Feb 05 -
Iran parliament approves $57 bln budget bill
Iran's parliament on Thursday approved the budget
bill for the new Iranian year starting March 21, the official IRNA
news agency said on Thursday.
But state radio said MPs are due to hold an
extraordinary session later in the day to debate changes in the bill
demanded by Iran's constitutional watchdog body, the Guardian Council.
The conservative-dominated council appointed by
supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the power to veto laws it
says violate Iran's Islamic Sharia law.
The budget foresees spending of more than 455
trillion rials ($57 billion), an increase of some 25 per cent on this
year. The government estimates a $7.5 billion surplus for the Iranian
year which ends on March 20.
National security spending on the police and
intelligence services is to increase by 40 per cent and defence
expenditure on the armed forces and the revolutionary guards is to
rise by 22 per cent. Subsidies on foodstuffs are also due to rise by
some 20 per cent.
But the budget contained a number of proposed
funding cuts to conservative bodies which have consistently stood in
the way of reforms put forward by moderate President Mohammad Khatami
and backed by his supporters who dominate parliament.
It is these cuts the Guardian Council is most
likely to have objected to. Council members were outraged at a
proposed 40 per cent cut to their own budget.
Khatami, elected in 1997, has seen the modest
reforms of his first two years in office all but overturned in the
last year by conservatives angered by increased liberalisation.
Still popular across the country, Khatami, is
neverthless vulnerable to criticism of his handling of the economy.
Despite a drop in inflation from 20 per cent last
year to around 15 per cent this year and a firming of the rial against
world currencies, critics point out this has been achieved almost
entirely by high oil prices rather than structural change.
Arab, West on opposing sides on Lockerbie
The wounds left by the Lockerbie bombing looked as
raw as ever on Thursday as a "convicted killer" planned his
appeal, Arabs demanded sanctions on Libya be lifted and the West
insisted Tripoli had not yet earned a full pardon.
The head of the Arab League also urged the UN
Security Council to "permanently lift" nine-year-old
sanctions on Libya following the verdict in the Lockerbie bombing
"The Security Council must take immediate
steps to permanently lift the sanctions imposed on Libya," said
Esmat Abdel Meguid, the secretary general of the 22-member Arab
"The league stresses its respect for the
verdict of the court on the acquittal of one of the two accused, and
on the condemnation of the second defendant," Abdel Meguid said.
Fuelled by suspicion that responsibility for 270
murders in the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 lies at the heart of
Muammar Gaddafi's state, the United States and Britain said Libya had
yet to accept responsibility for the 1988 bombing and pay
Libyan secret agent Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi faced
the prospect of at least 20 years in a Scottish prison for the
airliner attack, after his conviction at a court in the Netherlands on
Wednesday. Libyan television said he would lodge an appeal within 14
His acquitted co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima was
flying back from the Netherlands to Tripoli, where demonstrators
chanted "down, down USA" in the streets in protest against
Libya denied Megrahi had acted on the orders of the
Libyan state and said the verdict meant it was time for the full
lifting of sanctions, a demand echoed by the 22-member state Arab
Sanctions have been suspended since Libya handed
over the two bombing suspects in April 1999, and to impose them again
would take another vote in the UN Security Council, which would
probably fail. But Libya says it wants its name cleared.
Arafat meets EU envoy
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met with the
European Union's special envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos amid efforts by
current EU president Sweden to organize a summit between Arafat and
Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
"The talks covered the situation following the
marathon talks in Taba which failed to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian
accord, and the role of Europe in the peace process," Arafat's
top aide Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
A spokesman for Swedish Prime Minister Goeran
Persson said Wednesday that consultations were underway to hold a
summit before Israel's February 6 election but there is no
confirmation that such a meeting will take place.
Iraq vice president in Syria to sign trade pact
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad held talks with
Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan in Damascus on Monday, the
latest step by the neighbouring states in improving ties strained for
The official Syrian news agency SANA said the two
leaders would discuss "bilateral relations and the general
situation in the region" over a luncheon banquet.
