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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New law on sponsorship likely in May

April 30, 2014 - 6:18:49 am Jaber Al Harami (left), Editor-in-Chief of Al Sharq addressing a press meet yesterday on the conference on protection of labour rights in Qatar being organised by Dar Al Sharq tomorrow at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel to mark the International Workers Day. Representatives of companies sponsoring the conference — Msheireb Properties, RasGas and Qatar Rail — are also seen. (QASSIM RAHMATULLAH) DOHA: The new sponsorship law that expatriates have been eagerly looking forward to anticipating major changes, are expected to be issued any time next month. This newspaper has reliably learnt that some key amendments to the sponsorship rules have been made and would likely be unveiled in May. Also anticipated in this very month is a series of alterations to some key provisions of the labour law, it is understood. It goes without saying that amendments to the sponsorship rules would likely cover provisions for transfer of sponsorship of foreign workers. Nothing is known about exit permit rules that are also covered by sponsorship regulations, but one expects some changes in this system as well. Meanwhile, in remarks to Jaber Al Harami, editor-in-chief of Al Sharq newspaper, about the labour law, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, H E Abdullah Saleh Mubarak Al Khulaifi, said yesterday that his Ministry was making every effort to tackle all laws that relate to workers’ issues. The Minister is to open tomorrow a key conference of workers being organised by Al Sharq on the occasion of International Labour Day. He will be reading out the speech of the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, H E Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani. The Labour Minister said despite the fact that Qatar had already done much to improve the lot of foreign workers, the country has been making consistent and further effort to protect their rights. Meanwhile, it seems that initiatives to reform the sponsorship system are being taken by other GCC states as well. A new sponsorship system would likely be announced in Kuwait soon. The country is planning to set up a Public Authority for Manpower that would replace the existing kafala system. The Authority will have a board of directors that would be meeting soon and set the procedures to organise relations between employers and employees. مجلس الوزراء يوافق على سريان احكام القانون رقم 24 بشأن التقاعد والمعاشات على العاملين القطريين في شركة قطر للاستثمار وتطوير المشاريع القابضة Cabinet approves the validity of the provisions of Law No. 24 on retirement and pensions for Qatari employees in Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kurds fight out internal rivalries in Iraq vote

