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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Agent blames partner for missing millions

By AAP A real estate agent at the centre of the closure of six LJ Hooker offices in Melbourne has blamed her partner for losing millions of dollars owed to homeowners, renters and landlords. The money for house deposits and rent has gone missing from LJ Hooker Glen Waverley, Keysborough, Mount Waverley, Burwood, Doncaster and Box Hill, which have all been closed since April 21. Consumer Affairs Victoria says more than 100 customers have been affected by the closure of the franchise run by Judy Nguyen, also known as Judy Thanh Truc, and husband Joseph Ngo. Ms Nguyen told media outlets she had been set up, and that the account had been "hacked" but LJ Hooker rejected her explanation. "The day prior to termination of the franchise agreement, Ms Judy Nguyen informed LJ Hooker for the first time that her partner, Joseph Ngo had misused trust funds," the company said in a statement. "At no time did Ms Nguyen say that her trust account had been hacked." The Victorian Property Fund may reimburse some house deposits and rent on a case-by-case scenario while the search for the missing money continues. Clients of the offices can call Consumer Affairs on 1300 558 181 Read more at http://www.9news.com.au/national/2016/05/01/03/38/search-for-melbourne-real-estate-millions#TuXmmJes696bpAfS.99

Iraqi protesters breach Green Zone, storm parliament

Wed May 11, 2016 | 5:57 AM EDT Car bomb in Baghdad's Sadr City kills 50: police, medics ‹ People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili A woman reacts at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili A woman reacts at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite district of Sadr City, Iraq, May 11, 2016. Reuters/Wissm al-Okili › Car bomb in Baghdad's Sadr City kills 50: police,...X BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A car bomb claimed by Islamic State in a Shi'ite Muslim district of Baghdad killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 60 others on Wednesday, Iraqi police and hospital sources said. The SUV packed with explosives went off near a beauty salon in a bustling market at rush hour in Sadr City. Most of the victims were women and many of the wounded are in critical condition, the sources said. Amaq news agency, which supports Islamic State, said a suicide bomber had targeted Shi'ite militia fighters. The ultra-hardline Sunni jihadist group, which considers Shi'ites apostates, claimed a twin suicide bombing in Sadr City in February that killed 70 people. ADVERTISEMENT Security has gradually improved in Baghdad, which was the target of daily bombings a decade ago, but violence directed against both the security forces and civilians is still frequent and large blasts sometimes set off reprisal attacks. The fight against Islamic State has exacerbated a long-running sectarian conflict in Iraq, mostly between the Shi'ite majority and the Sunni minority. Sectarian violence also threatens to undermine U.S.-backed efforts to dislodge the militant group from vast areas of the north and west of Iraq that they seized in 2014. (Reporting by Kareem Raheem and by Ali Abdelaty in CAIRO; Editing by Louise Ireland) =============================== Sun May 1, 2016 | 1:21 PM EDT Iraqi protesters end Green Zone sit-in for now after issuing demands ‹ Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leave the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 1, 2016. Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani › Iraqi protesters end Green Zone sit-in for now...X By Stephen Kalin and Ahmed Rasheed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Protesters camped out in Baghdad's Green Zone for 24 hours left the heavily fortified government district on Sunday after issuing demands for political reform but they pledged to return by the end of the week to keep up the pressure. Iraq has endured months of wrangling prompted by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's attempt to replace party-affiliated ministers with technocrats as part of an anti-corruption drive. A divided parliament has failed to approve the proposal amid scuffles and protests. Deep frustration over the deadlock culminated in a dramatic breach on Saturday of the Green Zone by supporters of powerful Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr wants to see Abadi's proposed technocrat government approved, ending a quota system blamed for rampant corruption. Powerful parties have resisted, fearing the dismantling of patronage networks that sustain their wealth and influence. Abadi has warned continued turmoil could hamper the war against Islamic State, which controls large swathes of northern and western Iraq. The Green Zone protesters issued an escalating set of demands, including a parliamentary vote on a technocrat government, the resignation of the president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker and new elections. If none of the demands are met, a spokeswoman for the protesters said in a televised speech that they would resort to "all legitimate means" including civil disobedience. Hundreds of protesters peacefully exited the Green Zone moments later. The peaceful defusing of the crisis came after Abadi convened a high-level meeting with Iraq's president, parliament speaker and political bloc leaders who called the breach of the Green Zone "a dangerous infringement of the state's prestige and a blatant constitutional violation that must be prosecuted". ADVERTISEMENT . They said the high-level meetings would continue in coming days "to ensure radical reforms of the political process". A politician who attended the talks said Abadi had faced accusations of mishandling the crisis. Another said the conflict had become an intra-Shi'ite battle over who will run Iraq. Two suicide car bombs claimed by Islamic State killed at least 32 people and wounded 75 others on Sunday in the center of the southern city of Samawa, police and medics said. GREEN ZONE: "EVEN THE PLANTS ARE DIFFERENT" The Green Zone, a 10-square-kilometre district on the banks of the Tigris River which also houses many foreign embassies, has been off-limits to most Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. In an unprecedented breach on Sunday, hundreds of people pulled down and stormed over concrete blast walls, celebrating inside parliament and attacking several deputies. Many protesters, including some women and children, had spent Sunday in the square, taking refuge inside event halls from 37 degree Celsius heat, while others lay on the grass or cooled off in a large fountain topped with a military statue. A demonstrator named Humam said he was shocked by the contrast between the poverty in which most Iraqis like him live and the comparative luxury inside the central district, which he had never entered before. "There is electricity and street lighting, there is more water here than I expected. Even the plants are different," he said. "It is the people's right to enter this area because (the politicians) are living in conditions that don't even exist in Iraq. I didn't imagine this existed in Iraq." Another protester who referred to parliament as "the council of traitors" said he wanted to see top officials removed. "They have done nothing good for Iraq, only destruction, sectarian wars, hunger and no services." (Additional reporting by Thaier al-Sudani; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Gareth Jones) ====================================== Apr. 30, 2016 9:02 AM ET THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES By SUSANNAH GEORGE Civilians inspect a crater caused by a car bombing at an open-air market selling fruit, vegetables and meat in Baghdad's southeast suburb of Nahrawan, Iraq, Saturday, April 30, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a bombing Saturday east of Baghdad, according to a statement posted on an IS-affiliated website. The attack and wounded scores of civilians according to Iraqi police and hospital officials. The IS statement described the attack as a three-ton truck bombing. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan) Sri Lankan protest demands new probe of journalist's killing Apr. 29, 2016 8:41 AM ET French politicians decry violence at Nuit Debout protest Apr. 29, 2016 8:17 AM ET Biden presses Iraq to not let political chaos upend gains Apr. 28, 2016 5:39 PM ET Egyptian police fire tear gas, birdshot at Cairo protesters Apr. 25, 2016 12:10 PM ET Moldovan anti-government protesters scuffle with police Apr. 24, 2016 2:33 PM ET Buy AP Photo Reprints BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of protesters climbed over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad's highly-fortified Green Zone for the first time on Saturday and stormed into parliament, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government. The breach marked a major escalation in the country's political crisis following months of anti-government protests, sit-ins and demonstrations by supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Green Zone is home to most ministries and foreign embassies and has long been the focus of al-Sadr's criticism of the government. Earlier Saturday, al-Sadr accused Iraqi politicians of blocking political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste. While al-Sadr didn't call for an escalation to the protests, shortly after his remarks his supporters began scaling the compound's walls. A group of young men then pulled down a section of concrete blast walls to cheers from the crowd of thousands gathered in the streets outside. Cellphone video uploaded to social media showed dozens of young men running through the halls of parliament, chanting slogans in support of al-Sadr and calling for the government to disband. "We are all with you (al-Sadr)," one group of men yelled as the entered the building's main chamber. Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralyzed Iraq's government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices. A broad-based protest movement last summer mobilized millions and pressured Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to submit a proposal to reduce the size of the Cabinet and replace political appointees with independent technocrats. But that proposal has been stalled in the face of Iraq's entrenched political blocs, and in recent months al-Sadr's movement has come to monopolize the protests. Earlier on Saturday, a bombing in a market filled with Shiite civilians in Baghdad killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 42 others, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. IS claimed the attack, saying it used a three-ton truck bomb. The extremist group regularly carries out attacks targeting the security forces and the country's Shiite majority. ======================= Twitter | Search Home Connect Trends Me M2_tab_indicator Tweet Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 1h Angry protestors storm the Green Zone & take selfies inside parliament. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/VE1jyZaHak View photo · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei Chaos in Baghdad today. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/Sj9r9VclC2 6:02 AM - 30 Apr 2016 Twitter by: Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 47 Retweets 6 Likes Reply Retweet Like More Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 1h "I am the speaker of parliament. I rule in the name of the people. Peaceful, peaceful" protestor updates his status pic.twitter.com/jQ9ffCISke View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Sideline Observer Sideline Observer @Observer46664 1h @Hayder_alKhoei Ha ha this is hilarious!😁 View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Yannis Koutsomitis Yannis Koutsomitis @YanniKouts 1h @Hayder_alKhoei Who's this guy anyway? A Muqtada associate? View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 55m Sharqiya reporting that dozens of MPs have been assaulted and kicked out of parliament building. #pt #Iraq View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Sideline Observer Sideline Observer @Observer46664 54m @Hayder_alKhoei Peaceful huh? View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 53m Iraqi counter-terrorism forces surrounded cabinet building in Green Zone after parliament is stormed. State of emergency declared. #pt #Iraq View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 51m Some Iraqi soldiers are dancing with the protestors inside the parliament building. If you can't beat them... View conversation · Reply Retweet Like shawn snow shawn snow @SnowSox184 48m @Hayder_alKhoei I would imagine some security forces are complicit for protestors to storm the Green Zone so easily. View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 47m No clashes reported between security forces & protestors have been reported. All smiles for now. #pt pic.twitter.com/LZaTTYCbQZ View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 45m Reports that protestors continue to enter the Green Zone but no other building besides parliament has been breached. #pt View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Roger B Roger B @BrunstadRoger 44m @Hayder_alKhoei I really love this - now Abadi must act fast to implement all the reforms - otherwise all hell will break loose in Iraq View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 35m Sadrist protestors attacking Fadhila MP Ammar Tuma. Shia-Shia conflict so far. #pt pic.twitter.com/Rb0sRpTt8e View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 33m Protestor inside parliament: the voice of the people is louder than the political parties, louder than muhasasa (ethno-sectarian quotas) #pt View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 32m Protestors are jumping on tables and chairs inside parliament, but you can hear others shouting loudly "don't break anything!" #pt #Iraq View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 30m In stark contrast to attack on Fadhila MP Tuma, Sadrist MP Zamili is warmly greeted by protestors in Green Zone. #pt pic.twitter.com/m3UrJiHam5 View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 24m More pics from inside parliament building. Looks like protestors are having quite the adventure. #pt pic.twitter.com/ns1dvtz2tt View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 22m PM Abadi seen walking on foot in Green Zone along with senior security officers. Rumours that he fled Baghdad clearly false. View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Hayder al-Khoei Hayder al-Khoei @Hayder_alKhoei 18m Sharqiya reporter quotes PM Abadi: "I am the one who gave orders to allow the protestors to enter the Green Zone" (peacefully) #pt View conversation · Reply Retweet Like Enter a topic, @name, or fullname Settings Help Back to top · Turn images off ====================== Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr climb onto the blast walls outside Baghdad's Green Zone, Saturday, April 30, 2016. Dozens of protesters climbed over the blast walls and could be seen storming the Parliament building, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) 1 of 5 More News Video Iraqi protesters pour into Green Zone, storm parliament Apr. 30, 2016 2:08 PM ET Protesters loyal to Shiite cleric breach Baghdad's Green Zone, home to government, embassies Apr. 30, 2016 8:20 AM ET Protest in Myanmar targets US Embassy use of term 'Rohingya' Apr. 28, 2016 10:32 AM ET Iraqi parliament approves partial Cabinet reshuffle Apr. 26, 2016 1:09 PM ET Philippine troops hunt down extremists who beheaded Canadian Apr. 26, 2016 7:30 AM ET Buy AP Photo Reprints BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on anti-government protests in Iraq (all times local): 5:30 p.m. Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces, who have in the past been called on to reinforce security in the capital, say they are standing down for now after anti-government protesters breached the Green Zone. Police and troops guarding the heavily-fortified zone, where most ministries and embassies are located, appeared to be taking no action after protesters breached the walls and stormed into parliament Saturday. Sabah al-Numan, spokesman for the counterterrorism forces, says "we still view this as a demonstration" and "aren't taking any part in this as it's not something regarding terrorism." He adds, however, that if the unrest escalates his forces may be forced to intervene to "protect the legitimacy of the government." The protesters, who support Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, are demanding political reforms to combat corruption and mismanagement. ___ 5:00 p.m. Iraqi forces are tightening security in the capital after anti-government protesters breached the Green Zone and stormed parliament. The Baghdad Operations Command says all traffic attempting to enter the capital through the city's main checkpoints was halted after the breach on Saturday, and additional police and military units have been deployed to the Green Zone, closing the checkpoints on the compound's outer perimeter and blocking internal roads. The heavily-guarded Green Zone is home to most of Iraq's ministries and foreign embassies. Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Green Zone earlier on Saturday, marking a major escalation after months of demonstrations and sit-ins demanding political reforms to combat corruption and waste. 3:30 p.m. Dozens of protesters have climbed over the blast walls surrounding Baghdad's highly-fortified Green Zone and could be seen storming into parliament, carrying Iraqi flags and chanting against the government. After months of protests, sit-ins and demonstrations outside Baghdad's Green Zone — home to most ministries and foreign embassies — Saturday's escalation marks the first time protesters have breached the compound's walls. Earlier Saturday, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr accused Iraqi politicians of blocking efforts to implement political reform aimed at combating corruption and waste. Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralyzed Iraq's government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices. Associated Press ======= Sat Apr 30, 2016 | 4:32 PM EDT Sadr followers dig in inside Baghdad's Green Zone, political crisis deepens 2h ago | 01:44 Protesters storm Baghdad's Green Zone Sadr followers dig in inside Baghdad's Green Zone,...X By Stephen Kalin and Ahmed Rasheed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hundreds of supporters of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed parliament inside Baghdad's Green Zone on Saturday and camped out nearby after Sadr denounced politicians' failure to reform a political quota system blamed for rampant corruption. The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified central district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting: "The cowards ran away!" in apparent reference to departing lawmakers. The initial breach was mostly peaceful, but around sunset security forces fired teargas and bullets into the air in an effort to stop more protesters from entering. Around a dozen people were wounded, police sources said. A United Nations spokesman and Western diplomats said their compounds inside the Green Zone were locked down. A U.S. embassy spokesman denied reports of evacuation. Iraqi security personnel and Sadr's militiamen formed a joint force to control crowds of protesters, most of whom had left parliament, a source in Sadr's office told Reuters. All entrances of Baghdad were temporarily shut "as a precautionary measure to maintain the capital's security," another security official said. As night fell, demonstrators set up tents at a nearby parade ground under triumphal arches made from crossed swords held by hands modelled on those of Saddam Hussein, who was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned that the months-long political crisis prompted by his efforts to overhaul the cabinet could hamper the war against Islamic State, which controls vast swathes of northern and western Iraq. Earlier in the day, the ultra-hardline Sunni militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack against Shi'ite pilgrims in the southeastern Baghdad suburb of Nahrawan, killing 19 people and wounding 48 others. Following the breach, Abadi inspected security forces inside the Green Zone, discrediting earlier reports that he had fled. He called on protesters to return to areas set aside for demonstrations and not to infringe on public property. ADVERTISEMENT . Such a breach is unprecedented, though only a few years ago mortars frequently rained down on the 10-square-kilometre Green Zone, which once housed the headquarters of the U.S. occupation and before that one of Saddam's palaces. Checkpoints and concrete barriers have blocked bridges and highways leading to the neighbourhood for years, symbolising the isolation of Iraq's leadership from its people. Videos showed protesters on Saturday attacking a white, armoured SUV with sticks and beating a man in a grey suit. The source in Sadr's office said a Sadrist MP had escorted out several deputies, the last ones holed up in parliament, in his motorcade. Members of the Peace Brigades, Sadr's paramilitary group, had earlier conducted cursory checks of protesters as government security forces who usually make careful searches with bomb-sniffing dogs stood by the side, a Reuters witness said. ‹ Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in I... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in I... Reuters/Khalid al Mousily + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in I... Reuters/Khalid al Mousily + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in I... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in I... Reuters/Khalid al Mousily + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during news conference in Najaf, south of Baghdad, April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during news conference in Najaf, south of Baghdad, April 30, 2016. Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen at the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen at the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during news conference in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during news conference in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq April 30, 2016. Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in I... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene fo... Reuters/Ahmed Saad + › More protesters remained at the gates chanting "Peaceful!". Some stood atop concrete blast walls that form the district's outer barrier. President Fuad Massoum called on demonstrators to leave parliament, but urged politicians to implement the cabinet reform: "Burying the regime of party and sectarian quotas cannot be delayed." "GREAT POPULAR UPRISING" Inside parliament hundreds of protesters danced, waved Iraqi flags and chanted pro-Sadr slogans. Some appeared to be breaking furniture. Local television showed them chanting and taking pictures of themselves inside the main chamber where moments earlier lawmakers had met. Related Coverage Iraqi forces fire tear gas, bullets in air at Green Zone protesters: sources SlideshowFollowers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq Parliament failed to reach quorum on Saturday afternoon to complete voting on a cabinet reshuffle first urged by Abadi in February. A handful of ministers were approved on Tuesday despite disruptions by dissenting lawmakers. Political parties have resisted Abadi's efforts to replace some ministers - chosen to balance Iraq's divisions along party, ethnic and sectarian lines - with technocrats in a bid to combat corruption. Supporters of Sadr, whose fighters once controlled large areas of Baghdad and helped defend the city from Islamic State in 2014, have been demonstrating in the capital for weeks, responding to their leader's call to put pressure on Abadi to follow through on months-old reform promises. Moments before the Green Zone breach, Sadr seemed to offer an ultimatum: "Either corrupt (officials) and quotas remain or the entire government will be brought down and no one will be exempted." In a televised speech from the holy city of Najaf announcing a two-month withdrawal from public life, Sadr said he was "waiting for the great popular uprising and the major revolution to stop the march of the corrupt." (Additional reporting by Saif Hameed, Kareem Raheem and Ahmed Saad; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Ros Russell)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Can Saudi kick their oil addiction?

