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GULF

May 06 -12, 2002

ARAFAT TOURS RAMALLAH AS ISRAEL LIFTS SIEGE

Yasser Arafat toured the West Bank city of Ramallah like a triumphant hero on Thursday against a backdrop of smashed cars, trashed offices and blasted buildings after Israel lifted its siege of his headquarters.

Freed from virtual house arrest under a US-brokered deal, the Palestinian president stepped out of the gloomy compound and flashed a victory sign at hundreds of well-wishers gathered in front of the bullet-scarred, mud-spattered offices.

"With our blood and our souls, we will redeem you, Abu Ammar," the crowd chanted, using Arafat's nom de guerre.

Israeli troops and tanks completed their withdrawal from Ramallah before dawn.

Under the midday sun Arafat, sporting a thicker than usual growth of beard and wearing his signature olive green uniform, got into a black Mercedes for a tour of the city, which is the political seat of his Palestinian Authority.

The convoy had to manoeuvre around the carcasses of cars crushed by Israeli armour. Palestinian policemen fanned out ahead of the convoy's route, carrying guns in public for the first time in weeks. Surveying the trashed compound clearing, Ramallah resident Mazen Ali said he hoped Arafat would bring the 19-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation to a satisfactory end.

"I expect that he will proceed on a path that will eventually take us to an independent state," he said.

The scale of the task facing Arafat in rebuilding the infrastructure became clear during his tour, which took him to government buildings ransacked by Israeli troops.

MANUFACTURING SECTOR BOOSTS SHARE IN GDP

The UAE's manufacturing sector has witnessed a steady 7 per cent growth over the last few years and increased its share in the country's non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) from 13.8 per cent in 1996 to 16.5 per cent in 2000, according to an economic report.

The output of the manufacturing sector grew in real terms from Dh17 billion in 1996 to more than Dh24 billion in 2000, said National Bank of Dubai's newsletter.

Total capital investment reached around Dh4 billion in 2000, which is 41.3 per cent of capital formation in the whole economy of that year.

Four industries, characterised by capital intensive-technology in production, dominated the investment activities in 2000.

These are basic metal industries that attracted 27.1 per cent, fabricated non-metal products grabbing 25 per cent, food and beverage taking 12.9 per cent and fabricated metal products taking 8 per cent, it said.

In 2000, oil constituted 23 per cent of the UAE's GDP. This vital economic sector has also witnessed a 12.8 per cent growth in the number of manufacturing units during the 1998-2000 period, reaching 2,153 in 2000, it said.

In recent years, industries that have witnessed high growth rates in the number of their operating factories include wood products 30.7 per cent, electrical products 26.3 per cent, vehicle related products 26.1 per cent and textiles 25.6 per cent.

On the other hand, industries that have witnessed a negligible rise in the number of firms operating within them are readymade garments 2.5 per cent, handicrafts 3.2 per cent and transport-related products 5.8 per cent.

Of the seven emirates, Dubai leads the manufacturing sector by attracting 54 per cent of the total investment made in 2000 in the country's industrial sector, followed by Abu Dhabi with 15 per cent and Sharjah grabbing 12 per cent, Ajman having three per cent while the balance 16 per cent is divided among the rest.

MIDEAST AUTO MARKET CRAWLS ALONG

"Conservatism" is seeping into buying habits across the Levant, brought on by the strife in Palestine, according to a top official at BMW. And, to an extent, these trends are also manifesting in Saudi Arabia.

"For sure, the whole Lebanese market is down, and it is the case with Jordan as well. Buyers are freezing their purchase decisions, preferring a wait-and-see attitude," said Robert Bailey-McEwan, regional managing director.

"We are still hopeful these markets will come to normalcy within the next month or so. It is not a new experience we have seen it a lot of times before.

"In Saudi Arabia too, buyers are showing a little apprehension into committing to new buys maybe they do want to be seen making ostentatious purchases at this time."

ANNAN DISBANDS MISSION TO JENIN (BOX)

The UN Security Council was divided and devastated following Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, decision on Thursday to end the fact finding mission to Jenin refugee camp as mandated by the Council resolution.