Kurds fight out internal rivalries in Iraq vote Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:03am EDT 0 Comments inShare.1Share thisEmailPrintRelated TopicsEnergy » * President's stroke opens dangerous power vacuum * Shots show potential for violence between Kurdish groups * Turkey, Iran jostle for influence By Isabel Coles SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, April 29 (Reuters) - Celebratory gunfire broke out in Iraq's Kurdish north as the octogenarian was shown on television raising an ink-stained finger after casting his vote thousands of miles away in Germany. The man was Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and his silent appearance at an early ballot for the election due at home on Wednesday was the first footage of him since he suffered a stroke late in 2012 and was flown abroad for medical treatment. In Sulaimaniyah, capital of the province of the same name where his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is headquartered, cars blared their horns and people, some wearing T-shirts printed with Talabani's face, danced on the streets. Cause for festivities may be short-lived. Wednesday's election marks a new round in an internal power struggle that risks turning violent and skewing the balance of power in Kurdistan between influential neighbours Iran and Turkey. The parliamentary vote is being contested as bitterly within each of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian constituencies as between them -- if not more so. Among the Kurds, long at odds with Baghdad and in charge of their own quasi-state in the north of the country, rivalries have prevented the formation of a government more than seven months after elections in the oil-rich enclave. true This election, amounts, for them, to a referendum on Talabani's PUK, left rudderless and internally riven without the ailing statesman, known affectionately as "dear uncle". The PUK's fading star has upset the region's time-worn political order, raising concerns about stability, particularly in Sulaimaniyah province, which Talabani's party has controlled since Kurdistan gained autonomy more than three decades ago. Last week, gunmen waving the PUK's green flag drove past a branch of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on Sulaimaniyah's main street and opened fire. The mayor said "dark hands" were behind the incident, in which there were no casualties. Member of parliament Ari Harsin later stood guard at the scene with a machine gun slung over his shoulder. "I took up arms because no-one is in charge of Suleimaniyah," he said in a television interview. "I am defending democracy". The shooting took place just days after an agreement was signed to finally form a new cabinet that would sideline the PUK, which has shared power with the KDP for almost a decade but fell to third place at the polls last September. It was overtaken by opposition party Gorran (Change), which grew out of a former wing of the PUK and quickly gained popularity among Kurds fed up with the corruption of the region's traditional ruling elites. In this election, the PUK is hoping to regain stature through Kirkuk - an ethnically mixed city where the party enjoys support outside the formal boundary of Kurdistan. That would give the PUK much-needed leverage in ongoing negotiations over government formation. "They lost the (local) election and they must accept it," said the head of Gorran's electoral list Aram Sheikh Mohammed at the party's hilltop headquarters in Suleimaniyah, from an office that commands a view of the mountains surrounding the city. "The PUK needs to wake up: they are still in a deep sleep". SHIFTING SANDS Formed at a cafe in the Syrian capital Damascus in 1975, the PUK gathered disparate left-leaning Kurdish groups under its umbrella as an alternative to the KDP, which revolves around the Barzani tribe and dominates the region's other two provinces. With no clear chain of command, cracks in the PUK have widened and the party is now incapacitated by competition between different factions, one of which is led by the wife of its infirm leader. But talk of its demise may be premature. In Sulaimaniyah, the PUK's financial and military muscle is still unrivalled. The party has its own security apparatus, "peshmerga" fighting force, and a vast network of patronage built around a business empire that includes fuel trading and real estate. Faced with being left out in the cold, some members of the PUK have made veiled threats, reminding people they owe allegiance to political parties over and above the institutions of the relatively young Kurdish regional government. But if the PUK's patronage system begins to unwind, loyalties could shift. Several members of the PUK have already jumped ship and joined the KDP in recent weeks. "It's never going to simply slide away into nothing quietly," said Gareth Stansfield, Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). "It could change with more defections from the party to others; it could see some form of reunion with Gorran, as seemed to be happening before Talabani's illness; or it could fail catastrophically, and by that I mean a decline into conflict." The acid test may be provincial elections, to be held this week alongside the Iraqi national vote, but in Kurdistan alone, and for the first time since the birth of Gorran, which could come out on top. "It's difficult to envisage how they will behave," said a source close to decision-makers in all three main parties. "I don't think any party wants to go as far as confrontation." For now, they are waging war through the media. PUK outlets have sought to smear Gorran's candidate for governor by publishing poems he wrote for a newspaper of the Baath party of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, who presided over the mass killing of Kurds in the 1980s. But many worry there is a potential for conflict in a region where many men own firearms and the older generation fought a guerilla war against Saddam's forces before turning their weapons on each other. "Kurds don't point fingers, we point guns," the head of Kurdistan's security council Masrour Barzani told a U.S. diplomat in 2009 during a discussion about elections, according to a cable released by anti-secrecy site Wikileaks. "CHAOS" Officials in the KDP are worried about the PUK's implosion at a time when insurgents are gaining ground in the rest of Iraq, and across the border in Syria, warning that security in Suleimaniyah is a "red line". A rare bombing in the regional capital Arbil days after the election in September has been followed by several smaller attacks in Sulaimaniyah. Sticky bombs were attached to the vehicles of two officers and an explosive device was detonated outside the house of a colonel. The head of the security services in Sulaimaniyah took umbrage at the suggestion the province was not secure, and said his men had recently managed to thwart an attack by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The PUK's health is also of concern for Iran, which shares a long border with Suleimaniyah province and has historically been close to Talabani and his party, counteracting Turkey's growing influence over the KDP. "Iran is very, very concerned about the future of the PUK," said a senior KDP official on condition of anonymity. "Talabani is out of the picture, but the PUK has some institutions Iran needs". As early as 2008, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani fretted about PUK succession, predicting "chaos" could follow Talabani's exit and create opportunities for Iran to meddle more in Sulaimaniyah, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks. Since the September election, PUK leaders have gone to Tehran for talks, and Iranian officials have visited Kurdistan to lobby on behalf of the ailing party and preserve its own interests in the region. "It's a dangerous neighbourhood," said another KDP source who declined to be named. "They (our detractors) can easily destabilise us, especially if we are not united". (Editing by Philippa Fletcher) =================== Frustrated Iraqi Kurds hope vote will bring new PM By W.G. Dunlop | AFP – 9 hours ago View Photo.AFP/AFP - A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga force casts his ballot in special voting ahead of Iraq's upcoming election on April 28, 2014, in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil ...... View Photo.Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga force wait to cast their ballots ahead of Iraq's … . View Photo.An Iraqi Kurdish street vendor holds banners bearing portraits of President of Iraqi … . View Photo.A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga force casts her ballot in the northern Iraqi Kurdish … ....Iraqi Kurds frustrated with the federal government dream of independence for their autonomous region, but for now they want widely disliked Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki out of office. Maliki's "policies against the Kurds were not good", said Mohsen, 38, after dusting off sunglasses for sale in front of his shop in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil. Instead, Mohsen wants a premier who "treats all of the (ethnic) components of the Iraqi people equally". Maliki, a Shiite Arab vying for a third term in Wednesday's parliamentary polls, has repeatedly clashed with the three-province Kurdistan region's leadership in disputes over territory, resources and power-sharing, making him a prime target for Kurdish ire. Massud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has frequently spoken out against Maliki, accusing him of monopolising power. He has voiced fears Maliki would use F-16 jets ordered from the United States against the Kurds, and called for his removal from office. - 'Not beneficial for anyone' - "Maliki has not been beneficial for the Kurds or any Iraqis," and it is time for a new prime minister, Tariq Jawhar, a Kurdish parliamentary candidate, told AFP. Jawhar, from federal President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said the premier's policies and government had raised tensions between Kurds and Arabs, and also between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Jawhar likened Maliki's actions to those of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, reviled for launching military operations against Iraqi Kurds that killed tens of thousands of people. "Saddam Hussein was ousted, but (his) methods and legacy still exist in the mindsets of many Iraqi leaders," Jawhar said. "Saddam resorted to military options against the Kurds" while Maliki "resorted to economically sanctioning" them, he said. Kurdish politicians have in recent months criticised what they say have been delayed and insufficient payments to the region this year that have caused financial difficulties and seen salaries go unpaid. "So long as the threat of economic sanctions remains over Kurdistan, the viability of Kurdistan's independence... becomes more a reality," Qubad Talabani, a senior Kurdish official and one of the president's sons, told AFP in the city of Sulaimaniyah. Kurdistan has repeatedly been at odds with the federal government in a series of long-running disputes, including over a swathe of northern territory he region wants to incorporate against Baghdad's wishes, and the clashing interests of federal desire for control and Kurdish assertions of autonomy. The region's decision to sign contracts unilaterally with international firms to develop its energy sector is another point of contention, with Baghdad insisting that all such deals -- and any oil exports -- are its exclusive purview. Jawhar said Baghdad's treatment of the Kurdistan region ultimately contributes to dividing Iraq, and that Kurds are increasingly "willing to be independent". - 'Split from the Arabs' - Kurds interviewed in Arbil were almost unanimously in favour of at least eventual independence for the Kurdistan region, and against Maliki remaining in office. Bestoon, a 35-year-old member of the Kurdish peshmerga security forces, said he wanted "the independence of Kurdistan" and "to be split from the Arabs". "It was always the Arabs who suppressed us," and they might try to do so again, said Bestoon, dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying an assault rifle, with extra magazines at his waist. And Tarza, a 25-year-old university student, said she thought the federal government was mistreating the Kurds, and that she too was in favour of independence. "I don't feel part of" Iraq, she said. One of the main obstacles to Kurdish independence is economic. The region would need to produce enough oil to cover the revenue from lost federal funding, which it does not currently do. "We have to obtain economic independence before political independence," said Jutyar Adil, a parliamentary candidate for Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, the main party in the region, while making clear he was not advocating independence at this time. At night, convoys of cars drove through Arbil flying political flags, horns blaring. But not everyone is as enthusiastic about this week's election. "I don't expect lots of change," said Zhilwan, a 38-year-old who teaches at Salaheddin University. Referring to widespread corruption, he said: "It's only a different group of people who become rich." ==== There is something truly paradoxical about Iraq's April 30 parliamentary elections. Although there is near unanimity among observers that the past four years have been disastrous for the country, many are still willing to defend Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's tenure -- even going so far as to suggest that there is no one else who is capable of governing the country. However, the sad reality is that -- given all the developments of his eight years in office -- very few Iraqis are less suitable to be prime minister today than Maliki. Indeed, Maliki's third term would likely be even more disastrous than his second, leading to a deterioration in security and causing the country to relapse into a new authoritarian era. Maliki's defenders usually argue that the prime minister was largely responsible for the improvement in security that took place in 2008, that he is a shrewd political operator who has outmaneuvered all his opponents, and also that he has made himself indispensable to the state's survival. That analysis seemed ludicrously generous as early as 2010, when it was first made, but it now borders somewhere between the comical and the suicidal. It is true that Maliki has outmaneuvered his opponents -- but he did so at the expense of Iraq's institutions. The prime minister merely seized control over the security forces and threatened all his opponents into submission. He has monopolized all decision-making at the Defense and Interior ministries and has taken to providing direct instructions to individual units -- often with a view to intimidating enemies or suppressing perceived threats, thereby completely undermining the concept of a professional chain of command. Whenever his opponents demanded that he change his ways, share power, or respect the rule of law, he would simply refuse -- safe in the knowledge that his enemies had no leverage to speak of. Maliki has always been very good at using the security sector to bolster his political power, but has been an utter failure in restoring actual security to Iraq. Maliki has always been very good at using the security sector to bolster his political power, but has been an utter failure in restoring actual security to Iraq. Although he was quick to take credit for the improvement in security that took place in 2007 and 2008, U.S. military officials who were responsible for overseeing the "surge" have since written detailed memoirs in which Maliki is hardly ever mentioned -- and when he does come up, Maliki is almost never portrayed in a positive light. Even his decision to confront Shiite militias in the city of Basra and the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City -- often cited as evidence of his nonsectarian credentials and his daring on the battlefield -- was a disaster in its early stages, precisely because Maliki was solely in charge. It was only after U.S. forces intervened that the battle was won. Maliki and his inner circle have also exacerbated security risks through a series of elementary mistakes, including subjecting thousands of innocent young men to unjustified detention and allowing corruption to get so out of hand that it has now seriously impacted the capacity of the security sector. Military units and police throughout the country now either stand aside or actively participate as local mafias force businesses to pay protection money. Security forces in the capital are still forced to use fake bomb detectors simply so that the government (which was responsible for buying the devices) can save face. The result is that the number of security-related deaths has roughly tripled over the past year, as car bombs continue to rip through army units and civilian areas with ruthless efficiency. Meanwhile, armed confrontations between gunmen and government forces have become more frequent. Security has deteriorated so terribly that Iraq is now once again at risk of splitting apart. Many areas of the country are now out of the government's control: Large swaths of the western province of Anbar are in open rebellion; security forces have essentially given up trying to control parts of the northern province of Nineveh, which has become a major financial hub for terrorist organizations; and the eastern province of Diyala has witnessed another round of brutal bloodletting as militias and government forces shell civilian areas. The state's army and police have revealed themselves to be little more than a paper tiger. They are very willing to arrest and torture the innocent and defenseless, but are essentially powerless to control the actions of powerful militias that are now running riot throughout the country. With security forces incapable of facing the threat, Shiite militias have actually begun providing instructions to the military -- sometimes even replacing them in battle altogether. These developments have exposed Maliki's strongman image as the house of cards it always was. The prime minister's supporters regularly refer admiringly to his capacity for survival, but it is precisely Maliki's stubborn insistence that he should remain in control of government that has hindered the provision of services. Hospitals are in such a poor state that Iraqi doctors would never imagine turning to one of their colleagues for treatment; they travel to any number of capitals in the region for even minor ailments. Electricity production has improved only slightly, to the extent that summers and winters are still invariably punctuated by daily power cuts, some of which can last for days. Rather than trying to resolve these problems, Maliki has allowed a grotesque form of nepotism to gnaw away at the state's bureaucracy, marginalizing the few competent officials who survived Baath Party rule and Iraq's wars. These failures also have served to prevent alternatives to the status quo from emerging. Maliki's greatest success may have been creating the impression that he is indispensable -- that the state will collapse if the man in charge is removed. The truth is that what makes Maliki and his clique indispensable is their willingness to burn the whole house down to protect their positions. In fact, many competent politicians are far better placed than Maliki and his inner circle to guide the country to a better place. Iraq does not lack competent administrators or politicians -- it merely lacks the democratic traditions that would allow them to play a greater role in revitalizing its moribund government. Several names come immediately to mind: Mohammed Allawi, a former communications minister who resigned in protest when Maliki kept appointing incompetent party loyalists to his ministry; Ali Allawi, a former defense and finance minister who left government in 2006 in disgust at the corruption; Adel Abdul Mahdi, a respected politician who could have sufficient backing to form a government; and Ali Dwai, a governor of a southern province who is renowned for his effectiveness in very difficult circumstances. While Maliki may want observers to fear that his departure would cause a security deterioration, the truth is that life in Iraq is already becoming more desperate by the day -- in large part because of the toxic role that Maliki has been playing. Sectarian relations have worsened considerably, and the general population is terrified of a renewed conflict. A change at the country's helm is needed precisely in order to restore the possibility of an improvement in the country's direction; with Maliki, that possibility does not exist. For Iraqis to place their trust in the possibility that he might change his style of governance after eight years in power would be borderline suicidal. There is in fact a serious possibility that Maliki will not obtain sufficient popular support to retain his position. His electoral popularity peaked at around 24 percent of the vote in 2010, when many Iraqis still believed in his nonsectarian and strongman credentials. However, Iraq's complex and dysfunctional parliamentary system has allowed him to negotiate his survival. This election season, Maliki's fortunes will necessarily decline from the previous poll -- the only questions are by how much and how his electoral rivals will react. After the votes are counted, Iraq's future will depend on its leaders' ability to ===============

