GULF VIEW

 

Sep 19 - 25, 2005

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WOMEN'S BIKE RIDE FOR ME PEACE

Fed up with what they called the painfully slow pace of the Middle East peace process, over 250 women from 25 countries will be riding bicycles to pedal for peace.
One bicycle will sport the flag of Saudi Arabia, and it will be ridden by one of the KingdomÝs most remarkable women.
The 288-km ride, which starts in Beirut on Friday last, will be winding through Syria and Jordan before concluding at Ramallah in Palestine, is called "Follow the Women" and is meant to send a message to world leaders to get on with it and stop the suffering that brings continuous conflict .

Dr. Hayat Sindi's participation is appropriate, as her leadership and pioneering spirit already serves as a model for the Saudi women of the future. A leading Saudi medical researcher who graduated from Cambridge University with a doctorate degree in biotechnology, Dr. Sindi is taking part in the ride with the encouragement of several members of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Kingdom's ambassador to the United States, and Princess Seetah binte Abdul Aziz, who gave Dr. Sindi a pendant with the likeness of King Abdullah, the princess' brother, to wear during the bikeathon.

Dr. Sindi in an interview was enthusiastic and resolute in her belief that women working together can help bring peace to the Middle East. "The ride is aimed at raising awareness of how the spiral of violence in the Middle East is blighting the lives of women and children who often suffer the worst consequences of the painfully slow pace of the peace process," she said.

The Follow the Women bike ride, which concludes on Sept 26, is sponsored by the UK's Centre for High Performance Development. Well known international youth worker, Detta Regan, is the organizer of the event. Regan won the UK Woman of Europe award for 2001. "Women do not traditionally cycle in the Middle East," Regan said. "So the sight of a large female-only group will attract huge interest."

For part of the journey where the terrain is too difficult the women will travel by coach with their bikes going by truck. They get back on their bicycles near the Syrian border, then cycle to Damascus and on the desert road to Yarmouk University, Jordan and finally into the West Bank.

"We will visit the Sabra and Shatilla camps and share the pain of the Palestinian people," Dr. Sindi said. "They have gone through the worst in life. We want to see firsthand how they are coping and share their grief and to express our solidarity with them."

She said this might seem like a small exercise and to some it may be an exercise in futility but there has to be a beginning for peace. "My advice to my countrymen in Saudi Arabia is to take that small step. Let us not just sit tight and do nothing. We all can make a difference." Prince Turki Al-Faisal has called Dr. Sindi the model Arab woman; this latest effort attests to that endorsement.

Dr. Sindi was born in Makkah to a modest family. She is one of eight children. From an early age, she admired scientists, such as Al-Kindi, Khwarizmi, Ibn Sina, Newton and Einstein.

In her 20s, Dr. Sindi invented a device combining light and ultrasound for use in the field of biotechnology. She dreams of one day establishing a center of excellence in Saudi Arabia. "There are a lot of misconceptions about Saudi women and I want to dispel them. If I can make a small difference in the way Saudi women are perceived outside, then all this will be very good," Dr. Sindi said. "By taking part in this ride, I want to convey to the larger world that Saudi women are second to none. We have our traditions, and we are proud of them. But we live in a global village, and we should contribute to the peace effort worldwide." The ride will be challenging but Dr. Sindi regularly goes to the gym, believing that a healthy mind needs a healthy body. As a Saudi woman she has a point to prove and, trusts in Allah to see her through the test.

Dr. Sindi remarked that Prince Turki encouraged her to take part in the ride when he was the ambassador to the United Kingdom and she thanked him for his inspiration. "It gives me a great thrill to ride a bike that will have the Saudi green fluttering proudly at the back. Plus, I am carrying a picture of our beloved King Abdullah on my necklace.

She says: "We need to learn from each other, respect others and hold onto our dreams and work to realize them. It is time for all the good people of the world to come together and work for peace."

WORLD RECORD BY QATAR E-GOVERNMENT

Qatar's e-government recorded a creditable world record by notching up a transaction growth rate of 470% during the past one year.

