Archive for June, 2013

Tickets go on sale for UAE’s FIFA U-17 World Cup

By Salma Awwad

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Tickets for the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, which will be the biggest football event ever staged in the Middle East when it begins on October 17, went on sale on Thursday, officials said.

The fifteenth FIFA U-17 World Cup, which takes place from October 17 to November 8, is the largest football event ever held in the emirates and one of the world’s biggest international tournaments.

This is first year the UAE has won the bid to host the event, after the United States failed to qualify, despite appearing in all fourteen previous tournaments.

This biennial FIFA tournament has catapulted many of today’s football stars to fame, such as Ronaldinho from Brazil, Luis Figo from Portugal and Italy’s Del Piero.

“I am looking forward to seeing huge support for the tournament across the UAE. Fans around the world should secure their match tickets and get behind their team! This tournament has been the birthplace for many of the legends we see in the game today, so we can definitely expect to see some spectacular football,” said Emirati footballer Omar Abdulrahman, who was named ‘Player of the Year’ at the recent end of season awards and has been appointed the official tournament ambassador.

“This is a region that is crazy about football and with the best 24 U-17 teams in the world finally coming together to compete for the trophy, I am confident that tickets will sell fast,” said the 21-year old player.

Less than four months are left until the first day of 52 matches begins.

The tournament will be played across five of the Emirates of the UAE, over a three week period in six of the UAE’s top stadiums – Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Stadium in Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah Stadium in Fujairah, Sharjah Stadium in Sharjah, Rashid Stadium in Dubai and Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain.

FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 Qualified Nations are: Japan, Iran, Iraq, Uzbekistan, UAE, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Canada, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay.

Dubai has committed to hosting various youth events in the future including the fourth International Swimming Federation (FINA) world junior swimming competition in August this year and the 2014 men’s Under-17 Basketball World Championship (FIBA).

Tickets can be bought on FIFA’s official website and start from AED35 ($9.52). The FIFA U-17 world Cup UAE 2013 Official Draw will take place on August 26, when single match tickets will also go on sale.

Source: Arabian Business.


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Iraq stunner at U-20 World Cup

27 June 2013-PA Sport

Iraq accounted for Egypt to go top of Group E at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey as England and Chile drew.

Iraq’s 2-1 win over Egypt left the Pharaohs on the brink of an early exit after successive defeats.

Mohanad Abdulraheem scored a 79th winner as Hakeem Shaker’s side came from behind at Antalya’s Akdeniz University Stadium to move ahead of Chile on goals scored.

Hassan Ahmed gave Egypt a 27th minute lead before Amar Abdulhussein equalised on 33 minutes.

England’s hopes are hanging by a thread after a second-half effort from Harry Kane salvaged a 1-1 draw against Chile.

Peter Taylor’s men appeared to be heading for a defeat that would have been fatal after Nicolas Castillo put the South American side ahead from the penalty spot.

But Kane replied midway through the second half to secure another draw after the 2-2 weekend result against Iraq.

It means England, which have not won in 17 Finals matches in this competition, will now almost certainly need to break that horrendous sequence in its final match against Egypt in Bursa to reach the last 16.

In Group F, Uzbekistan and Croatia shared the spoils in Bursa to move to four points.

Sardor Rakhmanov opened the scoring for Akhmadjan Musaev’s team, in what was the first ever meeting between these teams, but Marko Livaja found a second-half equalizer.

Uruguay got its campaign up and running with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand.

Giorgian De Arrascaeta (fourth) and Nicolas Lopez (75th) got Uruguay’s goals to secure its first points for the tournament after a first up loss to Croatia.

The defeat sees New Zealand goalless and pointless after two games.

Source: The World Game.


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Key points in the leadership switch in Qatar

June 25, 2013

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Background on Tuesday’s leadership transition in Qatar from the 61-year-old emir to his 33-year-old son, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.


The Gulf state of Qatar is small — only about a third the size of Belgium — but has a carved out a significant global profile in the past decade.