U.S. law firm seeks records from Malaysian Airlines, Boeing

Tue, Mar 25 21:45 PM EDT NEW YORK (Reuters) - Malaysian Airlines and Boeing Co are facing a potential lawsuit over the Beijing-bound flight that disappeared more than two weeks ago with 239 people on board, according to a law firm representing passengers' families. A petition for discovery has been filed against Boeing Co, manufacturer of the aircraft, and Malaysian Airlines, operator of the plane, Chicago-based Ribbeck Law said in a statement on Tuesday. The Boeing 777 vanished while flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia said on Monday that the missing jetliner had crashed into remote seas off Australia, citing satellite data analysis. Airline officials on Monday said all on board were presumed dead. The petition for discovery, filed in a Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court, is meant to secure evidence of possible design and manufacturing defects that may have contributed to the disaster, the law firm said. The court filing was not immediately available. The filing initiates a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the airline and Boeing by the passengers' families, the firm said. "We believe that both defendants named are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH 370," Monica Kelly, the lead Ribbeck lawyer in the case, said in the statement. The petition was filed on behalf of Januari Siregar, whose son was on the flight. Additional pleadings will be filed in the next few days against other potential defendants that designed or manufactured component parts of the aircraft that may have failed, Kelly said. Ribbeck is also asking that U.S. scientists be included in the search for wreckage and bodies, the firm said. A spokesman for Boeing declined comment. A spokesman for Malaysian Airlines could not immediately be reached for comment. Ribbeck is also representing 115 passengers in the crash of in San Francisco in July. The law firm's petition is asking the judge to order Boeing to provide the identity of manufacturers of various plane components, including electric components and wiring, batteries, emergency oxygen and fire alarm systems. It is also seeking the identity of the company or person who last inspected the fuselage and who provided maintenance. The petition also asks the judge to order Malaysian Airlines to produce information about crew training for catastrophic incidents, security practices, safety training and crew evaluations. (Reporting By Dena Aubin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman) ================== Dutch firm Fugro to lead search for MH370 off Australia Wed, Aug 06 13:23 PM EDT image By Lincoln Feast SYDNEY (Reuters) - Dutch engineering firm Fugro will lead the search of the Indian Ocean seafloor where missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is believed to have crashed, hoping to unlock the greatest mystery in modern aviation. Australia on Wednesday awarded Fugro the lead commercial contract for the search, after months of hunting by up to two dozen countries revealed no trace of the missing Boeing 777. The jetliner, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. Investigators say what little evidence they have to work with suggests the aeroplane was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometers before eventually crashing into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia. The next phase of the search is expected to start within a month and take up to a year, focusing on a 60,000 sq km (23,000 square miles) patch of ocean some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) west of Perth. Australian Transport Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said Fugro was selected after "offering the best value-for-money technical solution" for the seafloor search. "I remain cautiously optimistic that we will locate the missing aircraft within the priority search area," he told reporters in Canberra. Fugro will use two vessels equipped with towed deep water vehicles carrying side scan sonar, multi beam echo sounders and video cameras to scour the seafloor, which is close to 5,000 m (16,400 ft) deep in places. The Dutch company is already conducting a detailed underwater mapping of the search area, along with a Chinese naval vessel. "We haven't completed the mapping, so we are still discovering detailed features that we had no knowledge of, underwater volcanoes and various other things," said Martin Dolan, the head of the Australian Transport Safety Board, which is heading the search. "We are finding some surprises as we go through." Malaysia will provide four vessels and gear to aid seafloor mapping and the search of the storm-lashed and isolated area. Truss said he would talk to his Malaysian counterpart later this month about sharing search costs. Australia has set aside up to A$90 million ($83.66 million) and estimates a 12-month search of the area will cost around A$52 million. The search is already the most expensive ever undertaken. China, which had 153 nationals on board MH370, has been heavily involved, providing ships, aircraft and satellite technology. One Chinese vessel will stay in the search area until mid-September, but Truss said China had shown no sign that it would cover any of the commercial search costs. Dozens of ships and planes scoured vast areas of ocean in the months after the plane disappeared but found only rubbish. The search was narrowed in April after a series of acoustic pings thought to be from the plane's black box recorders were heard near its last location shown by satellite data analysis. But officials now say wreckage from the aircraft was not in the area they had identified, requiring the search to be expanded and moved further to the southwest. Malaysia Airlines has been battered this year by the tragic unprecedented loss of two of its airliners, after Flight MH17 was shot down over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. With a long maritime history and seafaring expertise, Dutch companies are leaders in the field of complex, large-scale undersea search and salvage operations. (1 US dollar=1.0749 Australian dollar) (Additional reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez) ======================

Has wealth made Qatar happy?

28 April 2014 Last updated at 19:44 ET By Matthew Teller Doha, Qatar Continue reading the main story In today's MagazineHow many middle-aged men need HRT? The people who are still addicted to the Rubik's Cube A US soldier searches for his Vietnamese son The man who made South Africa's flag Oil and gas have made Qatar the richest country in the world - rich enough to be ready, apparently, to spend $200bn (£120bn) on stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. But has virtually limitless wealth brought the country happiness? It's still cool enough to sit outside in Qatar's capital, Doha. In another few weeks it will be too hot and most people - those who don't have to work outside - will be retreating indoors to the comfort of air-conditioning. For now, though, families relax in the afternoon sun on the waterfront promenade, the Corniche. The view has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Glass and steel towers rise like an artificial forest from what was once a shoreline of flat sand. "We have become urban," says Dr Kaltham Al Ghanim, a sociology professor at Qatar University. "Our social and economic life has changed - families have become separated, consumption culture has taken over." Qatar's government puts a positive spin on the pace of change. Continue reading the main story Richest countries (GDP per capita) Qatar ($102,000) Liechtenstein ($89,000) Bermuda ($86,000) Macau ($82,000) Luxembourg ($78,000) Source: CIA World Factbook From desperate poverty less than a century ago, this, after all, has become the richest nation in the world, with an average per-capita income topping $100,000 (£60,000). What's less well understood is the impact of such rapid change on Qatari society itself. You can feel the pressure in Doha. The city is a building site, with whole districts either under construction or being demolished for redevelopment. Constantly snarled traffic adds hours to the working week, fuelling stress and impatience. Local media report that 40% of Qatari marriages now end in divorce. More than two-thirds of Qataris, adults and children, are obese. Qataris benefit from free education, free healthcare, job guarantees, grants for housing, even free water and electricity, but abundance has created its own problems. "It's bewildering for students to graduate and be faced with 20 job offers," one academic at an American university campus in Qatar tells me. "People feel an overwhelming pressure to make the right decision." Continue reading the main story Find out more Listen to From Our Own Correspondent for insight and analysis from BBC journalists, correspondents and writers from around the world Broadcast on Radio 4 on Saturdays at 11:30 BST and BBC World Service Listen to the programme Download the programme In a society where Qataris are outnumbered roughly seven-to-one by expatriates, long-term residents speak of a growing frustration among graduates that they are being fobbed off with sinecures while the most satisfying jobs go to foreigners. The sense is deepening that, in the rush for development, something important has been lost. Qatari family life is atomising. With children almost universally being raised by nannies brought in from the Philippines, Nepal or Indonesia, gaps of culture and outlook are opening up between the generations. Umm Khalaf, a woman in her 60s, her features hidden behind a traditional batoola face-mask, described to me the "beautiful simplicity" of life in her youth. "We were self-resourceful once. It's painful to lose that family intimacy," she says. Out on the dusty plains west of Doha, at Umm Al Afai - roughly, the Place of Snakes - farmer Ali al-Jehani is treating me to a tin bowl of warm, foamy camel's milk, fresh from the udder. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote It's the only souk I know where men go round with dustpans and brushes” End Quote "Before you could be rich if you worked and not if you didn't - it was much better," he says, swiping a soft, sweet date through the milky froth and chewing thoughtfully. "The government is trying to help, but things are moving too fast." Others echo his sense of politicians being out of step with people, particularly with regard to the strenuous - and allegedly corrupt - effort made to bring the 2022 football World Cup to Qatar, and the unanticipated level of media scrutiny that has come with the turmoil of construction. Mariam Dahrouj, a journalism graduate, adjusts her niqab while speaking of a sense of threat. "People in Qatar are afraid," she says. "Suddenly all the world wants to see us. We are a closed community, and they want to come and bring their differences. How can we express our values?" Souk Waqif was torn down - and rebuilt in replica Qatari society is defined by class, which is often linked to race. It is desperately unequal. Redress the balance - by, for instance, abolishing the kafala system that condemns migrant workers to near-slavery, or by opening Qatari citizenship to expatriates - and the fear is stability will erode and cultural values be undermined. But stability is already a shrinking asset here, and values are already shifting. As once-solid regional alliances with Saudi Arabia and other neighbours crumble, and corrosive apprehension spreads among Qataris about the impact of the World Cup - still eight years away - the government may yet find itself facing pressure to reform. "I didn't know about all this kafala stuff," one young Qatari woman told me. "And I'm feeling: why didn't we fix it before?" Behind the Corniche, coffee-drinkers and waterpipe-smokers enjoy the cool evening in the Souk Waqif market - a replica, since the original was torn down a decade ago and rebuilt to look old. It's the only souk I know where men go round with dustpans and brushes. Cleanliness is another Doha obsession. "Have some sympathy for Qataris," says an American anthropologist, who has spent years in Doha. "They've lost almost everything that matters." ==== Argument Making Qatar an Offer It Can't RefuseSaudi Arabia is setting new terms in the Gulf’s relationship with its wayward neighbor. But will Doha bridle at the deal? BY Hassan Hassan Hassan Hassan is a columnist for The National, an English-language daily in the United Arab Emirates. Follow him on Twitter: @hhassan140. APRIL 22, 2014 Share + Twitter Facebook Google + Reddit 1.6k Shares Politics Islam Egypt Middle East The Arab states of the Gulf have launched a new plan to resolve their most serious diplomatic crisis in four decades. Last week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar agreed on a framework meant to patch up the other Gulf states' disagreements with Qatar on a range of regional political issues. The deal was designed to reverse the collapse in relations early last month, when Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Manama recalled their ambassadors from Doha in protest of Qatari policies that they deemed threatening to regional security. The public move was a sign of how serious the crisis had become in the Gulf states, where differences are customarily resolved behind closed doors. Qatar agreed to a list of demands made by its three neighbors that, if Doha fully complies, will deal a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood across the region. But Gulf capitals are skeptical whether Doha will make good on its promises: After all, if Doha fulfills the terms of the agreement, it will mean the reversal of a decade's worth of strenuous and expensive efforts to create a web of influence across the Middle East and North Africa. The public statement that accompanied the agreement only referred vaguely to an understanding that no member state's foreign policy should undermine the other members' "interests, security and stability." Leaks about the agreement suggested that Doha had agreed to expel Muslim Brotherhood members from the country and stop Al Jazeera from referring to the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi from power in July as a coup. But according to the document itself, the deal's terms are far more wide-ranging and complex than what has been revealed so far. One of the three countries' demands is for Qatar to rein in media outlets that criticize and attack the Gulf states. One of the three countries' demands is for Qatar to rein in media outlets that criticize and attack the Gulf states. This applies to media outlets "inside and outside Doha" and which are supported by Qatar "directly or indirectly." The document makes no mention of stopping Al Jazeera from referring to the Morsi ouster as a "coup" -- which the station does regularly -- although it might have been discussed during officials' meetings. Qatar is said to have funded a plethora of media outlets run by Islamists throughout the region, including Rabaa TV, a channel run from Turkey by Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members. The document also stipulates that Qatar will expel Brotherhood members currently living in Doha. The document does not specify Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- rather, the focus has been on the expulsion of 15 members from the Arabian Peninsula -- five Emiratis, two Saudis, six Bahrainis, and two Yemenis. A previous version of the draft stated that Doha would "abstain" or "no longer support" the Muslim Brotherhood or the Houthis in Yemen, but Doha insisted that the wording implied that it had supported these two groups in the past. The wording was then changed to "Doha will not support" the Muslim Brotherhood or the Houthis, a formulation to which Doha agreed. The three countries accused Doha of supporting the Houthis, a Shiite insurgent group that is reportedly supported by Iran, to sabotage the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal for a political transition in Yemen, according to one Gulf official. Qatar pulled out of the negotiations to reach the deal, which eventually resulted in longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquishing power in February 2012. The Houthis have long proven to be a thorn in the Saudis' side: They have endured several military campaigns by Riyadh, including a major Saudi offensive in 2009 led by former Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan. Another key part of the deal would bring about an end to Doha's naturalization of Gulf citizens, mostly opposition and Islamist figures. Gulf officials believe that Qatar actively supports these figures both financially and politically -- several UAE and Saudi Islamists are allegedly using Qatari passports to travel in Europe and in the region, according to a source. In 2012, Ahmed Mohammed al-Ahmari, a well-known Saudi Islamist, created a firestorm in Saudi Arabia after he announced that he was retracting his Saudi citizenship for a Qatari one. In an interview, he said that he was approached by the Qataris to grant him citizenship because of his status as an intellectual. Ahmari is also a staunch critic of the Saudi political and religious establishment. He accused Saudi Salafism of "bringing idolatry to Islam" due to its ideological doctrine counseling obedience to the legitimate ruler. On Twitter last year, he posted a picture of donkeys contentedly drinking water with a quote attributed to the founder of Saudi Arabia reading: "I will make you a great nation that lives in prosperity far greater than that enjoyed by your ancestors." Qatar has benefited from Islamists such as Ahmari because they have formed a political network across the region that can be called on when needed. For example, according to a source close to Syrian Islamists, Doha has asked an influential Libyan cleric based in Qatar to help form a large rebel coalition in Syria. Instead of being directly involved, Doha often designates such figures to bring together individuals or groups to form alliances in the region. Coinciding with the push against Qatar to halt support for Islamists, Saudi Arabia is moving actively against the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. According to a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander in northern Syria, FSA groups backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States are being asked to assimilate more factions into their ranks -- but to steer clear of those close to the Brotherhood. According to another Syrian source, a Gulf-backed plan also aims to boot the Muslim Brotherhood from the opposition's political and military councils. While some articles have reported that the Gulf states are demanding Qatar shutter Al Jazeera and local branches of international research centers in Doha, the reconciliation document makes no mention of these demands -- nor would Qatar likely agree to them. The demands to which Doha has agreed were the same demands it had rejected before the Gulf ambassadors' withdrawal last month. Amid Qatar's refusal to sign the document, the three countries threatened to escalate, reportedly considering trade sanctions and closing their airspace and land borders with the emirate. Influential Gulf writers even suggested that military action was not off the table. After Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiya signed the deal on Thursday, the Gulf countries will now give Doha a two-month "probation period" for compliance before sending back their envoys. For Saudi Arabia, many of these sticking points in its relationship with Qatar are not new. But this time, Riyadh is adamant that it will continue to escalate the conflict with its much smaller neighbor if Doha does not come around to its point of view. For Qatar, however, any major compromise will be costly for its regional standing. It remains to be seen how these divergent interests will be =====================

