PM Khan to discuss Pakistani prisoners’ release during Saudi Arabia visit — media

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is talking to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on September 19, 2019. Khan arrived in the Kingdom on a two-day official visit ahead of his trip to New York where he is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly later this month. (Photo Courtesy: Consulate General of Pakistan Jeddah)
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Updated 05 May 2021

PM Khan to discuss Pakistani prisoners’ release during Saudi Arabia visit — media

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered release of 2,100 Pakistani prisoners from kingdom’s jails during Islamabad visit in 2019
  • Khan is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on May 7-9, will sign memorandums of agreement in three areas, Pakistani envoy to Riyadh says 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Lt. Gen. (retired) Bilal Akbar, said Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan would take up the issue of the release of Pakistani prisoners from Saudi jails when he visited the kingdom this month, Pakistani media reported on Tuesday.

Khan is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on May 7-9. 

“Pakistan’s New Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lt. Gen. (retd) Bilal Akbar, in an interview with the Saudi media, said memorandums of understanding in three areas will be signed during the premier’s visit,” Geo News reported. “He said a meeting related to prisoners’ release will be held during PM Imran Khan’s visit whereas the release of prisoners will be expedited with Saudi Arabia’s cooperation.”

“Hundreds of prisoners will be released from jails in Saudi Arabia and return to Pakistan,” the Geo News report said, adding: “This is not the first time when PM Imran has raised the issue of Pakistani prisoners languishing in Saudi jails.”

In February 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the release of about 2,100 Pakistani prisoners from the kingdom’s jails during a high-profile visit to Islamabad, Pakistan’s information minister had announced then. Saudi Arabia also signed investment agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion on that trip. 

The crown prince had “ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners”, after a request by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a post on Twitter then. 

Huge numbers of Pakistanis travel to the Middle East every year, with many working on construction sites or as domestic helpers. The remittances they send back are vital for Pakistan’s dollar-starved economy.


From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

Updated 13 May 2021

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

  • Shahwani and Rodini are physics students at the University of Balochistan
  • Say the self-funded robot took them six months to make from scratch with ‘zero support’

QUETTA: It’s an unlikely trio in an unlikely place-- two smart young Baloch students stand proudly outside their university in Quetta with an all-white, five feet, four inches tall humanoid robot between them. 
Aziz Ullah Shahwani, 24, and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini, 25, are students of physics at the University of Balochistan, and the robot they created, named Bolani, is their final project.
“I didn’t take any interest in technology-related experiments till I graduated school due to the absence of a physics teacher in my native district Kalat... but when I came to the University of Balochistan for my master’s degree in physics I decided to invent something new, something no other student in the history of UoB has done,” Shahwani told Arab News, as he proudly unveiled Bolani outside the Physics department of his university.

Five feet, four inches tall humanoid robot Bolani is ready for a walk at the Physics Department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, May 4, 2021. (AN photo)

Coming from the remote Kalat and Sorab districts in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province, Shahwani and Rodini are largely self-taught, and said they had received close to no financial support during their endeavour from their university or the government of Balochistan.
The two boys from these distant Pakistani towns worked for six months to conquer the impossible, working on advanced 3D softwares, even welding and painting the body of their robot themselves.
“While making Bolani, I learned the use of new software and 3D printing,” Shahwani said. 
“Because I have designed Bolani by myself on solid work software, it was an unforgettable experience,” he continued.
Bolani is named after the famed mountain pass Bolan, roughly 127 km from the capital Quetta, south of the Hindu Kush mountains. 
For now, Bolani can move forward and backward, he can move his eyes, neck and jaw and can shake hands with human beings when Shahwani, gives him the command through an app installed in his mobile phone.

