Libyan rival officials meet for UN-led talks on elections

Speaker of Libyan House of Representatives, UN Special Adviser on Libya and President of Libya's High State Council of State give a press conference at the UN in Geneva. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2022

Libyan rival officials meet for UN-led talks on elections

  • Two senior Libyan officials from the country's rival camps have begun talks on constitutional arrangements for elections

GENEVA: Two senior Libyan officials began two days of talks Tuesday on constitutional arrangements for elections, the latest UN effort to bridge gaps between the country’s rivals.
Aguila Saleh, the influential speaker of the country’s east-based parliament, and Khaled Al-Meshri, head of the government’s Supreme Council of State, based in the west, in the capital of Tripoli, met at the UN headquarters in Geneva.
According to the United Nations, the talks will focus on a draft constitutional framework for elections after Libya’s rival factions failed to reach an agreement in their last round of talks in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.
Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, said they would discuss “timelines, modalities and milestones to guarantee a clear path to the holding of national elections as soon possible.”
“It is now the time to make a final and courageous effort to ensure that this historic compromise takes place, for the sake of Libya, the Libyan people and the credibility of its institutions,” she said.
The criteria for a presidential candidacy were a contentious point in the talks, according to Libyan media. The Tripoli-based council insisted on banning military personal from running for the country’s top post — apparently a move directed at the divisive commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are loyal to the east-based administration.
Haftar had announced his bid in elections slated for last December but the vote was not held because of myriad issues, including controversial hopefuls who had announced bids and disputes about election laws.
There are growing tensions on the ground, and sporadic clashes between rival militias recently erupted in Tripoli. Living conditions have also deteriorated, mainly because of fuel shortages in the oil-rich nation. Tribal leaders have shut down many oil facilities, including the country’s largest field.
The blockade was largely meant to cut off key state revenues to the incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who has refused to step down even though the vote was not held in December.
Now, Dbeibah and another prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, appointed by the east-based parliament to lead a transitional government, are claiming power. The rivalry has sparked fears the oil-rich country could slide back to fighting after tentative steps toward unity last year.
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.


Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

Updated 7 min 9 sec ago

Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

  • Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013
  • Documents revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA

Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Russian citizenship to former US. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, nine years after he exposed the scale of secret surveillance operations by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA, where he worked.

US authorities have for years wanted him returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

There was no immediate reaction from Snowden, whose name appeared without Kremlin comment in a Putin decree conferring citizenship on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals.

The news prompted some Russians to jokingly ask whether Snowden would be called up for military service, five days after Putin announced Russia's first public mobilization since World War Two to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

"Will Snowden be drafted?" Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state media outlet RT and a vocal Putin supporter, wrote with dark humour on her Telegram channel.

Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told RIA news agency that his client could not be called up because he had not previously served in the Russian army.

He said that Snowden's wife Lindsay Mills, who gave birth to a son in 2020, would also apply for citizenship.

Russia granted Snowden permanent residency rights in 2020, paving the way for him to obtain Russian citizenship.

That year a US appeals court found the program Snowden had exposed was unlawful and that the US intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.

Putin, a former Russian spy chief, said in 2017 that Snowden, who keeps a low profile while living in Russia, was wrong to leak US secrets but was not a traitor.


Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics' as Ishaq Dar returns to Pakistan as new finance minister

Updated 5 min 31 sec ago

Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics' as Ishaq Dar returns to Pakistan as new finance minister

  • Investors hopeful Dar will help stabilize rupee and tame inflation, Dar favoured strong currency in previous tenures
  • Dubbed Daronomics, Dar’s approach kept rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against dollar during last stint

KARACHI: Senior leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) returned to Pakistan on Monday night, set to become finance minister of crisis-hit Pakistan, with investors pinning hopes that a new era of “Daronomics” would help to stabilize the rupee and tame record-high inflation.

