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July 30 - August 05 , 2001

Curbs on Iran, Libya extended

The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to extend for five years a 1996 sanctions order that curbs foreign investment in the petroleum and gas industries of Iran and Libya.

The decision in the lower chamber of the bicameral US Congress comes after the US Senate on Wednesday voted 96-2 to extend the sanctions against the two countries Washington considers supporters of international terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction. Both countries have denied the charges.

Minor distinctions between the two bills will have to be reconciled in conference before the final bill goes to President George W. Bush for signing into law.

The current sanctions regime, which expires in August, allow the US government to penalize foreign businesses with more than $20 million invested annually in either Iran's or Libya's energy sector. The level had been fixed at $40 million for Tripoli.

"The Iran Libya Sanctions Act... will play a vital role in our efforts to combat the terrorist agenda of these rogue nations by deterring investment by foreign corporations," said bill sponsor Benjamin Gilman, a New York Republican.

Concerned their hands would be tied by Congress, members of the Bush administration most notably Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the sanctions be extended only for a two-year period, but they were unsuccessful as lawmakers thought it would send the wrong message to Tehran and Tripoli.

Under the new law, the president has the power to waive the provisions citing the national interest and the administration must report to Congress on the sanctions' success in two years.

Jordan delays November vote until 2002

Jordan on Tuesday delayed parliamentary elections due in November until at least early next year, saying a newly approved elections law needed many months of preparation.

"It's not possible to hold elections this year for procedural reasons," Deputy Prime Minister Awad Khulaifat told reporters. On Monday, King Abdallah approved legislation preserving an electoral system unpopular with the mainstream Islamist opposition.

Khulaifat declined to provide an election date but indicated it will take at least 10 months to prepare new electoral lists for Jordan's 2.7 million voters. A fraud-proof electoral card printed in Germany would need at least five months to be commissioned, he said.

The king pushed through the election legislation a month after dissolving parliament. He was expected to issue a decree later on Tuesday announcing the delay, but not setting a date.

The new law lowers the voting age to 18 from 19, increases the number of seats to 104 from 80, streamlines the election process and sets new safeguards against ballot fraud.

It did not address loopholes in a voting system favouring staunchly tribal constituencies over the largely Palestinian cities, which are Islamic strongholds and highly politicized.

There has been much recent speculation about the fate of the November vote, the fourth since Jordan revived parliamentary life in 1989 after civil unrest. The expected postponement stemmed from concern over a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation and tensions between Palestinians and Jordanians.

Senior politicians have warned the king recently that regional violence and economic stagnation could lead to the election of radical deputies bent on derailing unpopular IMF-guided reforms.

The Islamists have not yet said whether they will participate in the elections. The political empowerment of Jordanians of Palestinian origin is a sensitive issue in a country with a population of five million, the majority of whom are of Palestinian origin.

Yemen diesel prices up by 70pc

Yemen's government on Thursday hiked the price of diesel fuel by 70 per cent to an all-time high of 17 rials (10 cents) a litre to reap extra revenues for public spending, an official said.

Security forces in the Yemeni capital were put on alert in case of any demonstrations as the new prices were put into effect at service stations.

To sweeten the increase, a Yemeni minister told AFP the government will increase salaries for state employees by 15 per cent, and soldiers and police by 25 per cent from the start of August.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank had given Yemen until August 5 to implement the long-delayed increase in diesel prices, a planning ministry official told AFP.

The move could provide government coffers with an extra 3.4 billion rials (20.4 million dollars) a month earmarked for the health sector and other public spending, he said.

OPEC to cut production by one million bpd

OPEC has decided to cut output by one million barrels per day from September 1, the president of the oil-producing organization, Algerian Energy Minister Chakib Khelil, said Wednesday. "OPEC has decided to reduce its production by one million bpd from September 1, (and will keep) options open to hold an extraordinary meeting if the market requires it," Khelil told the official Algerian news agency APS.

Khelil said the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries would not hold an extraordinary meeting at its headquarters in Vienna in August.

Khelil whose country currently holds the rotating OPEC presidency said the organization's move intended to "assure market stability, satisfy global demand, and avoid price volatility in the interest of producers and consumers." He added that OPEC had considered "the impact of weak global economic growth and a drop in demand due to high oil stocks." Oil prices in London fell slightly on the news of the cut, with a barrel of Brent North Sea crude for September delivery trading at 25.25 dollars, five cents down from an intraday high.

Turkish trade deficit drops by 50.7%

Turkey's trade deficit dropped by 50.7 per cent to 4.45 billion dollars (5.7 billion euros) in the first five months of the year from the equivalent figure last year, the state statistics institute announced on Thursday.

The trade deficit in the first five months of 2000 was 9.33 billion dollars. The institute said that imports fell by 16.5 per cent to 17.12 billion dollars in January-May this year, while exports rose by 10.3 per cent to 12.66 billion dollars.

In May alone imports fell by 24.7 per cent to 3.53 billion dollars, compared to the same month a year ago, while exports rose by 19.1 per cent to 2.78 billion dollars, it added.

On a monthly basis, imports rose by 16.6 per cent while exports increased by 7.6 per cent.

In April, imports stood at three billion dollars, while exports reached to 2.6 billion dollars.

Turkey's trade deficit hit 26.7 billion dollars in 2000, a 89.1-percent rise from the previous year.

