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Aug 06 - 12 , 2001

Egypt's Mubarak orders daily currency policy review

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak ordered ministers on Wednesday to meet daily to review policies designed to stabilise Egypt's sliding currency, a senior official said on Wednesday.

"They will meet daily at 9 a.m., announcing clear measures and policies to realise stability in the exchange market for foreign currency...and meet foreign currency requirements," Information Minister Safwat al-Sherif said after a meeting between Mubarak and several ministers.

Sherif said the daily gatherings would include Prime Minister Atef Obeid, the ministers of economy, finance, interior, trade and supply, and Central Bank Governor Ismail Hassan. He did not say when the regular meetings would begin.

After the announcement the market buzzed with speculation that the Central Bank might alter the central peg of its exchange rate system currently at 3.90 pounds to the dollar which was introduced early this year.

"It makes sense that they (the Central Bank) would change the rate. There is always a gap between the pegged rate and the black market rate, and maintaining that gap is not healthy," said one Cairo-based trader who would not give his name.

Under the "managed peg" system the pound is allowed to trade in a narrow band against the dollar around a core rate.

The central rate was initially set at 3.85 pounds to the dollar and moved to 3.86 on May 28 and then again to 3.90 on July 3. Market sources said mid-July that black market pound-dollar rates ranged between 4.14 and 4.16. More recently sources have been quoting figures of 4.20/4.25. The government, which has accused exchange bureaux of trading outside the officially-set currency range and has shut some down, has also used foreign reserves to try to stabilise the pound.

Iran leader confirms Khatami for second term

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed reformist Mohammad Khatami as president for a second four-year term on Thursday.

President Khatami, easily re-elected with 77 per cent of the vote in June, is to formally begin his second term when he takes his oath of office in parliament on August 5.

"I confirm the people's vote and appoint him as president," said a statement by Khamenei read out at a ceremony at the leader's residence.

"My endorsement of the people's vote is valid as long as he continues on the path of Islam and stands against the arrogant enemies." Khatami must introduce a new cabinet to parliament for a vote of confidence within two weeks of taking oath.

Many of his supporters expect him to choose a more reformist cabinet to press on with his efforts to renew the Islamic Republic.

The soft-spoken, mid-ranking cleric has been locked in a sometimes bitter struggle with conservatives entrenched in the political establishment who are opposed to his reforms.

"The president who is chosen by the people has a heavy duty towards them," Khatami said in a speech at the ceremony. "The people's right to oversee, to criticise and to protest is a fundamental and inalienable right.

"Every individual must be able to speak his mind without fear." Khatami called for greater cooperation between the sometimes feuding arms of the state, government, parliament and judiciary.

"The success of the president depends on the role of the leader, on the harmony with the other branches of power and the cooperation of all political factions," he said.

Many political groups are vying for appointments to Khatami's new cabinet, demanding positions in exchange for backing the president's re-election bid.

US House approves free-trade pact with Jordan

The US House of Representatives approved on Tuesday a long-awaited free-trade agreement with Jordan, but further delay was expected in the Senate because of the pact's labor and environmental terms.

The House approved the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement on a voice vote. It was negotiated last year by the Clinton administration and binds each country to phase out tariffs on the other's agricultural and industrial goods over 10 years.

The Bush administration hailed the action, which signaled that at least two-thirds of the House supported the agreement, as a good sign for its bid to win legislative authority to negotiate new multilateral trade pacts.

Oil price dips as traders await stock snapshot

The price of oil held steady on Tuesday as traders sat on their hands ahead of weekly stock figures to be published after the close of trade.

A barrel of Benchmark Brent North Sea crude for September delivery was being traded at 24.73 dollars, against 24.96 on Monday evening.

New York light sweet crude September futures fell 39 cents overnight to 26.63 dollars.

The basket price of seven crudes worldwide used by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to help guide output fell to 23.63 dollars a barrel on Monday, from 23.87 last Friday, the Vienna-based OPECNA agency reported.

Iran launches 12 oil and gas projects

Iran is embarking on 12 oil and gas development projects to raise production by more than 500,000 barrels per day, which will require 21 billion dollars in direct investment, state radio said Monday.

"With these 12 projects, the capacity of petroleum production will increase by 520,000 barrels per day," said the vice president of Iran's National Gas Company (INGC), Mehdi Mir-Moezi.

If the projects are fully realised, that would raise the country's gross production to 4.5 million barrels per day by the first quarter of 2006.

Mir-Moezi added that with the dozen projects "production of natural gas would increase by 220 million cubic metres (7.7 billion cubic feet) per day, and the capacity of liquified gas would increase by 390,000 barrels per day." According to official estimates, the projects would result in new revenues of 12.5 billion dollars for the country every year.

Petroleum sales earned Iran some 16 billion dollars in 2000, amounting to 82 per cent of foreign currency earnings, and could hit 22 billion dollars in 2001, according to official figures.

Eight Palestinians killed in Nablus massacre

At least Eight Palestinians, including two senior Hamas officials, were assassinated on Tuesday in an Israeli attack on an office of the group in the West Bank, Al Jazeera TV reported. The Eight dead included two brothers, aged 10 and 12, who were in a nearby shop in Nablus on Tuesday.

The two Hamas leaders killed were identified as Jamal Mansour, 41, and Jamal Salim, 42. Another three Hamas officials and a journalist were among the dead and another 15 people were injured, two of them seriously, the sources said.

"Eight Palestinians, among them two children, were killed in the Israeli bombardment," said an emergency medical official in Nablus.

Israel forces bombarded a seven-store building in the Palestinian-ruled town which housed the office run by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement which is fighting the Israeli occupation of Arab land.

