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GULF

April 22 - 28, 2002

POWELL LEAVES ME EMPTY-HANDED

US Secretary of State Colin Powell left the Middle East on Wednesday after talks with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan at the end of a Middle East tour that failed to secure an Israeli-Palestinian truce.

The secretary of state had little to show for his shuttle apart from an Israeli pledge to end its reoccupation of battered West Bank cities within "a week or so". Even that was nothing more than a consolation prize, considering it has been two weeks since US President George Bush issued his line-in-the-sand demand for Israel to end its crushing offensive without delay.

Colin Powell seemed to sum up his ill-fated mission in a single phrase when he said: "Ceasefire is not a relevant term at the moment."

Mr Powell left Cairo after an hour of talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and his Jordanian counterpart Marwan al-Muasher about the outcome of his mission.

Muasher had travelled to Cairo after talks in Saudi Arabia, which along with Egypt and Jordan has been at the forefront of recent Arab peace efforts.

Powell said before leaving Israeli-occupied Al Quds earlier in the day he would meet the Egyptian foreign minister because President Hosni Mubarak was "indisposed".

Several Egypt-based analysts said Mubarak's decision not to meet Powell was a deliberate snub to show his displeasure at the results of the tour, but Powell shrugged off such a possibility.

"If there's no meeting with Mubarak, then something's wrong. There's a serious problem," said Emad Gad, a political analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

MINISTRIES TOLD TO EXPEDITE '03 DRAFT BUDGETS

Ministries and other federal departments in the UAE have been asked to submit their 2003 draft budgets as soon as possible to ensure an early release of the annual budget and maintain the momentum in the domestic economy.

In a circular, Dr. Mohammed Khalfan bin Kharbash, Minister of State for Financial and Industrial Affairs, also urged the more than 25 government offices not to list any unapproved new jobs or unnecessary projects, to expand their income and suppress expenditure.

The circular came nearly three weeks after the release of the 2002 federal budget, which must be ratified by President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Bankers noted that the circular was issued earlier than previous years in an apparent bid by the Ministry of Finance and Industry to start releasing annual budgets on time.

The circular set July 13 as a deadline for the ministries to submit their draft budgets and asked them to stick to that date so it will be debated by the Federal National Council.

"We hope you will be able to provide your draft estimates for your spending and revenue on time so the draft budget will be ready at least two months before the start of the fiscal year and the FNC can debate it and make proposals," the Minister said.

"When preparing such estimates, you are asked to provide us with a memorandum explaining the standards and bases on which those estimates were made."

As in previous circulars, Kharbash advised the ministries not to include unnecessary jobs or projects in their budgets as part of an ongoing policy to rationalise spending to offset sharp fluctuations in oil prices and avoid large budget deficits.

ASIAN CRUDE PRICES RISE

The Asian market for sour crudes rose, underpinned by improving refining margins and Middle East tension which encouraged some buyers to show up early for June cargoes.

Traders said that premiums for most grades got a boost, with Abu Dhabi crude levels soaring sharply from Adnoc plus 10 to Adnoc plus 20/25 cents levels on Japan buying interest.

The benchmark medium sour Oman market also hit around the MoG plus 20 cents mark its highest for the year breaking away from ranged bound MoG plus 14/17 cents levels seen in early week.

"It is shaping up to be quite firm," one trader with a U.S. oil company said. "There are a lot of demand interest brewing."

Traders said that Japan refiners were seen picking up Umm Shaiff and Lower Zakum crudes at about Adnoc plus 20 cents a barrel. Murban was traded at around Adnoc plus 17 cents, they said.

On Oman market two trades were heard at MoG plus 20 cents including one sold into a Thai refiner but this could not be confirmed.

UAE OUTPUT CAPACITY TO HIT 4M BPD (BOX)

The UAE is pushing ahead with ambitious plans to maintain its position as one of the biggest oil producers by adding more than one million barrels per day to its output capability, according to a report.

Current sustainable production capacity is estimated at nearly 2.6 million bpd, nearly 800,000 bpd above its actual output determined by Opec, said the Information and Culture Ministry's annual book for 2002.

The 380-page report put the country's recoverable crude reserves at 98 billion barrels, the third largest proven oil resources after Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

It said the UAE ranked fourth after Russia, Iran and Qatar in natural gas reserves, which stood at around 6.2 trillion cubic metres at the end of 2001.

POWELL MISSION GAVE ISRAEL FREE HAND - REPORT

Iraq's government newspaper said that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's Middle East mission was designed to give Israeli military forces a free hand in Palestinian self-ruled territory.

"There was no aim for the... mission but to give the Zionist entity (Israel) more time and opportunity to implement its criminal acts against the Palestinian people," Al Jumhouriya newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

It said the mission "meant to kill more Palestinian people and liquidate the Palestinian intifada (uprising)".

PHASE ONE OF DUBAI PARK COMPLETED

Phase one of the private sector-led Dubai Investments Park (DIP) has been completed and fully leased out.

Demand is such that some plots in undeveloped areas have also been leased out.

Khalid bin Kalban, chief executive of Dubai Investments and managing director of DIP, said, "We are well ahead of our target schedule. Feedback and demand have been quite good. This is evident from the response we received from people who've seen the site today and compared it to the desert they saw a few years ago. Most were surprised by the degree of development that has taken place."

KING HAMAD, ABDULLAH DISCUSS DEVELOPMENTS

His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain, and the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, discussed during a phone call on Wednesday night the current Arab and international developments, the official news agency BNA stated yesterday.

Prince Abdullah is expected to have talks on the critical situation in the Palestinian territories with U.S. President George W. Bush on April 25 in Washington.