Tue Apr 26, 2016 | 2:23 PM EDT Saudi reform plans flirt with social change 4h ago | 01:27 Saudi reform plans flirt with social change By Angus McDowall RIYADH (Reuters) - Reforms promised by a young Saudi prince are couched in references to the kingdom's Islamic tradition but include ideas likely to upset some conservatives, risking future ruptures over the direction of society. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030" plan, which the 31-year-old announced on Monday, largely aims to transform Saudi Arabia's economy in an era of low oil prices and made few specific pledges of social change. However, it also stepped into areas that have long been cultural battlegrounds in a country defined by its religious conservatism. For the Al Saud dynasty, which has always ruled in alliance with the powerful clergy of the kingdom's semi-official Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, that may require care in how far to risk a conservative backlash. Presenting the plan, Prince Mohammed batted away the question of whether women would soon be allowed to drive. Instead, he turned to the usual formulation of Saudi rulers that their society was not yet ready for this, but he appeared to raise the possibility of change elsewhere. Seemingly anodyne promises to invest in cultural events and entertainment facilities, to encourage sports and promote ancient heritage and Saudi national identity, are highly controversial among conservatives. In Saudi Arabia, cinemas are banned and women's sports are discouraged as promoting sin. The pre-Islamic era is dismissed as the age of ignorance, its relics deemed ungodly, and some clerics even see patriotism as tantamount to idolatry. "When he talked about quality of life, about entertainment, he is aware of the changes in our culture and that's what people understood him to be talking about. But at the same time, he showed reluctance," said Jamal Khashoggi, a leading Saudi journalist. Prince Mohammed has presented himself as the face of Saudi youth, devoutly Muslim but in a way different from the older generation of clerics, being more open to the outside world and more accepting of its cultural influences. As a mark of the internationally-oriented nature of Prince Mohammed's ambitions, Vision 2030 used the Western calendar in its title, not the Islamic Hijri calendar officially used in Saudi Arabia, under which this year is 1437. When he presented his plan, the prince gathered clergy, intellectuals and journalists from across the spectrum. But the government's recent decision to increase curbs on the religious police, and continued support for women working, have prompted conservative anger, showing how sensitive the cultural struggles are. A video posted on YouTube before Prince Mohammed announced the reforms was titled "Before the Catastrophe" and portrayed a society riven by the moral degeneracy of the West before succumbing to chaos and violence. WARY STEPS OF CHANGE The Al Saud have always stepped warily with the clergy, aware that the most dangerous challenges to their rule in the kingdom's 70-year history have come from aggrieved religious conservatives. However, they have also traditionally balanced that caution by giving space to the Westernized business elite, and to those liberal intellectuals who have historically backed Al Saud rule, to push social boundaries and nudge the kingdom toward change. Under a pact between the Al Saud and the Wahhabi clergy dating back to the 18th century, the princes had responsibility for governing and the clerics for religion. Over the centuries, however, the definition of where each of those spheres of influence begins and ends has shifted, often marking the boundary of cultural battlegrounds. In recent years changes to education, which is shifting from the domain of the clergy to that of government, to law, in which proposed reforms have encroached on clerical prerogatives, and to the public role of women, have dominated internal disputes. "If you do it too fast, it has a negative impact. Reform in Saudi Arabia always has a precondition: it has to come from inside, it has to be gradual and it has to take into account what people believe is right," said Abdulaziz al-Sager, head of the Gulf Research Centre based in Jeddah and Geneva. CULTURAL TUSSLING Saudi Arabians are avid consumers of Western media and culture. Despite the cinema ban, Hollywood films and recent television series are widely watched at home and discussed. Saudis view YouTube more than any other nationality, measured per capita, and both liberals and conservatives use social media to spread their views. Slick, often funny, online videos produced by young Saudis score millions of hits on YouTube and the 2012 movie Wadjda - the work of a female Saudi director about a young girl navigating religious strictures - won awards at a number of international film festivals. So when Prince Mohammed promises land for cultural and entertainment projects, and support for "talented writers, authors and directors", he seems to point toward a reversal of the ban on cinemas, but without explicitly doing so. But potentially most explosive of all is the renewed commitment to reform education, a process started under King Abdullah who died last year. Prince Mohammed has sworn to create "an education system aligned with market needs", a far cry from schooling that still draws heavily on Koranic teachings. Traditionally, one way the Al Saud had of persuading the clergy to accept change was to spend money on a big religious projects, thereby demonstrating their continued support for Islam in Saudi Arabia. While one aspect of the new plan was for a huge Islamic museum, even that may cause friction: Wahhabi doctrine holds the display of ancient artefacts, even those associated with the Prophet Mohammed, to risk committing idolatry. With his plan predicated on cutting the indiscriminate spending of the past, however, and with a new age of austerity looming due to cheap oil, Prince Mohammed might be denied the luxury to stage cultural warfare with petrodollars. (editing by David Stamp) ===================================================== By Samia Nakhoul, William Maclean and Marwa Rashad RIYADH (Reuters) - The powerful young prince overseeing Saudi Arabia's economy unveiled ambitious plans on Monday aimed at ending the kingdom's "addiction" to oil and transforming it into a global investment power. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the world's top oil exporter expects state oil company Saudi Aramco [SDABO.UL] to be valued at more than $2 trillion ahead of the sale of less than 5 percent of it through an initial public offering (IPO). He added that the kingdom would raise the capital of its public investment fund to 7 trillion riyals ($2 trillion) from 600 billion riyals ($160 billion). The plans also included changes that would alter the social structure of the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom by pushing for women to have a bigger economic role and by offering improved status to resident expatriates. "We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of commodity price volatility or external markets," Prince Mohammed said at his first news conference with international journalists, who were invited to a Riyadh palace for the event. "We have developed a case of oil addiction in Saudi Arabia," he had earlier told al-Arabiya television news channel. His "Vision 2030" envisaged raising non-oil revenue to 600 billion riyals ($160 billion) by 2020 and 1 trillion riyals ($267 billion) by 2030 from 163.5 billion riyals ($43.6 billion) last year. But the plan gave few details on how this would be implemented, something that has bedevilled previous reforms. The 31-year-old prince gave assured answers to questions on the plan, and appeared to pitch his comments to appeal across the Saudi social spectrum, and in particular to young people, who face unemployment and an economic downturn despite their country's oil wealth. Even before oil prices started to plunge in 2014, economists had regarded Riyadh's fiscal policy and economic structure as being unsustainable, but reduced income from energy sales has made reform more urgent. The plan appeared to lift sentiment on the Saudi stock market .TASI, where shares jumped by 2.5 percent in the heaviest trading for eight months, but it fell short of convincing skeptics that the kingdom can prosper in an era of cheap oil. At the center of the plan is the restructuring of its Public Investment Fund (PIF), which Prince Mohammed said would become a hub for Saudi investment abroad, partly by raising money through selling shares in Aramco. Asked where Riyadh would find the funds for a $2 trillion dollar fund after recent borrowing, he said it would come from transferring the ownership of Aramco to the PIF. "We are speaking about more than $2 trillion. We expect the valuation to be more than $2 trillion. In addition to that there are other assets that will be added to the fund, and part of it is already added. He said it could "turn into a global investment fund with a size of up to $3 trillion dollars". OPENING ARAMCO ACCOUNTS The partial privatization of Aramco was also central to the plans, and Prince Mohammed said it would be transformed into an energy company that he expected to be valued at $2 trillion to $3 trillion, and that less than 5 percent of it would be listed on the stock market. So big is the state oil company because of its rights to the kingdom's crude reserves, that selling even 1 percent of its value would create the biggest initial public offering (IPO) on earth, he said. He said other Aramco subsidiary companies would also be listed along with other publicly held companies, and added that one major benefit of privatization was that it would increase transparency and help limit corruption. "People used to be unhappy that files and data of Aramco are undeclared, unclear and not transparent. Today they will be transparent. If Aramco gets IPO-ed that means it has to announce its statements of accounts," he said. Since the prince was appointed to oversee Saudi long-term planning through the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, Riyadh's focus on reform has grown far more urgent and far more acute. Prince Mohammed has enjoyed a dizzyingly rapid rise since his father became king 15 months ago, from being little known outside the ruling Al Saud family to become the driving force of Saudi plans to prepare for a future after oil. In his rare press conference, he presented himself as a modernizing leader who seeks to shake Saudi Arabia out of its economic slumber and its reputation for opacity and rigid bureaucracy, showing an interest in topics including education, the public role of women, and football. Saudi Arabia would prepare a new education curriculum, Prince Mohammed said. Despite previous reform attempts, the kingdom's schools have long been seen as focused on religious teachings rather than preparing students for a role in a modern economy. Under the plans, Saudi Arabia would produce or assemble half of its defense equipment internally in order to create job opportunities, he said, and Riyadh would make foreign investment easier. The government ran a deficit of 367 billion riyals ($98 billion) or 15 per cent of gross domestic product in 2015, officials said, and this year's budget plan aimed to cut that to 326 billion riyals ($87 billion). His economic team has already announced efforts to curb wasteful government spending, to diversify revenue streams by introducing sales tax and privatizing state assets, and to make reforms in the education sector. Such was the speculation among Saudis over the details of the plan that hashtags associated with it were the top two trending on Twitter on Monday in the country with the highest rate of social media use in the Middle East. But ambitious targets, such as raising the private sector share in the economy to 60 percent from 40 percent, reducing unemployment to 7.6 percent from 11 percent and growing non-oil income to 1 trillion riyals ($267 billion) from 163 billion riyals ($44 billion) were not explained further. PLANS Some Saudis said they had hoped for more detail on crucial issues such as education reform. There were no further details of plans to increase revenue from tax or of any changes to the political structure of the absolute monarchy. "For me as a Saudi, I am concerned by the education transformation plan," said a Saudi entrepreneur. "If it is not at the top of the list, why not?" Related Coverage Saudi Aramco CEO expects oil price upturn by year-end Saudi reform plan pleases markets, doesn't reassure skeptics Saudi does not expect oil price below $30 due to global demand Analyst view: Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 reform plan However, the plan also envisaged increasing women's participation in the workforce, something that has already grown quickly over the past five years, to 30 percent from 22 percent. But he also said he did not believe Saudi society was ready to end its ban on women driving. A green card system would also be launched within five years to enable expatriate Arabs and Muslims to live and work long-term in the country, Prince Mohammed said, in a major shift for the insular kingdom. But the focus was on economic restructuring to help reduce oil dependence. "I think by 2020, if oil stops we can survive," Prince Mohammed said. "We need it, we need it, but I think in 2020 we can live without oil." Appealing to Saudi youth, he ended his news conference by promising them a new Saudi Arabia. "The vision is not a dream, it's a reality that will come true," he said. ($1 = 3.7489 riyals) (Additional reporting by Riyadh and Dubai newsrooms; Writing by Angus McDowall and Noah Browning; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Giles Elgood)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

