Palestinian leader indicates elections will be postponed

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during 2012 local elections. Abbas indicated Thursday he supports delaying the first Palestinian elections in 15 years. (AP)
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Updated 30 April 2021

Palestinian leader indicates elections will be postponed

  • Decision is likely spare Fatah party an embarrassing defeat and be welcomed by Israel and Western countries
  • Israel has not said whether it will allow voting in east Jerusalem but expressed concern about Hamas' growing strength

JERUSALEM: President Mahmoud Abbas indicated on Thursday that he supports delaying the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.
The decision would likely spare Abbas’s Fatah party an embarrassing defeat and be quietly welcomed by Israel and Western countries.
Speaking at the start of a meeting of Palestinian factions to decide the issue, Abbas focused his remarks on the voting in east Jerusalem, where Israel has yet to say whether it would allow voting by mail as in past elections and has enforced a ban on Palestinian Authority activities, including campaign events.
“We will take the proper decision to preserve all our rights in east Jerusalem, our eternal capital, including the right to hold parliamentary elections there,” he said in a lengthy speech before the closed-door part of the gathering.
A final decision is expected late Thursday or early Friday.
Cancelling or postponing the vote over Jerusalem could be seen as a pretext, as only a small number of voters in the city would actually require Israel’s permission and several candidates have suggested workarounds.
Abbas said the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly sought assurances from Israel and called on the European Union to exert pressure, to no avail. He said it received a letter from Israel on Thursday saying it could not take a position on the elections because it does not yet have a government of its own following last month’s elections.
The Islamic militant group Hamas, which stands to gain influence in the elections, had earlier rejected the idea of postponing them, saying the Palestinians should explore ways of “forcing the elections in Jerusalem without the permission of or coordination with the occupation.”
It also issued a veiled warning to Abbas without mentioning him by name, saying Hamas “will not be party to any postponement or cancelation and will not provide cover.”
The responsibility for any such decision “will rest with those who take it in response to the veto of the occupation,” it said.
Hamas is expected to perform well in the May 22 parliamentary elections because of widening divisions within Fatah, which has split into three rival lists.
Israel has not said whether it will allow voting in east Jerusalem but has expressed concern about Hamas’ growing strength. Israel and Western countries view Hamas as a terrorist group and would likely boycott any Palestinian government that includes it.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital, barring the Palestinian Authority from operating there. The Palestinians consider east Jerusalem their capital.
According to interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s — which were rejected by Hamas — some 6,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem submit their ballots through Israeli post offices. The other 150,000 can vote with or without Israel’s permission.
Fatah has said the elections cannot be held without Israel giving express permission for east Jerusalem residents to vote. Its opponents have called for creative solutions, such as setting up ballot boxes in schools or religious sites.
But Abbas appeared to rule that out on Thursday, joking that the Palestinians would not vote in “the Hungarian Embassy.”
The dispute has taken on greater import since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, as Muslim protesters have clashed with Israeli police over restrictions on gatherings.
The elections, and a presidential vote planned for July 31, offer a rare opportunity for the Palestinians to empower a new leadership and potentially chart a different course in their stalled, decades-long struggle for independence.
The 85-year-old Abbas and his inner circle of Fatah figures, now in their 60s and 70s, have dominated the Palestinian Authority for nearly two decades. They have failed to advance Palestinian hopes for statehood, heal a 13-year internal rift with Hamas, lift the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza or empower a new generation of leaders.
The last elections, held in 2006, saw Hamas win a landslide victory after campaigning as a scrappy underdog untainted by corruption. That sparked an internal crisis culminating in Hamas’ seizure of Gaza the following year, which confined Abbas’ authority to parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Hamas’ popularity has fallen in the years since, as conditions in Gaza have steadily deteriorated. But it has remained unified and disciplined even as Fatah has split into three rival parliamentary lists.
Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has fought three wars with it since seizing control of Gaza. It has also carried out scores of attacks over the last three decades that have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians.


‘Once in a lifetime’: Pakistani volunteers relish FIFA World Cup experience in Qatar

Updated 14 min 47 sec ago

‘Once in a lifetime’: Pakistani volunteers relish FIFA World Cup experience in Qatar

ISLAMABAD: With the FIFA World Cup 2022 in full swing, authorities in Qatar have their hands full with organizing the event. Pakistan has contributed plenty to the tournament from its ‘Made in Pakistan’ footballs to security personnel and even volunteers, who are relishing the experience of helping ensure the tournament, arguably the biggest sports event in the world, goes smoothly.