RIYADH TO LEVY INCOME TAX ON EXPATS: REPORT

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is planning to levy income tax of about 2.5 per cent of the salaries of millions of foreign workers in the kingdom, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

"The proposed income tax will not exceed the value of Zakat, Islam's form of taxation, which is 2.5 per cent of the earnings, and may be even lower," Al-Yawm quoted a source in the Shura consultative council as saying.

ADNOC ARM TO OPEN 20 MORE OUTLETS

Adnoc Distribution, the retail marketing arm of Adnoc, is enhancing production of lubricants and greases to 60,000 metric tonnes per annum (mtpa) by year end, an official said. At least 20 more service stations are planned for opening by year end.

Current production of lubricants, greases and some other petroleum products is around 45,000 to 50,000 mtpa, with full production capacity to be achieved by end-2002, said Rashed Al Darmaki, local lubes sales manager, Adnoc Distribution.

BRITISH MP CALLS FOR AN END TO LIQUIDATION OF BCCI

A senior UK parliamentarian has urged the liquidators of the failed Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to end liquidation and give the remaining dividend to creditors, sources said.

With the liquidation in its 11th year and charges mounting and some $2 billion reportedly unavailable for distribution, Keith Vaz, MP has expressed anxiety that liquidators had not paid dividend for some time and has told the Ministry of Trade and Industry, UK, to write to the liquidators urging them to end the process.

MASHREQBANK IN BID TO LURE WHOLE FAMILY

Mashreqbank has introduced the first credit-card benefit of its kind targeting mums and kids, called 'mum 'n' me specials'.

The new benefit offers free gifts and discounts of up to 30 per cent at outlets of interest to mums and kids, including amusement arca-des, toy stores, fashion outlets, beauty parlours, etc.

OMAN, U.S. FIRMS SIGN OFFTAKE DEAL

The Sohar International Urea and Chemicals Industries (SIUCI) has signed a long-term take or pay offtake agreement for its entire production of granular urea with Transammonia Inc of the U.S.

Transammonia is said to be the largest marketer of ammonia and urea in the world with offices in 18 countries and a sales turnover of over $2.5 billion.

The agreement marks a major milestone in the development of the Sohar Fertiliser project promoted by Suhail Salim Bahwan, a leading Omani businessman.

ROTANA PLANS THREE PROPERTIES IN UAE

The Rotana Group plans three new properties in the UAE, one each in Sharjah, Fujairah and the Palm island in Dubai.

Imad W. Elias, corporate vice-president of Rotana Hotels, Suites and Resorts, said a four-star property in Fujairah would open in two years while they were looking to build another four-star hotel along Sharjah beach.

DIPLOMAT CENSURED OVER BOMB POEM

The Saudi Arabian ambassador to the UK faces censure from the British government after writing a poem in praise of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Ambassador Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, a well-known poet in the Arab world, wrote that suicide bombers "died to honour God's word" in a short verse published in the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat last week.

ISRAELIS STEAL MONEY

Israeli invasion forces stole cash and vital government documents, blasted offices and destroyed computers and other main government systems as they continued to spill Palestinian blood and wreak havoc in their push into the Palestinian territories under the subterfuge of fighting terrorism.

FUND-RAISING DRIVE GAINS MOMENTUM

The new fund-raising campaign launched by the Oman Charitabale Organisation (OCO) last Saturday to support the Palestinians has gained momentum, prompting organisers to extend it until May 16.

"We have been overwhelmed by the generous response which is much beyond our expectations." OCO Executive Director Ali bin Ibrahim Shanon told Gulf News, adding that the campaign had been extended to make the best use of the memorable excercise for the benefit of the hard-pressed Palestinian people fighting for a long denied homeland.

"Everyday is better than the previous one, as we get more donations," said Shanon, declining to give exact figures about the donations collected so far.

CITIDIRECT ONLINE FACILITY LAUNCHED

CitiDirect online banking, Citibank's web-based transactional banking delivery platform, was officially launched in the region.

CitiDirect has processed more than 600,000 payments worldwide worth more than $450 billion. The new platform offers seamless and secure access to an array of cash and trade management services through a single global platform.

BOOST NATIONAL INDUSTRIES, CHAMBERS TOLD

Local chambers of commerce and industry should allocate part of their revenues for the sponsorship of exhibitions dedicated to national industries, said Ahmed Al Tayer, Minister of Communications and chairman of Emirates Bank Group.

He inaugurated two new projects of Tomooh, the finance scheme for small and medium projects of UAE nationals.

"Local chambers should dedicate exhibitions for national industries. This was done earlier but is now stopped," said Al Tayer, while encouraging UAE national industries financed by Tomooh to participate at specialised local shows for various sectors like building materials and construction.

ADSB PROFIT JUMPS

Helped by higher revenues due to new defence related contracts, Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB) has reported a net profit of Dh9.1 million, representing a 100 per cent growth over the previous year.

A dividend of Dh0.50 per ordinary share has been proposed, totalling Dh8.76 million. Earnings per share (EPS) has doubled to Dh0.52 in 2001 from Dh0.26 the previous year.

SELL OFF MORE EXISTING PLANTS

The UAE's first independent water and power project (IWPP), the $740 million Taweelah A2 has become commercially operational with the project developer having made its first dividend payment to shareholders and begun repayment of its loan facility, officials said.

Abu Dhabi is going to press ahead with its ambitious privatisation of power and water sector with plans to privatise more existing plants.

SHARON 'A WAR CRIMINAL' SAYS MP

Israeli tanks in action in Ramallah on the West Bank Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has been branded a "war criminal" and a "fool" by former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman.

In a blistering attack, the veteran MP, who is Jewish, said Mr Sharon had reduced his country to an "international pariah" whose actions were staining the Star of David with blood