BRIEF-Iron Mountain: Australian court approves Recall acquisition

Thu Apr 21, 2016 | 7:22 AM EDT BRIEF-Iron Mountain: Australian court approves. April 21 (Reuters) - Iron Mountain Inc * Iron mountain announces Australian court approval of Recall acquisition * Recall transaction to close on May 2, 2016 * Pursuant to terms of scheme implementation deed, board appointed Neil Chatfield and Wendy Murdock to serve as directors Source text for Eikon: Further company coverage: (Bengaluru Newsroom: +1 646 223 8780 )

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What to do if your landlord gives you notice

Kate Jones by Kate Jones 15 Apr 2016  Renting, Landlord, Rental property, Tenant Getting notice to vacate can come as a nasty surprise for tenants, but it doesn’t have to be all bad news. Landlords can ask tenants to leave before a lease ends if conditions of the lease have been broken. Each state has different laws stipulating the rules around this, but it usually boils down to common sense. If the rent is overdue, the property has been damaged or the property has been used for illegal purposes, the landlord is likely to have the law on their side. Compensation But if the landlord simply wants to sell the property, the tenant has the right to demand sufficient notice and can even ask for compensation. Investment property advisor Andrew Crossley says landlords commonly sell properties so they can live in them or to ease financial pressure. Whatever the situation, Crossley says mutual respect can result in a happy outcome. Woman laughing “Hopefully an amicable solution is found – perhaps the agent can help the tenant find another property and perhaps the landlord can pay for their moving costs as a consolation or maybe help contribute by giving them the equivalent of what’s left on the lease towards their moving costs,” he says. Who to call If the tenant is happy to move, a first point of call should be the leasing agent. Agents can help tenants find another property and keep them informed of new rentals coming on to their list. “ Agents are particularly motivated to help good tenants. Tenants: A guide to rental property repairs Crossley says agents are particularly motivated to help good tenants. “The agent may not want to lose that tenant to another real estate agency if they’re a good tenant,” he says. Young couple smiling at the camera Rights & responsibilities Before landlords issue notices to vacate or tenants dispute such notices, both parties need to consult their state or territory laws. Emma Heuston, principal lawyer at LegalVision, says each party has rights and responsibilities. “The notice period will be dependent on the term of the lease and the reason for the termination and this does vary from state to state,” she says. “The common thing with each state and territory residential tenancy act is there is a right to appeal to a tribunal specific to that state or territory.” Stress less: Guide to moving out of a rental property Residential tenancy tribunals, such as VCAT in Victoria and NCAT in New South Wales, are set up to hear disputes between landlords and tenants or vice versa. There is a fee and usually the tribunal will encourage both parties to mediate beforehand to avoid a hearing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

SA Islamic college to remain open

3:28pm April 22, 2016 AAP By An Islamic school in South Australia will continue to receive federal funding after satisfying concerns about its financial management. Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the funding to the Islamic College of SA is subject to compliance with additional reporting demands. The school's chair, Miriam Silva, says the school is pleased and grateful to receive the funding which will allow it to continue operating. Read more at http://www.9news.com.au/national/2016/04/22/15/31/sa-islamic-college-to-remain-open#VuuVQl4qSKHySiku.99

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Factbox: Central banks go negative - to what avail? Mortgage arrears near record lows as banks tighten lending