Dar is a member of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's ruling PMLN party and has already been finance minister four times. Dubbed Daronomics, his approach kept the rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against the greenback during his last stint in office from 2013-2017 but he was also widely criticized for deliberately undervaluing the rupee by pumping dollars in the market.  

The Pakistani rupee gained in value by 1.11% or Rs2.63 to close at Rs237.02 against the United States dollar in the interbank market on Monday, and gained Rs6.90 to trade at Rs237.50 in the open market following the reports of Dar’s return. Dar touched down in Islamabad on Monday night and is expected to take charge this week.

While media had reported ex-finance minister Miftah Ismail would remain part of the government’s economic team, the outgoing official told Arab News on Monday: “I will have no role in the government.”

“I will try my best that I can pull Pakistan out of the economic swamp it is trapped in,” Dar told media at the airport after returning to Pakistan from London where he has lived in exile since 2017 when he was disqualified from office by a court in a corruption case.

Dar takes over as the economy faces one of its worst balance of payments crises, and recent floods are estimated to have cost it nearly $30 billion.

Earlier this month, the government cut its GDP growth forecast below 3% from a 5% budgetary target for 2022-23.

“Ishaq Dar is known for keeping the exchange rate stable for stronger currency, that is why the currency market has strongly reacted to his return resultantly the rupee gain some strength,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Economists said Dar’s return would bring some "comfort" to the currency market and tame increasing inflation, which is at a 47-year high at 27.3%.

“Ishaq Dar is being brought back by the coalition government keeping in view his past track of keeping the exchange rate under control,” Dr Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The first priority of the coalition government is to bring stability in the value of rupee as the national currency has fast eroded its value against the US dollar despite International Monetary Fund (IMF) program revival,” he added.

Economists said the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif had paid the political cost of much-needed measures taken by the outgoing finance minister, including the withdrawal of fuel subsidies and fast depreciation of the rupee.

“When the rupee depreciates, the public attributes it to the performance of the economic managers. As a political party this has been the discourse at some level and the decision to bring Dar has been taken in order to show economic performance and improve the image in the eyes of the public.”

The government’s decision to replace Ismail with the Dar reflected the coalition government’s need to immediately “showcase” performance “due to the short time available to the election next year,” Amin said.

“Government wants to go into the election with a new image, with a new market and public feelings that it has improved things … exchange rate and inflation, two key indicators,” he added.

But many economists said Dar’s return would have little effect.

“Changing faces may have limited impacts as we are facing both global and domestic recessions,” Khurram Schehzad, CEO at Alpha Beta Core, a startup investment advisory platform, told Arab News. “Options are limited and the economic situation is challenging. So expecting something extraordinarily different from another person would not be prudent.”

Pakistani industrialists said the incoming finance minister would have to deal with a plethora of issues, chief among them political instability.

“Pakistan is facing a very difficult time at the time when Ishaq Dar is coming back … current account deficit, trade deficit, debt repayments, high inflation, and rupee dollar parity are among them,” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Businessmen Group at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News.

“The big problem is political stability ... instability is the mother of all economic evils in Pakistan so he will have to deal with it. Our best wishes are with him and we pray for the speedy improvement of the issues the country is facing right now.”

Pakistan stocks closed bullish with the benchmark KSE100 index settling at 41,151 level, up by 531 points or 1.31%.

“Bullish activity witnessed on strong rupee recovery amid decision over the appointment of a new finance minister, which is likely to stabilise economic uncertainty,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, said.


Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Updated 49 min 41 sec ago

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

  • State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency
  • Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said ‘we deeply value our relationship with France’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on December 1 for the first full-scale state visit of his administration, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and France, our oldest ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House.
State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency, which Jean-Pierre attributed to Covid pandemic restrictions.
Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Jean-Pierre said “we deeply value our relationship with France.”
The link between the two countries is “founded on shared democratic values, economic ties, and defense and security cooperation,” she said.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a major crisis last year when Australia abruptly announced it was ditching a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a US nuclear-powered submarine deal.