Mr Annan announced that he would disband the 20-member team, waiting in Geneva, because of mounting Israeli conditions for the mission that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet believes is biased against the Jewish State.

In a three-page letter to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Mr Annan said he regretted aborting the mission because "the long shadow cast by recent events in the Jenin refugee camp will remain." "With the situation in the Jenin refugee camp changing by the day, it will become more and more difficult to establish with any confidence or accuracy the recent events that took place there," Mr Annan said in the letter. "For these reasons, it is my intention to disband the fact-finding team," he wrote.

GCC CUSTOMS CHIEFS TO HOLD KEY TALKS NEXT MONTH

Customs chiefs from the six-nation GCC will meet in Riyadh early next month to discuss a mechanism for tariff revenue distribution and two other issues that could block the implementation of ambitious plans to set up a customs union on time.

Officials have already spoken about an initial agreement to proportionately share the returns from customs tariffs on foreign imports, with Saudi Arabia set to get just below half and the UAE to receive nearly a fifth of the revenues.

The two other hurdles include unification of the list of banned imported products and exclusive trade agents who could lose their prerogative in an open common market.

The meeting of the GCC customs chiefs will take place in the first week of June and it will cover ways to eliminate such obstacles and make recommendations to the finance and economy ministers ahead of the GCC summit late this year.

OIL PRICE EASES ON ARAFAT RELEASE

Oil prices in the US have fallen for the third day in a row, as the release of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat eased fears that Middle East tension might disrupt crude supplies.

Benchmark crude ended $0.51 lower at $26.24 a barrel, and stood more than $1 lower earlier on Thursday.

In London North Sea Brent crude slid $0.44 to $24.43 barrel, after hitting a day low of $24.79.

The decline followed the re-emergence of Mr Arafat after more than a month penned in his headquarters by Israeli troops.

The oil price fell over "the presumption of somewhat reduced tensions", said analyst Adam Sieminski of Deutsche Bank Securities.

Luca Bertali of brokers Prudential-Bache said: "The war premium keeps getting sliced off as the situation gets more positive."

Easing tensions were also seen as raising the chances of Iraq lifting its oil export embargo, ordered in protest at the US's alleged pro-Israeli bias.

EMIRATES TO BUY PLANES WORTH $15BN

Sheikh Ahmad announced a fleet expansion program of $15 billion till 2010 when Emirates would be having 100 aircraft. "The orders were placed during Dubai air show in November last," he said and pointed out that Emirates plans to have 22 A380 Super Jumbos, 25 Boeing 777 and eight A340-600 in addition to six A340-500 very long range airbuses.

NINE KILLED AS ISRAELIS INVADE AL KHALIL

Israeli forces thrust into the West Bank city of Al Khalil on Monday, killing nine people, ahead of talks on a US plan to end Israel's month-long siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's compound.

An Israeli field commander said soldiers detained about 200 people for questioning in the sweep for Palestinian fighters and arms, two days after guerillas killed four Israelis, including a five-year-old girl, in a Jewish settlement near Al Khalil.

9,100 ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARRESTED IN S. ARABIA

Saudi police have arrested more than 9,100 foreigners in a crackdown on illegal residents in the country's north during the year ending March 2002, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Some 9,149 men and women were arrested in the eastern Hafer al-Batin region, 500 kilometres north of Riydadh, Al-Youm said. Another 1,274 expatriates were picked up around the holy city of Medina. Many of the illegals had failed to leave the desert kingdom after their pilgrimage visas expired.

SAUDIS BOYCOTT US PRODUCTS

Boycott of US products has started impacting the sales of US products in the region as the campaign is gaining momentum.

A Sana'a, Yemen based pharmaceutical manufacturer, recently refused to establish the Letter of Credit for a container of an antipyretic active ingredient, after all the terms and conditions were agreed upon, only because the product was of US origin. Instead, the company is now looking at Chinese and other options.

Consumers-shunning US products, could eventually hit sales, contributing to a projected 10 per cent to 15 per cent fall in US exports to the Kingdom, some Riyadh based diplomats were quoted as saying.

