles to bombings and rocket attacks.
Large-scale exercises included hypothetical threats among preparations for the March 5-8 visit, the first-ever by a pope to Iraq. As well as concerns over violence, the country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, further complicating preparations.
The 84-year-old will visit four cities, including the former Daesh stronghold of Mosul, where churches and other buildings still bear the scars of conflict. Francis will also visit Ur, birthplace of Prophet Abraham who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.
Interior Ministry special forces and the army will set up a security cordon around the pope wherever he goes, while the air force will operate drones around the clock to monitor the routes he will take. There will be an explosives team and
counterterrorism personnel on standby in case of any suspicious devices or street battles.
Undercover intelligence and national security officers will also be deployed at gatherings attended by the pope. A technical team can also jam or cut off suspicious phone calls or radio communications, he added.
About 10,000 security personnel will be deployed to protect Francis, who may travel in armored cars in what would be a departure from the norm for him.
Pope Francis said in a video message on Thursday that he wants to be seen by the Iraqi people as a “penitent pilgrim” asking God for “forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism,” and for “consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds.”
He added:  “I come among you like a pilgrim of peace and I repeat, you are all brothers. I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity animated by desire to pray together and to walk together, also with brothers and sisters belonging to other religious traditions.”
A special bronze medal has been minted by the Vatican to celebrate the pope’s visit. Vatican sources told Arab News that the medal will be one of the gifts that the pope will give to Iraqi representatives.
The medal has been designed by artists from the Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico, the dedicated branch of the Vatican State Post Office for stamps and coins. It features the map of Iraq, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a palm tree and Abraham leaving Ur. In the lower part of the medal, there is the inscription of the apostolic visit’s dates (March 5-8) in Latin, the official language of the Vatican. In its upper part the medal reads “Visit Iraquiam,” Latin for “Visit to Iraq.”

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Egypt begins vaccine rollout to wider population

Updated 05 March 2021

Egypt begins vaccine rollout to wider population

  • Nearly 153,000 people have applied for vaccinations since Sunday when Egypt opened online registration

CAIRO: Egypt on Thursday expanded its coronavirus vaccination rollout to include the elderly and people with chronic diseases after several weeks of vaccinating medical staff, the Cabinet said.
Nearly 153,000 people have applied for vaccinations since Sunday when the North African country opened online registration, the Cabinet said in a statement.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with more than 100 million, has prepared 40 vaccination centers and plans to increase that number after the arrival of more vaccine batches, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said.
Egypt received 350,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) in two batches since December, in addition to 50,000 doses of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in February.
It is hoping to receive vaccines through the COVAX facility, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable distribution of vaccines, in the coming weeks.
On Feb. 24, the Egyptian Drug Authority approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use.
Egypt’s Prime Speed Medical Services said it had obtained the right to provide Sputnik V in Egypt in a statement to the stock exchange, without giving details.
Egypt began vaccinating frontline medical staff against COVID-19 on Jan. 24 using the Chinese vaccine.
Those getting the Sinopharm jab have a second dose after 21 days while those who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine wait 12 weeks for the second dose, said Health Minister Hala Zayed.
As of Wednesday, Egypt had confirmed 184,168 coronavirus cases, including 10,822 deaths, since the start of the pandemic.
However, health officials say the real number is likely far higher due to a relatively low rate of coronavirus testing and the exclusion of private test results.
Meanwhile, Sudan will begin vaccinating healthcare workers followed by people aged 45 or older with chronic conditions for free next week after becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines.
Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport, a Health Ministry official said.
The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February.
Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.
It aims to cover 20 percent of its population of 44 million through COVAX by September, Health Ministry officials said.
“This is an essential part of our battle against coronavirus,” Health Minister Omer Elnageib said.
Sudan was also in initial discussions to produce the vaccine domestically, Elnageib added.
Sudan is a young country, with only about 4 percent of its population over the age of 65, according to UN statistics.
It has been suffering from a long economic crisis that has left it unable to import some basic medicines and its health care system suffered from decades of neglect and sanctions under former President Omar Bashir before his overthrow in 2019.
As of March 1, Sudan had officially recorded 28,545 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic one year ago, including 1,895 deaths.


Egypt and Greece discuss cooperation in eastern Mediterranean

Updated 05 March 2021

Egypt and Greece discuss cooperation in eastern Mediterranean

  • President El-Sisi keen to advance ties in economic, energy, security and military fields

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have discussed areas of cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.

This came hours after Turkey announced its willingness to negotiate with Egypt in order to reach an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders in the oil-rich region.

The Egyptian presidential spokesman, Bassam Radi, said that the call between the two officials discussed the close bilateral relations that bring the two countries together in various fields, especially cooperation in energy and the eastern Mediterranean.

During the call, the Egyptian president confirmed the strength of Egyptian-Greek relations.

El-Sisi expressed Egypt’s aspiration to advance various aspects of constructive cooperation, especially in economic and energy fields, and on areas of security.

The Greek prime minister affirmed his keenness to exchange views and consult with the president on regional issues of common interest.

He pointed out the importance of mutual coordination especially in the energy sector and in the eastern Mediterranean.

The phone call came hours after a statement made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who told a press conference that Turkey and Egypt may negotiate the demarcation of the eastern Mediterranean borders if their relations allow such a step.

Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, expressed his country’s desire to restore relations with Egypt back in October.

Turkey’s conflict has intensified with neighboring countries, especially Greece and Cyprus, since 2019 to control regional waters that are subject to international disagreement, with the aim of converting them into Turkish concession areas, which are likely to contain quantities of natural gas.

While Egypt has demarcated its borders with Greece, President El-Sisi last October ratified an agreement signed on Aug. 6, 2020 between the Egyptian and Greek governments regarding the designation of the exclusive economic zone.

In 2019, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories held the EastMed Gas Forum without Turkey.

Turkey’s gas exploration in maritime areas disputed with Greece and Cyprus has poisoned relations between these parties for months.