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Sep 03 - 09 , 2001

Bahrain set to issue $100 mln Islamic leasing bonds

Bahrain plans to issue Islamic leasing bonds worth $100 million next week as the island state struggles to win Islamic states' backing to host an Islamic money market, the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA) said on Sunday.

BMA, the central bank, said in a statement the bonds, called the Islamic Leasing Sukuk (ILS), would be the first issued by any central bank in the area.

"This is a step to further develop the status of Bahrain as an international Islamic financial centre, and also for the purpose of offering new investment opportunities to absorb the excess liquidity of Islamic financial institutions," it said.

BMA said the five-year bonds would be offered on September 3 with an annual rental return of 5.25 per cent to be paid every six months in March and September. The minimum subscription is $10,000.

All commercial banks and financial houses operating in Bahrain, the Gulf's financial and banking hub, are eligible to subscribe to the Sukuk. Institutional and individual investors can also participate through banks, the statement said.

"The Sukuk are guaranteed directly and unconditionally by the government of the state of Bahrain. They can be traded, at the prevailing market prices, over-the-counter through any local commercial bank in Bahrain...," the statement said.

"The main objective of this issue is to address the requirements and needs of Islamic financial institutions for medium and long-term investment opportunities, currently limited to those institutions," it added.

Bahrain has been issuing Islamic government bills worth $25 million on a monthly basis since June to meet the needs of Islamic banks and financial houses for short-term liquidity, and boost efforts by Islamic states to create an Islamic financial market.

Iraq vows to block bid to change oil price mechanism

Iraq said Monday it would block any attempt to change the way the United Nations sets the official price of its oil after Britain delayed a bid to limit Iraq's ability to exploit market fluctuations.

"Iraq is committed to prevent any change in what has been agreed concerning the fixing of the price of crude every 30 days," the official Al-Jumhuriya daily said.

Diplomats in New York said Friday that London had agreed to postpone to next month a change in the way the UN sets the price of Iraqi oil, allowing sales to resume until August 31. Iraq had been without an official price since Tuesday.

A British diplomat said London would agree to an official price for September only if the price-setting interval were cut from 30 days to 15 days.

"Ten to fifteen days is not practical for contracts with Iraq's clients ... since that will have repercussions on the trading partners of Iraq," the newspaper said.

Iraq today sells about 2 million barrels a day under UN supervision, a volume large enough to cause severe disruption if supplies were halted in a tight market.

Independent oil overseers recommend an official price to the Security Council's sanctions committee every 30 days after consultations with Baghdad's state oil marketing organisation (SOMO).

Council resolutions say the official price must reflect "a fair market value" of Iraqi crude, but the market fluctuates daily, if not more often.

"That allows unscrupulous traders to make excessive profits and gives them a margin to make illegal surcharge payments to the Iraqis," the British diplomat said.

At the start of July, Britain was forced to postpone an ambitious plan to reform the sanctions regime because of opposition from Russia.

Kuwait gives $350 mln to Syria for development

Kuwait's development fund has donated 350 million dollars to Syria to help boost the country's sluggish economy, including money to battle against unemployment and funds for a major water project, the Syrian press reported Wednesday.

Badr Al-Humaidi, cited by the ruling Al-Baath party's Al-Baath newspaper, said Kuwait "had decided to offer Syria 350 million dollars to contribute to the financing of planned four-year projects by the Syrian government." Kuwait will pay for a feasibility study on a pipeline project pumping water from the Syrian coast to Damascus and a program to fight unemployment, Humaidi said.

Other projects will involve the electricity and transportation sectors, but will also remain under study, he said.

The Syrian government adopted in October a program to battle unemployment at a cost of one billion dollars, with the goal of creating some 440,000 jobs.

Kuwait's development fund has loaned more than one billion dollars to Syria, most of it since the 1991 Gulf war.

Egyptian military warns of 'new factors' in region

Egypt's Defence Minister General Hussein Tantawi declared Wednesday after two days of military maneuvers the need for a strong military in light of the region's volatile landscape, the official MENA news agency reported.

"New factors in the region means it is imperative for armed forces to be vigilant, prudent, and maintain its combat capabilities and competence," Tantawi said, without actually mentioning the neighbouring Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He called Egypt's military capabilities "the real guarantee" for "protecting the peace," at the end of two days of military maneuvers in the Ismailia region of northeastern Egypt.

The exercises included warplane drills, notably with F-16s and Alfa jets.

Arafat and Peres hold phone talks

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres held two telephone conversations overnight, Israeli public radio reported Wednesday.

During the first call Arafat made a firm commitment to stop the gunfire from the Palestinian autonomous town of Beit Jala on the West Bank towards the nearby Jewish settlement of Gilo in east Jerusalem, the report said.

During their second talk, the Palestinian leader called for Israeli troops to leave Beit Jala, and made no mention of putting an end to the shooting, it added.

Israeli tanks rolled into Beit Jala late Monday, fulfilling a threat by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to go in if the gun firing on Gilo continued.

The discussions between Peres and Arafat had received the green light from Sharon and defence minister Binyamin Ben Elizer as well as US officials, the radio reported.

Kuwait to build 60-million-dollar tourism project

Syria and Kuwait signed an agreement for the construction of a 60-million-dollar tourism complex Lake Assad in northern Syria, the press reported Sunday.

The deal was signed Saturday by Syrian Tourism Minister Qassem Maqdad and an official from the private Kuwaiti investment company al-Futuh, owned by Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad, son of Kuwait's foreign minister.