================================================================ Media Release Statement by Glenn Stevens, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision Number2016-10 Date3 May 2016 At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 1.75 per cent, effective 4 May 2016. This follows information showing inflationary pressures are lower than expected. The global economy is continuing to grow, though at a slightly lower pace than earlier expected, with forecasts having been revised down a little further recently. While several advanced economies have recorded improved conditions over the past year, conditions have become more difficult for a number of emerging market economies. China's growth rate moderated further in the first part of the year, though recent actions by Chinese policymakers are supporting the near-term outlook. Commodity prices have firmed noticeably from recent lows, but this follows very substantial declines over the past couple of years. Australia's terms of trade remain much lower than they had been in recent years. Sentiment in financial markets has improved, after a period of heightened volatility early in the year. However, uncertainty about the global economic outlook and policy settings among the major jurisdictions continues. Funding costs for high-quality borrowers remain very low and, globally, monetary policy remains remarkably accommodative. In Australia, the available information suggests that the economy is continuing to rebalance following the mining investment boom. GDP growth picked up over 2015, particularly in the second half of the year, and the labour market improved. Indications are that growth is continuing in 2016, though probably at a more moderate pace. Labour market indicators have been more mixed of late. Inflation has been quite low for some time and recent data were unexpectedly low. While the quarterly data contain some temporary factors, these results, together with ongoing very subdued growth in labour costs and very low cost pressures elsewhere in the world, point to a lower outlook for inflation than previously forecast. Monetary policy has been accommodative for quite some time. Low interest rates have been supporting demand and the lower exchange rate overall has helped the traded sector. Credit growth to households continues at a moderate pace, while that to businesses has picked up over the past year or so. These factors are all assisting the economy to make the necessary economic adjustments, though an appreciating exchange rate could complicate this. In reaching today's decision, the Board took careful note of developments in the housing market, where indications are that the effects of supervisory measures are strengthening lending standards and that price pressures have tended to abate. At present, the potential risks of lower interest rates in this area are less than they were a year ago. Taking all these considerations into account, the Board judged that prospects for sustainable growth in the economy, with inflation returning to target over time, would be improved by easing monetary policy at this meeting. Enquiries Media and Communications Secretary's Department Reserve Bank of Australia SYDNEY Phone: +61 2 9551 9720 Fax: +61 2 9551 8033 E-mail: rbainfo@rba.gov.au Mortgage arrears near record lows as banks tighten lending By business reporter Michael Janda =========================================================== Tue May 3, 2016 | 4:04 AM EDT Australia cuts interest rates to turn back global deflation tide A woman delivering catering walks past Australia's Reserve Bank in Sydney, November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo A woman delivering catering walks past Australia's Reserve Bank in Sydney, November 3, 2015. Reuters/Jason Reed/File Photo Australia cuts interest rates to turn back global By Wayne Cole SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's central bank cut interest rates to an all-time low of 1.75 percent on Tuesday, the first easing in a year as it seeks to restrain a rising currency and stave off the creeping curse of deflation. The Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) quarter-point cut sent the local dollar down more than one U.S. cent to $0.7567 as markets wagered a further move to 1.5 percent was now likely. Australia is just the latest in the Asian region to feel the chill of deflation as too many goods chase too little demand. Singapore surprised many by easing last month, and it followed India, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Japan and New Zealand. Speculation of a possible cut flared last week when Australian government data showed inflation had slowed far more than expected in the first quarter of the year. Underlying inflation dropped to a record low of 1.5 percent, taking it well under the RBA's long term target band of 2 percent to 3 percent and effectively pushing real rates higher. "Inflation has been quite low for some time and recent data were unexpectedly low," RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said in a brief statement after the bank's May policy meeting. "These results, together with ongoing very subdued growth in labor costs and very low cost pressures elsewhere in the world, point to a lower outlook for inflation than previously forecast." Eight central banks globally have embarked on entirely new stimulus cycles so far this year while the Bank of Japan and European Central Bank have embraced sub-zero rates and expanded their asset-buying campaigns. All this easing abroad has in turn boosted the Australian dollar further than the RBA desired, hurting exports and tourism while pushing down import prices and, hence, inflation. UNLIKELY TO BE "ONE AND DONE" All of which argued for at least one cut in rates to offset these tighter financial conditions, and markets were quick to price in the possibility of a further move <0#YIB:>. "It's hard to see how one cut by itself is going to do much," said Commonwealth Bank Chief Economist Michael Blythe. "So you'd have to think the odds on a follow-up have also increased, very much tied in with how the inflation outlook evolves from here. August would be the most obvious timing." The easing comes just hours before the conservative government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reveals a budget that is considered crucial for his chances in a likely July election. Normally a rate cut and lower mortgage rates would be considered a political positive in Australia. Yet this cut could also raise an awkward question - if the economy was doing as well as Turnbull claimed, why would it need lower rates? While Australia is still struggling with the unwinding of a massive mining boom, economic activity has been generally favorable. Growth was a surprisingly brisk 3 percent for 2015 and unemployment recently fell to a 30-month low of 5.7 percent. The RBA had also been reluctant to risk a debt-fueled bubble in the housing market, though tightened rules on investment lending has seen prices cool in recent months. "At present, the potential risks of lower interest rates in this area are less than they were a year ago," Stevens said on Tuesday, providing another reason to expect further cuts. National Australia Bank (NAB.AX) and Westpac Banking Corp (WBC.AX) were quick to pass on the full quarter point cut to home borrowers, which could provide a new lease on life into house building and employment. Banking stocks also took off on the prospect of increased demand for mortgages, lifting the benchmark share index 2.1 percent for its biggest daily rise in three months. (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Eric Meijer) =================================================== Posted 51 minutes ago Auction sign outside listed property Photo: Less than 1 per cent of Australians are more than 30 days behind in repayments. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore) Map: Australia Australian mortgage arrears were at their lowest fourth quarter level in more than a decade, as low rates and rising prices insulated borrowers. Credit rating agency Fitch's "Dinkum" residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) index tracks the performance of a large number of loans that have been bundled up and sold by lenders to other investors. It found the level of 30-plus-day arrears overall was just 0.95 per cent over the three months to December 2015, the lowest fourth quarter level in 11 years. Arrears were down 0.2 of a percentage point compared to the same period in 2014. "The level of arrears in the fourth quarter of 2015 reflected strong house price growth, low unemployment, low standard variable rates and low inflation," the report noted. The actual loss rate on loans remained even lower, at 0.02 per cent, as rising property prices in most of the big cities meant lenders could recoup the value of their loans in case of default by the borrower. While Fitch expects this loan loss rate to remain low, it is also forecasting a small uptick as property price growth moderates over 2016 from the double-digit national average levels witnessed at times last year. Regulator moves result in 'tougher line' for borrowers The ratings agency said last year's moves by the bank regulator, APRA, to tighten financial institutions' measures of borrowers' ability to repay their loans are likely to keep a lid on loan losses. "The introduction of measures, such as interest-rate floors, means borrowers should have more buffers to withstand increases in interest rates and unemployment, and a slowdown in the housing market," the report observed. "The changes to underwriting standards are positive for holders of newer vintage RMBS transactions, especially in the current low-interest-rate and high house price environment that has fuelled household borrowing." Financial comparison website finder.com.au said that Australia has seen the most dramatic three-month fall in average loan sizes since 2000. With regulators cracking down on how much banks can lend to home buyers relative to their incomes, the average amount borrowed fell more than 4 per cent in February to $357,200 and is down 7.7 per cent over the past three months. The analysis of ABS data reveals that New South Wales had the biggest drop of 10.15 per cent over the past quarter. "Banks are scrutinising new loan applications more closely, taking a tougher line when assessing borrowers income," said finder.com.au money expert Bessie Hassan. While the overall news was positive, Fitch also noted a steep rise in 30-plus-day arrears for self-employed borrowers with low-doc loans. The arrears for this group were 7.29 per cent, a 32-basis-point increase. ======================================== Thu Apr 14, 2016 | 4:09 AM EDT Factbox: Central banks go negative - to what avail. By Balazs Koranyi FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Central bankers gather this week in Washington for the International Monetary Fund's spring meetings amid continued questions about the global economy. Some of the world's biggest central banks have cut rates into negative territory, hoping to boost growth and lift anemic inflation. Even as the U.S. Federal Reserve is cautiously raising rates, central banks from the euro zone to Japan moved in the opposite direction, fuelling fears of a 'currency war' among countries trying to depreciate their currencies. The following are the details what big central banks have done, why and what have been the consequences. EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK The ECB has kept its deposit rate in negative territory since mid-2014, hoping to boost ultra low inflation in the 19-member euro zone, spur lending and generate growth in a region still reeling from its sovereign debt crisis. Facing deflationary risks tumbling commodity prices, the ECB has also been buying assets, mostly sovereign debt, since March 2015 and cut rates several times and most recently in March, when it reduced the deposit rate to -0.4 percent. Still, low oil prices are keeping a lid on price growth and inflation sank back into negative territory, putting the pressure on the ECB to do more and more. BANK OF JAPAN Facing low inflation and a strong currency, the Bank of Japan cut its key rate to -0.1 percent in January, introduced a three-tier deposit rate system and said it was ready to cut rates further if necessary. The move unleashed a torrent of criticism at the bank and the yen, instead of weakening, has rallied to trade around an 18-month high against the dollar. The Japanese currency has gained more than 10 percent against dollar so far this year. SWISS NATIONAL BANK Since January 2015, both the of the SNB's key interest rates have been in negative territory and its deposit rate is the lowest of any central bank in the world. The three-month Libor range was set between –1.25 and –0.25 percent while the interest on sight deposits at the central bank is -0.75 percent. However, the SNB's most punitive rate had only been applied to just over a third of deposits as of the end of last year because the rest of the cash parked at the central bank was within its exemption threshold. The SNB earned 1.2 billion Swiss francs ($1.26 billion) from its negative interest rates in 2015. ($1 = 0.9557 Swiss francs) SWEDISH RIKSBANK Facing low inflation and a strong currency, Sweden's central bank cut rates to -0.5 percent in February from -0.35, despite a relatively strong economy and concerns that super low rates would further stoke a housing bubble. The bank is also buying government bonds to stoke inflation and said it was prepared to intervene on currency markets to stem the krone's rise, despite warnings from economists that it risked getting into a currency war. Critics say the latest rate cuts show a too narrow focus on inflation and that they are fuelling a rally in house prices and lending. Riksbank Deputy Governor Martin Floden questioned the effectiveness of the latest rate cut in February and voted against it, along with another board member. DANMARKS NATIONALBANK The Danish central bank cut its key deposit rate to -0.75 percent in early 2015 before a hike to -0.65 in January, fighting to keep the crown EURDKK=D3 currency from firming and keeping it pegged to the euro in a narrow range. Investors poured cash into Danish assets in January and February last year, betting that the country would abandon its three-decade-old currency peg but the central bank held steady, intervening in the currency markets when necessary. Banks have not passed the negative rates onto households, there has been no unusual increase in the demand for cash and the central bank made a profit of 2.2 billion Danish crowns ($336.60 million) in 2015, mostly as a result of pressure on the crown. ($1 = 6.5360 Danish crowns) NATIONAL BANK OF HUNGARY Hungary's central bank cut its overnight deposit rate to -0.05 percent in March, although its base rate, considered at the most important benchmark, is still 1.45 percent. For a preview of the meetings, click: (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi, Joshua Franklin, Ole Mikkelsen and Daniel Dickson; editing by Mark John) ================================ Glut or no glut, what exactly is happening with apartments in our major cities? April 19, 20165:17pm Melbourne under construction: are there too many apartments? Picture: Jay Town Kirsten Craze,news.com.au     Email a friend  IF YOU are an inner city apartment dweller, or