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After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

Updated 26 September 2022

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

  • Nearly 1.5 million people are displaced in southern Sindh province
  • Makeshift facility in Karachi will comprise about 1,300 tents, official says

KARACHI: Thousands of people in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh will be moved to a “tent city” in the provincial capital Karachi this week, officials said on Monday, in the aftermath of catastrophic floods that had submerged a third of the country and killed over 1,600 people.

Torrential rains and melting glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan’s north triggered floods that have swept away homes, key infrastructure, livestock and crops, affecting 33 million of Pakistan’s 220 million people since mid-June.

With nearly 1.5 million people displaced in Sindh province, the local government has been using public schools as temporary shelters. In Karachi, thousands of people have taken refuge in 30 schools in the city.

Local officials are preparing to move the victims to a makeshift facility located in the suburbs of Malir, an administrative district in the eastern part of Karachi, with the relocation set to begin this week.

“About 7,000 people living in our relief camps would be shifted and the schools will be vacated,” said Raja Tariq Chandio, deputy commissioner of Karachi’s East District, where the schools currently used as shelters are located.

The temporary settlement will comprise about 1,300 tents, and K-Electric, the city’s sole power distributor, will set up a power transmission line to provide electricity to the camp, Malir’s Deputy Commissioner Irfan Salam told Arab News.

“In the tent city, flood victims will have safe drinking water and cooked meals. It has 20 washrooms and a hospital with men and women doctors and paramedics,” Salam said.

“It will take at least 10 days for K-Electric to set up the power transmission line,” he added. “Within two days, people will be moved to the tent city.”

A charity organization will be providing meals for the displaced people relocated to Malir, he added, while children will get to attend classes organized by the Sindh Education Foundation.

The deadly floods in Pakistan inundated around 15,000 schools across Sindh alone, where classes have yet to resume. Millions of students in the province are at risk of being permanently out of school, Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah said earlier this month, as the government lacked resources to rebuild the damaged facilities.

Officials said there are plans to restart classes in Karachi after displaced residents are moved to Malir, when the buildings currently used as temporary shelters can again be used for lessons.

“We are happy that classes are going to resume soon,” Javed Shah, a teacher at the Government Boys Primary School, told Arab News. “We will bring the schools to order to resume classes.”


Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

Updated 26 September 2022

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

  • Government launches probe as about 30 not found, 35 dead
  • Small vessel packed with Hindu devotees, women and children

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities continued their search on Monday for missing passengers after an overloaded boat sank in the country’s northern district and killed at least 35 people in the worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year.

The small boat, packed with mostly Hindu devotees, and women and children, sank in the Karatoya river on Sunday. Some passengers were returning from a popular temple in the northern Panchagarh district on the occasion of the Durga Puja celebrations.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of 35 people as of Monday afternoon, comprising 17 women, 11 children, and seven men, Panchagarh district administrator Mohammad Jahurul Islam told Arab News.

“Until Monday afternoon we have found 35 dead bodies,” Islam said. “Still, 20 to 30 people are missing. However, we found some missing people alive today as they were rescued by the locals on Sunday and took shelter in the homes of nearby relatives.”

A committee has been formed to investigate the incident and is expected to file a report within three days, he added.

“This sort of boat capsize is very rare in this region, because these small rivers are mostly calm in nature,” Islam said.

Officials suspect the fatal incident had occurred due to overcrowding.

“It seems that the boat had capsized due to overload(ing),” Shahjahan Ali, who led the search and rescue operations, told Arab News.

“We are conducting the operations in a 15-kilometer radius in the surrounding areas of the river. Now our operations are ongoing in some special areas where few of the bodies might have been floating around. Tomorrow we will also continue the search,” he added.

Bangladesh sees hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents, due to lax safety standards despite extensive inland waterways in the low-lying country.

At least 34 people died in April 2021 after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.