AlBalooshi produces brilliant form in Baytown

April 29, 2014 - 1:07:17 am Khalid alBalooshi’s Qatar Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel car races in front of a tremendous crowd during this past weekend’s NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in Baytown, Texas. Photo Courtesy: Gary Nastase BAYTOWN, Texas: Khalid alBalooshi was brilliant in Baytown and advanced to his second final round in six races for the Qatar Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel Team, the three-time and defending World Championship team owned by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani. In addition to alBalooshi’s stellar showing, reigning World Champion Shawn Langdon advanced to the semi-finals at the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals yesterday, the sixth of 24 races that make up America’s 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season. AlBalooshi was the No. 13 qualifier at the race track located some 45 miles east of Houston, and he faced a daunting challenge in the first round: seven-time NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel World Champion Tony Schumacher. AlBalooshi made it a short day for the seven-time champ with a dazzling 3.802 run at more than 321 mph – his best run of the weekend in the hot, humid conditions. From there, the Dubai native dispatched Leah Pritchett and No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence on his way to the final round. There, he met 2012 NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel World Champion Antron Brown – yet another formidable opponent. Brown got the jump off the starting line, but the cars were close until nearly half track when the tires on the gold Al-Anabi dragster lost traction a bit allowing the veteran Brown to cruise to the win light and his third victory in six races this season. For his efforts, alBalooshi jumped one place to fifth in the NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel point standings. “It was a good day, especially winning the first round with a very close win over Tony,” alBalooshi said. “The Al-Anabi car was very good all weekend. In the final round, I made a mistake and got the car outside the groove, and it smoked the tires. I am sorry that happened. “I hope we will keep running this way and even get way better in the next couple of races. I feel good about how we started this season with a win and a runner up so far. Our team is going in the right direction now; both cars are running good numbers. I think we are in a good way right now. I appreciate the hard work from everyone on our team, and I thank Sheikh Khalid for giving me this opportunity.” Reigning NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel World Champion Shawn Langdon also had a solid day in Texas. The No. 3 qualifier defeated Troy Buff and then points leader Doug Kalitta on his way to the semifinals. There, he made a good run, but Brown defeated him and moved onto the final round. Langdon remains fourth in the NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel point standings. “Results wise, the Al-Anabi team had a good weekend; we qualified well, made it to the semis and we’re fourth in points,” Langdon said. “We still struggled a little with our tune-up, but we’re close. We’re still learning about some of the changes we’ve made. “We missed it a little in the semis and didn’t make as good a run as we thought we would; we’re still kind of diagnosing everything. “When the car goes down the track, it’s really good so we know we’re close. “When things get right, we’ll be in good shape going forward. We need to get that first win out of the way. “Once we get over that hump, we are confident we’ll have a great race car again. Thanks to Sheikh Khalid and everyone in Qatar for supporting us – we’re getting closer every day.” The Al-Anabi Racing team will be back in action May 16-18, 2014 at the 34th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals near Houston. Al-Anabi Racing operates out of multiple locations in both the United States and Qatar. In the US, the Brownsburg, Ind.-based operation is a two-car NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series team that is managed by Alan Johnson Racing. Sheikh Khalid’s initiative has created increased international awareness of Qatar while highlighting the nation’s international sports outreach. Alan Johnson is a 15-time NHRA champion in various capacities including crew chief, team owner and team manager. THE PENINSULA