Aziz Ullah Shahwani and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini check Bolani's circuits at a lab of the Physics Department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, May 4, 2021. (AN photo)

Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini who assisted Aziz in building Bolani, said they wanted to create something new instead of submitting research papers like everybody else.
“We took assistance and guidance from our professors because after thorough searching we couldn’t find the robotic circuits and motors in Quetta... later we installed locally purchased motors in order to finalize Bolani,” Rodini told Arab News.
“Bolani cost us Rs.50,000 ($326) and due to the lack of financial assistance, we used iron and steel to shape the humanoid robot,” Rodini said. He added there had been ‘zero support’ from the university’s higher authorities and provincial government.
Shahwani and Rodini are now planning to upgrade Bolani with additional features like voice and face recognition censors that will allow the robot to talk.
Professor Ajab Khan Kasi, head of the physics department at the University of Balochistan supervised the students while they built Bolani and said their creation was a ‘milestone’ in the history of the university.
“It took six months to complete the robot and during this period, Aziz and Mukhtiar have done all the processes with their own hands... even the welding, coloring and mechanical work on Bolani,” Professor Kasi told Arab News.
“The humanoid robot has been working in 9 degree freedom which allows him to move his hands, neck and eyes,” he said.

Bolani can move his eyes, jaw and neck on commands sent to him via Bluetooth. (AN photo)

For now, Shahwani has said he will upgrade Bolani by installing motion sensors, and aims to continue his studies. He said he is now looking for support from the government and his university. 
But until that happens, he said, the two of them would not feel disappointed.
“Because we are inspired by Pakistan’s Nobel prize laureate Dr. Abdul Salam and the young Dr. Yar Jan Baloch who works as a space scientist in Cambridge University,” he added.
“We are following in their footsteps.”


US stocks rebound following inflation scare

Updated 46 min 11 sec ago

US stocks rebound following inflation scare

  • Rebound comes despite worries that soaring inflation could trigger interest rate rises

LONDON: US stocks rebounded on Thursday, a day after slumping on worries that soaring US inflation could trigger interest rate rises sooner than expected, and in turn harm global economic recovery.

Focus was also on bitcoin, which resumed sharp falls after Tesla’s Elon Musk stopped allowing people to pay for his electric cars with the cryptocurrency.

While US stocks opened higher, with the Dow adding 0.3 percent, their sharp losses on Wednesday pulled Asian and European stocks along with them on Thursday.

Tokyo’s main stocks index closed down 2.5 percent and European stocks also suffered sharp losses but recovered as the opening bell in New York approached.

With little in the way of news to spur the reversal, this invites “the notion that the scope of recent losses has gone far enough to whet the appetite of buy-the-dippers who have successfully feasted over the last year or so on down moves like the one that has recently unfolded,” said analyst Patrick J. O’Hare at Briefing.com.

Stock markets were already awash with red this week owing to growing fears that the blockbuster global economic recovery and vast stimulus measures will see cashed-up consumers go on a pent-up spending spree that will strain supplies and push up costs.

And those concerns were given oxygen Wednesday by figures showing US consumer inflation spiked at 4.2 percent in April, far higher than estimates and the highest since 2008 just before the global financial crisis kicked in.

That was followed on Thursday by data showing that producer prices jumped by 6.2 percent in April, the highest pace since 2010.

The advances were driven by a rally in commodity prices such as widely used copper, iron and lumber, which are sitting at record or multi-year highs.

“For stocks this might be an even tougher moment, given that companies may find themselves struggling to pass on price increases to customers, hitting profitability and putting the year-long earnings recovery in jeopardy,” noted Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG trading group.

Tech firms, which blossomed during lockdowns as people were forced to stay home, have led the share-price losses as they are more susceptible to higher interest rates.

The Fed has repeatedly insisted it expects such sharp price spikes but they will be transitory owing to last year’s low base and policymakers will not make any adjustments until they are happy unemployment is under control and inflation is running hot for some time.

However, investors are not convinced and there is growing unease that the central bank could lose control of the situation if it does not act in time, with analysts warning it could risk people’s confidence in the institution.

Tai Hui, at JP Morgan Asset Management, remained broadly upbeat about the outlook for equities, saying that while the sell-off was heavy, the gain in US Treasury yields — a gauge of future interest rates — was less severe.