"This is a unique record not only in the Middle East but the whole world", acting director of e-government Hashim al-Sada said recently. This tremendous growth rate during August 2004 to August 2005 means that the society has increasingly started relying on e-government to undertake their transactions, the official said. The 470% growth is "a big number" in real time transactions, he said. This is an indication of the credibility attached to the service by the society and the government, al-Sada added. During the same one-year, revenue from the transactions surged by a whopping 841.10%, swelling from QR1.28mn to QR10.74mn.

Most of the services offered by e-government recorded handsome growth rates. Residence permit transactions, for instance, showed an increase of 704%, going up from 1109 to 7807 during the past one year. Under the 10 different heads in this category, the highest increase was recorded in the issue of new RPs - a staggering 5203.77%, up from 53 to 2758 in one year. Payment of traffic fines through e-government increased by 850% while renewal of driving licenses also went up by 114%. Issue of visit visas was up by 225.80%, and that of health cards showed a robust growth, rising from 219 to 1105, up 504% in one year. Similarly, payment of electricity and other utility bills also went up by 300%.

Employment of Qataris increased by 190.7% while the use of e-government for paying Zakat dropped from 4 to 2 in one year. Red Crescent transactions also declined during the same period. Al-Sada said he expected a still faster growth this year.

Talking about the projects in the pipeline, the acting director said issuing of building permits is being facilitated, in co-ordination with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture, Urban Development Agency and others.

"In fact, the first phase is over and connections with some agencies are in place," al-Sada said. "It is a huge program - as big as the project itself and hence is taking some time".

Also present on the occasion were Haytham Abduljawad, program executive manager; Mazin A M Thabet, business development manager; Mai Mohamed al-Mansour, administration and finance manager; and Amar Zidane, marketing assistant.

UN REFORMS

Saudi Arabia called for reforms in the United Nations in order for the world body to play a more effective role in maintaining peace and stability across the globe. It also demanded restrictions on the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and joint global efforts to combat terrorism.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, also urged developed countries to open their markets to developing countries. "They should also facilitate accession of other countries, including my country, to the World Trade Organization (WTO), offering adequate flexibility considering their situations," he said.

"The Kingdom appreciates the vital role of UN bodies and expects that the current efforts to reform the United Nations would strengthen these bodies and increase their vitality. We also support an international consensus on the expansion of the Security Council and restriction of its veto power. It should not be allowed veto resolutions related to implementing its previous decisions," he said.

Prince Sultan also called for the restoration of the powers of the UN General Assembly. "Everybody must adhere to the UN Charter to achieve peace and stability and there should not be double standard while adopting resolutions," he said. He stressed the need to make the Middle East and the Gulf free of weapons of mass destruction.

In his address, Prince Sultan urged the international community to work for realizing the Palestinians' dream of an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. "Arab countries have expressed their commitment to a just peace by endorsing the peace plan proposed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah," he said. ýRespecting international resolutions is the best way to settle global conflicts," he pointed out.

Prince Sultan called on Iraqis to overcome their differences in order to achieve their common objectives. "We are now in need of an effective United Nations more than ever, a UN which can carry out its mission of realizing global peace and stability and sustainable global growth, ensuring human rights and respecting the distinguished features of various societies and cultures."

The crown prince emphasized the Kingdom's efforts for manpower development, saying the government allocated a substantial part of its budget for the purpose. He said the Kingdom had given four percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on foreign aid annually, adding that 83 countries had benefited from its financial assistance. Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries extending foreign aid, he said. The Kingdom had contributed more than $24 billion to the capital of several development organizations around the world, especially in Arab and Islamic countries. "Saudi Arabia stands second after the US in foreign remittances of expatriate workers," he said, adding that these remittances are an important source of foreign currencies and financial resources for many countries.

"We have also written off foreign debts worth $6 billion owed by many poor countries and given debt remission to other countries," the prince said and urged developed countries to fulfill their pledges by allocating 0.7 percent of their national revenues for development aid. He called for innovative sources to finance development projects.

