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GULF

Mar 11 - 17, 2002

Saudis rule out change in syllabi of Madaris

The Federation of Islamic Universities of Saudi Arabia, in a meeting, has refused to discuss the issue of changing the syllabi of Islamic educational institutions, as demanded by the United States.

"We totally reject the move to link Islam with terrorism. It's not acceptable because it's the Muslims who are the victims of terrorism," Dr. Abdullah Jasiby chairman of the executive council of the federation, told reporters after the inaugural session of the meeting at the Riyadh's Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University.

Dr Abdul Aziz Al-Tuwaijri, director general of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) blasted the foreign media campaigns against the Islamic universities. "It's part of a fierce campaign by the enemies of Islam, exploiting the situation after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States," he said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Muhammad Bin Ahmed Al-Rasheed, the Saudi education minister has said that the school curricula are being developed without affecting the subjects of core importance. He however, clarified that the development has nothing to do with reactions to the tragic events of September 11.

He told the local Al-Hayat daily that the Kingdom does not accept any meddling in its internal affairs, and that the development of school curricula, including the religious subjects, is a continuous process governed by specific criteria.

The minister denied any move to merge Arabic language studies and religious studies, saying that this cannot be dictated by anyone because the affairs of education are part of national sovereignty.

He said that religious subjects currently being taught in Saudi secondary schools are quite suitable and in line with what the students had already studied in their intermediate and primary classes. He denied that the educational syllabi encourage extremism, and added that there was no scientific basis to such an allegation.

Navis seeks more Gulf investment

Despite all the negative vibes coming out of South-East Asia on the state of the economies there, there are good investment opportunities among 'old economy' companies, according to a senior fund manager. And going the private equity route would be a good way of doing it right.

Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Social and Economic Develop-ment has invested in Asia Fund III, floated by Malaysia-based Navis Capital Partners, a private fund manager. Together with two Asia funds floated by Navis, the Kuwaiti institution has an exposure of $6 million.

"We expect other Gulf-based institutions to commit to Asia Fund III, which will be closing by end-October. We expect to close the fund with at least $100 million, which could even go up to $150 million," said Nicholas Bloy, director.

"This is specifically structured for the sophisticated investor with a medium-term outlook. With the funds, we will be taking controlling stakes in well-established Asian companies in well-established industries.

"By year four, we will start selling the stakes, most likely to multinationals, and by year seven or eight, the fund would have sold all investments.

We are interested in only a handful of companies to invest in, and we are certainly not looking at IT or telecommunication companies. Nor is there any intention to buy shares in under-performing companies and try and turn them around."

Japanese companies will be overlooked by the promoters, while those in China and Hong Kong too will not get much attention. Within the next few weeks, the first investment will be completed in a pan-Asian company making cosmetics and personal care products.

HSBC signs deal with Iran bank

HSBC Investment Bank has signed an export credit loan facility of $33.6 million, guaranteed by UK's Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), with Iran's Bank Tejarat.

It will be used to finance a carbon monoxide plant awarded by National Petrochemical Co to Snamprogetti Ltd.

Carbon monoxide is used in the chemical industry as a synthesiser in the production of methanol, hydrogen and acetic acid and as a building block in the production of a range of plasticisers, solvents and detergents.

This is the first loan between a bank and an Iranian borrower directly guaranteed by ECGD to be signed since the resumption of ECGD medium-term cover for the Iranian market.

Powell slams Sharon's war hysteria (Box)

Israel piled punishment on the Palestinians on Wednesday, killing 11 and losing two of its own soldiers as Arab and world leaders warned of the dangers posed by this escalation.

Syria sounded alarm bells warning of an "explosive" Middle East and a top Palestinian official said it had become a "moral obligation" for the world to intervene and put an end to Israeli state terrorism.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan joined the fray, telling Israeli and Palestinian leaders bluntly that history would judge them harshly for what he called the appalling carnage inflicted on their peoples.

For his part, US Secretary of State Colin Powell explicitly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies towards the Palestinians, particularly after Sharon said on Monday Israel was at war against them.

12 Palestinians killed in clashes

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shoved aside US criticism of his policies on Thursday, with his forces continuing to pound Palestinian targets, killing 12 people.

Three Palestinians, including a paramedic, were killed in clashes with the Israeli army in Tulkarem refugee camp, in the West Bank. Earlier in the day, six Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces reoccupied the city of Tulkarem and two nearby refugee camps, while another died elsewhere in the West Bank and two in the Gaza Strip.

And a suicide bomber killed himself and wounded nine people in an attack on a commercial complex just outside Ariel, in the West Bank, one of the biggest settlements in the Palestinian territories.

One of those wounded was in critical condition following the bombing, claimed by the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

U.S. lauds UAE role in fighting terrorist funds

The U.S. denied it has frozen assets of Islamic charitable institutions and said it is not planning to buy shares in Islamic banks, but it will continue to step up its efforts to stop channels of support for terrorist funding.