“The market’s reaction ... (was) mild, reflecting the belief that this jump in inflation will eventually calm and revert closer to the Fed’s long-term target,” he said.

Regarding Bitcoin meanwhile, after Musk cited the environmental impact caused by the computing-intense mining process of creating new units, the cryptocurrency slumped around 16 percent.

It later recovered before trading down around 10 percent at $50,400 on Thursday.


Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

Updated 46 min 53 sec ago

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

  • Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, says Mayor Ahmed Al-Qathami

TAIF: “Treasure to be discovered,” were the words used by the French ambassador to the Kingdom describing the rose oil industry in Taif, after his recent visit to the 14th Taif Rose Festival held at Al-Radf Park and organized by the Taif Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ludovic Pouille toured the old town of Taif at night with representatives from the province and the Ministry of Culture, expressing his happiness to discover the vital market on the eve of the celebrations of Eid Al-Fitr, and to drink traditional coffee in the historic neighborhood of the capital of roses.

He also discovered the traditional professions in the old city of Taif, discussing with the mayor the tourist capacity of the city and opportunities to cooperate with France.

Mesmerized by the fragrance and the pink scenery around him, the envoy walked the roses’ stairway in the festival covered in roses from both sides, describing it as a “stairway to heaven.”

French Ambassador Ludovic Pouille

Dr. Ahmed Al-Qathami, mayor of Taif Province, said that the visit of the French envoy reflects the importance and reputation of Taif roses across borders, “one of the most important tools in promoting the Kingdom’s tourism, culture and economy.”

Al-Qathami told Arab News that Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, symbolizing its beauty thanks to their odor and perfume.

“Taif roses are a source of cultural inspiration to all Saudis for whom the roses are a way of life and a cultural destination that attracted dignitaries and important figures throughout history,” he added.

He added that the visit of the French ambassador indicates the depth of friendship and love he has for Saudi Arabia. “This visit reflects his knowledge and appreciation for the efforts made to sustain the Taif rose industry, and develop its products and promote them at local and global levels.”

Al-Qathami pointed out that Taif roses were, and still are, an “honorable image” for Taif province, and all the celebrations and festivals held in the past and the accompanying exhibitions contributed in shaping its identity as a cultural hub that helped in strengthening the
ties of communication between the city and those who love and admire it.

Adel Al-Nimri, a rose factory owner in Al-Hada, Taif, said that the prominent and important figures who visit Taif and admire the great efforts “give us the impetus to continue and improve the product to reach the highest standards of
production, and export them abroad after gaining widespread fame.”

He stressed the importance of caring for the Taif rose industry and teaching people about it for future generations, adding that Taif roses are known for their purity and fragrance.


How big is Bitcoin’s carbon footprint?

Updated 14 May 2021

How big is Bitcoin’s carbon footprint?

  • Concerns mount about the way bitcoin is ‘mined’ using fossil fuels

LONDON: Tesla boss Elon Musk’s sudden u-turn over accepting bitcoin to buy his electric vehicles has thrust the cryptocurrency’s energy usage into the headlights.

Some Tesla investors, along with environmentalists, have been increasingly critical about the way bitcoin is “mined” using vast amounts of electricity generated with fossil fuels.

Musk said on Wednesday he backed that concern, especially the use of “coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.”

So how dirty is the virtual currency?

Power hungry

Unlike mainstream traditional currencies, bitcoin is virtual and not made from paper or plastic, or even metal. Bitcoin is virtual but power-hungry as it is created using high-powered computers around the globe.

At current rates, such bitcoin “mining” devours about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019, data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency shows. Some bitcoin proponents note that the existing financial system with its millions of employees and computers in air-conditioned offices uses large amounts of energy too.

Coal connection

The world’s biggest cryptocurrency, which was once a fringe asset class, has become increasingly mainstream as it is accepted by more major US companies and financial firms. Greater demand, and higher prices, lead to more miners competing to solve puzzles in the fastest time to win coin, using increasingly powerful computers that need more energy.