Ramadan, the highest ranking official to visit
Syria since relations were restored in 1997, is expected to sign a
free trade agreement with Damascus during his two-day visit.
The Iraqi official, one of the closest aides of
President Saddam Hussein, is accompanied by a ministerial delegation
that includes Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf and Trade
Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh.
Four Arab countries sign billion-dollar gas deal
Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan signed Sunday a
billion-dollar deal for the transport and sale of natural gas between
the four countries.
The agreement for the deal was signed here by
Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid, his Syrian and Jordanian
counterparts Mohammad Mustafa Miro and Ali Abu al-Ragheb, and Lebanese
ambassador to Cairo Sami Koronfol, the official MENA agency said.
The protocol for the agreement was signed in Beirut
last December by Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Jordan joined later.
The agreement stipulates the creation of two
One, which will be called Orient Company and will
build gas pipelines across the Mediterranean to transport initially
some 12 million cubic meters (420 nillion cubic feet) of natural gas
per day from the Egyptian coastal city of El Arish to the Lebanese
northern port of Tripoli.
Saudi Arabia, Iran to sign security pact
Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef has
said he expects to sign a security pact with Iran this month.
Prince Nayef told the official Saudi Press Agency
late on Wednesday that the pact should be signed before Haj.
"It is supposed to be signed before Haj and
the signing will be in Tehran. I am waiting for our Iranian brothers
to set a date," he said.
Saudi Arabia says the pact aims at fighting crime,
terrorism and drug trafficking and should not be seen as a regional
Iran opposes the deployment of US and Western
forces in the region and is keen to sign defence pacts with its Arab
neighbours. But Gulf Arab states, which look to the West for military
support, have declined Iran's offer.
Saudi Arabia has moved faster than some other Gulf
Arab states in improving ties with Iran after years of mutual
suspicion that followed the 1979 revolution.
Opec may further cut production
Opec will cut output further in March by 500,000 to
one million barrels per day to shore up prices during the sluggish
second quarter demand period, a leading energy economist said on
It may become unavoidable to cut in March somewhere
between 500,000 and one million barrels-per-day, Fereidum Fesharaki,
senior fellow of the Energy Program in Hawaii, said at an industry
seminar in Tokyo.
He said Opec will probably need to keep making
adjustments in its output to keep prices within its crude price target
range of around $25 per barrel.
Iran forecasts $20 bln in oil earnings
Iran said on Monday it expected to earn about $20
billion from crude oil exports in the year to March.
"If oil prices remain in the present mode and
there are no more production cuts, we hope to earn about $20 billion
by the end of the (Iranian) year," said Hojjatollah Ghanimifard,
acting vice-president of the National Iranian Oil Company. The Iranian
year ends on March 20.
Iran, the second largest producer within OPEC, had
forecast to earn $11.5 billion from crude exports in its current
Ghanimifard told the official IRNA news agency that
Iranian crude had fetched an average of $25.5 a barrel during the
first 10 months of the Iranian year.
WTO moot to be held in Qatar
World Trade Organization boss Mike Moore on
Wednesday insisted protestors would be free to peacefully express
their opposition to globalisation when ministers convene in the
conservative Gulf state of Qatar. Seeking to revive the trade
liberalisation drive that stalled at the Seattle fiasco, WTO members
in Geneva agreed Tuesday to hold their next meeting in November in
Oil deposits discovered
Iran has discovered a major oil deposit containing
around 26 billion barrels in Gulf waters off Abadan, a senior oil
industry official was quoted by state radio as saying on Wednesday.
Mehdi Mir-Moezi, deputy managing director of the
Iranian National Oil Company, said the oil was found in shallow
Iranian-held waters in the Dashteh Abadan zone.
He also announced discovery of a natural gas
deposit containing an estimated 40 billion cubic meters (1.4 trillion
cubic feet) at Rahormoz, in the province of Khuzestan, which borders
Iran is the second largest producer in the OPEC
with some 3.8 million barrels a day, but it is producing at almost the
limit of its present capacity.