Since being awarded the right to host the tournament in 2010, the tiny gas-rich country has splurged billions to build luxury hotels and stadiums across Qatar to welcome over a million fans in the country.

To host the World Cup in the Gulf country, FIFA needed interns and volunteers to help organize such a huge event. Many Pakistanis signed up for the opportunity.

Syed Hasan Danish, 26, was working in Pakistan till July this year when his organization, Airlift, shut down. With his family in Qatar, Danish moved to the country and was hired as an operations analyst by ‘Mwasalat,’ which operates public transport in Qatar.

“I have always been a huge football fan and have been following club football since childhood,” Danish told Arab News over the phone this week. “Being in Qatar you need to be part of something to give back to Qatar and football,” Danish told Arab News this week.

“So many nationalities gathering at one place, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

In this undated photo, Pakistani volunteer Syed Hasan Danish poses for a picture at the Al Thumama Stadium in Qatar. (Photo courtesy: Syed Hasan Danish)

Posted at Qatar’s Al-Thumama Stadium, Danish helps out spectators by guiding them to their seats, helping them find the prayer areas and similar places in the venue and helps them with other issues.

His selection came after a “rigorous” process, according to the volunteer.

“Firstly, you fill a detailed, four-page online form from an app if you want to register as an international volunteer,” Danish said.

“Then, you are asked to appear for an online test in which they analyze your skills via multiple games and judge your decision-making and stress-handling skills.”

Once selected, FIFA handles transport, accommodation and food for international volunteers. They just have to arrange for the air fare.

Rimsha Khalid, 25, a student of Islamic Arts at Qatar’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University, described her experience as an assistant commentary intern as an “exhilarating one.”

This undated photo shows the Commentary Control Room of Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar. (Photo courtesy: Rimsha Khalid)

“The work environment is professional,” Khalid said.

“We work hard but also have breaks in between and the chemistry between the team members also helps lift up the mood.”

As a woman, Khalid said, she never felt she was being discriminated against: “I would like to say that the general work environment in Qatar for women is quite safe and women are treated with the utmost respect that they deserve.”

Khalid said her team comprise interns from South Korea, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Sudan, India, UK, Belgium and Pakistan.

“[The diversity provides an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange, growth, exposure and helps you to learn better things about other nations and their work ethics which can prove to be helpful in the future,” she added.

Maryam Khalid, 27, a commentary assistant intern at Qatar’s Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, told Arab News the work experience was “excellent.”

“There is a lot of responsibility here as there is no room for error,” she told Arab News.

“However, you also get a lot of support from people here as well.”

In Pakistan, she said, the biggest hurdles that women faced were harassment and reservations from families.

“However, here it is so safe that you don’t even think about any such problems here. Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world for women,” Maryam said.

“We venture out here often at very late times in the night, for cinemas and at beaches or to attend festivals. Never once does anyone touch people or harass anyone or even stare at them.”

Danish rubbished international media’s “wrong reporting” on Qatar and its treatment of women as well.

“There is a lot of diversity here, minor issues are being [deliberately] played up,” he said. “There is a 60-40 ratio of men and women here in Qatar.”

He said “every type of woman” could be found working in Qatar.

“From full abaya-wearing women to women dressed in European clothing. It’s all a nice, mixed-up environment here,” he said.

“There is a lot of openness and you get to learn other people’s culture here.”


Pakistan 'nowhere near default,' will fulfill international obligations — finance minister

Updated 32 min 22 sec ago

Pakistan 'nowhere near default,' will fulfill international obligations — finance minister

  • Citing Bloomberg data, Ishaq Dar says Pakistan’s one-year probability of default was at 10% as against Khan’s claims
  • Central bank chief says Pakistan will be repaying $1 billion international bond three days in advance on Dec 2

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday said the South Asian country was “nowhere near default” and would fulfill its international financing obligations on time, denying former prime minister Imran Khan’s claim that the country was on the verge of a default. 

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, last week said he had already predicted six months ago that his ouster would adversely impact the country’s economy and destroy its ability to service its debts. Khan's comment came amid Pakistan's rising credit default swap (CDS) rating that serves as a form of insurance against default. 

But the Pakistani central bank chief said a day earlier that the country would be repaying a $1 billion international bond on December 2 — three days before its due date. The statement set aside growing uncertainty about Pakistan’s ability to meet external financing obligations amid an economic crisis further aggravated by this year's devastating floods. 

Citing data from Bloomberg, Dar told a Pakistani news channel that Pakistan’s one-year probability of default was at a low of 10 percent as against Khan’s claims. 