Monday, April 28, 2014

50 killed in bomb attack on rally, police and troops voting in Iraq

Mon, Apr 28 19:04 PM EDT By Ahmed Rasheed and Kareem Raheem BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Fifty people were killed on Monday as suicide bombers attacked a political rally and Iraqi police and soldiers cast their votes early for a national election in two days' time, authorities and witnesses said. A suicide attacker killed at least 30 people and wounded 50 others at a Kurdish political gathering in the town of Khanaqin, 140 km (100 miles) northeast of Baghdad, security sources said. The Kurds were celebrating the television appearance of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd incapacitated since late 2012, who cast his vote in Germany where he was undergoing medical treatment. "The attacker snuck among the crowds near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's headquarters and blew himself up, causing a tragic massacre," one police officer said, sobbing after he discovered his brother was among those killed. Meanwhile, Sunni Muslim militants, mostly disguised in army and police uniforms, struck at polling centers around Baghdad and northern Iraq as militants tried to disrupt Iraq's fourth national election since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. A curfew begins on Tuesday night as ordinary Iraqis prepare to vote on Wednesday. Security forces are at war with an al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in western Anbar province and other areas encircling the capital. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is battling for a third term in office but faces fierce opposition from political opponents, with sectarian violence in the Shi'ite Muslim-majority country at its most intense since 2008. In the western Mansour district of Baghdad, six police died and 16 others were wounded when a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman detonated his explosives at the entrance of a school being used for voting, police and medical sources said. BOMBERS IN UNIFORM In the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, a bomber blew himself up in front of another polling center, killing four soldiers and wounding seven. Ahmed Sultan was waiting to vote. "We saw a person in army uniform coming out from a side street. He started to run in our direction. We all started to flee after realizing he was a bomber," the soldier said. "While I was running a powerful blast threw me ... everybody was shouting run, run, a second bomber could hit us." ISIL, which wants a Sunni Muslim caliphate, has threatened Sunni Iraqis with death if they vote. The attacks on Monday seemed designed to intimidate people debating whether it was safe to vote in two days. In northern Iraq, where ISIL has been hitting the security forces with ambushes, assassinations and explosions in their homes, at least 10 police were killed. In Tuz Khurmatu, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blew himself up near a polling station, killing three policemen and wounding nine, police said. Sunni militants have repeatedly attacked the area, which is home to the Shi'ite Turkmen minority. A bomber in a police uniform blew up himself and six policemen by a voting center in Kirkuk. One soldier was killed and four wounded when a suicide attacker in an army uniform blew himself up near a polling station in the town of Hawija, 70 km (40 miles) southwest of the northern city of Kirkuk, police said. (Additional reporting by Ghazwan Hassan, Mustafa Mahmoud, Ziad al-Sanjary and Diyala stringer; editing by Tom Heneghan) == Maliki faces struggle to secure third term as Iraqi PM By Ned Parker and Raheem Salman BAGHDAD Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:49am EDT 0 Comments inShare.0Share thisEmailPrint An election poster of Mahmoud Al-Hassan of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition is displayed along a street at the start of the election campaign in Baghdad April 18, 2014. Iraq is holding its national election at the end of this month. Credit: Reuters/Ahmed Saad Related NewsKurds fight out internal rivalries in Iraq vote 1:46am EDTRelated TopicsWorld » Iraq » BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A casual wave to fellow diners in a Baghdad restaurant in 2008 sealed Nouri al-Maliki's reputation as the man who restored a degree of normality to a city that civil war had nearly destroyed. Now he has gone out again among the people, strolling around the city to prove he is still attuned to their problems as he lobbied voters to give him a third term as prime minister when they cast their ballots in elections on Wednesday. "These people standing outside waiting in the sun are suffering," he thundered at a vehicle registration office during the televised walkabout last month. "People in their offices with air conditioners over their heads don't feel their discomfort." The highest levels of violence since Maliki took on the militias in 2008 are undermining his message. He still leads the election field, but his opponents are circling and could unseat him, if they can overcome considerable differences. A year-long offensive by al-Qaeda inspired Sunni militants is moving ever closer to the capital and Shi'ite militia, often teamed with security forces, are taking revenge on Sunni communities, diminishing the stature of Maliki's Shi'ite-led government. In March alone 180 civilians were killed and 477 were wounded in Baghdad among more than 2,000 killed across Iraq so far this year. Normally seen behind closed doors and a wall of security, Maliki's usual message is vengeance for the bombings that have again become a regular feature of Iraqi life and criticism of political opponents, who he says are set on undermining him. His concentration of power over the past eight years - he holds the defense, interior and security portfolios as well as the premiership - gives him a clear electoral advantage, as does the offensive against the Sunni militants he launched last year. But it has also made him enemies among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders alike and his rivals say they are prepared to put sectarian differences behind them to unseat him. "BEST OF THE WORST" Maliki portrays himself as preventing Sunni extremists in Iraq's Anbar province and neighboring Syria from hurting the Shi'ites, a sharp contrast with his non-sectarian message at the last election in March 2010, a year and a half before U.S. troops withdrew. His old language promising national unity has long since disappeared. In a speech this month, Maliki accused his political foes of undermining the fight in Anbar that been at a stalemate for months. Some in Iraqi security estimate more than a thousand Shi'ite troops have been killed and thousands have deserted from the army, as regular Shi'ite soldiers complain their leadership has not provided them with the equipment and training to win. "It is so saddening that, at the time our army faces these killers and criminals, it is being stabbed in the back by some politicians who accuse the army of lacking principles," Maliki said. Iraqis, including from the Shi'ite majority, might wish for another leader, but many cannot imagine a replacement. Maliki is, in their words "the best of the worst". His aides say the war against al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Anbar province to the west of Baghdad is working to Maliki's advantage. "Before Anbar, the Shi'ites weren't happy with public services and Maliki was portrayed as weak. After Anbar, people see him as a strongman. They think he is right to use force against these people. There is a sectarian flavor to it," said one of his senior advisers. A Shi'ite tribal leader from northern Baghdad warned last week that any successor would have to rebuild a military leadership dependent on Maliki, with ISIL just 16 miles from Baghdad, almost within reach of Shiite neighborhoods. Al-Muwatin, or the Citizen, which groups two of his longtime rivals, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the movement of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr, say if Maliki stays, Iraq could fall apart. They are hoping a fragmented vote will give them the upper hand. One of their frontrunners is Bayan Jabor, a former interior minister who Sunnis say allowed militias to run death squads under police cover in 2005 - a charge he refutes. Jabor says Maliki has mismanaged the war, arguing that the prime minister's moment of greatness after he ended the civil war in 2008 has long passed. "We are now in 2014 and we can't go back eight years," Jabr told Reuters. "I believe that the future of Iraq, under the current government's policies, will be fragmentation." "LUCKIEST MAN?" Maliki' Kurdish and Sunni opponents also nurse eight years of grievances against him. They fault him for not sharing power with them in his second term after it had been agreed they were supposed to apportion the defense, interior and intelligence apparatus. They are angry at his chasing his Sunni vice president and a finance minister out of Iraq with arrest warrants since U.S. troops left Iraq at the end of 2011. Most of his rivals joined a vote of no confidence against him in 2012. It failed, but now they have regrouped, resentful of the power acquired by a man chosen in 2006 as a weak compromise candidate who everyone thought would be pliable. There are indications Maliki's popularity as the Shi'ites' protector is starting to fray in the south, where they are the largest population. A crowd chanted "liar, liar" to Maliki in Nasiriya over a promise to build more housing. Most worrying for the prime minister is that, after years of strain, Iraq's most senior Shiite clerics are starting to speak out against him. Grand Ayatollah Basheer Najafi, one of the four most senior clerics, said at the weekend his followers should not vote for Maliki, due to the failed war effort in Anbar and corruption allegations swirling around his administration. Millions look to guidance from the clergy but Najafi's influence is the least of the grand ayatollahs. Up to now, Maliki has always beaten the odds - so much so, in fact, that some Iraqi politicians have dubbed him "the luckiest man". He has relied on the fact he is the known quantity in a chaotic nation to hold on to power. This time, neither the United States nor Iran have signaled their approval or rejection of Maliki. Each puts a premium on stability and is likely to support whoever it feels can ensure the situation rapidly calms. The senior Maliki adviser predicted the premier's share of parliament seats would likely jump to 90 from the 70 that his advisers were predicting before the Anbar offensive. Late last year, Maliki's circle expected the Shi'ite public to voice dissatisfaction with the prime minister over his inability to stop Sunni militants or drastically improve the economy. As the election approaches, observers say ordinary Iraqis are becoming aware of the failures of the Anbar campaign. But with no reliable opinion polls, it remains a mystery how they will vote. A Western diplomat said an apparent large boost in Shi'ite support Maliki seems to have won over his confrontation in Anbar might not last. "As time goes on, if that conflict is not resolved or if visible progress is not made, there is a risk that the Shi'ite public will lose patience … and start looking for other Shi'ite leaders." If and when a leader emerges with serious support, Maliki is ready. He has tested opponents in extreme situations and been known to quote an old Iraqi saying: ‘if someone has a fever, make it hotter'. His adviser described striking Anbar's insurgent-held city of Fallujah as one more card he could play in his quest to stay on. Even his opponents concede that their own rivalries could undermine them: that the various Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni parties will bicker among themselves over lucrative posts. The government is assembled as a package deal with a president, approved by a two-third majority, who then appoints the prime minister to form a government. Held by the Kurds since 2005, the presidency has long been eyed by the Sunnis, contributing to a convoluted and potentially drawn out negotiation process which would benefit Maliki. "Either it will be very quickly resolved or maybe take more than a year. It is dangerous ," said lawmaker Amir al-Kinani, from the Sadr movement. "If this government continues as an emergency government (due to the war), people will pressure their blocs to accept Maliki." Allies within his own State of Law slate could abandon him if they felt Maliki could not assemble a majority. They might nominate his national security adviser Falah Fayadh, former chief of staff Tareq Najem, or MP Haidar Abadi. Candidates from Mutawin include Jabor, former vice president Adel Abdel Mehdi; and the secular Shi'ite Ahmed Chalabi. But they may hesitate if it means breaking Shiite solidarity to strike a government agreement with Sunnis and Kurds. For Maliki, to leave office would mark the end of a long road in politics since his years in exile in Iran and Syria. Having lost 67 relatives to Saddam, after 2003, Maliki dreamed of working on his orchards. Instead, he found himself in Baghdad. Now he faces what could prove his final chapter. But he is not ready to go. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Home Pakistan Gwadar: on the cusp of greatness?

Naziha Syed Ali‹ › Gwadar now finds itself as a launching pad for big regional, if not global, ambitions based on the proposed Pak-China economic corridor. GWADAR: The Pearl Continental Gwadar, located on the hammerhead that defines this coastal town in southern Balochistan, is deserted on most days. Only a few of the hotel’s 114 rooms are being kept operational; instead of central air-conditioning, split ACs are in place; the shrubbery outside needs some attention. Cost-cutting measures are clearly in place. And yet, the building is well lit and inviting, the smell of freshly polished furniture lingers in the corridors, at least some of the rooms that are still open are luxurious and well maintained, and the staff is eager to show you around. After a cycle of boom and bust that has lasted nearly a decade, there’s an air of expectation in Gwadar, a feeling that good times are just around the corner, although that depends on whom you speak to. This small town of 85,000 people in Gwadar district was a sleepy little fishing village until not so long ago. Now it finds itself as a launching pad for big regional, if not global, ambitions based on the proposed Pak-China economic corridor, a role reinforced by the prime minister’s high-powered visit here on Thursday accompanied by the chief minister and army chief. The port is the centrepiece of the optimistic narrative. Its logo is a stylistic depiction of a lighthouse and a windsurfer with the words “Symbol of prosperity” underneath. In 2013, China Overseas Port Holding Company took over operations at the facility from the Port of Singapore Authority after the latter quit over a dispute regarding land to develop the port. “Things are moving very fast,” claimed Dostain Khan Jamaldini, chairman of the Gwadar Port Authority. “Unlike Pakistanis, the Chinese spend a lot of time in planning, then they do the execution quickly.” Reinforcing the impression of the feverish pace of activity, Director General Gwadar Development Authority, Dr Sajjad H. Baloch said, “Several delegations of Chinese have visited within the last six months; that last one was here just a few days ago.” Among the projects in the ‘Gwadar package’ are port expansion, construction of a new airport, an industrial estate, an export processing zone, desalination plant, water and sewage system for the city and transportation infrastructure such as a 19km expressway to link the port with the coastal highway, and other road and rail links connecting Gwadar to upcountry via Ratodero in Sindh. It was recently announced that China would invest $1.8 billion in nine projects to develop the port and the city. In a way, China is picking up where it left off, for it had paid 75pc of the $248 million initial construction cost of the port. The facility became operational in 2008, but on a very limited scale. For now, ships carrying subsidised wheat and urea from Canada and South Korea occasionally dock at the port for transfer via the coastal highway to Karachi and then elsewhere in the country. It’s an expensive exercise; direct transportation links from Gwadar to upcountry are crucial to make the port commercially viable. And there’s the rub. Baloch insurgents are violently opposed to the port project, which they consider a means to further exploit Balochistan’s natural resources and render the local population a minority by bringing in labour from elsewhere. Gwadar city itself is considered free of insurgent activity – mainly because only one road leads into this seaside locale, although it too has experienced its share of insurgent activity and enforced disappearances in the past. However, step a little distance out on the M-8 that is to ultimately constitute one of the two vital road links to Ratodero (and beyond to Kashgar in China – the so-called ‘new Silk Road’) and the challenges begin to reveal themselves. Every so often along the highway, also built by the Chinese several years ago, there are small lookout posts, which were manned by the Frontier Corps (FC) to provide security to the construction teams from attacks by insurgents. Bridges across en route river creeks, which flood in the rains, are unfinished. Work was abandoned when the security situation in Balochistan deteriorated rapidly after the killing of Nawab Bugti. Some Chinese contractors as well as labourers and FC personnel suffered casualties in attacks by Baloch militants. The changing dynamics were reflected in Gwadar’s property market. A 1000 sq yard plot in the coveted Singhar housing scheme atop the hammerhead went from Rs50,000 in the ’90s to Rs5,500,000 in 2005 before plummeting to Rs300,000 where it languishes today. “Many made a fortune from real estate here,” said a local. “But those who didn’t sell at the right time were ruined when the market collapsed.” Now that the hype around the port is being built up again, it remains to be seen whether investors will return, especially in view of the worsening insurgency in much of the province. There have also been some unsettling incidents around Gwadar city recently. In March, insurgents launched a well-planned attack on a radar post in Pasni, and in Jiwani, some non-Baloch settlers have been targeted by the militants. Nevertheless, government officials and technocrats working on government projects insist the challenge is not insurmountable. The Awaran section of the M-8 highway, for example, has been dropped so as to skirt the volatile district. They also point to instances even now of portions of the M-8 in insurgency-hit Khuzdar being constructed under military supervision. Speak to locals in the rundown alleys of the town though and they shrug their shoulders, pointing out that so far, the port has made no difference to their lives. Abdul Hakeem, a fisherman, says, “All the change I’ve seen is that we’ve been moved from where we were living for generations to make way for the port.” A 50-bed hospital constructed four years ago has still not opened due to shortage of medical personnel. Gwadar city uplift plans envisage its expansion to a 300-bed facility. “The functional district hospital is in a shambles. It lacks basic medicines, and doesn’t have even a single dialysis machine,” says a social activist. “Are we to believe that things are suddenly going to improve for us?” All considered, there’s much work to be done if the ‘prosperity’ narrative is to be one that takes everyone along.