Qatar has huge oil and gas riches that feed one of the world’s largest and most acquisition-hungry sovereign wealth funds, estimated at more than $100 billion. Holdings by the fund and other Qatar-controlled groups include stakes in London’s Harrods department store, the French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and football club Paris Saint-Germain. Qatar also has pledged billions of dollars to help businesses in debt-crippled Greece and Italy.

Qatar’s political aims are equally ambitious. It has served as mediator for peace efforts in Sudan’s Darfur region and among rival Palestinian political factions. It is currently hosting envoys from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement for possible U.S.-led talks seeking to stabilize the country before the American troop withdrawal next year. Qatar has played a central role in the Arab Spring by providing critical aid for Libyan rebels last year and is now a leading backer of Syria’s opposition.

Qatar’s government founded the television network Al-Jazeera in 1996, which transformed news broadcasting in the Arab-speaking world. The state-run Qatar Airways is among the world’s fastest-growing carriers.


It is exceedingly rare among the ruling Gulf Arab dynasties. Most leaders remain for life or have been pushed out in palace coups. Qatar’s outgoing emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, took control in a bloodless coup against his father in 1995.

The change in Qatar was believed to be prompted by Sheik Hamad’s health problems, but Qatar officials have not publicly disclosed any details.

Yet it reinforces Qatar’s bold political style. The transition to the crown prince appears a direct response to the Arab Spring demands for reforms and its emphasis on giving a stronger political voice to the region’s youth.

It also upends the ruling hierarchy among neighboring Gulf allies dominated by old guard leaders such as the 90-year-old King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s 84-year-old emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah.


Not many in the short term. The outgoing emir is expected to maintain a guiding hand over Qatar’s affairs for years to come. His son also has been involved in most key decisions in recent years as part of the grooming process.

The most noticeable changes will likely be among the top government posts. It’s expected that Qatar’s long-serving prime minister and others could be replaced as Sheik Tamim puts together his own inner circle.

Another possible new element could be more social media interaction. The British-educated Sheik Tamim was still a teenager when the Internet age began and is well attuned to its influence.

Sheik Tamim also headed up Doha’s unsuccessful attempt for the 2020 Olympics. He could give a boost to a possible return bid for the 2024 Games.

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Qatar ruler hands power to son to mark ‘new era’

June 25, 2013

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With a few words in a short speech, Qatar’s huge energy riches and its expanding political influence passed into the hands of a 33-year-old ruler Tuesday in a seamless transition from a region where old guard leaders have been toppled or besieged by the Arab Spring.

The transfer of power — made official in a brief statement by Qatar’s outgoing emir — was stunning for both its simplicity and far-reaching repercussions. It quietly brought a new generation to the forefront of Middle East affairs in an apparent Gulf-style riposte to the pressures for a new style of leadership inspired by the region’s upheavals: More youthful and possibly more attuned to demands for a greater public voice in political decision-making.

The rise of the new emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, also reorders the ruling fraternity among the Western-backed Gulf Arab leaders — most decades older than Sheik Tamim — and further boosts Qatar’s image for bold-stroke policies that have produced crown jewels such as the Al-Jazeera TV network and serious challenges including its unwavering backing for Syrian rebels.

At its heart, however, the move is certain to be perceived as a direct swipe at traditions among the Gulf’s other ruling dynasties that power can only be surrendered through death or palace coup — which is how Qatar’s now-former emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, took control in 1995 from his father.

Sheik Hamad, 61, used a televised address to note repeatedly the importance of shifting leadership to more youthful hands — an indirect acknowledgment of the demands for reforms opened by the Arab Spring, which began in 2011 with successful revolutions ousting leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and spread across the Arab world.

But shortly before handing over power, Sheik Hamad showed caution about moving too fast. He extended the term of the country’s advisory panel, known as the Shura Council, the official Qatar News agency reported. It didn’t say how long the term would last, but the move is likely to delay elections for a more powerful legislative body proposed for later this year.

“The future lies ahead of you, the children of this homeland, as you usher into a new era where young leadership hoists the banner,” the outgoing emir said as he announced his abdication and the carefully crafted transition to the British-educated crown prince that has been rumored for weeks.

