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Oct 02 - 08, 2000

OPEC rebuffs price pressure at historic summit

The OPEC oil cartel opened a landmark summit Wednesday, pledging to work for market stability and to discuss consumer fears but snubbing calls for concrete action to cut soaring prices.

The summit was meanwhile also urged to consider demanding the end of UN sanctions against OPEC member Iraq, imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.

In a rabble-rousing speech opening the two-day gathering, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered dialogue with consumer states but not without conditions.

"We are willing to talk with anybody, anywhere at any time, but as equals," Chavez said, noting that he had recently received a call from a president of a "powerful" industrialized country.

"It was good that we talked. But why don't we discuss the foreign debt that crushes poor countries, why don't we discuss terms of trade that are so unequal, and the savage imposition of economic systems?" he said.

The gathering of sovereigns and presidents of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was only the second in the cartel's 40-year history.

The assembled leaders include Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Indonesian Abdurrahman Wahid, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

OPEC has come under heavy pressure to help bring down crude prices which have soared to 10-year highs in recent weeks, sparking consumer protests notably in Europe and warnings of a global economic slowdown.

But OPEC leaders gathered for the summit, the first such gathering in 25 years, rebuffed any immediate prospect of a new production hike, following three increases already in the last 12 months.

Saudi bans imports of Firestone tyres

In a sign of how investors have begun warming back up to the embattled Japanese parent of US tyre maker Firestone, shares in Bridgestone Corp managed a small rise on Thursday despite Saudi Arabia's ban on Firestone tyres. Saudi Arabia became the first country to ban Firestones since a global controversy erupted last month over dozens of traffic deaths linked to 15-inch Firestone tyres, mostly fitted on Ford Motor Co vehicles in the United States and Venezuela.

Firestone called Saudi Arabia's action "uncalled for and extreme" and contacted Washington to protest against the ban, which comes about two months after its US recall of 6.5 million tyres linked to at least 101 US road deaths.

But despite the ban, shares in Bridgestone climbed for most of Thursday as most other shares in the Tokyo stock market fell.

Bridgestone ended at 1,270 yen ($11.84), up 0.7 per cent on the day. At one point it climbed by as much as 3.4 per cent.

Analysts said the impact of Saudi Arabia's ban on Bridgestone's earnings was virtually insignificant. In the last business year, the Middle Eastern country contributed less than one per cent to Bridgestone's consolidated earnings.

"The significance of this ban on the group as a whole is not that large," said Stephen Usher, senior analyst at Jardine Fleming Securities in Tokyo.

But the rise in the stock reflects a change in attitude towards Bridgestone in the past three weeks.

A month ago, each piece of bad news fell like a stone on Bridgestone's shares, halving the Japanese company's market value in just one month and pushing the stock price to an eight-year low by September 8.

Sharon visit sparks clashes

A visit by Israeli party leader Ariel Sharon to a holy site in Jerusalem on Thursday sparked violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police, casting a fresh shadow over the peace process.

In another potential setback, an Israeli soldier died of wounds received on Wednesday in a bomb attack on a convoy of Jewish settlers' cars being escorted by the army in the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip.

Police, who fired at the stone-throwing protesters in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah, said 25 police had been hurt in Jerusalem.

BG signs major Iran gas export joint-venture

BG International said it has signed a joint-venture agreement to develop Iran's gas exports from its huge offshore South Pars field to the Indian market.

The project, worth about $1 billion, is the largest energy joint venture signed with a foreign company since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to the English language Iran Daily newspaper.

The deal was signed with Iran's Oil Industry and Engineering Company (OIEC), an offshoot of the National Iranian Oil Company owned mainly by NIOC's present or retired employees.

The project is looking at two potential export terminal sites in southern Iran at Asaluyeh and Kish Island, BG said in a statement. The initial two-train project could produce and export six to seven million tonnes of LNG a year from 2006, BG said.

Turkey welcomes embargo-defying flights to Iraq

Turkey welcomed Thursday the organization of humanitarian flights to its southeastern neighbour Iraq in defiance of the decade-old UN embargo against Baghdad.

"We see the civil flights to Iraq primarily as an effort to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. We attach great importance to this issue and view it positively," foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz said in a written statement.

Five planes, three Russian, one French and one Jordanian, have landed in Baghdad since mid-August despite strong criticism from the United States.

A second French plane is planned to come to Baghdad from Paris on Friday, while Iceland, India, Syria and Yemen have all voiced intentions to send planes to Iraq.

Dirioz also recalled that Turkey had given permission to the French and Russian planes, which landed in Baghdad last week, to use its airspace without seeking approval from the UN sanctions committee.

Crude price heads lower

The price of crude oil was gently lower in London trading Thursday, despite a warning from OPEC hardliners to the European Union not to flood the market with oil from strategic reserves.

Brent crude futures for November delivery fell 41 cents to $30.13, while members of the Organization of Oil Producing Countries continued their two day meeting in Caracas, Venezuela.

Arafat launched drilling

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat officially launched drilling operations Wednesday to tap a newly-discovered gas field off Palestinian territory.

"It is a major event for the Palestinian economy. I dedicate it to all Palestinians," Arafat said as he gave the signal to commence drilling.