the future owner of an off-the-plan unit waiting for the last brick to be laid, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little confused right now. On one hand we hear doom and gloom stories of too many units being built in our capital cities, while on the other we’re seeing data that shows unit prices are still rising — even if only slightly. While Sydney apartments shot up a whopping 11.9 per cent last year, they were only up 1.5 per cent in the three months to January according to CoreLogic data. The yearly figure in Melbourne shows the rise was 11.4 per cent, but during the quarter flats were flat at an increase of just 1 per cent. However, in Brisbane where there has been less development than the bigger cities, the overall median unit price increased by a very modest 1.3 per cent during the year, and has remained neutral at 0 per cent for the quarter. So as the major cities’ skylines rise, are unit prices going to fall? WHERE THE IS THE SO-CALLED GLUT? Anyone familiar with the landscape of our three east coast capitals knows there seems to be a growing number of cranes dotting the horizon. Cue the RBA and its biannual Financial Stability Review. The report basically warns developers and potential buyers about building and buying in these high-density neighbourhoods. ABS figures show that Sydney recently took over the mantle from Melbourne as the leading capital for apartment developments with 35,538 approvals recorded over 2015 compared to 33,023. Across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane almost 45,000 apartments are due for completion and settlement by the end of 2016 according to figures from planning consultancy MacroPlan Dimasi. The RBA singled out these various inner-city apartment booms as a significant risk to the country’s ­financial future by pointing out concerns that high-rise unit developers could struggle if buyers back off or are unable to fund settlements due to lenders’ reticence around residential towers. WARNING: BACK OFF OFF-THE-PLAN It’s not all units that are at risk, but the warning bells are ringing in relation to the copious off-the-plan developments in these three cities. Just last month Fairfax reported that an oversupply in apartments had lead major home loan lender AMP to “blacklist” off-the-plan purchases in certain inner-city suburbs in every state. The central bank said in its review that investors should carefully consider buying units in city-fringe suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, pointing out that an oversupply in stock would place a downward pressure on rents and resale prices. “An ongoing risk comes from the significant and geographically concentrated growth in supply of new apartments in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane due for completion over the next few years,” the review said. “If that occurs, investors will need to service their mortgages while earning lower rental income and any households facing difficulties making repayments may not be able to resolve their situation easily by selling the property,” the bank said in its report. In other words, landlords face not getting the rent needed to pay the bills and owner occupiers who need to move on could struggle to get the price they want, when they want it. “This is one reason why it remains important to have prudent lending standards ahead of such a possibility,” the RBA said. WHY INDUSTRY INSIDERS DISAGREE Chris Johnson, CEO of the Urban Taskorce said the RBA’s statement would act as a “brake on bank loans” for new housing when in actual fact, more homes are needed, particularly in Sydney. “The NSW Department of Planning says that 33,200 new homes are needed each year for 20 years in Sydney but last financial year only 27,348 new homes were completed,” Mr Johnson said. “With a shortfall of nearly 6000 new homes during the boom times it is essential that more homes are built across Sydney. Our concern is that the RBA’s warnings will encourage banks to tighten up on lending for new homes particularly for apartments.” “Our members believe the market is still strong for new apartments in key parts of Sydney where cosmopolitan living is becoming the norm. They are concerned however that the market could be destabilised by a series of negative actions that combine to lower confidence in the industry,” he said. “My feeling is that the Melbourne market is a bit more stretched, with the potential for oversupply possibly more likely, and perhaps a bit more likely in Brisbane, but Sydney is quite secure, in terms of future markets,” he said. Mr Johnson said he saw an immediate future where apartment prices would plateau. “I think in the long term value will remain and that’s because of a fundamental shift in lifestyle. A lot of people are preferring a cosmopolitan lifestyle that’s close to public transport, shops and amenities and this is what’s going to keep prices up,” he said. “I don’t think there is going to be a fundamental drop in the price of apartments,” Mr Johnson said. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? A surge in apartment approvals and a subsequent rise in unit prices across these three cities in recent years all stemmed from an insatiable investor appetite for flats. But since late-2014 when the banking regulator stepped in to tighten lending standards for investors, apartment activity has noticeably quietened. These tighter credit standards could pose “near-term challenges” for some high-rise unit and office block developers, according to the RBA, particularly for those who have been targeting Chinese investors. “Any concerns over settlement risk and/or a slowdown in demand for Australian-located property by Chinese and other Asian residents could lead to difficulties for particular projects,” the RBA said. It’s speculation at this point from the RBA, but the report added that it would only take a hit to the global economy for investment in the Australian apartment sector to take a tumble. “There is some uncertainty about how these foreign buyers would react to a downturn in their home countries or in the Australian property market,” the report said. The RBA also referred to the state of affairs for the commercial property industry describing it as “adjusting with a lag to a slowing in demand”, particularly in cities that are heavily exposed to mining such as Perth. “This is most noticeable for office buildings in the resource-intensive states, where vacancy rates remain very high as further supply continues to come on line,” the review stated. ====================================== Apr 27 2016 at 5:47 PM Updated Apr 27 2016 at 6:07 PM Deflation has landlords rethinking CPI rents and leases Australia's first deflation reading has landlords rethinking CPI rents and leases. Australia's first deflation reading has landlords rethinking CPI rents and leases. Dominic Lorrimer by Matthew Cranston Robert Harley Landlords are bracing for lower rents and have been locking in new leases without consumer price indexed adjustments because of the prospect of deflation in Australia. A lower than expected CPI reading on Wednesday gave the first deflationary reading in eight years. Emil Ford Lawyers property partner Garry Pritchard said if the deflationary trend continued there would be pressure on rents in retail. "If over the next 12 months, the CPI declines, then retail rents will decline but for other properties it will depend on the wording of the lease," Mr Pritchard said. Other leading lawyers agreed that landlords and tenants would be reviewing their leases. Clayton Utz senior associate Carrie Rogers said those landlords stuck with leases drawn up from some time ago would be looking to renegotiate. She said there was a move away from CPI-indexed rents. "About six years ago it was quite common to have CPI-indexed rents but that has changed," Ms Rogers said, "I have done about five lease deals in the last few months and all have had fixed increases. I think this is the case because there is a level of uncertainty as to where CPI will go." King Wood Mallesons property partner Chris Wheeler said the likely place to see this problem was in smaller retail properties and that such reviews were annually, not quarterly. Norton Rose Fulbright partner Michael French said he expected some landlords would have leases where their rent will decrease unexpectedly if the CPI is negative over a 12-month period. Real estate groups such as JLL said the data was unlikely to represent the broader market demand pressure on rents. "For rents that are linked to the CPI a period of low inflation may imply potential for lower rents but supply/demand forces prevail for market rents," JLL managing director Stephen Conry said. Read more: http://www.afr.com/real-estate/deflation-has-landlords-rethinking-cpi-rents-and-leases-20160426-gofm1e?&utm_source=social&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=nc&eid=socialn:twi-14omn0055-optim-nnn:nonpaid-27062014-social_traffic-all-organicpost-nnn-afr-o&campaign_code=nocode&promote_channel=social_twitter#ixzz472AUs8w6 Follow us: @FinancialReview on Twitter | financialreview on Facebook ================================ Tighter lending policies see a reduction in investor and riskier lending types Earlier today the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) released its quarterly Authorised Deposit-taking Institution (ADI) property exposures data for the March 2016 quarter. This data is really valuable as it provides additional insight into the mortgage market, including data which is not available from the monthly housing finance statistics. Chart 1 The data initially focuses on outstanding total values and shows that at the end of the March 2016 quarter there was $906.7 billion outstanding to owner occupiers and $501.3 billion to investors. While total lending continued to rise, up 8.7% year-on-year, it is interesting to see how the tilt away from investment lending has progressed. Over the past 12 months, total investor lending has increased by just 0.1% with the total value of investor mortgage lending outstanding down -3.2% from its June 2015 quarter peak. The data also indicates that investor credit growth now sits significantly below the APRA imposed 10% pa speed limit. This could lead to a rebound in lending to investors over the coming quarters. Total lending to owner occupiers has continued to increase and is up 14.0% year-on-year. In terms of the total value of outstanding mortgages, owner occupiers account for 64.4% compared to 35.6% to investors. The proportion of outstanding mortgages to investors has fallen sharply from its recent peak of 39.0% in June 2015. Chart 2 Although the total value of outstanding mortgages is rising you can see that growth is generally slowing. Mortgages with offset facilities account for a record-high 43.0% of all outstanding mortgages and the value of these mortgages has increased 20.4% year-on-year. Interest-only mortgages account for 39.3% of total outstanding mortgages, with the value having increased by 9.6% year-on-year. Reverse mortgages account for just 0.5% of all outstanding mortgages with the value of outstanding mortgages up 1.4% year-on-year. Only 2.4% of the value of outstanding mortgages are for low-documentation loans and 0.1% are other non-standard loans. Year-on-year the value of outstanding low-documentation mortgages is -16.5% lower and other non-standard mortgages are -4.0% lower. In fact the total value of outstanding low-documentation and other non-standard mortgages is at a record low. Chart 3 The average outstanding mortgage balance was recorded at $251,900 in March 2016, having increased by 4.8% year-on-year. At the end of March 2016, the average outstanding balances across loan types were: $307,200 for loans with an offset, $334,400 for interest-only, $96,500 for reverse mortgages, $192,200 for low-documentation and $193,400 for other non-standard loans. All loan types except for low-documentation (-1.1%) and other non-standard (-7.0%) have seen the average balance increase over the past year: offset (6.3%), interest-only (5.0%), reverse mortgages (2.4%). To date, all data analysed has focused on total balances outstanding, the following data will focus specifically on quarterly new lending. Chart 4 Over the March 2016 quarter there was $81.7 billion in new mortgage lending, which was the lowest quarterly value of new lending since the March 2014 quarter. This figure comprises of $56.0 billion in lending to owner occupiers and $25.7 billion in lending to investors. The value of new lending to owner occupiers has increased by 16.1% year-on-year while the value of investor lending is -25.5% lower year-on-year. The value of new lending to investors is the lowest since the March 2013 quarter and is -37.7% lower from its peak over the June 2015 quarter. The data indicates that there has been a significant pull-back in new lending to investors over recent quarters. Chart 5 With the value of new mortgage lending falling, the value of most loan types is now also falling. Over the March 2016 quarter, 0.3% of new lending was for low documentation loans, 34.9% was for interest-only, 0.1% was for other non-standard loans, 46.5% was originated through third part channels and 3.8% of loans were approved outside of serviceability. The value of new lending for low documentation mortgages was at a record low. The value of new interest-only lending was the lowest since the March 2013 quarter. The value of other non-standard lending was the lowest since the same quarter last year as was loans approved outside of serviceability. The value of new mortgage lending by third parties was the lowest since the September 2014 quarter. Higher loan to value ratio (LVR) lending is reducing meaning that borrowers are typically using larger deposits. In fact, the value of new lending for LVRS above 90% in the March 2016 was the lowest since the March 2011 quarter and has fallen by -22.8% over the past year. Lending for LVRs between 80% and 90% has increased by 2.7% year-on-year however, it has fallen over each of the past four quarters. In fact, lending for LVRs above 80% represented 22.4% of all new lending in March 2016 which was its lowest proportion on record and well down from the peak in March 2009 where it accounted for 37.6% of all new lending. The value of lending to investors is falling sharply as assessment criteria is tightened and investors are typically now charged a higher interest rate than owner occupiers. Interest-only lending which APRA and the Reserve bank have previously sounded warnings about is also starting to fall and is now at its lowest level since March 2013. Higher LVR lending which is associated with smaller deposits are also trending lower which indicates less risky lending. The added benefit surrounding lower LVRs is that if a borrower has a deposit of more than 20% of the value of the property they can typically avoid lenders mortgage insurance (LMI). New lending to loans outside of serviceability, low documentation loans and other non-standard loans has also been falling over recent quarters which is reflective of less risky lending practices being undertaken. These emerging trends can only be positives for the stability and security of the Australian mortgage lending market. Based on the data presented, it is apparent that tighter lending policies by lenders is having a noticeable impact on the mortgage market. Source: www.blog.corelogic.com.au