Qatar has given no official explanation on the transition, but Sheik Hamad is believed to be suffering from chronic health problems. It closed a stunning period of transformation for Qatar, which juts like upraised thumb into the Persian Gulf.

Sheik Hamad and his inner circle pulled the spotlight toward a country that was long content to rake in petrodollars and let other Gulf centers such as Bahrain and Dubai take the lead in regional affairs.

In little more than a decade, Qatar was transformed into a political broker and a center for global investment with a sovereign fund estimated to be worth more than $100 billion. Its portfolio includes landmark real estate, luxury brands and a powerful presence in the sporting world, including ownership of the football club Paris Saint-Germain by Sheik Tamim’s Qatar Sports Investments.

Sheik Tamim, a member of the International Olympic Committee, also helped Qatar defeat rivals including the U.S. to win the rights to host the 2022 football World Cup. But Qatar lost its bid for the 2020 Olympics — an effort that could be revived by the new emir for the 2024 Games.

Qatar’s riches have been spent, too, on trying to reshape the region with critical aid to Libyan rebels who brought down Moammar Gadhafi and now in Syria with fighters seeking to topple President Bashar Assad. Qatar this week hosted a Syrian opposition conference attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and is the venue for possible U.S.-led peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban.

In a further sign of Qatar’s risk-taking policies, it even allowed an Israeli trade office — effectively a diplomatic outpost — for years before ordering its closure following Israel’s incursion into Gaza in late 2008.

“While Qatar is not alone in being befuddled as to how to solve the Syrian crisis, this is an ongoing issue that Qatar’s new elite will have to cope with immediately,” wrote David Roberts, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

But Sheik Tamim is not expected to make any immediate policy shifts. In an important sign of continuity and shared goals, the outgoing emir and Sheik Tamim stood shoulder to shoulder and greeted members of the ruling family and others following the address.

Sheik Tamim has been closely involved in key decisions since 2003, when Tamim became the next in line to rule after his older brother stepped aside. The outgoing emir is expected to remain a guiding force from the wings.

“Sheik Tamim will be driving his father’s car, which is already programmed on where to go,” said Mustafa Alani, a political analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva. The most closely watched decisions coming up will be the choices made for key cabinet posts, including whether he could bring in women members in another break from tradition. But one of the linchpins under the former emir, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, served in the dual roles of prime minister and is likely to exert his influence over the Sheik Tamim’s choices.

“Such a daring transfer of power is unheard of in the Gulf and in Arab history,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at Emirates University, wrote in a commentary in the Dubai-based Gulf News.

No major changes in direction also are expected on Qatar’s investment strategies, although Sheik Tamim may redirect more resources to domestic projects as vital gas exports level off, said Rachel Ziemba, a London-based analyst at Roubini Global Economics.

Qatar has the world’s third-largest gas reserves, but has mounting bills to cover development plans such as a new seaport and projects to prepare for the World Cup. “There is more need to spend money at home — big budget projects, infrastructure,” Ziemba said.

Meanwhile, Qatar has faced criticism from rights groups for joining the Gulf-wide crackdowns on perceived dissent since the Arab Spring. In one of the most high-profile cases, Qatari authorities jailed a poet whose verses included admiration for the uprisings. In February, the sentence against the poet, Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, was reduced from life to 15 years.

Christopher Davidson, an expert in Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University, believes some of the tough measures by Qatari officials reflect internal squabbles with hard-liners trying to exert their influence. Such groups could be among the first housecleaning targets by the new emir, he predicted.

“Tamim is seen as focused on domestic issues first,” said Davidson. “One of the main tasks will be to establish a new social contract with the population … What kind of opposition is allowed and what is not will be part of that.”

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi told reporters that Iran supports any moves by Qatar that bring “peace and tranquility” for the region. Relations between the two nations have deteriorated over Syria, where Tehran remains strongly on the side of key ally Bashar Assad.

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Adam Schreck in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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As Iraq grapples with bombings, Arbil booms

Arbil, Iraq (AFP)

June 21, 2013

As central Iraq grapples with a surge in violence and a longer-term struggle to wean its economy off a dependence on oil, Abdullah Abdulkarim stands at a car dealership in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil and smiles.

