Archive for December, 2014
21 December 2014 Sunday
King Abdullah II of Jordan on Saturday arrived in the Bahraini capital Manama for talks with the Gulf state’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
King Abdullah’s visit to Bahrain comes only one week after he paid a visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz.
At Bahrain International Airport, the Jordanian King was received by King Al Khalifa, the official Bahraini news agency said.
It added that the two leaders held “cordial talks” later about cooperation between their respective states.
Earlier in the day, Jordan’s official news agency said the King would head to Bahrain for talks with King Hamad on means of bolstering bilateral ties.
The Jordanian King’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week came only three days after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi paid a visit to Amman and held talks with King Abdullah II.
Talks between the Egyptian President and the Jordanian monarch reportedly focused on the Middle East peace process and the situation in both Syria and Iraq.
Source: World Bulletin.
20 December 2014 Saturday
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said Saturday Iraq’s holy sites are Iran’s red line, in an interview with Iranian state TV network Al-Alam.
“Holy sites in Iraq are our red lines. Iran will intervene immediately if these sites were threatened by ISIL or any other armed unit,” Dehghan said.
“Our security is very important for us. If there is a terrorist threat beyond our borders we will take an action,” he said.
He also underlined that Tehran was ready to provide assistance in the case that the Iraqi government asks for help.
Iraq has been gripped by a security vacuum since June, when ISIL stormed the northern province of Mosul.
The U.S. is leading an international coalition which has carried out numerous airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria since the militant group took over Mosul.
Source: World Bulletin.
December 17, 2014
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The men grappled with each other to board the quickly filling bus. Others wriggled in through the windows, scaling the outside, using the large wheels as footholds and leaving scuff-marks on the white exterior with their shoes.
These weren’t refugees fleeing disaster. They were migrant workers in 2022 World Cup host Qatar, fighting to earn a few dollars. The job: Pretend to be a sports fan. Qataris boast they’re mad for sports. The ruling emir of the oil-and-gas rich Gulf nation is so fond of football he bought Paris Saint-Germain, now France’s powerhouse team. Lobbying World Cup organizer FIFA in 2010, his royal mother said: “For us, football is not just a mere game or a sport among many. It is THE sport.”
Pitching successfully in November to track and field’s governing body to host its world championships in 2019, Qatar bid presenter Aphrodite Moschoudi said: “Qatar has a true passion for sports. Everything in our country revolves around sport.”
Or, when passion is lacking, around money. When the world’s second-richest people per capita can’t find time or be bothered to fill their sports arenas, migrant workers are paid to take their place. Thirty Qatar riyals — equivalent to $8 — won’t buy a beer in the luxury waterside hotel in Doha, the capital, where Qatari movers-and-shakers unwind. But for this pittance, workers from Africa and Asia sprint under blinding sun in the Doha industrial zone where they’re housed and surround a still-moving bus like bees on honey. They sit through volleyball, handball and football, applaud to order, do the wave with no enthusiasm and even dress up in white robes and head-scarves as Qataris, to plump up “home” crowds.
The Associated Press squeezed aboard one of three buses that ferried about 150 workers, through dense traffic of luxury cars and past luxury villas they’ll never be able to afford, to be fake fans at the Qatar Open of international beach volleyball in November.
The FIVB, volleyball’s governing body, trumpeted on its website that the tournament, part of its World Tour, “brought out the crowds.” But migrants from Ghana, Kenya, Nepal and elsewhere, who work in Qatar as bus and taxi drivers for the state-owned transport company and for other employers, told the AP they were there for money, not volleyball.
Word of payment filtered around their crowded dormitories. At 2:30 p.m., clumps of men on their off-day gathered outside, inhaling dust stirred up by passing forklifts and trucks. Someone spotted the first bus far down the street that cuts through the bleak-scape of construction and piled dirt. The bus filled instantly. A second and third bus — and more frantic scrambling — followed.
Breathing heavily, men squeezed into seats, three on one side of the aisle, two on the other. There were no safety belts and the ceiling fans didn’t turn. One man without a seat squatted on the floor. To shouts of “get down!” he made himself small when a policeman was spotted on the journey.
One by one, from memory, the men reeled off their employee numbers — no names — to a man who methodically shuffled down the aisle, jotting down the details on a crumpled piece of paper. This ensured he’d later know who to pay, workers said.
At the Al Gharafa Sports Club, we disembarked and formed a line. An official in Qatari robes counted us in, with taps on the shoulder. French volleyballers Edouard Rowlandson and Youssef Krou were winning their bronze-medal match as we filled seats, making the arena appear almost full.