Bitcoin is created when high-powered computers compete against other machines to solve complex mathematical puzzles, an energy-intensive process that often relies on fossil fuels, particularly coal, the dirtiest of them all.

Green Bitcoin?

Bitcoin production is estimated to generate between 22 and 22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, or between the levels produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka, a 2019 study in scientific journal Joule found.

There are growing attempts in the cryptocurrency industry to mitigate the environmental harm of mining and the entrance of big corporations into the crypto market could boost incentives to produce “green bitcoin” using renewable energy. Some sustainability experts say that companies could buy carbon credits to compensate for the impact. And blockchain analysis firms say that it is possible in theory to track the source of bitcoin, raising the possibility that a premium could be charged for green bitcoin. Climate change policies by governments around the world might also help.

Alternative energy

Projects from Canada to Siberia are striving for ways to wean bitcoin mining away from fossil fuels, such as using hydropower, or at least to reduce its carbon footprint, and make the currency more palatable to mainstream investors.

Some are attempting to repurpose the heat generated by the mining to serve agriculture, heating and other needs, while others are using power generated by flare gas — a by-product from oil extraction usually burned off — for crypto mining.

China crisis

The dominance of Chinese miners and lack of motivation to swap cheap fossil fuels for more expensive renewables means there are few quick fixes to bitcoin’s emissions problem, some industry players and academics warn. Chinese miners account for about 70 percent of production, data from the University of Cambridge’s Center for Alternative Finance shows. They tend to use renewable energy — mostly hydropower — during the rainy summer months, but fossil fuels — primarily coal — for the rest of the year.


Samsung boosts non-memory chip investment to $151bn

Updated 14 May 2021

Samsung boosts non-memory chip investment to $151bn

  • The government will offer about 1 trillion won in long-term loans for increasing 8-inch wafer chip contract manufacturing capacity

SEOUL: Samsung Electronics on Thursday raised its planned investment in non-memory chips to 171 trillion won ($151 billion) through 2030, joining a rush of firms ramping up investments amid a global semiconductor shortage.

Countries have also been working to bolster chip supply chains as the chip shortage affects production in industries such as autos. South Korea on Thursday said it would offer bigger tax breaks plus 1 trillion won ($883 million) in loans for its local chip industry.

Some 153 chip companies including global No. 1 and 2 memory chip makers Samsung and SK Hynix already have plans to invest a combined 510 trillion won or more between this year and 2030, according to the Korea Semiconductor Industry Association.

Samsung’s increased investment target, up from 133 trillion won announced in 2019, is expected to be used for its goal to become the world’s No. 1 logic chipmaker by 2030. It wants to challenge bigger rivals TSMC in contract chip manufacturing and Qualcomm in mobile processing chips.

Samsung also said in a statement that its third chip production line at Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul — the size of 25 football fields — will be completed in the second half of 2022. “Countries around the world have entered fierce competition by reorganizing supply chains around their own country,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday at Samsung’s chip site at Pyeongtaek.

“We need pre-emptive investments ... to strengthen the domestic industrial ecosystem and lead the global supply chain to make this opportunity ours.”

South Korea will increase tax breaks to 6 percent from the current 3 percent or lower for capital expenditures between second half of 2021 to 2024 for large corporations conducting “key strategic technology” including semiconductors, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement.

The government will offer about 1 trillion won in long-term loans for increasing 8-inch wafer chip contract manufacturing capacity and investment for materials and packaging. It also raised number of chip industry workers to be educated to 36,000 by 2030, more than double its previous target in 2019. “Setting up an environment where smaller fabless firms can thrive, with plenty of workforce and foundries, would naturally bolster system chip industry,” said Jinwook Burm, head of the Institute of Semiconductor Engineers.

In March, US President Joe Biden flagged plans to invest $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research.

Chips are the No. 1 export item for South Korea, accounting for about 20 percent of exports.

Samsung, Hyundai Motor, the ministry and industry associations also agreed to join efforts to respond to auto chips’ shortage on Thursday, the presidential office said in its statement without providing details.