US companies, from Coca-Cola to McDonald's Corp, sold $6 billion worth of goods and services to Saudi Arabia in 2001 and $3.7 billion worth to Egypt, two of the region's biggest economies.

ARAB-IRAN TIES

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Vice President for Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, told Gulf News that Arab-Iranian relations, UAE in particular, have witnessed tremendous development during the past few years.

He also stressed the importance of oil embargo as an effective weapon against Israel and its supporters.

ENVIRONMENT ISSUES GET TOP PRIORITY - HAMDAN

Environmental issues have always been given the topmost priority in government policies since the establishment of the UAE federation in 1971, said Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

Sheikh Hamdan made the remarks in a message read out at a one-day conference discussing an international initiative by Abu Dhabi on environmental data collection. The conference was organised by the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) at Abu Dhabi Hilton Hotel.

CALL FOR MORE ENGAGING ARAB PRESENCE IN U.S.

From the thousands of county, state and regional newspapers that crowd American doorsteps, bookstores and libraries, there are a handful that stand out: an elite media that influences the opinions of both ordinary American citizens as well as those in government service.

Increasingly, decision-makers around the world also read and react to these newspapers, in a bid to reach the voice of America.

The Washington Post and the New York Times are at the forefront of that elite group, ahead of the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and one or two others. The reasons for this group's dominance are simple: their large circulation draws large revenues, channelled into better and more bureaux around the nation and the world.

OMAN, SYRIA TO BOOST MEDIA COOPERATION

The Sultanate of Oman and Syria would boost mutual media co-operation to counter the growing challenges facing the two countries and the entire Arab world, said a Syrian minister.

At the end of his three-day official visit to the Sultanate, Syrian Information Minister Adnan Omran told reporters that the two "brotherly countries are equally keen to play their due role in fighting the anti-Islam and anti-Arab propaganda launched by the Jewish-dominated Western media."

The Syrian minister said that the new move "falls in line" with the decision made by the Arab information ministers at their recent meeting in Cairo.

TO MAKE MONEY, SHUN U.S.

A close partnership with the United States and American firms used to be a key ingredient for business success in the Gulf.

But now at least one of the world's richest men, Kuwaiti business tycoon Nasser Al Kharafi, thinks it is a liability which could cost valuable business.

Armies of Arab consumers are angry at what they see as Washington's bias towards Israel in its latest military campaign against Palestinians.

Repeated calls have been made throughout the region to boycott American products, even in Kuwait, Washington's most grateful and faithful ally.

His global business empire Nasser Al Kharafi and family has been valued by Forbes at $5.7 billion, making it the world's 45th richest entity.

NEW ENTITY TO RUN THREE SHARJAH PORTS

Sharjah Port Services, a new entity set up under the umbrella of Sharjah Port Authority, will manage general cargo handling operations at the three ports of Hamriyah (in Sharjah), Sharjah Creek, and Mina Khalid.

Bangkok listed company Thoresen Thai Agencies, holding firm of the Thoresen Group, has a 49 per cent stake in the new entity, believed capitalised at Dh1 million.

The Thai group with Norwegian origins has had a strong regional presence in the shape of subsidiary Gulf Agency Co, its local agent.

BEXAIR OPENS BAHRAIN TERMINAL

Bahrain Executive Air Services Co (Bexair), the new airline in the Gulf, inaugurated its executive aviation terminal at Bahrain International Airport on Saturday. It was opened by Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Transportation.

Bexair, the region's charter operator with a capital of $85 million, is fully insured, licensed and approved by the regional and international civil aviation authorities, said Mansour Al Tassan, chairman and CEO.

AL KHAZNA POSTS DH26.4M PROFIT

Hit by lower interest rates leading to reduced returns on investments and the general downtrend in the sector, Al Khazna Insurance Co. posted a net profit of Dh26.4 million in 2001 compared to the previous year's Dh33.6 million.

US PLANS MID-EAST PEACE CONFERENCE

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has announced that preparations are under way to hold a Middle East peace conference within the next couple of months.

US officials say the meeting which will seek to outline a long-term political settlement will be attended by foreign ministers and probably take place in Europe.

But Mr Powell said the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, must understand that this was his last chance to seize such an opportunity.