“Bizarre,” Rowlandson said when told of the hired spectators. “But we prefer that to playing in front of nobody.” Ahmed al-Sheebani, executive secretary of the Qatar Volleyball Association, rebuffed the AP’s questions, reaching over to switch off this reporter’s voice recorder.
Reached later by phone, FIVB media director Richard Baker thanked the AP for making it aware of the fake fans and said the federation will “seek clarification” from Qatari organizers. “It’s news to us,” he said.
But not to Qatar’s government. A survey of 1,079 Qatar residents published this January by the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics suggested that paid fans may be turning Qataris off sport. The ministry said two-thirds of Qataris surveyed did not attend any football matches during the previous season and two-thirds of respondents cited “the spread of paid fans” as a “significant reason” keeping audiences away.
At the volleyball, some for-hire spectators were offered less than others. Security guards and office boys from Kenya said a promise of 20 riyals ($5.50) each drew 40 people onto their bus. A Nigerian manservant said he, too, was getting just 20.
Numerous workers said they regularly make up numbers at sports events. Qatar league football games pay 20 or 25 riyals, they said. A Kenyan said he made 50 riyals at handball. An added bonus: the volleyball arena had free Wi-Fi, allowing workers to get news and emails from home. They pulled out smartphones, ignoring a crowd organizer waving a plastic hand who urged them to clap to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Thirty riyals buys food for three days when you’re eating just once a day to save money for families back home, workers said. And watching sports, some said, is less tedious than whiling away off-duty hours in Doha’s back-of-beyond industrial zone.
“Shaking my body all over … being in the crowd and shouting and dancing” was great fun for Adu, a trainee bus driver from Ghana who gave just his first name. “Being there and getting paid is a plus for me.”
Afterward, the transport company workers waited nearly three hours in the dark, on barren land near the arena, for return buses. Contacted separately later by phone, three of them confirmed they got 30 riyals each in cash, either on the bus back or in their dormitories.
On an hourly basis, that came out at just over $1 per hour.
December 15, 2014
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s pan-Arab news channel will finally take to the airwaves early next year.
Officials for the channel, dubbed Alarab, said Monday it will begin broadcasting on February 1 from its base in the Bahraini capital, Manama. The channel promises to provide “an objective, fresh and unbiased view of world events,” according to a press statement.
Officials didn’t say how much it would cost. The channel had previously been expected to begin operations in 2012 in Bahrain, a tiny island kingdom connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Bahrain continues to face low-level unrest following widespread Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011 that were dominated by the country’s Shiite majority, which seeks greater political rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy.
Alarab will be located in the country’s prominent, twin-towered World Trade Center. Alarab’s general manager, Jamal Khashoggi, told reporters the channel wouldn’t shy away from sensitive issues in its own backyard.
“We will cover all views,” he said. Alarab will compete against well-established competitors including Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, as well as Sky News Arabia and Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, both of which are headquartered in the United Arab Emirates.
Bloomberg LP has a deal to provide business news content for Alarab, which could put the new channel in competition with Dubai-based business news channel CNBC Arabiya as well. Khashoggi said the channel will focus only on Arabic content, and has no plans to follow Al-Jazeera in launching an English-language channel.
A member of the Saudi royal family, Alwaleed controls Kingdom Holding Co., which has stakes in several well-known companies, including Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc., News Corp. and Twitter.
December 13, 2014
BAGHDAD (AP) — Islamic State group militants shot down an Iraqi military helicopter, officials said Saturday, killing the two pilots onboard and raising fresh concerns about the extremists’ ability to attack aircraft amid ongoing U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
The attack happened late Friday in the Shiite holy city of Samarra, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. A senior Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press the Sunni militants used a shoulder-fired rocket launcher to shoot down the EC635 helicopter on the outskirts of the city.
An army official corroborated the information. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists. The EC635, built by Airbus Helicopters, is used for transportation, surveillance and combat.
The militants shot down at least two other Iraqi military helicopters near the city of Beiji in October. Some fear the militants may have captured ground-to-air missiles capable of shooting down airplanes when they overran Iraqi and Syrian army bases this summer.
European airlines including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France, U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines and Dubai-based Emirates changed their commercial flight plans over the summer to avoid Iraqi airspace. The Islamic State group holds about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-styled caliphate.
In Syria, meanwhile, an activist group and a jihadi website said the Islamic State group’s police force beheaded four men in the central province of Homs for blasphemy. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the four were beheaded Friday in the province’s east, without elaborating.
A jihadi website said the “Islamic police in the state of Homs” carried out a court sentence against the four in the presences of onlookers. Grisly photos posted on the website showed each of the four blindfolded men kneeling, their hands tied behind their backs, as a masked man in a black uniform hit their necks with a cleaver.