Kuwait defence minister to leave next government
Sheikh Salem Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, defence
minister and a leading member of Kuwait's ruling family, has asked to
be excluded from the next government and recommended two brothers as
Sheikh Salem, who was also second deputy prime
minister in the government that resigned on Monday, told Thursday's
edition of Al-Qabas newspaper he had asked to be relieved of
He said he made the request to Crown Prince and
Prime Minister Sheikh Saad Al-Abdulla Al-Sabah, who asked him to
recommend a replacement.
Morocco textile in trouble, sheds 30,000 jobs
Some 30,000 Moroccan clothing textile workers lost
their jobs last year as 100 cash-strapped companies shut down,
L'Economiste newspaper reported Thursday.
Mohamed Lahlou, president of the Moroccan
Association of Clothing Textile Industry (AMITH), told the paper that
urgent measures were needed to bolster the sector.
"We have come to an extremely dangerous point
and we need urgent and efficient measures for the future," he
said, adding that 80 per cent of clothing textile companies "will
collapse because they can't hold up anymore." Lahlou said the
government had not honoured a promise to exempt employers from 50 per
cent of employee benefit payouts.
Saudi Prince ups stake in Plaza hotel
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has
raised his stake from 42 to 50 per cent in Fifth Avenue's New York
Plaza hotel, his Kingdom holding company announced Tuesday.
Prince Alwaleed bought the original stake in the
hotel — managed by Fairmont, which has a chain of other hotels and
resorts in the United States, Canada and Mexico — back in 1995.
The hotel, situated on New York's fashionable Fifth
Avenue, has 807 rooms, of which 96 are suites, and is valued at 1.8
billion riyals (480 million dollars, 520 million euros), the holding
company said in a statement.
Kuwait to cut foreign firms tax to 25%
Oil-rich Kuwait, which is debating several laws and
amendments to liberalise the economy, plans to cut tax on foreign
firms to 25 per cent from the current 55 per cent, a minister said in
remarks published on Saturday.
Planning Minister Mohammad Al-Duwaihess told Al-Watan
daily that this had been recommended by a cabinet economic committtee
set up to study and propose reforms to the state-dominated economy.
The committee had sent its recommendation to
relevant authorities and the full cabinet for approval before
presenting it to the country's elected parliament, the minister was
quoted as saying.
UAE to invite bids for $1 bln of projects
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will next week
invite bids for desalination, power and pipeline projects worth nearly
$1 billion, the state body in charge of projects said on Friday.
The UAE Offsets Group (UOG) said in a statement
that 14 groups have prequalified to build a desalination unit with a
capacity of 100 million gallons per day and a 100-megawatt power plant
in Fujairah emirate worth an estimated $550 million.
It said 17 bidders have prequalified for a project
worth about $400 million to build tanks and a 180 kilometre pipeline
to carry water to the northern emirates and oasis city of Al-Ain.
Iraq and Syria plan to build new oil pipeline
Iraq and Syria plan to build a new oil pipeline to
replace an old, corroding one, Iraq Oil Minister Amir Muhammed Rasheed
told the government newspaper al-Jumhouriya.
"We are planning with our brothers, the
Syrians, to set up a new oil pipeline because the old one is no more
economical," Rasheed was quoted as saying in a report on
Industry officials said they assumed the pipeline
would replace the one running from the Kirkuk oilfield in northern
Iraq to the port of Banyas on Syria's Mediterranean coast that was
closed in 1982 because of Syria's support for Iran in the Iran/Iraq
Limits on foreign workers
Gulf Arab countries have decided to impose gradual
limits on the large numbers of foreign workers they admit, the
secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regional group
Jamil Al-Hujailan said the GCC's six member
countries agreed at their summit last month on "a series of
measures seeking progressively to limit the number of foreign workers
and achieve a demographic balance." The measures include
"the placing of a quota on foreign workers by each GCC
country" and "an increase on taxes in the recruitment of
expatriates to dissuade local employers from resorting to this foreign
labor," said Hujailan, cited by the official Saudi Press Agency.