Monday, April 18, 2016

Oil prices slide after freeze deal failure

=== Tue Apr 19, 2016 | 8:45 PM EDT Crude futures fall after Kuwaiti oil workers end strike A pump jack stands idle in Dewitt County, Texas January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Anna Driver A pump jack stands idle in Dewitt County, Texas January 13, 2016. Reuters/Anna Driver Crude futures fall after Kuwaiti oil workers end...X TOKYO (Reuters) - Crude futures fell in early Asian trade on Wednesday after Kuwaiti oil workers ended a three-day strike that had cut production from the Middle Eastern country and data showed U.S. stockpiles rose last week. Brent crude futures, were down 55 cents at 43.48 a barrel at 0030 GMT. On Tuesday, they settled up $1.12, or 2.6 percent, at $44.03 a barrel. U.S. crude was down 66 cents at $40.36. The contract rose $1.30, or 3.3 percent, to $41.08, the previous session. Kuwaiti oil and gas workers ended a three-day strike that had temporarily cut the OPEC member's crude production by nearly half, the trade union said in a statement posted on its Twitter account on Tuesday. ADVERTISEMENT Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) was forced to cut output to as little as 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd), down from a normal level of about 3 million bpd. By Tuesday output had recovered to around 1.5 million bpd. The end of the strike revived the bearish mood brought on by the failure of major producers to reach an agreement on Sunday on a production freeze, to help overcome a market imbalance that has caused a slump in prices since 2014. Adding to the bearish tone, data from industry group American Petroleum Institute (API) also showed U.S. crude stocks rose more than was anticipated, last week. Crude inventories rose by 3.1 million barrels in the week to April 15 to 539.5 million, compared with analysts' expectations for a rise of 2.4 million barrels. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 235,000 barrels, API said. (Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Michael Perry) ============================= EDITION:UNITED STATES Markets | Mon Apr 18, 2016 7:00am EDT Oil prices slide after freeze deal failure LONDON | BY LIBBY GEORGE A worker grabs a nozzle at a petrol station in Tehran, Iran January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA A worker grabs a nozzle at a petrol station in Tehran, Iran January 25, 2016. REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI/TIMA Oil prices slid on Monday after a meeting between major producing nations on a proposed output freeze fell apart, leaving the world grappling with an excess of unwanted crude. The some 18 oil exporting nations, including non-OPEC Russia, had gathered in the Qatari capital of Doha for what was expected to be the rubber-stamping of a deal to stabilize output at January levels until October 2016. But the deal crumbled when OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia demanded that Iran join in despite its repeated assertions it would not do so until it had reached pre-sanctions levels of output. "Saudi Arabia intentionally torpedoed the agreement and was willing to accept its failure. This has severely damaged the credibility of oil producers in general and of OPEC in particular," Commerzbank said in a note. Brent crude futures fell almost 7 percent in early trading on Monday before recovering to $41.80 per barrel at 1047 GMT (0547 EDT), down just over 3 percent since their last settlement. Traders said an oil worker strike in Kuwait that cut the country's crude output by some 60 percent prevented Brent from tumbling below $40 per barrel. A cut in U.S. drilling down to 2009 levels had prevented steeper falls there. Benchmark U.S. crude futures were down by 3.62 percent at $38.90 a barrel after falling as low as $37.61 earlier in the day. Brent crude had reached a four-month high of just under $45 per barrel last week on hopes that the freeze deal would slow ballooning oversupply. Its collapse revived some fears that government-controlled producers will ramp up their battle for market share by offering ever-steeper discounts. Morgan Stanley said the failure sparked "a growing risk of higher OPEC supply," especially as Saudi Arabia threatened it could hike output following the failed deal. It could also impact the broader economy, thus putting demand at risk. "In the near-term, lower oil prices are bound to weigh on investor confidence and could exacerbate financial volatility," said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economics research at HSBC. "Concerns over financial stability in the energy sector and a further fall in drilling capex are headwinds to growth against an already fragile global economic backdrop." But others said OPEC's failure to act, and the subsequently lower oil prices, would simply shift rebalancing away from the cartel and towards higher cost producers. "Once again the Saudis have delivered a hammer blow to fellow producers," said David Hufton, managing director of broker PVM. "It promises to be the final nail in the coffin for those shale producers and their lenders hanging on for a short-term price reprieve." (Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore, editing by David Evans)