The Islamic State group governs its territory according to its radical, violent interpretation of Shariah law. It has carried out other mass killings and beheadings, often recorded and posted online.
Mroue reported from Beirut.
Karzan Sabah Hawrami
Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the leader of Sunni tribes in Anbar province and the head of the Awakening Movement, has urged the international community to give military support to Iraqi Sunnis fighting Islamic State militants in the northern Iraqi province of Anbar.
The sheikh, who the US supported to set up the Awakening Movement against extremist groups in Iraq in 2007, has called for support for Sunni militants fighting Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Abu Risha is unhappy that his Sunnis have been neglected by international powers in the fight against IS, saying that while Iran is helping Shiite militia groups and the international community supports Kurdish Peshmerga forces, no one is arming Sunni militants.
He also said that although some Arab countries have shown willingness to help the Sunnis, the support must come via the Iraqi government.
“European countries have sent weapons to Peshmerga forces and Iran helps the Shiite militia groups, yet no one supports Sunnis and Islamic State militants have put Anbar province under a great deal of pressure,” added Abu Risha.
Meanwhile, the head of Anbar Province Council, Sabah Karol has told BasNews that they have asked Arab countries to send them military aid so they can fight the extremist group.
Following recent attacks by IS insurgents in northern Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, a number of western countries including the US, UK, France and Germany sent military support to Kurds and the Iranian army has supported Shiite militia groups in re-taking some towns in northern Iraq.
Source: Bas News.
December 10, 2014
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which is concerned about Shiite Iran’s regional influence and the rise of Sunni extremist groups, agreed on Tuesday to create a joint naval force based out of Bahrain and announced a police force based out of the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi.
The creation of the police force, known as GCC-POL, and the naval force were announced at the conclusion of the Gulf bloc’s annual summit in Qatar. The meeting was held just weeks after the Western-allied countries reached a reconciliation agreement linked to Qatar’s support for Islamist groups throughout the region.
The summit took place on the same day that the price of brent crude oil hit a five-year low of $65, with Kuwait’s emir warning in his remarks that the slide in price is impacting development programs. Gulf monarchs rely on income from oil to sustain generous welfare programs used to appease the public.
Qatari Foreign Minster Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah said the police force would improve cooperation against terrorism. “It will be an Interpol-like force but inside GCC countries,” he said at a news conference. GCC leaders announced officially at the summit that the force been established, but did not say when work had begun.
State-linked local newspapers say the police force is also expected to tackle drug trafficking, money laundering and cyber-crime. “The emergence of terrorism … requires a concerted group effort from us and the international community to reach its root causes and cure its real political, social and economic causes,” Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said at the opening of the summit.
The Gulf monarchies hold that the marginalization of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria is a factor for the rise of extremist militants in those countries. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are staunch backers of Sunni rebels in Syria seeking to oust Iranian-backed President Bashar Assad.
Of the six GCC nations, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have taken part in airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Qatar and Kuwait are hosting bases for Western countries active in the U.S.-led coalition.
The GCC also includes Oman, which has differed from its Gulf neighbors on Iran. Oman serves as a bridge in talks between Iran and the U.S. The plan for a joint naval force was announced in the summit’s final communique, without giving further details. The Gulf bloc already has an emergency military force called Peninsula Shield, which intervened in Bahrain to help the monarchy crush protests led by the Shiite majority in 2011. (moved the graph)
Bahrain currently hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. The Gulf naval force there is expected to act as deterrence to Iran, which shares the world’s largest gas field with Qatar in the Persian Gulf. The Sunni-led monarchies of the Gulf have collectively spent billions of dollars on U.S. and European military equipment amid lingering regional tensions with Iran.
In its statement, the GCC called on Iran to respect its members-states’ national sovereignty. Gulf leaders have accused Iran in the past of meddling in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia.
The GCC also condemned the use of arms by Shiite rebel Houthis in Yemen, and called on the rebels to withdraw from areas they have overrun. It also condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
The Arab Gulf countries additionally expressed their political backing for Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. It marks a pivot for Qatar, which backed former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who el-Sissi ousted from power amid widespread protests last year when he was defense minister.
“There has never been disagreement between Qatar and Egypt for there to be reconciliation,” Qatar’s foreign minister said after the summit. “Egypt is strong and capable and is the backbone of all Arabs.”
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain formally withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March in a move widely seen as a protest over Doha’s support for Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi was a leading member. They reinstated ambassadors last month after an agreement was reached. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE consider the Brotherhood a “terrorist group” and see the 86 year-old movement as a political threat.
Al-Thani said that the recent events “have taught us not to rush to convert disagreement in political viewpoints… into differences that would affect sectors such as economy, society, media and others.”
Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and UAE Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum took part in the summit. Also in attendance were Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and a senior official from Oman.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.