The U.S. expressed its gratitude to the government of the UAE for its support for Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war against terrorism.

"We have no intention in harming charitable institutions. The U.S. has a long tradition and history of helping charities with billions of dollars. The U.S. will continue supporting charities. Our presence is encouraging to charitable institutions," U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told a news conference in the capital.

Bahrain starts scheme to help jobless

Unemployed Bahrainis now have six channels to find employment which were launched under the new government's scheme to help national job-seekers.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Abdulnabi Al Sho'ala on Wednesday announced that the government was able to find jobs for 6,957 Bahrainis last year and the unemployment figures now stand at 5.6 per cent of the total workforce.

Canada criticises Sharon's hardline policy

Canada on Wednesday criticised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of striking hard against Palestinian militants, saying Ottawa questioned "certain practices" that caused civilian casualties.

The move by Foreign Minister Bill Graham marked a change in recent Canadian policy toward the Middle East, since Ottawa has followed Washington's line that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must do more to stop attacks by militant groups.

Hilton plans two hotels in Dubai

Hilton International looks set to build an up-market hotel on Palm Island and another in Dubai as part of its bid to get 1,000 rooms more in the Emirate. If the group moves to Palm Island, it is expected to mark the entry of its luxury Conrad brand to the UAE.

Jordan insurer enters market

Armed with a capital base of $25 million, a start-up insurance company in Jordan, International General Insurance Co (IGI), has started operations from March. In the near term, the company has confirmed plans to expand into the other Middle East territories, starting off with the GCC. Before the year is out, IGI should double its capital to $50 million, making it the second largest insurer in the region.

Polisario blasts Morocco's Sahara claim

The Polisario Front, the independence movement for Western Sahara, has condemned the latest speech by the king of Morocco claiming sovereignty over the disputed territory.

A statement broadcast on Polisario radio described the king's words as "a declaration of war on international legality".

In his address on Wednesday, King Mohammed said Morocco would not give up an inch of the region.

Iraq keeps talking on arms inspectors

Mr Sabri held three hours of talks with Mr Annan Iraq and the UN are to hold further talks in mid-April on the possible return of arms inspectors to the country.

The announcement came after Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri met for almost three hours with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, the first such session in more than a year.

DIB posts Dh616m net profit

Despite the impact of the September 11 events, Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) has reported an impressive gain in net profit to Dh616 million. The corresponding figure for 2000 was Dh591 million.

CITES may lift sanctions

The Geneva-based Secretariat of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is likely to lift trade sanctions on the UAE during a meeting next week.

According to Jonathan Barzdo, Chief of Convention Interpretation and Servicing Unit at CITES, the Standing Committee of the Convention, which imposed the ban on the UAE and several other countries, will hold a meeting in Geneva next week to discuss the status of the sanctions on the UAE.

"The meeting will decide whether to fully or partially lift the sanctions or give the UAE another deadline to intensify its efforts of fully implementing CITES conditions," Barzdo told.

UAQ likely to supply gas to utility projects

Sub-sea pipelines are being laid from Umm Al Quwain port to the relatively recent offshore gas discovery at a concession, awarded by the government in December 1999 to Atlantis Holdings, sources said.

Drilling of an exploratory offshore gas well, Umm Al Quwain-3, revealed recoverable reserves of up to 500 billion cubic feet of gas and 5 million barrels of condensates.

It is understood that the feedstock will be processed in Umm Al Quwain, laying to rest earlier speculation that the gas might be processed in neighbouring Sharjah.

Al Ain Ahlia Insurance

Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company announced it maintained its growth run earning a net profit of Dh30.8 million for 2001, a 9.91 per cent growth over 2000.

Badea grants

The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (Badea) has approved $2.211 billion for the financing of 303 development projects since inception in 1975.

These include 24 loans to private sector, 14 special operations within the framework of emergency aid, and 258 technical assistance grants.

Dubai Duty Free

On February 21, the cash registers at Dubai Duty Free were ringing as the shopping complex posted a new daily record of Dh4.3 million ($1.2 million) in sales, representing over 29,000 transactions.

The new record was reached almost a year after setting the previous mark of Dh3.68 million ($1 million) on March 2, 2001.

Gamco wins RAF contract

The Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Co (Gamco) announced it was awarded a contract by the UK's Ministry of Defence for maintenance of the Royal Air Force (RAF) fleet of Lockheed TriStar L-1011 aircraft.

Muslim dolls tackle 'wanton' Barbie

Toy sellers are welcoming the new characters Meet Dara and Sara, Iran's answer to Ken and Barbie.

The Muslim dolls have been developed by a government agency to promote traditional values, with their modest clothing and pro-family backgrounds.