“Every day, things are getting better.”

Abdulkarim is not the only one who feels that way — the economy of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, with Arbil as its capital, is growing faster than the rest of the country and sees none of the violence that has raged across Arab areas.

In Arbil, crowded cafes overflow onto sidewalks, customers pack out restaurants with no fear of attack and, perhaps most importantly for the three-province region’s future prospects, foreign investors appear keen to plant their flag.

“It is really easy to set up shop here,” said Jorge Restrepo, an American of Colombian origin who runs a consultancy business in Kurdistan targeting Spanish and Canadian energy companies.

“The government of Kurdistan is very open to foreigners,” he said.

Over the course of 22 years since the establishment of a no-fly zone over the region to keep out Saddam Hussein’s forces, Kurdistan has increasingly distanced itself from the rest of Iraq.

The region, comprised of Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk provinces and their capitals of the same names, has its own president and prime minister, and the Kurdish flag flutters over government buildings.

Rather than the Iraqi army and police, the peshmerga and asayesh comprise the region’s security forces.

It is currently enjoying economic growth of 12 percent, according to its regional investment commission, while Iraq’s economy as a whole is projected to expand by nine percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

And almost 800 foreign firms — the majority of them from neighboring Turkey — have so far entered the Kurdish market, apparently encouraged in particular by a 2006 investment law that exempts them from taxes on imports and profits for their first 10 years in the region.

Firms are not obliged to hire local staff, have local investors or local partners, and can repatriate their profits at their discretion, according to Kamiran Mufti, head of the regional investment commission.

But the crucial difference between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq remains security.

“Security is really the key to success,” said Ghada Gebara, head of Korek, Iraq’s third-biggest mobile phone operator, which is headquartered in Arbil.

Nationwide violence in Iraq last month was its worst since 2008, according to both UN and official figures, but Mufti said the autonomous region, by contrast, did not record a single incident throughout May.

And there are more differences.

“The bureaucracy is enormous here as well, but in Baghdad, you also have religious divisions (between Sunni and Shiite Arabs), and of course the corruption,” Restrepo said.

Iraq is rated one of the world’s most corrupt countries, placing 169 out of 176 states listed in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, but Mufti insisted Kurdish regional leaders have “implemented a plan to combat it”.

— ‘But now, everything is good’ —

Regional officials also tout an economy that they say is more diversified than the rest of the country — cement, pharmaceuticals, steel and electricity.

The latter is produced in significant-enough quantities that the region exports surplus power to the neighboring provinces of Nineveh and Kirkuk which, like much of Iraq, suffer from shortfalls.

But the northern region shares one crucial characteristic with the rest of the Iraq — the heart of its economy is based on oil production.

The region has proven reserves of around 45 billion barrels of crude, or about a third of Iraq’s total reserves, according to regional officials, and its sale is the subject of tense debates.

The central government has angrily criticized Arbil for signing contracts with foreign energy firms without the expressed approval of the federal oil ministry, dismissing such deals as illegal, and slamming the transport of oil to Turkey as “smuggling”.

Gebara described the disputes — which also include a row over a swathe of territory stretching from the Iranian border to the Syrian frontier — as “healthy democratic debate”, but analysts and officials point to the disagreements as among the biggest threats to Iraq’s long-term stability.

For now, businesses in Arbil are not worried — at the dealership where Abdulkarim was eyeing a $24,500 pick-up truck, owner Hunar Majid was upbeat.

His glass-walled Toyota dealership lies at the center of the city and is packed. Majid hopes to increase sales threefold compared with last year.

At the entrance, Abdulkarim, a shepherd wearing the traditional baggy Kurdish garb, wasted little time debating whether to buy the truck of his dreams.

“Before, life was tough,” he said. “I could never pay for this truck.”

“But now, everything is good.”

Source: Space War.


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Qur’an-themed park is Dubai tribute to Holy Book

Friday 21 June 2013

Dubai has added a new item to its top ambitions such as building the world’s largest Ferris wheel and bidding for an Angry Birds theme park — a site honoring the Holy Qur’an.