“I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

Home Newspaper Column Traitors and national interest Babar Sattar Updated Apr 28, 2014 06:12am9 Comments Email Email Your Name: Recipient Email: Print “WE cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein had argued. The ruckus kicked up by indignant patriots after the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir proves just that. Outdated notions of national security and national interest and an unflinching commitment to entrench them oppressively are alive and well and dutifully being served by servile disciples across our state and society. Will witch-hunts in the name of national security make Pakistan a stronger state? The attack on Hamid Mir, Geo’s response to the attack, the ISI establishment’s response to Geo coverage, and the acute polarisation caused as a consequence of this back and forth is proof of our degeneration into an intolerant lynch mob. We are unable to distinguish between suspicion and conviction, between fair reporting and slander. We have no patience for accountability and due process. Anyone questioning our security state’s version of national interest is a traitor who must be banished. At least three aspects of the Hamid Mir story deserve attention. One, what happened to Mir and continuing attacks on journalists that make Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for journalists. Two, how Geo treated Amir Mir’s accusation against the DG ISI as a key suspect in the attack against Mir. Three, the vilification campaign launched against Geo and Hamid Mir to brand them traitors and ban them. Freedom of speech is not freedom to slander or malign. The right to hold and express an opinion needs to be protected. But presenting opinion as fact is a disservice to journalism. Geo crossed a red line in reporting Amir Mir’s accusation against the DG ISI not because it aired the accusation, but because the manner in which it did amounted to running a media trial, and not just indicting but condemning the DG ISI in the public eye. And this wasn’t the first time. Components of the Jang-Geo group ran a vile campaign against Asma Jahangir on the eve of her election as president Supreme Court Bar Association. They have run similar campaigns against politicos/public officials (Raja Rentals, Mr 10pc, etc) and condemned them in media trials for being corrupt or unscrupulous, without presenting opposing viewpoints. Not only have they gotten away with partial journalism, once the hallmark of evening rags, the practice is now entrenched and followed by most media groups. It isn’t that journalists and media houses don’t know how to do it right. The practice of slander is deliberate, as the power to scandalise is what is used to extort and exert influence. Geo’s news desk could have run Amir Mir’s accusation without putting the DG ISI on trial with sound effects and all. It could have presented the response from the DG ISI or his office simultaneously. It could have highlighted the need to investigate the serious allegation and moved on to other aspects of the story instead of cultivating the melodrama for hours. Just because media houses have gotten away with slander in the past, doesn’t make it right. Slander is condemnable, period. And not just when it involves the DG ISI. The media was wrong when it presented Khawaja Asif’s 2006 speech critical of the army as one delivered by him in 2014 to put Khawaja in the dock, or when it ran a campaign against Hussain Haqqani; just as Geo wasn’t right in drumming up charges against the DG ISI in the Mir case. “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, Evelyn Beatrice Hall had written in Voltaire’s biography. No matter how unpleasant or abhorrent Geo’s presentation of accusations against the DG ISI, it is nowhere close to being as abhorrent as the attack on Hamid Mir. Geo can be prosecuted for defamation and slapped with heavy penalties if convicted in accordance with the law, but it must not be condemned as a traitor or banned just because it had the audacity to voice a victim’s suspicion against a ranking general. The ludicrous claim that Geo or Hamid Mir is a national security threat is a matter of opinion. What is a matter of fact, however, is that someone executed a plan to kill Hamid Mir, who wound up injured in hospital with six bullets in his body. What is a fact is that 29 journalists have turned up dead in Pakistan in the last four years and many more have been attacked for exercising their right to speak freely. What is a fact is that intelligence agencies threaten journalists with dire consequences for reporting unpalatable stories or expressing undesirable opinions. What is a fact is that almost all studies analysing abuse of power by intelligence agencies (starting from Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan report in 1989 to the Missing Persons, Saleem Shahzad and OBL commission reports recently) highlighted that powers exercised by intelligence agencies were liable to abuse and needed to be subjected to effective checks and balances. What is a fact is that our khaki-controlled security establishment has not heeded any such recommendations. This old game of branding as traitors those critical of failed conceptions of national security and national interest has not served us well. A doctrine of national security that condemns citizens who seek to speak their minds and aims to instil fear in the hearts of dissenters brash enough to point fingers at holy cows cannot possibly help a country in need of urgent reform. The writer is a lawyer. sattar@post.harvard.edu Twitter: @babar_sattar ============= Six bullets and seven nights Qalam Kaman Hamid Mir Monday, April 28, 2014 From Print Edition 1873 312 1547 1 Karachi is the largest city of Pakistan but some consider it the most dangerous city as well. When Geo — the biggest Pakistani TV channel — was launched in 2002 from Karachi, I stayed there for three months for training. During the training, one morning a powerful bombing took place near the US Consulate while I was busy in my training session at a 5-Star hotel not far from the consulate. The explosion was so powerful that many pieces of broken glass fell on me. The deafening sound of the blast gripped me and many of my colleagues. We completed our training in this very incomprehensible fear. When I returned to the capital as Bureau Chief of Geo TV, high-ups in the government followed me and tried to instill in my mind that ‘Geo TV is an anti-state channel and that a patriotic journalist like me should stay away from it.’ My response was very simple: “This country is run by an army chief. If I am shown the proof that Geo TV is anti-state, I would quit the channel.”No proof was shown; however, the torch-bearers of patriotism got angry with me. In Pakistan, the start of private electronic media was not so pleasant. The government in power wanted to keep the channels under its thumb in order to get results of October 2002 general elections of its liking. On the one hand, to please the West, the Musharraf government initiated the farce of giving freedom to the media, while on the other hand dangers for media persons started increasing. The media persons were the most favourite target of extremists as well as the secret agencies. Some journalists became spokespersons for secret agencies in the name of patriotism. Some started supporting the extremists in the name of Islam. Some of them were caught in the cobweb of nationalists. Space started narrowing for media persons in the country conceived by Quaid-i-Azam. Killing and kidnapping of journalists became the order of the day and the media industry started losing the sense of protection. Gen Pervez Musharraf’s emergency of 2007 divided the media in two distinct groups. One group became a plaything in the hands of powerful secret agencies. The other group that stuck to the right was dubbed ‘traitor and anti-state’. This division was not restricted to the media alone, it made its appearance among the politicians too. When on the orders of the Supreme Court, the case of high treason for violation of the Constitution was initiated against Pervez Musharraf, this division assumed the form of confrontation. Musharraf’s trial started sending many important national issues to the backburner. The biggest problem Pakistan faces today is terrorism. Some said if drone attacks stop, terrorism will come to an end. However, terrorism persisted even after no drone struck for 100 days. Some said if talks with the Taliban are held, everything will be hunky dory. Drones stopped and negotiations with the Taliban also started, but still terrorism continued unabated. The Geo TV arranged a special discussion on this vital issue. I proceeded to Karachi by air on the noon of 19 April. I have conducted many programmes in Karachi but I must admit that my every journey to Karachi started with an unspecified fear. It is very easy in Karachi for the sleuths of secret agencies to eliminate unwanted media persons. However, if a journalist like me shies away from going to Karachi due to this lurking fear, how can I claim to represent the popular sentiments? These very thoughts encouraged me to overcome the old fear with respect to Karachi and I decided to go on with the visit. I asked my wife to sacrifice a black goat, as weak media persons like me consider such a sacrifice sufficient for their safety. After this sacrifice, I proceeded to Karachi on Saturday morning. As soon as I landed at the Karachi Airport, I received a message from my co-producer that Asad Umar of PTI who had to represent his party in tomorrow’s special discussion had regretted that he would not be able to attend. I asked the co-producer to invite PTI leader Shah Farman from Peshawar. Engrossed in these thoughts I came out of the airport and got into the car. I asked the driver about the security guard. The driver told me that he was standing outside the airport. After a short while the security guard also got into the car which came out of the airport. Once again, I started sending an SMS to my co-producer asking the time of the next day’s meeting. Meanwhile, I was discomfited to hear firing shots. When I saw the right window of the car smashing, I realized I was the target. A bullet had already pierced my shoulder. I asked the driver to look sharp. But we were caught in a jungle of traffic. Firing continued and bullets were penetrating my legs. When the motorcyclist and car drivers realised that a car was being fired upon, they started making way for us. Firing still continued and I felt another bullet piercing the left of my waist. I started reciting the Kalima Tayyaba. The attackers were still following our car and went on firing without a gap. I started telling my colleagues in the office that I am being shot at. I asked the driver to rush to a hospital as two more bullets had pierced my belly. Wading through a flood of traffic, hounded by the attackers and myself perspiring profusely, we somehow were able to reach the Emergency of the Aga Khan Hospital. Darkness began to appear before my eyes. I mustered the courage to come out of the car and fell on a stretcher. Then I lost consciousness and do not know what happened. On the third day of the attack, I regained consciousness and doctors began to disclose gradually that I had received six bullets but was safe. At that time, I was thinking about the animosity the attackers could have had against me. Then I concluded that the culprit was not the attacker but the one who had planned the attack. Faces of many ‘planners’ flashed before my eyes. I could ignite new pits of fire by narrating incidents taking place within the first two weeks of April alone, and this could ignite a horrible fire and bring more destruction. Then I thought that in that case there would be no difference between me and a terrorist. Those who dubbed Geo TV traitor in 2002 are once again dubbing it traitor today. They neither had any proof then, nor do they have now. I leave all this to my Allah Almighty and to the courts. I only want to share my feelings with you. I wish to tell you about so many ups and downs of the acute pain during the seven days of stay at the Aga Khan Hospital. But one thing is certain: the excruciating pain I passed through has only served to consolidate my faith, my courage and my determination. I express my profound thanks to all those who stood by me in this hour of trial and prayed for my health. I am feeling great pain even now as I write these lines. I am bearing this pain only to promise you that I will use the cuts made by six bullets in my body to illuminate the nation to dissipate the darkness of illiteracy. The six bullets and seven nights spent at the Aga Khan Hospital have convinced me that it is not the common populace of the country that in fact wields the real power and rights. It is someone else. The destination of pure independence is still far away. Disappointment is a sin. The last to laugh will be the common man. We still need lots of sacrifices to reach that destination. SMS#HMC (space) message: send to 8001. Email: hamid.mir@janggroup.com.