Syria tells EU wants just peace

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told a European Union envoy on Wednesday that his country wanted a just and comprehensive peace with Israel.

Presidential spokesman Koubran Kourieh said Bashar also told Miguel Angel Moratinos, the EU's Middle East envoy, that Syria welcomed any European effort to revive Syrian-Israeli peace talks which broke off in January.

Cohen: Saddam could disrupt oil markets

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could cause short-term disruptions in international energy markets by halting oil production for a limited time, US Defense Secretary William Cohen warned Tuesday in a speech to business leaders.

Cohen also acknowledged that, despite a costly US effort to contain Baghdad militarily, the decade-old UN sanctions have been undercut by an international "erosion of will power."

Crack-down on corporate piracy

Companies that ignore Oman's strict copyright laws could find themselves raided and prosecuted by authorities. The sale of pirated software in Muscat is declining, but the act of sharing software among hundreds of users is still rife in the capital's corporate sector.

The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture (MNHC) is spearheading the crack-down and has recently conducted a second set of raids on corporations suspected of using pirated software in Muscat.

UAE corporate e-banking service

ABN Amro Bank has become the first major bank in the UAE to offer corporate customers an electronic banking tool, which allows them to check their financial status on a regular basis.

The UAE-developed BankOnline service allows customers to view data directly on screen, and download it instantly for offline viewing. In addition to providing instant access to account information.

Saudi E-Commerce Forum

Osama Faqeeh, Minister Of Commerce, Saudi Arabia will give the opening address at the 2nd Saudi E-Commerce Forum in Riyadh.

The Forum, which is sponsored by Arabian Business.com, runs from 4-6 November at the Al Faisaliah Conference Centre, Riyadh, is expecting to attract a capacity audience of over 750 sponsors, guests, delegates and exhibitors.

The Forum aims at creating a platform for constructive debate and interaction by bringing together government representatives, domestic and multinational companies from all major industrial sectors and the world's leading specialists in the field of e-commerce technology and expertise.

Iraqi dinar surges

The Iraqi dinar, battered by 10 years of UN trade sanctions, rose against the US dollar on Wednesday after a government decision to stop using the dollar in its foreign trade dealing, Iraqi officials and money changers said. The dinar surged to 1,930 dinars to the dollar on Wednesday morning from 1,950 on Tuesday when the government said it would replace the dollar with the euro or another currency because of "hostile American policy."

Algeria awards contract

Algerian state-run Air Navigation National Company (ENNA) on Tuesday signed a 30 million euros ($26.4 million) agreement with French defence electronics group Thomson-CSF, the ENNA chairman said.

"This accord is part of our plans to upgrade our air control system with sophisticated equipment to meet rising air traffic in Algerian main airports," Mouloud Ait Si-Ali said after signing the accord with Thomson representative Jean Christophe Esculier.

Kuwait hopes for no delay in $16 b compensation

Kuwait said Tuesday it hoped there would be no further delay in a 16-billion-dollar oil compensation claim for the 1990-1991 Iraqi occupation despite reservations within the UN Security Council.

"We hope the issue will pass through either by voting or consensus," Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah told Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper. "I believe there will be no delay." Kuwait's claim for compensation for losses and damage to its oil sector has been put off twice already, and the UN Compensation Commission (UNCC) has cut the emirate's original 21-billion-dollar demand to 15.9 billion dollars.

Doha to host OIC summit

Qatar is to host a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) from Nov 12 to 14, the OIC said on Wednesday.

Foreign ministers of the 56-member organization are to meet in Doha on Nov 10 and 11 to set the agenda. Qatar is taking over the OIC presidency from Iran.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to take part in the summit.

New website

Emirates, the award-winning international airline of the UAE, has launched a revamped website which gives visitors some innovative new features as well as details of the airline's latest product launches and promotional offers, according to a press release.

The site went live on Wed September 20th and can be accessed at www.emirates.com.

Arab trade union group mulls flight to Iraq

The International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU) said Sunday it hoped to organize a flight into Iraq, following Russian and French missions that flown into Baghdad despite the sanctions in force since 1990.

The group said it was contacting airlines to lease a plane and that the flight would bring representatives of Arab unions, lawyers and youth groups into Iraq.

"We will bring Iraq's workers and people technical, food and medical help to try to diminish their suffering, and we will launch press campaigns and support meetings to denounce American and British practices and aggression against Iraq, which violate human rights," the ICATU said in a statement.

UAE sees oil at above $25 a barrel

The United Arab Emirates oil minister, Obaid bin Said Al-Nasseri, said Sunday he expected oil prices to remain at above 25 dollars a barrel in the coming months.

"The years 2000 and 2001 will see a good level of oil prices which could remain above 25 dollars a barrel," Nasseri said, cited by the official WAM news agency.

Jordan economy

Jordan's economy is receiving welcome help from the hundreds of thousands of Jordanians working abroad, a report from the country's central bank said Sunday.

The amount of money sent home by Jordanians working overseas rose by more than 8.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year over the same period last year, the bank report said.

The transfers rose from almost 370 million dollars in the first quarter of 1999 to 400 million in the same period this year, it said.

Expatriates' input, like tourism receipts, make up a major source of foreign currency for the country, accounting for 1.6 billion dollars in 1999, up 7.9 per cent over the previous year, the bank report said.