The project spreads over 300 hectares (740 acres) on the north bank of Lake Assad, near the city of Raqa, and its construction is expected to take up to five years.

It includes two tourist villages, villas, chalets, restaurants, swimming pools and sports clubs.

President, PM hold meeting

President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri expressed confidence Tuesday over Lebanon's economic situation in their first meeting since the political crisis over a recent army crackdown.

Hariri said the two-hour meeting provided "a new phase of political work in the country," according to a statement from Lahoud's office.

Jordan under pressure

Jordan has come under pressure not to hand back six Iraqi commercial airliners grounded in Amman since the 1991 Gulf war, Trade Minister Wassef Azar was quoted as saying Tuesday.

"Jordan is under pressure not to return the six planes to Iraq," Al Rifadain weekly quoted the minister as saying. However he did not identify the source of the pressure.

Iraq vows to shoot down more US warplanes

Iraq, boasting improved anti-aircraft defences, vowed Tuesday to down more US and British warplanes, a day after Washington admitted losing a spy drone for the first time since the 1991 Gulf war.

"Iraq is determined to inflict more losses on the American and British aggressors and to improve its (military) capacities despite the unfair embargo," warned Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.

"The fact that an American reconnaissance plane was shot down over Basra by our anti-aircraft defences is proof of the improvement of Iraq's military capacities," he added.

Syria, Armenia sign defence cooperation deal

Syria and Armenia signed a military cooperation agreement on Monday, a Syrian Defence Ministry official said.

The agreement was signed by Syrian Defence Minister General Mustafa Tlas and visiting Armenian Defence Minister Serzh Sarksyan. The official gave no details about the deal.

"Talks during the meeting that was attended by General Ali Aslan, chief of staff of the Syrian armed forces, dealt with bilateral relations between the armies of both friendly countries and ways of promoting them," the official said.

Israel assassinates

The leader of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Abu Ali Mustafa, was killed in an Israeli rocket attack on his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah Monday, Palestinian security officials said.

Two projectiles hit the building, they said, adding that it was unclear whether they were fired by helicopter gunships or from ground troops. Three other people were slightly injured.

Trade with French companies

Iraq has not closed the door on trade with French companies, despite the rift between the formerly close French and Iraqi leadership, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Wednesday.

"We have not permanently closed the door on the French, but is illogical to give them priority which is not in line with their position" toward the lifting of UN economic sanctions on Iraq, Sabri told the newspaper Al-Iqtissadi.

"We do not wield the humanitarian (UN oil-for-food) programme against anyone, but it is our right to reproach our French friends so that they rethink their position," Sabri said.

IDB says it lent $24 bln

The Islamic Development Bank announced Wednesday it had granted loans worth 24 billion dollars since it became operational in 1976. The loans had gone into 833 development projects as the number of member countries rose from 22 to 53 members today.

The bank, part of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) based in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah, offers cheap loans to aid Islamic nations.

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways, one of the world's fastest growing airlines, is to showcase its new A319 corporate jetliner, the first to receive a premium configuration, at the Dubai 2001 international aerospace exhibition to be held this November.

The Airbus Industrie A319 in the Qatari flag carrier's livery will take to the skies over Dubai 2001, at the Dubai Airport Expo, to perform an aerial display on November 4th, the show's opening day. The aircraft will then go on static display for the show's remaining four days.

Iraq agrees to expand trade protocol with Jordan

The Iraqi government has agreed to expand its trade protocol with Jordan to include new Jordanian products characterized with high added value, Jordan's Industry and Trade Ministry Secretary General Samer Al-Taweel said Monday.

The new products include construction industries, textiles, foodstuff, electrical equipment, medical appliances and phosphate fertilizers, said Taweel, who has just come back from Baghdad after taking part in the meeting of the ministerial committee charged with following up the implementation of decisions taken by the Joint Jordanian-Iraqi Higher Committee.

Trade campaign in Morocco

Britain is due to launch a huge campaign in Morocco aimed at boosting trade between the two countries, official sources in Rabat said Monday.

Key areas to be targeted during the campaign, the first of its type, include "new information technologies, financial services and the exploration and distribution of oil," the sources said.

The three-year campaign has a budget of 1.8 million dollars (1.97 million euros) and will open in October with a fisheries trade fair held in the southern city of Agadir.

Britain's ambassador to Rabat, Anthony Layden, said he was "pleased to see Morocco be part of 14 countries picked by the British government" for a trade campaign, in an interview with the local daily L'Economiste.

Oman's tourism potential

Oman, the second largest country in the Arabian peninsula, has much to offer visitors but the sultanate has done little to exploit its potential as a prime tourist destination.

The country's ancient courtyards and palaces, restored by the government at enormous expense, remain empty most of the year and only a handful of visitors venture onto its shores.

If they did, they could wander through marketplaces forgotten by time where veiled women weave carpets and old, bearded men hammer out silver ornaments.

Or they could recline on stunning beaches in lush tropical landscapes or retrace ancient trade routes where camels once carried the riches of the East westwards.

Emirates cuts telephone charges

The state-owned telecoms company in the United Arab Emirates, Etisalat, will slash from September 1 international direct dialling rates to more than 225 countries as part of its silver jubilee celebrations, newspapers reported Sunday.

Etisalat's president, Ali Salem al-Owais, said calls to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be cut by between 33 and 48 per cent to as low as 1.91 dirhams (52 cents) a minute, Gulf News said.