The estimated $7.3 million project will include a garden with plants mentioned in the holy book and an air-conditioned tunnel depicting events from the Qur’an.

The park should be ready in September 2014, reports said. It will be in Al-Khawaneej and, according to Dubai Municipality, it has been specially designed in the Islamic perspective to introduce the miracles of Qur’an through a variety of surprises for the visitors.

The park will include all available plants mentioned in the Qur’an, along with facilities such as main entrance, administration building, Islamic garden, play areas, Umrah corner, outside theater, areas for miracles of the Qur’an, fountains, bathrooms, desert garden and palm oasis. It will also have a lake, running track, cycling track and sandy walking track.

Source: Arab News.


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In northern Iraqi city, al-Qaida gathers strength

June 20, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Al-Qaida’s Iraq arm is gathering strength in the restive northern city of Mosul, ramping up its fundraising through gangland-style shakedowns and feeding off anti-government anger as it increasingly carries out attacks with impunity, according to residents and officials.

It is a disturbing development for Iraq’s third-largest city, one of the country’s main gateways to Syria, as al-Qaida in Iraq makes a push to establish itself as a dominant player among the rebels fighting to topple the Syrian regime.

The show of force comes as Mosul residents cast ballots in delayed local elections Thursday that have been marred by intimidation by militants. Al-Qaida’s renewed muscle-flexing is evident in dollar terms too, with one Iraqi official estimating that militants are netting more than $1 million a month in the city through criminal business enterprises.

Mosul and the surrounding countryside, from where al-Qaida was never really routed, have emerged as major flashpoints in a wave of bloodshed that has killed nearly 2,000 Iraqis since the start of April — the country’s deadliest outbreak of violence in five years. Gunbattles have broken out between militants and security forces, and several candidates have been assassinated.

Just since the start of last week, attackers in and around the city have unleashed a rapid-fire wave of five car bombs, tried to assassinate the provincial governor and killed another local politician and four other people in a suicide bombing.

The violence increased as Thursday’s elections approached in Ninevah and neighboring Anbar province. Iraqis elsewhere went to the polls in April, but the Baghdad government postponed voting in the two provinces, citing security concerns.

Other Sunni militant groups, including Ansar al-Islam and the Army of the Men of the Naqshabandi Order, are also active in Ninevah. Mosul is the capital of the Sunni-dominated province. Al-Qaida’s growing power is particularly worrying because it is thought to be behind the bulk of the bombings across Iraq and because it is trying to assert itself as a player in neighboring Syria’s civil war. The head of al-Qaida’s Iraq arm last week defied the terror network’s central command by insisting that his unit would continue to lay claim to al-Qaida operations in Syria, too.

“We’re definitely concerned about it,” said a U.S. diplomat about the deteriorating security situation in Mosul. The diplomat, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, said al-Qaida’s Iraq arm sees an opportunity to try to build support in the area and is “out blowing things up to show that the government can’t protect and serve the people.”

Al-Qaida’s growing strength in Mosul is painfully clear to businessman Safwan al-Moussili. Traders like him say they are once again facing demands from militants to pay protection money or face grave consequences. Merchants say that practice had largely disappeared by the time American troops left in December 2011.

“They tell us: ‘Pay this amount.’ And if it’s higher than before, they say something like: ‘You recently went to China and you imported these materials and you made such and such profits,'” he said. “It seems they know everything about us.”

Small-scale shop owners, goldsmiths, supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies are all being hit up for money these days. Al-Moussili and his fellow businessmen feel they have little choice but to pay up. About two months ago, he recalls, one businessman refused to pay, and insurgents planted a bomb inside his shop that killed the man.

“That forced everybody to pay, because we don’t see the security forces doing anything to end this situation,” he said. A Mosul food wholesaler, who referred to himself only by the nickname Abu Younis out of concern for his security, said he and other traders resumed paying $200-a-month kickbacks to al-Qaida three months ago after finding threatening letters in the market hall where they operate.