Water was flowing on Mars 200,000 years ago – scientists

Water was flowing on Mars 200,000 years ago – scientists Published time: April 27, 2014 18:11 Get short URL Photo Credit: NASA Share on tumblrTags Mars, Science, Space New research has suggested that water was flowing across the surface of Mars some 200,000 years ago. The nature of rock formations in a Mars crater suggests the sediment deposits and channels it contained were formed by ‘recent’ flowing water. Swedish scientists from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Gothenburg identified “Very young …and well-preserved deposits of water bearing debris flows in a mid-latitude crater on Mars,” according to the study published in the journal Icarus. It was previously estimated that liquid water flowed across the Red Planet during its last ‘ice-age’, some 400,000 years ago. However, the young age of the crater means the features signifying water must have appeared since. The scientists drew comparisons between the geomorphological land formations and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The crater had features of areas on earth where debris flow had caused material to be deposited by fast-flowing water. “Our fieldwork on Svalbard confirmed our interpretation of the Martian deposits,” stated Andreas Johnsson, a spokesperson for the research team. “Our study crater on Mars is far too young to have been influenced by the conditions that were prevalent then. This suggests that the meltwater-related processes that formed these deposits have been exceptionally effective also in more recent times,” said Johnsson. “If we find on Mars evidence for a second genesis, that changes everything,” Johnsson added. A debris flow takes place when liquid water soaks through debris lying on an incline to the point that it becomes saturated and heavy, causing it to descend down the incline. On earth, debris flow can result in material destruction and sometimes casualties, depending upon their severity. When the flow stops, new landforms are made, including lobate deposits and paired levees. It is these that Johnsson has identified on the planet. “Gullies are common on Mars, but the ones which have been studied previously are older, and the sediments where they have formed are associated with the most recent ice age. Our study crater on Mars is far too young to have been influenced by the conditions that were prevalent then,” Johnson said.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Microsoft rushes to fix browser after attacks; no fix for XP users

Sun, Apr 27 17:55 PM EDT By Jim Finkle BOSTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp is rushing to fix a bug in its widely used Internet Explorer web browser after a computer security firm disclosed the flaw over the weekend, saying hackers have already exploited it in attacks on some U.S. companies. PCs running Windows XP will not receive any updates fixing that bug when they are released, however, because Microsoft stopped supporting the 13-year-old operating system earlier this month. Security firms estimate that between 15 and 25 percent of the world's PCs still run Windows XP. Microsoft disclosed on Saturday its plans to fix the bug in an advisory to its customers posted on its security website, which it said is present in Internet Explorer versions 6 to 11. Those versions dominate desktop browsing, accounting for 55 percent of the PC browser market, according to tech research firm NetMarketShare. Cybersecurity software maker FireEye Inc said that a sophisticated group of hackers have been exploiting the bug in a campaign dubbed "Operation Clandestine Fox." FireEye, whose Mandiant division helps companies respond to cyber attacks, declined to name specific victims or identify the group of hackers, saying that an investigation into the matter is still active. "It's a campaign of targeted attacks seemingly against U.S.-based firms, currently tied to defense and financial sectors," FireEye spokesman Vitor De Souza said via email. "It's unclear what the motives of this attack group are, at this point. It appears to be broad-spectrum intel gathering." He declined to elaborate, though he said one way to protect against them would be to switch to another browser. Microsoft said in the advisory that the vulnerability could allow a hacker to take complete control of an affected system, then do things such as viewing changing, or deleting data, installing malicious programs, or creating accounts that would give hackers full user rights. FireEye and Microsoft have not provided much information about the security flaw or the approach that hackers could use to figure out how to exploit it, said Aviv Raff, chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm Seculert. Yet other groups of hackers are now racing to learn more about it so they can launch similar attacks before Microsoft prepares a security update, Raff said. "Microsoft should move fast," he said. "This will snowball." Still, he cautioned that Windows XP users will not benefit from that update since Microsoft has just halted support for that product. The software maker said in a statement to Reuters that it advises Windows XP users to upgrade to one of two most recently versions of its operating system, Windows 7 or 8. (Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Diane Craft)

Petrodollars: Oman gripped by action against oil corruption

By Tamsin Carlisle | April 28, 2014 12:01 AM Comments (0) In this week’s Oilgram News column Petrodollars, Tamsin Carlisle looks at the anti-corruption drive that has been launched by Oman’s ruler. No surprise, the country’s oil and gas sector is at the heart of the actions that have been taken. ——————————————- The Oman government’s crackdown on graft in oil and gas contracting has become the talk of the town in Muscat, with opinions sharply divided on whether it is going far enough. A number of long sentences handed to industry and government officials in the past three months send a strong signal that the country’s autocratic ruler, Sultan Qaboos, is deadly serious about stamping out corruption. The anti-graft campaign was ordered personally by the sultan in response to Arab Spring-inspired public protests in several Omani cities in 2011 involving Omani oil-sector employees seeking better pay and working conditions and other nationals seeking jobs. A crackdown on corruption was among the protesters’ key demands. Sultan Qaboos responded by ordering an independent judicial probe, which two years later, sparked high-profile court cases over allegations of bribery and influence peddling. Since 2013, more than 20 civil servants and businessmen have been prosecuted. In February, Muscat’s Court of First Instance handed the CEO of state-owned Oman Oil Company, Ahmad al-Wahaibi, jail sentences totaling 23 years after convicting him of accepting bribes, money laundering and abuse of office. The trial implicating the government’s overseas oil investment arm got underway in December 2013 after Swiss authorities alerted their Omani counterparts to suspicious transactions. In the same case, the court convicted a former senior government aide, Adel al-Raise, of organizing the bribe from a senior official of South Korean contractor LGI. It found that LGI vice-CEO Ming Jiao Oyo had illicitly transferred $8 million to a Caribbean-registered company owned by Wahaibi after winning an Omani riyals 1 billion ($2.6 billion) contract to develop a petrochemicals complex at Oman’s Sahar port. Wahaibi’s sentence, unprecedented in an Omani corruption case, included 10 years in jail and a riyals 4 million fine for accepting bribes, a further 10-year prison term and a riyals 1 million fine for money laundering and three years in jail for abuse of office, with the sentences to run successively. The court also confiscated the bribe money from Wahhabi’s frozen Swiss bank account. Raise and Ming were each sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined riyals 4 million. ——————————————- In early March, the court sentenced the former managing director of Oman’s Galfar Engineering and Contracting, P. Mohammad Ali, to 15 years in jail with a riyals 1.7 million fine after convicting him in five bribery cases. The deputy of Galfar’s oil contracting division was also jailed for 10 years. Five officials of the gas division of Petroleum Development Oman, a joint venture between the government of Oman, Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total and Portugal’s Partex, remain on trial in the Galfar cases, which are still before the court. Later in March the court sentenced the CEO of state-owned Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries, Adel al-Kindi, to three years in jail with a riyals 1 million fine and banned him from government service for 30 years over accepting a bribe from Athens-based Consolidated Contractors Company related to contract awards in southern Oman’s Duqm area. In the same case, Oman’s Director General of Ports, Qasim al-Shizawi, was handed a three-year jail term, fined riyals 750,000 and was also dismissed from service. The recent verdicts suggest systematic corruption reaching to the executive suites and board rooms of prominent state-controlled companies. Yet, at a press briefing in Muscat March 3, Oil Minister Mohammed al-Rumhy said the ministry had no plans to tighten regulation. “I personally asked the state auditors since year 2000 to audit the oil and gas sector, but I don’t think we have anything in place to eradicate corruption to a zero level,” he said. “We cannot monitor and regulate human behavior and follow people around to find what they are doing all the time.” Rumhy said the spate of convictions would signal that corruption would no longer be tolerated. “Socially they will be finished,” he said of the officials convicted in February PDO Managing Director Raoul Restucci attributed the embroilment of Oman’s flagship oil and gas producer in the corruption scandal to a few bad apples. “We are shocked and angry but it represents a small number of employees,” he told reporters. It is well to remember that Oman might have gone the way of Yemen if Qaboos had not staged a British-backed coup against his father in 1970, aimed at ending two decades of civil conflict between at least three culturally distinct indigenous populations, complicated by foreign insurgencies. He achieved his national unity aim by focusing on advancing the country’s economy and social welfare with the help of foreign investment in the oil sector. — Tamsin Carlisle in Dubai