Bahria Town Karachi: Greed unlimited

How land authorities and Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd colluded in violating multiple laws to facilitate a massive land grab. Fahim Zaman | Naziha Syed Ali | Updated about 2 hours ago KARACHI: There’s Bollywood music blaring from somewhere. The tables at an outdoor tea stall are packed and waiters rush back and forth with steaming cups in hand. A corncob seller does brisk business at his pushcart. The street is full of cars and people. Every evening, this section of Tauheed Commercial in Defence Housing Authority Phase V throbs with activity, with the anticipation of making an overnight profit. It is a casino of sorts – except that instead of roulette and blackjack, it is a game of real estate that is creating the buzz. The name of that real estate: Bahria Town Karachi (BTK), a sprawling, upmarket gated community being constructed off the Super Highway in the outer reaches of Pakistan’s largest city. Scores of real estate agencies line two or three streets in Tauheed Commercial, almost all of them emblazoned with the Bahria Town Ltd logo. Many among them are authorised dealers for Bahria Town real estate. “A 125-square yard space in Midway Commercial has gone up by Rs.9 million in the two years since it came on the market,” said an agent about investment prospects in BTK. “In two years, I guarantee you, it’ll be Rs.80m.” Another gleefully says that “there is almost no plot left unsold, even in the recently announced Sports City [a neighbourhood within BTK]”. Incidentally, one of these real estate agencies, run by two brothers, is also known for its very large hawala transactions for specific clients. Even the registration forms for new projects in BTK are big business. According to a land official, “Each form can sell for over Rs.100,000, generating billions in sale and trade of the registration forms alone.” The multibillion-rupee enterprise known as Bahria Town Karachi depends for its success on the brazen manipulation of the law by the political elite and land officials who, hand-in-glove with influential figures in the establishment, are using the state’s coercive powers to deprive rightful owners of their land. To add insult to injury, all this skullduggery is being packaged as ‘development’. Land authorities and Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd have colluded in violating multiple laws to facilitate a massive land grab in Pakistan’s largest city. On March 19, around midday, several police mobiles led by Inspector Khan Nawaz surrounded Juma Morio goth, a small village of about 250 houses in deh Langheji, district Malir, about 13 kilometres north of the Super Highway. They were accompanied by bulldozers, wheel loaders and dump trucks. Their objective: to demolish a number of huts and make way for a Bahria Town road through the village. “The job was quickly completed and the rubble hauled away while hapless villagers looked on in a daze, knowing full well there will be no justice for them,” said Ameer Ali, one of the residents. Another view of BTK’s grand entrance. Another view of BTK’s grand entrance. Just two days earlier, the villagers had expressed their fears to Dawn that they would soon be forced from their land. “The police have been arresting our people, threatening them that they’ll show their arrest as being from places such as Wana, Mastung or Kalat,” said Kanda Khan Gabol. “They took me into custody for several hours and only let me go when a crowd gathered and it seemed as if the highway would be closed down.” The problems for the villagers began on Feb 9, when they had resisted the first attempt by personnel from Bahria Town and the Malir Development Authority (MDA) – accompanied by a large contingent of police and bulldozers – to have the way cleared for a road through Juma Morio. In response, MDA officials lodged an FIR in which they accused Kanda Khan Gabol, Ameer Ali and a dozen other villagers of firing at them. Even though the challan did not furnish, amongst other things, any proof of MDA’s ownership of the land in question, Judge Sher Muhammad Kolachi ordered the inclusion of Section 6(2)C(L)(M) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in the criminally defective FIR. Many of the accused remain on the run and that was the reason, villagers claim, they were unable to resist the March 19 demolition. A view of Jinnah Avenue, one of BTK’s main MDA-financed thoroughfares. A view of Jinnah Avenue, one of BTK’s main MDA-financed thoroughfares. Juma Morio is only the latest village to have fallen victim to such tactics to grab communal land that has been home to families since generations. Villages in the surrounding area of district Malir are rife with similar accounts of residents being harassed and intimidated into selling or abandoning their land. Despite the fact that many have land documents to prove their claims of possession, as well as agricultural leases to till the land, resistance is ruthlessly countered. Homes have been levelled, graveyards obliterated, fruit trees uprooted, and tube wells smashed. Late one night in November last year, a number of police mobiles and APCs descended on Ali Mohammed Gabol goth. Breaking into the homes of sleeping residents, policemen hauled off five villagers – Din Mohammed, Abbas, Iqbal, Punno and Dadullah – in their vehicles. “Not only that, along with money, jewelry and other belongings, they also took away three goats,” said Mohammed Musa. “That was a kind of warning that next time they would cart away our women as well.” Police personnel oversee the beginning of construction work to counter resistance by villagers. Police personnel oversee the beginning of construction work to counter resistance by villagers. The raid was the sequel to events of a few days earlier when a police contingent, also led by Inspector Khan Nawaz, had surrounded the village to force them to vacate the land for a road to be constructed through it, which the villagers had refused to do. Instead, they filed a petition in the Sindh High Court (SHC), pleading that MDA, Bahria, and police be restrained from “interfering, encroaching upon, harassing or blackmailing the petitioners, their families and dispossessing them from their lawful possession of their land”. Faiz Mohammed Gabol (third from left) watches as work proceeds on land where his orchards used to be. Faiz Mohammed Gabol (third from left) watches as work proceeds on land where his orchards used to be. According to their families, Malir police would not give them any information about the detained men’s whereabouts when they went to the police station in the morning. In desperation they turned to the local PPP representatives, who told them that the price for the missing men’s freedom was to give up their land. “What choice did we have except to surrender?” asked one of the villagers. Gul Hasan Kalmati, a local historian and chronicler asked in anguish: “According to what law is this opulent complex being constructed for well-to-do-people at the cost of local residents’ ruin and displacement? Is this how the PPP rewards its loyal voters?” Crushed under BTK’s massive footprint Juma Morio and Ali Mohammed Gabol are among at least 45 goths (villages) that fall within the areas of four dehs of former Gadap Town that are now part of district Malir, and are being affected one way or another by the construction of BTK. These hamlets are home to people who in many cases have lived on these collectively owned spaces since well over a century: their graveyards and shrines are testament to their ancient, customary right to the land. Malir, which measures 2,557 square kilometres or 631,848 acres, is Karachi’s largest district. Much of it comprises agricultural land, nullahs, hills and wildlife sanctuaries, including parts of Kirthar National Park. Agriculture, poultry farming and livestock rearing bring in meager earnings that are shared amongst goth residents. Needless to say, their voices have no currency with the elite, and there are few government facilities provided to them. Many of the goths have not been regularised – that is, they are as yet not sanctioned under the Goth Abad Scheme – a status that can confer distinct advantages. “Regularisation gives goth residents land title, which means they can’t be evicted as before,” said Anwar Rashid, director of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). “Even if developers use strong-arm tactics, regularisation means that the cost of the land increases ten-fold, sometimes even more.” A wheel loader tears down rows of date palms. A wheel loader tears down rows of date palms. Since 2006, until her murder in 2013, Perween Rahman, the then OPP director and ardent defender of Karachi’s resources and its marginalised millions’ right to basic services, had started to painstakingly document the many goths in Karachi, including those in Gadap, with the help of OPP staff (Documentation is invaluable, for it is the first step in the process of getting goths regularised.) “Development doesn’t come from concrete!” she would often say. “It comes from human development.” Until Ms Rahman’s death, the OPP team had managed to document 1,131 goths in Karachi, out of which 817 were in Gadap alone, where BTK continues to expand. Of the Gadap villages, 518 have so far been regularised. Since Ms Rahman’s death however, that process has come to a standstill. And that suits the preferred modus operandi of ‘developers’ very well. When unregularised goths come in their way, they have the residents evicted wholesale from the land, at the most with a pittance as ‘compensation’. Never before, however, has there been a residential complex quite like the mammoth BTK being constructed by the company that is owned by the redoubtable Malik Riaz. Physical GPS surveys by Dawn, using Bahria’s on-site markers as a guide – as well as interviews with locals – reveal that at present, BTK sprawls across more than 93 sq kms or 23,300 acres (see map). Map showing villages directly or indirectly affected by development. Map showing villages directly or indirectly affected by development. However, the company has purchased only 7,631 acres in Karachi from private parties – as per statements given to Dawn last year by a senior official from Bahria, Colonel (retired) Khalilur Rehman, as well as a legal aide to Mr Riaz. Even this claim, as this story will demonstrate, is patently false as this area is only held through a special power of attorney. There was no response by Bahria to questions put to it by Dawn about BTK or to the subsequent reminder. Located just off the Super Highway, 9kms beyond Toll Plaza, the complex’s wide thoroughfares, generously proportioned residential schemes, commercial belts, 36-hole international standard golf course and the world’s seventh largest mosque promise a utopian existence away from the urban jungle of Karachi proper. Flagrant violations of the law Unethical and inhumane as it is, driving residents out of goths is only one aspect of the story behind BTK’s massive footprint on the outskirts of the city. Police officials provide muscle power for the forcible takeover of land belonging to the villagers. Police officials provide muscle power for the forcible takeover of land belonging to the villagers. The following is an exposé of how the powers that be, as well as corrupt officials from the Board of Revenue (BoR) Sindh, MDA, the district administration and police have all colluded with Bahria in various ways to make a colossal fortune off government land. BoR Sindh is the original custodian of all land in the province. Besides collecting revenue and maintaining land records, it is the conduit for allotment of land to individuals, societies and various institutions and development agencies, such as the Karachi Development Authority, Defence Housing Authority Karachi, MDA, etc to develop schemes for specific purposes. MDA – whose chairman during 2014 and 2015 was Sharjeel Inam Memon by virtue of being minister for local government and rural development – was set up for the purpose of developing land allotted to it by BoR Sindh in district Malir. Legally, MDA – as per the Malir Development Authority Act 1993 under which it functions – cannot hand over to private developers any land that has been entrusted to it for specific purposes. The aforementioned law repeatedly reiterates that MDA’s schemes are meant for the “socio-economic upliftment” of the “people of that area”. Police officials provide muscle power for the forcible takeover of land belonging to the villagers. Police officials provide muscle power for the forcible takeover of land belonging to the villagers. On Nov 28, 2012, during the proceedings of the ongoing Karachi unrest case 16/2011, the Supreme Court, with good reason, issued an order banning the Sindh government from issuing any lease, or effecting any allotment, transfer or mutation etc of government land. Subsequently however, the PPP government in Sindh took a number of steps that appear to clearly indicate attempts to hoodwink the court. Firstly, the MDA Act 1993 was amended on Dec 19, 2013, apparently so that MDA could achieve behind the scenes what BoR, Sindh as a provincial government department, could not with the court restrictions on its powers vis-à-vis allotment of land. A few days later, on Dec 26, 2013, vide a notification, BoR Sindh declared 43 dehs within district Malir as being “controlled” by MDA “for the purpose of physical survey & preparation of road network/land used (sic) plan…for adjustment of affected private/acquired state land for development purpose…” Ali Nawaz Gondar goth, that is now completely encircled by BTK. Ali Nawaz Gondar goth, that is now completely encircled by BTK. According to records available with Dawn, then Senior Member BoR (SMBR) Sindh Ahmad Bukhsh Narejo wrote at least three letters warning MDA that it could not deal with private land owners “until and unless [MDA] gets the land allotted/ transferred from the government of Sindh and the same entered in the record of rights”. In March 2015, BoR “reserved” 14,617 acres of land for MDA. [‘Reservation’ is an initial step towards allotment: the latter entails payment of cost to BoR amongst other obligations.] This was also stated by the current SMBR Rizwan Memon on March 9, 2016 to a three-member SC bench hearing the Karachi unrest case. What Mr Memon neglected to mention was that the reservation of the said area, scattered over nine different dehs, was only for the purpose of developing “incremental housing schemes” (ie low-cost housing schemes with plots not exceeding 120 square yards). This fact was included in a subsequent summary to the Sindh chief minister. As per the Sindh government land grant policy notification number 09-294-03/SO/-1/719 dated Nov 10, 2010, all government land must be allotted at no less than market price, with the exception of land for incremental housing schemes for which concessional rates of at least 25pc of market value are to be applied. During the hearings on the Karachi unrest case, MDA has claimed it paid BoR nearly Rs2 billion as 25pc of the market price as fixed by the latter for incremental housing, in payment for the above reserved land. The Disposal of Plots Rules 2006 framed under the MDA Act 1993 also specify that plots reserved for incremental housing shall be disposed of at a price not less than 25pc of the market price, and only through balloting. Meanwhile, according to Hakim Baloch – PML-N MNA from Malir – sometime back in 2013, three men had set up an office in Jokhio Goth, inside Model Colony, Malir. “They included Sohail Memon, Sajid Jokhio [PPP MPA] and Mohammed Ali Shah [recently posted as deputy commissioner Malir] who had been tasked by [the powers that be] to acquire both privately owned and government survey land from all over Malir.” The land was to be ultimately used by individuals closely connected to Bahria for developing BTK. Bahria Town markers like these are found even as far as the Karachi-Jamshoro border. Bahria Town markers like these are found even as far as the Karachi-Jamshoro border. That set in motion perhaps the most egregious violation of the law committed by MDA officials to specifically favour Bahria, which was their application of the principle of ‘consolidation’. Consolidation is otherwise a legitimate course for BoR to facilitate a tiller by exchanging his scattered pieces of agricultural land with a consolidated piece of land, which, according to the Colonisation of Government Lands Act 1912, should not exceed 16 acres in a nearby area. Moreover, as per Section 17 of the Colonisation Act, “the land so taken in exchange shall … be deemed to be held on the same conditions and subject to the same obligations as the surrendered land was held”. The Dec 19, 2013 amendment to the Act empowers MDA to consolidate land – a power earlier only vested in BoR Sindh – specifically through addition of clause ff in Section 2 of the Act, which defines consolidation of land as “adjustment of plots in a scheme by way of exchange or otherwise for the purpose of the scheme”. The landscape is dotted far and wide with markers like these proclaiming Bahria’s claim to thousands of acres. The landscape is dotted far and wide with markers like these proclaiming Bahria’s claim to thousands of acres. Disposal of Plots Rules 2006 framed under the MDA Act further defines “plot” as specifically a “residential plot (not exceeding 600 square yards), residential commercial plot (not exceeding one acre), commercial plot (not exceeding one acre), industrial plot (not exceeding 1,000 square yards), flat-site (not exceeding one acre) in any scheme”. The same rules define “scheme” specifically as a scheme prepared, undertaken or executed under the MDA Act that must be approved and sanctioned by the government. However, instead of consolidating the plots in square yards, MDA has clubbed thousands of acres of privately held lands and consolidated them for an all-for-profit, commercial development. Concept of land consolidation reimagined To achieve the above, the demigods of Sindh and MDA have attempted to twist the concept of ‘consolidation of land’ by framing regulations that – instead of furthering the objectives of the original legislation – are, on the contrary, in direct contravention of Section 2, clause ff of the MDA Act 1993 as amended on Dec 19, 2013 and MDA rules 2006. They have done this by giving to the director general MDA the power to consolidate private lands over government lands. Many ancient tombs found in the area have been destroyed by the construction. Many ancient tombs found in the area have been destroyed by the construction. To add insult to injury, the agricultural lands have been consolidated for residential or commercial and not agricultural purposes – a violation of the basic intention underlying the principle as mentioned in Section 17 of the Colonisation Act 1912. In fact, the entire modus operandi reeks of mala fide intentions. The MDA Act 1993 even as amended in 2013 allows ‘consolidation’ of its lands for MDA schemes only. During 2014, MDA followed up this sleight of hand by placing notices in several newspapers announcing requests for consolidation of ostensibly bona fide pieces of private land in far-flung dehs of district Malir. There are also MDA notices announcing “confirmation of ownership title” and thereby approval of such consolidation to the prime area off the Super Highway where BTK is located. Either some or all four of the following names are invariably mentioned in these notices as the owners of the consolidated land: Shahid Mehmood; Mohammed Owais; Waqas Riffat and Waseem Riffat. The notices also mention that Zain Malik “executive director of Bahria Town Pvt Ltd” has “special power of attorney of the owners”. Ancient heritage has been swept aside like garbage by the juggernaut of ‘development’. Ancient heritage has been swept aside like garbage by the juggernaut of ‘development’. However, several retired and serving government officials even doubt the authenticity of the original title documents used for the above consolidation. “Fake form 7s have been drawn up in the office of [a senior local government official] for the purpose of consolidation and devouring of state lands,” disclosed a Sindh government land official. In many instances, the various pieces of land being consolidated/exchanged are located in some of the northernmost dehs of district Malir, such as in Kund, Moidan and Mehar Jabal where land is worth no more than Rs20,000 per acre. But they have been shifted and consolidated in four dehs off the Super Highway – namely, Kathore, Langheji, Bolari and Konkar – where land values can be up to even 100 times more. According to Dawn investigations, there is no differential being charged from those seeking the consolidation. Moreover, these various pieces of consolidated land adding up to 7,631 acres have been cunningly placed over land in the four dehs in a scattered manner that enables Bahria to encroach upon the surrounding areas, which so far total 23,300 acres of land. (In comparison, the total area of Karachi’s district central is merely 69 sq kms or 17,050 acres.) And that’s not all. The major roads, boulevards, culverts and bridges in the gated BTK are being constructed at the cost of MDA, as confirmed by senior officials from the local government department as well as MDA. From this outrageous trampling of the law and fraudulent land transactions arise the following questions, among many others: how did MDA consolidate land in Malir in 