Al-Qaida focused its operations in historically conservative Mosul following setbacks in Anbar province in 2006. It soon became the only major Iraqi city with a significant al-Qaida presence. The U.S. urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to focus his resources on Mosul to wipe out al-Qaida and prevent the insurgents from reorganizing there. Instead, the government shifted resources at a key moment to crush al-Maliki’s armed Shiite rivals in the southern city of Basra, which prevented a decisive defeat of al-Qaida.

Over time, the militants, exploiting ethnic tensions in the Mosul area between Arabs and Kurds, were able to reinforce their position. Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who closely follows regional security issues, said al-Qaida in Iraq has long generated cash from businesses such as trucking and real estate, and through extortion of large firms such as mobile phone companies.

“If they’re extending their extortion back out to local traders, that indicates they’ve got better street control,” he said. “It just shows they’re able to operate in the urban neighborhoods and don’t see a security force retaliation like they did two years ago. And they don’t fear informants identifying them.”

Abdul-Rahim al-Shimmari, a member of the Ninevah provincial council, agreed that extortion is making a comeback. He blamed rising political and sectarian tensions fueled in part by the civil war in nearby Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are trying to topple President Bashar Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Al-Qaida is also enjoying increased sympathy in Mosul because of what al-Shimmari called the central government’s “brutal and irresponsible” handling of Sunni protests that have raged for months against the Shiite-led administration in Baghdad.

In March, security forces in Mosul opened fire on Sunni demonstrators demanding the release of a local tribal sheik who had been detained. At least one person was killed. Human Rights Watch recently urged Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations that federal police executed five people, including a 15-year-old boy, south of Mosul in early May. Residents discovered the bodies more than a week later in the same area where the five were last seen being led away by federal police, according to the rights group.

Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharawi, the federal police 3rd Division commander who was named in the rights group’s report, called the allegations baseless. He said the five were no longer in police custody at the time of their deaths. He blamed al-Qaida for killing them in an effort to tarnish the image of the police.

A lack of trust from the people, who fear both the militants and the security forces, is hindering authorities’ fight against al-Qaida and other militants, according to Iraqi officials. “The problem is that nobody in Mosul will come forward and complain” about al-Qaida’s increasing abuses, said a senior military intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss operational matters with reporters.

He estimated that al-Qaida is able to pull in between $1 million to $1.5 million from Mosul alone each month — a considerable amount in Iraq. “We want to catch these people red-handed, but the local government is not cooperating with the security forces,” he complained.

Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed reporting.

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Saudi to expel Hezbollah supporters over Syria war

June 20, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — In the latest sign of the fissures growing in the Arab world over the Syrian civil war, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut has announced that the kingdom plans to deport Lebanese who supported Hezbollah, one of Damascus’ key allies.

The warning comes as the Lebanese Shiite militant group takes an increasingly prominent role in the Syrian war, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s troops in a key battle earlier this month. Saudi Arabia is a strong backer of the mostly-Sunni Syrian opposition trying to remove Assad from power. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

It follows the decision earlier this month by the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — to crack down on Hezbollah members in the Gulf and limit their “financial and business transactions.”

Hezbollah says it has no businesses in the Gulf nations. However, there are more than half a million Lebanese working in the Gulf Arab nations, including tens of thousands in Saudi Arabia, some of whom have been living in the kingdom for decades. Many of those Lebanese are Shiites.

Saudi Arabia will deport “those who financially support this party,” Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri told Lebanon’s Future TV late Wednesday. He did not elaborate on whether other actions could be also considered support for Hezbollah.

“This is a serious decision and will be implemented in detail,” Assiri said, without specifying when the deportations would begin. “Acts are being committed against innocent Syrian people.” Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told reporters Thursday he was in contact with Gulf officials over the matter. Hezbollah and its allies dominate Lebanon’s current government, which resigned March 22, but continues to run the country’s affairs in a caretaker capacity.

Syria’s 2-year civil war, which has killed nearly 93,000 people, is increasingly pitting Sunni against Shiite Muslims and threatening the stability of Syria’s neighbors. Assad draws his support largely from fellow Alawites as well as other minorities including Christians and Shiites. He is backed by Shiite Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiites.