UAE should be concerned about property flipping, says Emaar chairman

Flipping - where speculators buy unfinished properties and sell them on to third-parties within a short time - was in part blamed for the extent of the housing market crisis in 2008 Adam Bouyamourn April 26, 2014 Updated: April 26, 2014 18:45:00 Save this article The Emaar chairman, Mohammed Alabbar, has warned about off-plan sales as the Government and other developers take steps to reduce speculation on property prices. Related ■ Aldar introduces strict resale restrictions as it reveals new Abu Dhabi housing projects ■ Dubai is ready for a ‘smarter’ boom this time around ■ Emaar to launch new phase of Mira Oasis townhouses in Dubai Emaar Properties unit listing proposal will take precision planning In pictures: Emaar’s major developments in the UAE Topic Emaar, “We need to learn from the mistakes of the past,” Mr Alabbar said at Emaar’s annual general meeting last week in Dubai. “We need to be concerned about flipping.” Flipping was in part blamed for the extent of the housing market crisis in 2008 – when speculators bought unfinished properties and sold them on to third parties within a short time, inflating property prices. Mr Alabbar’s comments followed news that the Abu Dhabi-based Aldar has introduced resale restrictions on new properties, designed to curb speculative flipping. Buyers must now pay 50 per cent of the property’s value before they can sell it on. The Central Bank has introduced caps on the amount individuals may borrow to finance the purchase of houses for the first time in the country’s history. Home loans have been capped at between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of a property’s value, while loans on unfinished properties have been capped at 50 per cent. Property experts warned against generous payment plans that allow buyers to defer paying the bulk of the cost of a new home until years after completion, in some cases. “Can you stop it? No.” Mr Alabbar said about flipping. “We try to minimise it.” abouyamourn@thenational.ae Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/business/industry-insights/property/uae-should-be-concerned-about-property-flipping-says-emaar-chairman#ixzz3054y9B8z Follow us: @TheNationalUAE on Twitter | thenational.ae on Facebook === No win situation for Abu Dhabi tenant given 105% rent hike Property expert Mario Volpi explains what can and can't be done with rental laws differing in the capital to those in Dubai. Mario Volpi April 30, 2014 Updated: April 30, 2014 13:53:00 Save this article Related In pictures: Where Abu Dhabi rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014 In pictures: Where Dubai rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014 ■ Abu Dhabi rent increase rules differ from those in Dubai ■ New legal centre to settle rent disputes in Dubai More frequent rent cheques would cut fraud Topic Rent, The Life, Homefront, I have lived in an Abu Dhabi building since 2007. Every year we have had a rental increase of 5 per cent at the renewal of the lease agreement. Currently the rent is Dh25,806. The lease agreement is expiring on August 23. Now I have received a notification informing me that the new rent will be Dh53,000 – which is a 105 per cent hike. I understand that this increase is due to the 5 per cent yearly increase cap being taken away but I would like to know, as per the law in the UAE, if there is any limit on the increase a landlord can demand. TT, Abu Dhabi Before the abolition of the rental cap, the emirate of Abu Dhabi had strict laws limiting the amount a landlord could raise the rent annually and this was maximum 5 per cent of the annual rent. Your landlord is entitled to raise the rent for this year as he sees fit. There is no limit of increase imposed on landlords any more. The Government has allowed this to help landlords achieve market rent, especially for those investors who historically were receiving very low rents. It appears that your landlord does not care whether you will stay or decide to vacate the property because of the outrageous increase. This being the case, I suppose that the landlord is maximising his position and if he gets away with it, he will be happy as he will be getting a substantial amount more for his rent. If you do leave, I guess that another tenant may be found relatively quickly. Either way you will end up being on the losing side. I would like to buy a property in Dubai with finance and I have some questions: 1. Does the buyer need to issue the security cheque (10 per cent of property price) prior to seeing the Memorandum Of Understanding (MoU) from seller? Or should that be at the same time for the buyer’s safety? 2. Whose name should be the receiver name in the cheque? Should it be the seller or the property agent? I was told by the agent that I should write the cheque with the name of their company. Is it appropriate procedure in Dubai? Frankly I don’t feel safe to put the agent’s name rather than the seller. How can I protect myself from he possible misuse of the cheque by the agent or seller? 3. Regarding the MoU, is there any liability for the seller if he/she turns down the deal after receiving my cheque? Can I put that in place? 4. How do I know whether the agent company is licensed as well as the agent? AL, Dubai Good practise for a buyer would be to produce the 10 per cent cheque before an MoU is signed, but it is normally handed over on the signing of the agreement. Under Rera rules the 10 per cent deposit should be in the name of the seller only. The agent should be holding this cheque as custodian only and it is normally handed back to the buyer on the day of transfer to be replaced by a manager’s cheque for the equivalent amount or full sale amount. The sale price can be confirmed only when all parties have signed and the buyer has lodged the deposit with the agent. If you have signed and paid the deposit to the agent but the seller did not sign then subsequently changed his mind, the deal would be null and void and you would get your deposit back. All companies and their agents should be Rera-registered. You can check this by visiting the land department website www.dubailand.gov.ae Always ask to see the company’s trade licence too to check that it is fully compliant and legitimate. Mario Volpi is the managing director of Prestige Real Estate in Dubai (prestigedubai.com). He has 30 years of property industry experience in the emirate and London. Send any questions to mario@prestigedubai.com The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only. Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate independent legal advice Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/business/industry-insights/the-life/no-win-situation-for-abu-dhabi-tenant-given-105-rent-hike#ixzz30Mk0BpzZ Follow us: @TheNationalUAE on Twitter | thenational.ae on Facebook ====

Facebook announces FB Newswire, aims to bring truth to Real-Time Journalism

Facebook announces FB Newswire, aims to bring truth to Real-Time Journalism Facebook’s new FB Newswire provides a new level of journalistic integrity, but its efforts may be hindered by consumer fears about media control. inShare.0 Deidre Richardson | On 26, Apr 2014 On Thursday, social media giant Facebook announced the creation of FB Newswire, a news pagedevoted to reporting breaking news and allowing journalists and writers to access trustworthy news. “Today we’re excited to announce FB Newswire, a resource that will make it easier for journalists and newsrooms to find, share and embed newsworthy content from Facebook in the media they produce. Every day, news is made on Facebook. More than one billion people use our platform to discover, explore, and participate in news-making events around the world,” said FB News Global and Media Partnerships Director Andy Mitchell. Facebook’s recent changes with “trending topics” its News Feed and Pages improvements indicate that the company has been headed in this direction for some time. FB Newswire will be powered by Storyful, a platform acquired by News Corp last December in a $25 million deal. Storyful has had a track record in the past of verifying relevant information: a Ukrainian personnel carrier who started shooting on terrorists, an underwater robot tested before a mission to the South Korea ferry, and a selfie taken by an astronaut in outer space. These photos and stories were leaked by everyday journalists, but Storyful identified the initial leaks and verified the stories’ authenticity before publishing them. “In Storyful, we’re excited to have found a partner with a track record of understanding both the potential of the social web as a key resource for media as well as the tools that newsrooms need to utilize it,” said Mitchell. How Will FB Newswire Distinguish Itself From Twitter? Twitter hasn’t gotten where it is in social media without hard work. The social media giant has made itself known for news reporting by the endless streams of news content a user can find on his or her Twitter page. Over time, news journalists can follow just about everyone important, finding so much news that it becomes overwhelming to read half of it. Twitter’s problem of cluttered, unending news streams will be bested by Facebook’s control over which news reports are reputable and which ones aren’t. This means that Twitter will’ve to compete with Facebook – a company that now looks to offer a simplified yet relevant user experience. As if this isn’t enough for which to applaud Facebook, Storyful will also out erroneous stories in FB Newswire by way of a #DailyDebunk post. This means that users of FB Newswire will get to see what stories and photos are fake and forged on a daily basis, rendering false news reports as criminal and causing them to lose social media attention as a result. When news reporters are forced to verify facts and pay attention to the truth, it will make them more reputable and enhance their reputation. Facebook is hoping the new FB Newswire will enhance its own reputation in coming days. Control the News, Control the Stories: Facebook’s New Reputation Facebook’s off to a good start, and FB Newswire is a good thing if it de-clutters the amount of news (both true and artificial) that I encounter on a daily basis. There’s a problem, however: Facebook’s control over the news. It’s true what they say: if you control the news, you control minds. This has been the case in a number of situations worldwide, but some that come to mind involve the BP oil spill in 2010 where some individuals on camera said that the traces of oil in the Gulf of Mexico had disappeared and no longer existed. Unfortunately, it’s 4 years later, but recent documentaries on the 2010 oil spill say otherwise. The people of the Gulf still work, live, and play in dangerous waters. Facebook isn’t responsible for the Gulf Coast oil spill, but the company will have to face the inevitable dilemma of delivering trustworthy news while being in charge of deciding what is reliable and what isn’t. Will articles that criticize Facebook be scrapped from the list of content available via FB Newswire? That is the question that some analysts have in mind. Facebook says that the new system is set up to provide truthful reporting, but what if Facebook attempts to covertly renege on its promise before the FCC that it would honor WhatsApp privacy laws? Would Facebook want this kind of story to appear in FB Newswire? Something about this question tells me I highly doubt it. Meanwhile, Facebook recently acquired fitness startup Moves, a Finnish company founded in 2012 with the goal of providing “an all-day activity diary for smartphones,” according to the Moves Facebook acquisition announcement.