"I assure you — and by the grace of God, whatever I say always proves to be true — that Pakistan is nowhere near default and it will fulfill all of its liabilities," the finance minister told the 24 news channel Friday night. 

“I was disappointed to see Khan tweeting that the country was about to default. Whatever he said was not in the country’s interests as he was joining negative forces who want to damage Pakistan’s economy." 

Dar’s claim was backed by financial analysts and experts earlier this week, who downplayed historic growth of the Pakistani five-year bond’s credit default swap. 

CDS is a financial derivative that lets an investor offset their credit risk with that of another investor. To swap the risk of default, the lender buys a CDS from another investor, who agrees to reimburse them the amount in case the borrower defaults. 

Pakistan’s CDS had been steadily rising in the last few days, mainly due to lower foreign exchange reserves and political turmoil in the South Asian country.  

The higher CDS rate was equated with the country’s default on payments of its five-year bonds, including $1 billion of the Third Pakistan International Sukuk bonds maturing on December 05, $1 billion of the Pakistan Government International Bond maturing in 2024, and $500 million of the Pakistan Government International Bond maturing in 2025.


Japan aims for World Cup knockout stage against Costa Rica

Updated 26 November 2022

Japan aims for World Cup knockout stage against Costa Rica

  • Japan has never reached the quarterfinals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time
  • This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions

DOHA, Qatar: How big was Japan’s 2-1 upset of Germany in the opening round of the World Cup?
Newspapers in Japan used the term “Daikimboshi” from sumo wrestling to describe the magnitude of the surprise: when a low-ranked wrestler overpowers a grand champion.
The victory has also been compared to Japan’s 34-32 upset of powerful South Africa in the 2015 rugby World Cup in England.
Japan was the underdog against four-time champion Germany, but it will be a strong favorite in its next Group E match against Costa Rica, where a victory could move Japan into the knockout stage with a game to spare.
A loss by Costa Rica on Sunday would eliminate it from advancing. Costa Rica faces Germany in its final match and Japan goes against Spain.
Costa Rica is reeling from a 7-0 thrashing against Spain in its opener, and it’s anyone’s guess how the Ticos will respond. With a population of just over 5 million, the tiny Central American country is appearing in its sixth World Cup. It reached the quarterfinals in 2014 in Brazil.
Japan has never reached the quarterfinals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time. This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions, including in Russia in 2018. It lost 3-2 in stoppage time to Belgium after leading 2-0.
It was eliminated by Paraguay on penalties in 2010, and lost to Turkiye 1-0 in 2002 when the country co-hosted the event with South Korea.
Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu has spoken often about going farther this time and breaking the “final-16 hex.”
Substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano scored late goals against Germany — they both play in Germany’s Bundesliga — to lead Japan to the upset. Asano got the winner in the 83rd minute, squeezing the ball behind German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from a very sharp angle.
Costa Rica was overwhelmed by Spain with only 28 percent of the possession. It would also face the same problem against Japan, which is able to hold the ball for long spells, and is also a quick, counterattacking threat.
“We couldn’t complete three or four passes,” Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez said of the Spain loss.
The Ticos will have to do much more against Japan.


Pakistan signs €150 million loan agreement with ECO Trade and Development Bank in Turkey

Updated 13 min 20 sec ago

Pakistan signs €150 million loan agreement with ECO Trade and Development Bank in Turkey

  • The agreement was signed during PM Sharif’s meeting with the bank president in Istanbul
  • The prime minister also urged Turkish investors to help enhance bilateral trade to $5 billion

ISLAMABAD: The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Trade and Development Bank on Saturday signed an agreement with Pakistan in Istanbul to provide a soft loan of €150 million for flood relief efforts and support import of fuel by the South Asian country.

Pakistan’s prime minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in Turkey on Friday on a two-day visit that he said would unpack the “untapped potential” of bilateral ties between the two countries.

He held a bilateral meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and also inaugurated one of the four MILGEM corvette ships for the Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul shipyard.

The agreement with the bank was signed during a meeting between the Pakistani delegation led by Sharif and the ECO Trade and Development Bank delegation led by its president Yalçın Yüksel.

“The ECO Trade and Development Bank will provide a soft term loan of Euro 150 million to the Government of Pakistan,” the Prime Minister’s Office announced in a statement. “The financial package will contribute to flood relief efforts as well as provide financial support for import of fuel.”

The statement added the overall financial assistance to Pakistan since the inception of the bank would reach about $1 billion after the disbursement of the committed amount.