U.S. officials estimate that 5,000 Hezbollah members are fighting alongside Assad’s regime, while thousands of Sunni foreign fighters are also believed to be in Syria — including members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate that is believed to be among the most effective rebel factions. Public opinion in Sunni states is often sympathetic to the rebels.

Fighting between pro- and anti-Syrian groups has broken out in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is deepening tensions at home. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who has been increasingly critical of the group recently, said in remarks published Thursday that he is against Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and that Hezbollah fighters should return to Lebanon.

“I told them from the start that I am against this act,” he was quoted by al-Safir daily as saying. In Syria, activists reported violence between government forces and rebels in different parts of the country on Thursday, mostly near the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest urban center and its commercial hub.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 rebels were killed in a battle with government troops in Aleppo, where the opposition has controlled whole neighborhoods and large swathes of surrounding land since last summer.

Pro-regime media outlets announced earlier this month that troops had launched an offensive to build on the momentum of their Qusair triumph to retake Aleppo and other areas of the north. Another activist group, the Syria-based Aleppo Media Center, said rebels launched an attack on army positions in the city’s Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood. There were no immediate reports of casualties on the government side in the fighting.

Amateur videos showed gunmen shooting and firing rockets at army positions in the neighborhood. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted. Meanwhile, Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group said 40,000 civilians in two northern districts of Damascus in which government forces have been operating are suffering food shortages and lack medical supplies.

“After six months of continuous siege, (and ) military checkpoints … the neighborhoods of Qaboun and Barzeh are at risk,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement. It said the government forces conduct frequent raids in the two districts and there is fear that such army operations will result in a “massacre.”

Also on Thursday, the Observatory urged the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to intervene and take medicine and food to Aleppo’s central prison. Heavy fighting around the prison has raged for weeks and there have been casualties among the prisoners, the activists said.

The Observatory, which has a network of activists around the country, said three detainees died this week from tuberculosis and that scabies was spreading in the jail, which holds thousands of prisoners.

The prison, which is besieged by rebels, relies on food and medicine brought in drop-offs by army helicopters. The Observatory said more than 100 detainees have been killed since April when the fighting around the prison began.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels and Kurdish gunmen reached an agreement to end a rebel siege of the northern predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin that triggered a shortage of food and medicine there, the Observatory said.

The Afrin flare-up began when rebels wanted to pass through it to attack the predominantly Shiite villages of Nubul and Zahra, controlled by Assad loyalists, the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said. After Kurdish groups refused, rebels attacked Kurdish checkpoints and laid siege beginning on May 25.

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Iraqis vote in 2 Sunni-dominated provinces

June 20, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqis in two Sunni-dominated provinces where provincial elections had been delayed over security concerns were casting ballots Thursday amid tight security measures aimed at thwarting insurgent attacks.

Iraq has been the scene of a dramatic rise in sectarian tensions and deteriorating security. The two provinces — Anbar and Ninevah — have seen some of the largest rallies in a months-long wave of Sunni protests against the Shiite-led government.

A vehicle ban was implemented in Mosul, Ramadi and other major cities in the two provinces as voting got underway for candidates who will serve on provincial-level councils. Thousands of policemen and soldiers were deployed to secure the vote.

Iraqis voted in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces two months ago. Officials had delayed elections in Anbar and Ninevah because of what they said were security concerns, though some Iraqis questioned that rationale and dismissed it as a political ploy related to the unrest in the provinces.

Some 2.8 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in more than 1,200 polling centers the two provinces. That figure includes nearly 100,000 members of the security forces, many of whom voted in special elections on Monday so they could be on hand to secure the balloting.

Hundreds of candidates from 28 political blocs in Ninevah and 16 in Anbar are hoping to secure seats. There are 39 seats up for grabs in Ninevah and 30 in Anbar. Among the groups hoping for a strong showing are Sunni parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi’s United bloc, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq’s Arab Iraqiya coalition and the secular but Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc headed by Shiite politician Ayad Allawi.

The provincial councils have some say over regional security matters and have the ability to negotiate local business deals and allocate government funds. But provincial council members frequently complain that they are hamstrung by restrictions from federal authorities over how to spend the money.