Referring to terrorism, Prince Sultan said: "Saudi Arabia has suffered a lot from terrorism and confronted it with its force, inspired by the teachings of the Islamic faith. Islam is a religion of peace and security and encourages cooperation between peoples. It prohibits aggression against human beings." Saudi Arabia hosted an international counter terrorism conference in Riyadh last February, which supported a proposal made by King Abdullah to establish an international anti-terror center; Prince Sultan said and hoped the General Assembly would approve the proposal to strengthen international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. He urged the General Assembly to set up a working team to study the resolutions of the Riyadh conference. Uniting their fight against international terrorism, leaders of fifty countries ˇ including the five Security Council permanent members, signed the UN Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

US President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, signed the convention on Wednesday last. Chinese President Hu Jintao, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin also signed the convention. French President Jacques Chirac was unable to attend the summit for health reasons.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the summit that the next move in the Middle East peace process was up to the Palestinians after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon, who enjoyed a warm reception at the summit because of the pullout, acknowledged the Palestinians' right to a state of their own. But at the same time, he reasserted Israel's claims to disputed Jerusalem as its "eternal and united capital".

Palestinians see the eastern sector of the city as a capital of a future state, and the competing claims have made Jerusalem one of the most contentious issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. "Now it is the Palestinians turn to prove their desire for peace," Sharon said. "The most important test the Palestinian leaders will face is in fulfilling their commitment to putting an end to terror and its infrastructures eliminate the anarchic regime of armed gangs and cease the incitement and indoctrination of hatred toward Israel and the Jews." In response, Palestinians said the only solution was a complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories including the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem. "The problem can only be solved be ending the occupation that began in 1967," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

IRAN FOR SHARING N-TECH WITH MUSLIM STATES

Iran is ready to share its nuclear technology with other Islamic countries; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying. The comments heightened Western concerns about Tehran's nuclear program just ahead of a key meeting of the UN's nuclear watchdog this month.

"The Islamic Republic never seeks weapons of mass destruction and with respect to the needs of Islamic countries, we are ready to transfer nuclear know-how to these countries," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

The remarks were made during Ahmadinejad's meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Washington and its allies say Iran has failed to provide full and timely information about its nuclear program and are alarmed that Tehran last month broke UN seals at a uranium processing facility. A vote on sending Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council may be taken at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board on Sept. 19.

Iran's state media reported that Ahmadinejad, who took office last month, had also held meetings with the leaders of Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and Chile in New York.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said it was not clear what Ahamdinejad's offer to Islamic countries involved. "In any case, this is not the pressing question," he said. "The issue is the lack of confidence in Iran's nuclear program as a result of two decades of non-disclosures and concealment."

Iran insists it has every right as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a full atomic program to generate electricity. "We have firmly decided to use this technology for peaceful purposes within the framework of the NPT, international regulations and cooperation with the IAEA," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Western powers appeared yesterday to back away from an early move to refer Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the three major European powers that have been negotiating with Iran on its nuclear ambitions ˇ Britain, France and Germany ˇ were still giving priority to talks.

"We want to pursue the dialogue. We want Iran to suspend various activities. We think there is still room for negotiations," he told a news conference at UN headquarters. If that failed, there would be no choice but to take the matter to the Security Council, he added.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that the United States and its European allies may lack the votes to haul Iran before the highest United Nations body next week over its resumption of uranium conversion. "If we get a referral on Sept. 19, that will be good, but I think the issue of a referral is something that we'll be working for a while," she told media.

SAUDI AID FOR PALESTINE EDUCATION PROGRAMMES

Saudi Arabia will provide financial assistance worth SR56.9 million for a number of Palestinian educational programs and help Palestinian students complete their higher education. Interior Minister Prince Naif, supervisor of the Saudi Committee for the Relief of Palestinians (SCRP), signed an agreement with UNESCO to implement the programs in coordination with the Palestinian Higher Education Ministry.

SCRP's financial assistance will cover 75 percent tuition fees (SR43 million) of 15,989 boy and girl students as well as 75 percent tuition fees (SR6 million) of 1,747 community college students, said a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. Of the total amount, SR8 million will be set aside to support 11 Palestinian universities and colleges, it added.

Dr. Saed Al-Harithy, adviser to Prince Naif and chairman of the committee, said the signing of the MOU with UNESCO and the Palestinian ministry is in line with the Kingdom's continuous support for the Palestinian people. The grants offered by the committee would help thousands of Palestinian students to complete their higher education. "SCRP's financial aid will help Palestinian universities carry out their educational programs," he explained.