2014 when, as admitted in court by the Senior Member Board of Revenue, Sindh and as per documents available with Dawn, the land in nine dehs was only reserved for it in March 2015 – in other words, how could MDA consolidate private land against government land that did not even belong to the Authority? And why has BoR continued to allow the theft of government land to take place under its very nose, announced through advertisements in several media outlets? Also, where is the title of these huge chunks of land in Bahria Town Ltd’s name that the company is going about selling plots, and constructing villas and farmhouses on it? And how has MDA approved the layout plan for a private commercial township that does not even own the very land it is selling? Bahria did not respond to any of the questions sent by Dawn about BTK or to the reminder sent subsequently. The queries sought information about title to and acreage of the land being sold as Bahria Town Karachi, development of BTK infrastructure being financed by MDA and allegations of inexpensive land from distant dehs being consolidated on prime areas off Super Highway for Bahria. Stealing from Karachi’s scarce resources Acquiescent government officials have not only smoothed the way in land acquisition for the project: they have also colluded with Bahria to provide facilities, such as water, to the vast township, so that its road dividers, parks and golf course continue looking lush and verdant. “Four three-inch diameter connections have been already given for the benefit of BTK from the Dumlottee intersection,” revealed a deputy managing director at the Karachi Water and Sewage Board. This is Karachi’s water, and its diversion to BTK will cut into the already inadequate supplies to the 20-million strong city, where residents are either dependent on exorbitantly priced tankers to get water – yet another mafia – or stand at communal taps to obtain and store water for their daily use. According to Mohammad Saleem, president of the Voice of Indigenous Community Empowerment, a group of citizens affected by the swallowing up of land belonging to indigenous people in and around Karachi, Bahria has sunk deep wells that are fast depleting the underground water, the only source of water in the area, for villages situated even miles away. Twelve years ago, in Suit No. 567/2004 filed at the SHC by the Sindh Institute of Urology & Transplantation and Others through Qazi Faez Isa (now a Supreme Court judge), the court restrained Nestle Pakistan from setting up a water bottling plant in NaClass No. 106, deh Chuhar, Malir. The judgement, issued on Nov 30, 2004, stated that “once the process of extracting the water in such a huge quantity is allowed to operate, each day, each hour, and each minute water deposits in the aquifer would diminish rapidly and shall adversely affect the rights of plaintiffs to use the underground water according to their genuine needs which shall amount to an irreparable loss to them”. If allowed to be set up, the Nestle plant would have been situated only three kms from BTK as the crow flies. It is already too late for Faiz Mohammed Gabol at Noor Mohammed goth. “These people are the progeny of the pharaohs,” he said, his wizened face creased with fury and despair. “The first time they approached me for my land, it was Tappi [former president Asif Ali Zardari’s adopted brother] who came here. When I refused to sell, he abused me roundly.” One of many fully grown date palms is hauled away from Noor Mohammed goth’s agricultural land. One of many fully grown date palms is hauled away from Noor Mohammed goth’s agricultural land. On Faiz Mohammed’s 56 acres of land, tilled by his father and grandfather before him, there were once hundreds of fruit trees and date palms. On 13 March 2014, he looked on helplessly as bulldozers leveled the orchards, carted away his tall date palms and destroyed his tube well. Also in attendance were MDA officials and retired military personnel in the employ of Bahria Town Ltd. Now, he has been left with little but to gaze with bitterness at the apartment blocks coming up where his orchards used to be. Destroying heritage sites and the environment The 23,000-plus acres so far ‘acquired’ by BTK are also home to scores of historical sites, including tombs similar to the Chawkandi necropolis near Thatta, as well as Buddhist stupas, rock carvings etc. Every tomb in the path of construction has been ruthlessly scooped up by bulldozers and cast aside like trash. Their centuries-old symbolic markers and motifs have not stayed the juggernaut of ‘development’ and bottomless greed. According to historian Gul Hasan Kalmati, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai – the revered Sufi mystic widely regarded as the greatest poet of the Sindhi language – had stayed in this area. “His takia (shrine), which was located here, was also a resting place for jogis on their way to Hinglaj Mata [the Hindu temple in Makran],” he recalled. Today, on the spot where the Shah’s takia was located, say locals, stand the toilets of BTK’s Grand Mosque. In this real-life game of Monopoly, the topography of the area is also being reshaped. This is an undulating landscape with many perennial streams and nullahs that fall into the Malir river. Many of the hills are being ground down in keeping with BTK’s commercialisation requirements. Future plans reportedly include altering the course of at least some of the streams and nullahs, which could pose catastrophic risks to the environment besides adversely impacting the area’s wildlife. Mohammad Sharif Burfat, security supervisor for Bahria phase 4, who lives in a nearby village just across the Karachi-Jamshoro border, told Dawn that development in his phase may still be several months away. On March 9, 2016 a NAB representative informed the SC bench hearing the Karachi unrest case that at least 104,000 plots have already been sold by Bahria. Most of the investors in BTK belong to the middle and lower middle-classes of Sindh, especially Karachi. For those in the know, the reality is that the red-hot speculation in BTK is being deliberately driven by a strategy similar to that which major players in the stock market employ when they manipulate share prices. Raheel, a real estate agent, explained how the prices of BTK plots are manipulated. “Small investors are periodically offered ever higher prices, knowing full well that those who have put in their limited savings would hope to make a considerable profit in the long term and will not want to sell,” he said. "Instead, they would be happy to know that their property has already appreciated reasonably. This also induces genuine investor demand.” He added that prices are crashed at opportune times by flooding the market or by merely generating adverse rumours. “This is part of ‘satta’, a tactic used to set new price benchmarks and generate quick premiums. It’s also an extremely effective marketing strategy.” “The price of a plot in BT Rawalpindi which a friend of mine bought for Rs5m is currently down by half, but there are no takers,” comments Brigadier Iftikhar, an old hand at the game. Notwithstanding the sordid reality behind Bahria, it seems that those who can, and should, take urgent action against such scandalous land grabs are choosing to look the other way. Several residents of the area, however, say that is not surprising. “When Malik Riaz can boast with impunity about the bribes he has paid to some of the most powerful in the country, what hope of redressal is there for the dispossessed and the toiling masses of this land?” asked one of them dejectedly. Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2016 ======================== Dumba Goth residents fear flood as ‘developer’ encroaches rain-fed river Saher Baloch — Updated about 2 hours ago Whatsapp 0 Comments Email Print KARACHI: Thirty-three kilometres out of Karachi and on the right of the Superhighway, a small dirt road leads to Dumba Goth in Malir district. From the main bridge on the Superhighway, one can almost miss the goth until one of the residents points it out while making a point. One of the first things one witnesses is a plant barricaded by a brick wall in the middle of a small river, or a storm-water drain, flowing towards the goth. Two residents of the area, Ameer Bukhsh and Allauddin Palari, take turns to explain how the small river flowing from the side of the plant is actually a rain-fed river, Deh Thado, which was cut to size by “developers” in the area in early 2014. “This is a stone-crushing plant that you see on the left,” said Ameer Bukhsh. Historian and writer Gul Hasan Kalmati said that the stone-crushing plant was one of the many such units set up to cater to the fast-growing ‘development’ needs of the Bahria Town Karachi — a sprawling, upmarket gated community being constructed off the Superhighway. Ameer Bukhsh recalled that the plant was first set up in early 2014 and then in October heavy machinery was brought in to make the wall on its right. One afternoon, a large number of police mobile vans along with SHO of the Memon Goth police station led dumpers and bulldozers in the riverbed making many of the residents think that their goth was about to be bulldozed. Instead, the residents witnessed a camp beside the stone-crushing plant, bulldozers pushing mud towards the riverbed. When the residents approached the police officers standing on the side of the road asking about what’s going to be built, they were told it was the property of the plant owners, Mohammad Hanif Machhera Group of Companies Limited, and that the men belonged to the “flood relief department and are authorised to carry out developmental work”. It was a month later that the residents saw a wall being built in the middle of the river. As the river has been redirected towards the goth, it might cause flooding if there is an unusual amount of rain in Karachi. As the construction got over, the river, which was initially 436 feet wide, was trimmed to 100 feet which would be catastrophic for 10,000 residents of Dumba Goth alone. Ameer Buksh and Allahuddin then went to the deputy commissioner-Malir, as well as Mukhtiarkar Murad Memon subdivision, Malir. An application sent to the mukhtiarkar office in Nov 2014 by the residents of Dumba Goth narrated their ordeal along with the request to remove the encroachment. (A copy of the application available with Dawn has the receiving stamp of the mukhtiarkar’s office dated November 11, 2014.) After not hearing from both the offices, around 25 residents filed a petition in the Sindh High Court against the encroachment in December 2014. The petition was admitted for hearing and the SHC in its Dec 10 2014 order directed the mukhtiarkar to comply with the court orders and remove the encroachment from the barani naddi (rain-fed river). A copy of the order was sent to the mukhtiarkar’s office and also carries the receiving stamp from his office. In January 2015, the mukhtiarkar’s office bypassed the court order and sent a notification to the area residents stating that they illegally acquired the ownership of the Dumba Goth land and, therefore, they need to vacate the land as soon as possible. The matter went on for another three months, in which the residents filed documents of their regularised goths in court. Eventually, on April 30, 2015 the SHC once again directed the Gadap Town mukhtiarkar to comply with the court orders sent between Dec 10, 2014 and April 7, 2015 and remove the said encroachment from the rain-fed river. The SHC also directed the mukhtiarkar’s office to seek help of the law enforcement agencies if needed. But to no avail. Various attempts by Dawn to contact the Malir deputy commissioner and mukhtiarkar went unanswered despite various reminders. Anwar Rashid, the director of Orangi Pilot Project, said that Dumba Goth was among the earlier goths in Karachi to be recognised under the Gothabad Scheme which was introduced during the first tenure of slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1988. Historian and writer Kalmati said that Dumba Goth was mentioned in the memoirs of Seth Naomal Hothchand. The original name of the goth is Dambh Goth as mentioned by Seth Naomal in his memoirs and it was mentioned with regards to an incident that occurred in the late 1840s. “A caravan of British officers was attacked near Dambh Goth by Chakar Khan Jokhio’s men. They were helped by the Memons and Kalmati clans living in the area,” added Kalmati. Former Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority director general Tasneem Siddiqui said: “If the residents did not get much help despite having a high court order with them, it means only one thing. The construction of the Bahria Town Karachi has made the nexus of board of revenue and police much stronger within the past two years. They know they have powerful people backing them.” He added that encroaching upon rain-fed rivers, or storm-water drains, was dangerous as “Perween Rahman pointed it out to us that water looks for a way out during rains and when it doesn’t get it, it destroys whatever comes in its way”. He added that people would be reminded of another Saadi Town when rains flooded those areas which were never flooded before all due to blocking the natural flow of river. Quoting from his booklet about the disadvantages of the Bahria Town Complex, Kalmati said there would be a “displacement like never before due to this construction mainly from the 45 goths that surround it or are within its territory. Internal migration, frustration and violence are going to be the result of it which people are not understanding at the time.” Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2016 ============================================ SC restrains Bahria Town Karachi, MDA from construction work August 1, 2016 By: Samaa Web Desk Published in Economy Be the first to comment!   01:03 01:03   KARACHI: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Bahria Town Karachi and Malir Development Authority (MDA) to halt the construction work at 5, 786 acres of land with an immediate effect. In an interim order, the apex court has ruled the land was illegally allotted to Bahria Town by the development authority. The court also directed National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to complete its investigations and submit a report within two months. It also restrained the Sindh government from allotting any further land to Bahria Town. Reacting to the court's order, Bahria Town Chairman Malik Riaz insisted that the construction activity would continue uninterrupted in Bahria Town Karachi. "Misreporting of facts regarding Bahria Town Karachi absolutely malicious. SC (Supreme Court) didn't put any restrictions on develop work by Bahria Town," Malik Riaz tweeted. "Bahria Town will continue all construction-related activities on the consolidated land of 9385 acres. Twisted facts are product of cynical minds. "We have been facing this mafia from day one and will continue to do so to safeguard development &investment in Pakistan." Interim order: The Bahria Town is restrained from undertaking any development activity in the area demarcated with green colour with black lines on it measuring 244.925 acres and or to deal with this portion of land with any person or organization in any manner whatsoever. (ii) The Bahria Town is further restrained from undertaking any development activity on the portion marked as “A” with pink colour measuring 386.276 acres, which is not consolidated by the M.D.A, with further restriction to deal with this portion of the land in any manner whatsoever. (iii) The Bahria Town is restrained from undertaking any development activity on the area marked as “B” with pink colour measuring 1975.059 Acres, which as per survey report has not been consolidated by the M.D.A and to deal with the land in any manner whatsoever. (iv) The Bahria Town is further restrained from undertaking any further development activity on the area marked as “C” with pink colour measuring 410.444 acres and or to deal with the land in any manner whatsoever. (v) The Bahria Town is further restrained from raising any further development activity in area measuring 2771.779 Acres, which has not been consolidated by the M.D.A and to deal with the land in question in any manner whatsoever (vi) The M.D.A is restrained from consolidating any further portion of the private land of the Bahria Town or any other private enterprise under the CMA.376-K/2014 etc 6 garb of exchange of land in exercise of their powers conferred on them under the M.D.A Act. ;(vii) We further restrict the Board of Revenue, Government of Sindh, from dealing with the land of M.D.A or any other Authority which is subject - matter of these proceedings in any manner whatsoever in defiance of the order of this Court passed by a five Member Bench of this Court on 28.11.2012. (viii) The M.D.A is restrained from dealing with the land which are subject - matter of survey report either with Bahria Town or with any other organization in any manner whatsoever. (ix) defiance of the interim orders passed herein above by any of the organization whether public or private shall expose them to contempt proceedings. In order to ensure that no further construction or development activity is carried out on the land specified hereinabove, we direct the NAB authorities through the Prosecutor General that they should immediately if possible by tomorrow obtain google earth maps/images of the entire land stated to be in possession of the Bahria Town as per the survey report and submit the same for record. In fact on 28.11.2012, a five member Bench of this Court, has initially passed an order restraining the Sindh Government from dealing with the State land, relevant portion of which is reproduced hereunder:- CMA.376- K/2014 etc 7. Under these circumstances, we are constrained to direct that the Deputy Commissioners/District Coordination Officers of Sindh, to ensure that immediately the entire revenue record of all the district is kept in the custody of Mukhtiarkar in terms of the directives contained in the aforesaid judgment of the High Court and shall not be removed from the office of the Mukhtiarkar to any other place. Moreover, mindful of rampant corruption and organized crime of land grabbing, particularly, regarding prime state land, and mismanagement/forgeries in the revenue record, we hereby, until further orders restrain the Government/Revenue Department from mutation, allotment, transfer and or conversion of any state land and or keeping any transaction or entry in the record of rights in this regard in revenue record of Sindh or till the entire revenue record in Sindh is reconstructed. The conversion of lease for 30 years or of any term upto 99 years shall also be stopped immediately as by this mode the state land is being sold out at a throwaway price without participation of public at large, which the law does not permit. Any further conversion or mutation of state land in the record of rights from today onwards would be deemed nullity and would expose the Deputy Commissioner/DCO of the relevant districts/dehs besides others to contempt proceedings. - SAMAA =========================================================================================== KARACHI: Malik Riaz, real estate tycoon and founder of Bahria Town, Wednesday pledged that the construction work on thousands of acres of the mega project in Karachi is underway with full force. “Bahria Town Karachi would allot its each plot, house, flat and shop to its members at promised time,” Riaz said in a video message posted on his Twitter account. The video statement comes two days after Supreme Court ordered Bahria Town Karachi to halt the construction work at 5, 786 acres of land illegally allotted by Malir Development Authority (MDA) with an immediate effect. “I want to give good news to hundreds of thousands of members that Alhamdullilah! the initial project of this modern new city in Karachi is in final phase,” he said. “I want to assure Bahria Town Karachi’s one and a half lac respected members, 35 thousand employees and their faimies, all investors, laborours and stake holders that Bahria Town has always complied with the laws.” He said that the remaining members of Bahria Town Karachi who have not yet been allotted numbers would get them in balloting on August 15. “The journey of Bahria Town Karachi and Pakistan would continue at all cost Insha’Allah,” he added. Also read: SC restrains Bahria Town Karachi, MDA from construction work Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled in an interim order that 5, 786 acres of land was illegally allotted to Bahria Town by the MDA. The court also directed National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to complete its investigations and submit a report within two months. It also restrained the Sindh government from allotting any further land to Bahria Town. Reacting to the court's order, Bahria Town Chairman Malik Riaz insisted that the construction activity would continue uninterrupted in Bahria Town Karachi. "Misreporting of facts regarding Bahria Town Karachi absolutely malicious. SC (Supreme Court) didn't put any restrictions on develop work by Bahria Town," Malik Riaz tweeted. "Bahria Town will continue all construction-related activities on the consolidated land of 9385 acres. Twisted facts are product of cynical minds. "We have been facing this mafia from day one and will continue to do so to safeguard development &investment in Pakistan." –Samaa ======================