Saudi bourse hits 16-year high

The Saudi bourse increased 1.1 per cent to close the week ending Thursday at its highest level since 1985 on the back of gains by the market leaders, Bakheet Financial Advisors (BFA) reported.

The NCFEI all-shares index closed at 2,497.17 points, up from 2,468.97 on July 26. It is now 10.6 per cent higher than at the beginning of the year, Bakheet said.

Mubarak says talk of Arab summit illogical

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Wednesday it was "illogical" to talk about holding an Arab summit "every time something happens," after talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is pressing for such a summit, the state MENA news agency reported.

"It is illogical to consider a summit every time something happens", said Mubarak, who added: "What use would a summit be now?"

"Holding mini-summits or maxi-summits is not the question," he said, adding that "contacts can yield results, whether they are held between the Palestinians and Israel only, or with the United States and the European Union."

Saudi King Fahd welcomes Rafiq Hariri

Saudi Arabian King Fahd met in Jeddah on Tuesday with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the official SPA news agency said.

"The situation in the Arab world, notably on the Palestinian scene, as well as perspectives on bilateral cooperation" were on the agenda, SPA said.

Hariri, who arrived the previous night in Riyadh, arrived in Jeddah early Tuesday, where he was welcomed by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

Hariri enjoys warm relations with the Saudi kingdom, and last visited the country in May.

Syria, Lebanon hold military talks

A Lebanese military team led by army Chief of Staff General Fadi abu Shaqrah held talks with Syrian military leaders on Monday discussing ways of promoting cooperation between the two armies, officials said.

They said the team held separate talks with Defense Minister General Mustafa Tlas and Syrian army Chief of Staff General Ali Aslan.

"Talks during the meeting dealt with the existing cooperation between the Syrian and Lebanese armies and ways of promoting this cooperation to serve the interests of both the Syrian and Lebanese peoples," one official said.

Egypt stocks hit lifetime lows

Egypt's stocks dipped on Tuesday with indices hitting lifetime lows for the fourth consecutive day as key blue-chip stocks fell following worse than expected results from Commercial International Bank, traders said.

The Hermes index closed down 143.78 points, or 2.6 per cent, at 5,322.08 points, breaching Monday's seven-year low of 5,465.86.

Jordan shortlists firms

Jordan has shortlisted three candidates a British consortium, a US company and a Greek firm backed by Arab capital to build and manage the infrastructure of the country's special economic zone in Aqaba, an official said Wednesday.

The three are Hillwood Strategic Services owned by US billionaire Ross Perot, Consolidated Contractor Co. of Athens and the British consortium, made up by TCI Infrastructure Ltd., Investia and Mersey Docks and Harbours Co., said Akel Baltaji, chairman of the Special Economic Zone of Aqaba (SEZA).

Iraq, Algeria ink over $100 mln in contracts

Iraq and Algeria signed Tuesday contracts worth more than 100 million dollars on the occasion of an Algerian business delegation's visit to Baghdad, said Algerian minister for industry, Abdelmadjid Menasra, who headed the delegation.

The contracts were signed within the context of the United Nations' oil-for-food programme by some 56 Algerian firms, the official INA news agency said.

It is the third time such a delegation has visited Baghdad since January.

Iraqi Transport and Telecommunications Minister Ahmed Mortada returned to Baghdad last Friday after a trip to Algeria, where he co-chaired with Menasra the 12th session of the two countries' "mixed commission".

Algerian exports to Iraq are estimated at 55 million dollars (63 million euros) for the first half of 2001.

Salalah port profits shoot up

Oman's Salalah Port Services (SPS) on Tuesday announced a 182 per cent increase in net earnings to 2.4 million dollars for the first half of 2001, up from 850,000 dollars for the same period of last year.

Olive oil products

Bahrain slapped a ban Tuesday on three types of olive oil from Spain and other countries and ordered them off the market on fears they contain a substance that can cause cancer.

The ban affected three types of olive oil made from pomace, or pulpy residue of olives, Trade Minister Ali Saleh Al-Saleh said in a decree carried by the official GNA news agency.

All six Gulf Arab states suspended imports of Spanish olive oil in early July after the Spanish health ministry issued a "food safety alert" following the discovery of benzopyrene in a particular brand.

Palestinian industry crushed by Israel

Palestinian industrial output has halved in 10 months of conflict with Israel but adaptability and outside aid are keeping producers afloat, Industry Minister Saadi Al-Krunz said on Monday.

Israel's response to the Palestinian uprising against occupation sealing off Palestinian towns and blocking direct imports and exports had cost Palestinian manufacturers close to one billion dollars, he said.

That included lost production of around $770 million, loss of investment opportunities, and bomb and demolition damage at Palestinian factories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip estimated to have cost $20 million.

Iraq says US, Britain blocking more imports

Iraq accused the United States and Britain on Monday of preventing it from buying badly needed goods under the UN oil-for-food program, even as they sought to streamline the program to ease its burden on the Iraqi people.

Baghdad said the value of contracts blocked under the oil-for-food program had crept up to $3.5 billion after falling to under $3 billion at the end of May, when Washington released some $800 million of contracts it had put on hold in the past.

"We appeal to you to put an end to this policy of seeking vengeance on the people of Iraq, and we urge you to intervene so that the holds ... may be lifted," Baghdad's UN ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, said in identical letters to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"The policy of placing contracts on hold has gone so far that it is no longer possible to remain silent," Aldouri said.

Turkey and Iran postpone gas exports

Ankara and Tehran agreed on Monday to postpone the inauguration of Iranian gas exports to Turkey to give time for the completion of technical problems on the Iranian side, the Turkish energy minister said.

The flow of the gas, via a conduit from the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz to the Turkish capital Ankara, was supposed to start on Monday.

But Turkey said that a metering station on the Iranian side was not ready for operation, a claim that Tehran denied.