In a separate meeting with the Pakistan-Turkey Business Council, the prime minister invited Turkish companies to invest in Pakistan as the two countries signed a memorandum of agreement to enhance bilateral trade volume to $5 billion in the next three years.

“We have signed a memorandum of agreement to enhance our trade volume from a very small amount of less than $1.5 billion to $5 billion in the next three years,” Sharif said, adding that Turkey’s international trade was somewhere around $250 billion and its bilateral trade with Pakistan was just a fraction of it.

“It’s not a big task at all and let’s resolve and commit today that we will do everything to achieve this target in three years – rather double it in three years,” he continued.

He vowed that his government would fully provide a hassle- and red tape-free environment to them: “My government would no longer tolerate any snags and impediments in the way of investment from foreign investors, including the Turkish brothers and sisters.”

To further promote bilateral trade and business ties, the prime minister said, the Turkish president had assured him that work on a “trade and goods agreement” between the two brotherly countries would be expedited.

“President Erdogan has instructed his minister to expedite its approval from the Turkish parliament,” he said.

Sharif said his government had resolved to cut down on the expensive oil and petroleum imports.

“Last year we had to spend $27 billion to finance imports of our petroleum [products] which we simply cannot afford,” he said.

“Therefore, we have rolled out our vision of 10,000 megawatts solar investment projects before local and international investors about one and a half months ago.”

He expressed his commitment to complete this scheme in letter and spirit, through investments from Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, China, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“So please be ready with your coffers open and come to Pakistan as I am going to hold a special conference for Turkish investors,” he added.

The premier said the Pakistani government would also ensure payments to investors within 60 days without, in a transparent manner and without the involvement of a third party.


Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

Updated 26 November 2022

Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

  • The sport that spread across the reaches of former British empire remains favorite of South Asian laborers
  • The need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades

DOHA: As dawn broke Friday in Qatar, the laborers who built this energy-rich country’s World Cup soccer stadiums, roads and subway filled empty stretches of asphalt and sandlots to play the sport closest to their hearts — cricket.

The sport that spread across the reaches of the former British empire remains a favorite of the South Asian laborers who power economies across the Arabian Peninsula, including more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.

It’s a moment of respite for workers, who typically just have Friday off in Qatar and much of the rest of the Gulf Arab nations. And it’s one they look forward to all week, batting and bowling before the heat of the day fully takes hold.

“It’s in our blood,” said laborer Kesavan Pakkirisamy as he coached his team at one sandlot, the skyline of Doha visible in the distance. “We’ve played cricket since a long time. It’s a happy journey for us.”

Laborer rights have been a focus of this World Cup since Qatar won the bid for the tournament back in 2010. Workers can face long hours, extortion and low pay. Qatar has overhauled its labor laws to put in a minimum wage and untie visas from employers, though activists have urged more to be done.

On Fridays, however, laborers control their day. Just down the road from the global headquarters of Qatar’s satellite news network Al Jazeera, workers gathered in a parking lot and another large desert expanse wedged between roads.

Some appeared nervous when Associated Press journalists stopped by their matches, with several asking if they’d be in trouble for playing cricket in vacant lots in this autocratic nation. Others, however, smiled and invited visitors to watch.

Hary R., an Indian from the southern state of Kerala, showed a reporter the mobile phone app he used to keep track of runs and overs. While Friday’s match was a friendly, there are tournaments organized among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Qatar to vie for supremacy.

“We are working throughout the week and we need to just get relaxed and meet our friends just for time pass and entertainment,” he said. His teammates on the Strikers, some of whom wore matching uniforms, shouted at him to keep track of the game.

Pakkirisamy, who shouted encouragement near two discarded couches used by players as a bench, praised his company for helping his colleagues take part in wider competitions.

“From my father and my grandfather, they have been playing in cricket since childhood age,” he said, describing a lifelong love of the game.

Pakkirisamy and his teammates, while lovers of cricket, still were excited about the World Cup being in Qatar.

“We are here for work, we are here for earning something for our family,” he said, adding that being in Qatar means, “It’s easy for us to be there, to see the game on ground, not only the TV.”

Cricket, with its lush green grass pitches, may seem like an anomaly in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades.

The United Arab Emirates has a cricket team that qualified for the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup in Australia last month.

Dubai in the UAE is even home to the ICC’s headquarters and has hosted major cricket events, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the T20 championships.

But for laborers in the region, any empty patch of ground can be turned into a pitch.

“You can be in any road. You can be in any place,” Pakkirisamy said. “Any small place, you can play cricket.”