The councils also choose provincial governors and have the right under Iraq’s constitution to call for a referendum to organize into a federal region — a move that could give them considerable autonomy from the central government in Baghdad.

Some protesters and political leaders in Sunni areas, including Anbar and Ninevah, have been agitating for the creation of an autonomous Sunni region, though it is unclear if they could generate broad support for such a move.

The April vote was Iraq’s first election since the U.S. military withdrawal, and was carried out without major bloodshed on voting day. But insurgents have tried to undermine the electoral process by killing candidates.

A total of 17 candidates have been assassinated ahead of this year’s election, with the bulk of them from Ninevah, according to Jose Maria Aranaz, the chief electoral adviser at the United Nations mission to Iraq.

No major violence was reported Thursday morning. But police and hospital officials said seven people were killed and 24 were wounded when two bombs exploded simultaneously on a soccer field the previous night while teenagers and young adults were playing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Iraq’s largely autonomous northern Kurdish region, which comprises three provinces, will hold its own local elections in September. No vote is scheduled in the ethnically disputed province of Kirkuk, which has not had a chance to elect local officials since 2005 because residents cannot agree on a power-sharing formula there.

Results from Thursday’s vote are not expected for several days.

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed reporting.

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Iran wins at S.Korea, both teams qualify for WCup

By JOHN DUERDEN, Associated Press

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

ULSAN, South Korea (AP) — Iran beat South Korea 1-0 on Tuesday in a match that secured both teams a spot at next year’s World Cup, though the Asian hosts only just scraped through and had to wait until after the final whistle to know their fate.

Iran finished top of Group A in the final stage of Asian qualifying, with South Korea in second place – level on points with Uzbekistan but ahead on goal difference.

Uzbekistan came from behind to win 5-1 at home against Qatar. However, the storming finish ultimately came up just short, leaving the Uzbeks with a goal difference of plus-five and South Korea on plus-six.

Iran’s winner came in the 60th minute, when Kim Young-gwon failed to clear a speculative ball forward down Iran’s right wing. Reza Ghoochannejad robbed him of possession, sprinted clear and sent a curling left-foot shot beyond goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryeong.

South Korea, not wanting to put its fate in the hands of the game in Uzbekistan, pressed forward for the remainder of the game but failed to find an equalizer.

Kim almost made up for his mistake, but his close-range shot in the 86th minute produced a reflex save from keeper Rahman Ahmadi and Jang Hyun-soo’s follow-up effort was also blocked.

“My team played with a realistic approach, to try and wait for a weak point in the Korean team and with a counter-attacking attitude,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said.

“The goal came in one of those situations and fortunately, when Korea created opportunities, our players fought for our lives. The team played with fantastic team spirit with great practical discipline and enormous determination.”

The win set off celebrations across Iran, where the government had given a rare approval for supporters to spill into the streets. Outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and president-elect Hasan Rowhani in separate messages congratulated the team for reaching the World Cup.

As Iran players and officials celebrated wildly on the pitch, the South Korean squad and fans were kept in suspense while the last couple of minutes of the Uzbekistan game were played out, before they knew they were also through to next year’s tournament in Brazil.

“We qualified but didn’t finish with a satisfactory result,” said outgoing coach Choi Kang-hee. “Today was a disappointing defeat but the players gave their best and I wish them luck in Brazil.”

South Korea, missing a number of European-based stars, dominated the first half and despite going close through Son Heung-min and Lee Myung-joo, were unable to break down a well-drilled Iranian backline.

Son, who recently joined German team Bayer Leverkusen for 10 million euros, shot over from close range while Lee broke free of the Iran defenders but was unable to dribble around the goalkeeper.

After Iran’s successful smash-and-grab goal in the 60th, South Korea’s players were made aware Uzbekistan was rapidly closing the goal-difference gap, so pushed forward relentlessly in search of an equalizer.

Though it never came, South Korea had done enough in earlier games to secure an eighth-straight World Cup appearance.

Iran’s berth in Brazil will be its fourth appearance at football’s main event, having last reached the final tournament in Germany in 2006.

Source: Westport News.


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