Sharon's undeclared war

While Israeli troops are amassing in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with the siege tightening to unprecedented proportions and with the Palestinians being increasingly subjected to a policy of persistent shelling, political assassinations, abductions, house demolitions, and destruction of crops and trees, the global question seems to focus on whether there will be a war or not.

From the Palestinian perspective, war has already broken out a unilateral, brutal war launched by a powerful army of occupation against a captive civilian population.

Granted, the dramatic impact of a massive military onslaught is not immediately visible, but the lethal effects of a war-by-installments are just as painful and morally abhorrent.

Daily incursions, murders, and across-the-board mayhem and destruction are taking place before the very eyes of those who are holding their breath awaiting the "invasion."

'Opec sales drop in first half of 2001'

Sales by Opec countries dropped slightly in the first half of 2001, reflecting the global economic slowdown, the weekly trade journal Petrostrategies reported on Monday. Members of the oil producing organization sold $118.2 billion worth of oil through June 2001, against $121.1 billion during the first half of 2000.

The 11-member cartel sold $2.9 billion less oil in the first half of 2001, but the journal said 72 per cent of that figure was because of the Iraqi decision. OPEC was able to hold numbers fairly steady despite a global economic slowdown in large industrialised countries and a fall in demand for oil products around the world.

In the second quarter of 2001 Opec revenues dropped to $59.1 billion, against $62.2 billion in the first half of 2000. Half of the fall came from the Iraqi export suspension, the rest from a cut in Opec production by 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) to support oil prices.

Lebanon's Hizbollah slams Qatar over WTO meeting

Lebanon's Hizbollah on Tuesday condemned Qatar for allowing an Israeli delegation to take part in the World Trade Organization meeting to be held in the Gulf state in November.

"The simplest duty of Arab countries is to cut all ties with the enemy to show support to the Intifada and the Palestinian people against continued Israeli aggressions," a statement by the group said.

The Arab League decided in May to ban political contacts with Israel in support of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. But Qatar has said that Israel will attend the WTO meeting as it is an international conference.

Hizbollah was the main force behind Israel ending its 22-year occupation of south Lebanon in May of last year. The group is still fighting Israeli troops in the occupied Shebaa Farms, a strip of land adjoining Lebanon, Israel and Syria.

Israel kills Hamas activist

A Palestinian activist was blown up when a volley of Israeli tank shells slammed into his car in the northern West Bank town of Nablus on Wednesday, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The dead man, Salah Darwazeh, 36, was a member of the Hamas movement, which vowed to avenge his death.

Oman will go to WTO meet

Oman will attend the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Doha in November even if Israel takes part as planned, a minister said Tuesday,  brushing aside Arab boycott threats.

"The Sultanate of Oman will take part in the WTO conference as a member of the organization" since November 2000, said Yussef bin Alawi, minister in charge of foreign affairs, in an interview published by the national press.

"The presence or absence of Israel at this conference is not a political problem," he said. "What difference is there when the WTO meets in Geneva and every one attends and when it meets in Qatar and some (countries) are absent?" he asked.

Iraq denies risk

An Iraqi official was quoted on Monday as denying a UN statement that its livestock and people were at risk of infection with deadly Rift Valley Fever.

"Statements... that Rift Valley Fever is threatening Iraq are baseless and Iraq is free from the disease," the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry official was quoted by the weekly Nabdh Al-Shabab as saying.

Egyptian stock market

Former broker Alaa el-Ghandour has never looked back since leaving Egypt's depressed stock market to raise chickens.

Radical career switches might seem risky and stress-ridden, but 27-year-old Ghandour says it was the right decision and has taken a load off his chest.

On Sunday, Egypt's benchmark Hermes index tumbled to a low of more than seven years at 5,533.06, amid bearish global markets, regional violence and local macroeconomic woes.

Saudi bourse soars

The Saudi bourse soared 2.9 per cent to close the week ending Thursday at its highest level since 1985 on the back of OPEC's decision to slash output by one million barrels a day to bolster falling crude prices.

The NCFEI all-shares index closed at 2,468.97 points, up from 2,400.41 on July 19. It is now 9.3 per cent higher than at the beginning of the year, Bakheet Financial Advisors (BFA) reported.

Lebanon launched eurobond offer

Lebanese Finance Minister Fuad Saniora launched Tuesday an offer of 400 million dollars in eurobonds, with a maturity period of seven years, and the subscriptions hitting 600 million dollars in less than two hours.

"The introductory offer was at 3:00 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) and the subscription hit 600 million dollars two hours later, with 130 million dollars coming from outside Lebanon," Saniora told a press conference, adding the full sum would only be known after financial markets closed later in New York.

Arab Bank

Jordan's state-run Social Security Corporation has bought Kuwaiti shares in the Arab Bank for 96 million dollars in a deal aimed at preventing "foreign control" over the bank, analysts and officials said Tuesday. The deal was sealed on Monday when the Social Security Corporation bought 400,000 shares in the Arab Bank from Kuwait's General Investment Authority for a total of 68.6 million dinars (96 million dollars).

SABIC posts 27% fall

Saudi Basic Industries Co. (SABIC) posted a 400-million-dollar profit in the first half of 2001, down 27.1 per cent from the same period of last year, the company announced Saturday.