The committee intends to extend all possible assistance to the Palestinians through 36 relief and humanitarian programs, he said. The panel has already spent more than SR728.56 million on these projects. SCRP implemented 35 programs to support the Palestinians at a total cost of SR730 million, Harithy said. The amount was spent on hospitals, medicine, medical appliances, ambulances, treatment of wounded Palestinians in Saudi hospitals, and supplying 50 dialysis units. "We have also dispatched 30 Palestinian students for higher studies abroad," he pointed out.

Financial aid was also given for establishing computer centers, desalination plants and schools as well as water and electricity networks. "We have repaired 2,545 houses in West Bank, constructed 600 housing units in Gaza and distributed more than a million baskets of food," he said. The committee also distributes sacrificial meat, clothing and blankets among the Palestinians. It has paid salaries to a large number of workers in order to boost Palestinian economy. It also carried out another project worth SR13.5 million to supply things required by some 90,000 Palestinian students including schoolbags and textbooks.

OIL SITUATION

Saudi Arabia has pledged again to pump more crude oil if required, but said what world consumers need most is refined fuels such as gasoline and heating oil. Crown Prince Sultan blamed a price spike that took US crude to $70.85 a barrel on a global shortage of refineries, not the crude to run in them. "We are concerned about the rise in oil prices and confirm the Kingdom's readiness to do its utmost to compensate for shortages in supply and to meet increasing demand," Prince Sultan was quoted by the Saudi Press Agency as saying at a reception hosted by the Saudi-American Business Council in New York last week. The current rise in oil prices does not stem from a shortage in crude oil supplies but is due to, as everyone knows, increased demand for products and a shortage in refining capacity.

Crown Prince Sultan said the Kingdom had already increased its production to 11 million barrels per day. "We are working on further raising our output gradually to reach 12 million bpd by 2009," he told Saudi and US businessmen. He emphasized the importance of dialogue between producing and consuming countries to achieve world market stability. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets in Vienna next week and its president has said he would propose the group raise its output by 500,000 bpd. But Qatari Energy Minister Abdullah Al-Attiyah said the proposed hike, viewed by analysts as a goodwill gesture, was unlikely to ease prices and urged consuming states to make it easier to build new refineries to produce more fuel. "I do not think that this will have an effect," Qatar's state news agency QNA quoted him as saying in a radio interview. "The sharp demand for products is the reason behind the rise and not demand for crude oil," Attiyah said.

OPEC has already raised output by more than four million barrels per day over the past three years and is operating close to full capacity. Only Saudi Arabia has any significant spare capacity. But much of the Kingdom's extra oil is medium-to-heavy, high-sulfur crude that is harder for refiners to process into light transport fuels. The closure of US refineries by Hurricane Katrina has also left OPEC and other heavy crude producers such as Mexico and Venezuela, struggling to find homes for those barrels left behind. OPEC has struggled to tame a two-year price rally that has doubled crude prices. It blames much of the rise on the world's shortage of sophisticated refineries.

Prince Sultan also blamed high prices on natural disasters, in a reference to Hurricane Katrina, security concerns in some producing countries and speculation on oil markets.

Oil prices extended gains above $65 a barrel yesterday on worries over heating fuel supplies. Prices hit a record above $70 a barrel after Katrina shut down some refineries in the US Gulf of Mexico and cut supplies. Producing states have and still call on consuming nations, especially the United States and Europe, to facilitate the granting of licenses to build more refineries.

Abdul Aziz Al-Quraishi, president of the Saudi-American Business Council on the Saudi side, said Saudi Arabia was planning to carry out infrastructure projects worth $600 billion by 2020. "I am happy to note that many American companies are now interested to do business in the Kingdom. The International Energy Agency said it would stick by its initial response to fears of global oil shortages after Hurricane Katrina, following speculation that more emergency oil stocks would be made available. The IEA announced on Sept. 2 that its members would release 60 million barrels of oil from strategic reserves over a 30-day period to counter the effects of Katrina, which devastated oil-producing capacity on the Gulf coast of the United States. After a meeting of the IEA board, executive director Claude Mandril said the energy watchdog would neither extend the release period, nor increase the volume of releases, which include both crude and refined oil products. "The IEA governing board, after reviewing its initial collective response action ... has decided to maintain its action," he said.

(Inputs from PAGE sources and courtesy Tehran Times)