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Last updated: Friday 23 Dec, 2005-12.30 P.M (PST)



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Oct 24 - 30, 2005


Saddam Hussein's trial has begun in Baghdad with the ousted Iraqi leader defiantly questioning the validity of the court before pleading not guilty. He refused to confirm his identity telling the presiding judge: "Who are you? What is all this?"

All eight defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of ordering the killing of 148 Shia men in 1982. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. After just over three hours, the trial was adjourned until November 28. Saddam Hussein's defense team had said they wanted a postponement to prepare their case, but a leading news agency quoted the chief judge as saying the main reason was witnesses had not shown up. The trial began in an imposing marble building that once served as the National Command Headquarters of Saddam's Baath Party, in the heavily fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital. TV pictures showed Saddam and his co-defendants being led into pens in the courtroom.

The 68-year-old former leader was wearing a dark suit with an open-necked shirt and carried a copy of the Quran. As he was being led in by two guards, he gestured with his hand to slow them down. Asked to confirm his name by the chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd, Saddam Hussein refused.

Amid some verbal sparring with the judge, the former Iraqi leader stated: "I preserve my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq. I do not recognize the body that has authorized you and I don't recognize this aggression. "What is based on injustice is unjust ... I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect."

Later, as the trial adjourned, he was involved in what appeared to be a scuffle with the guards who wanted to grab his arms to escort his out. But this appeared to be for the benefit of the media, reports the BBC's John Simpson from inside the courtroom. Right from the start this was a battle for control of the courtroom and beyond that, for Iraqi public opinion.

As the proceedings went on, Saddam interrupted the prosecutor several times, accusing him of lying, but the judges decided not to silence him. The case concerns the rounding up and execution of 148 men in Dujail, a Shia village north of Baghdad, following an attempt there on Saddam's life. Saddam's co-accused are Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, his half-brother who was his intelligence chief; former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan; Awad Hamed al-Bandar, a former chief judge; and Dujail Baath party officials Abdullah Kadhem Ruaid, Ali Daeem Ali, Mohammed Azawi Ali and Mizher Abdullah Rawed.

In Dujail, a few demonstrators gathered in the main square chanting: "Saddam Hussein should be executed, him and his whole family." But in the former leader's home town of Tikrit, supporters vowed loyalty to Saddam with a banner saying: "We sacrifice our blood and soul for you, Saddam."

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba defended the decision to put the former leader on trial. "Iraqis have not forgotten yet that the reason why the country is in such a mess, it's because one man stole the will of 27 million people for 35 years and pushed them into wars and misery," Kubba told a news conference.

The case is the first of many expected to be brought against the former Iraqi leader. Court officials say the case was chosen because it was the easiest and quickest case to compile. If found guilty, defendants are meant to be hanged within 30 days of the appeals process being exhausted, according to the tribunal statutes.

However, prosecution lawyers also want to bring charges concerning the gassing of 5,000 people in the Kurdish village of Halabja in March 1988, and the suppression of a Shia revolt following the first Persian Gulf War. Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003 after the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Court must charge Saddam with instigating wars against Iran and Kuwait: Iran "We welcome the start of the trial of Saddam, who has committed crimes against humanity, particularly against the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said in a statement on Wednesday. "We hope this court will heal the wounds of those who were harmed by Saddam's crimes... (and) also teach a good lesson to other oppressors," he added.

Asefi also noted that on the list of charges against Saddam Hussein, the court must include the charges of starting the bloody and destructive wars with Iran and Kuwait. Iran is lobbying and taking the appropriate measures in this regard the most important of which is filing a complaint in connection with the eight-year Iraq-Iran war which will be submitted to the court. Western countries backed and armed Saddam during his war with Iran and turning a blind eye to his use of outlawed weapons. "This will be the trial of Britain and America's puppet, which goes on trial because of his disobedience," Reuters quoted Mohsen, a student and member of the volunteer Basij militia, as saying.

"When are American and British leaders going to go on trial for their crimes against humanity and killing innocent people? Saddam's trial is the trial of a war criminal by other war criminals," he said. Ali Reza, a government official who spent almost eight years in Iraqi prisoner of war camps after being captured at the frontline, said he could not wait to see Saddam sentenced. "I'm very happy that after such a long time Saddam is going to be punished, I hope he will be executed," Reza said.


While reiterating Riyadh's support to stabilize the world oil market, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah urged industrialized countries to play their part by either lifting or reducing taxes on oil products. King Abdullah made this comment during a meeting with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato at Al-Salam Palace. "King Abdullah told the IMF chief that the industrialized countries should not impose taxes on petroleum products at all or reduce them in order to lessen the burden on consumers," said Finance Minister Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf. Al-Assaf, who was present at the meeting, said the king had emphasized that Saudi Arabia would continue its efforts to stabilize the oil market and that de Rato had commended Saudi oil policies.

Maintaining taxes at the current levels would impact on the future investment in oil producing countries and on the petroleum market in general. Dr. Nahed Taher, senior economist at the National Commercial Bank, told Arab News that "OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries are always complaining that high oil prices are leading to recession and lowering the demand for goods and services in the world economy, but the higher oil prices and the subsequent increase in the cost of producing goods and services are mainly coming from the higher taxes that these countries impose on their internal consumers of oil." She said some countries were imposing taxes as high as 75 percent of the total cost of oil. "As a result, these countries make an income which might be three to four times what the oil producing countries make from higher oil prices," Taher pointed out. As an example, she said, the money Italy makes out of oil taxes is three times more than what UAE (United Arab Emirates) makes out of oil exports. "That means that if the recession happens or the demand for goods and services is lower the reason is the taxes on oil consumption rather than the higher oil prices," she argued.

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a series of projects, which are estimated to cost $50 billion, to increase oil production to 12.5 million barrels per day by the beginning of 2009. Speaking to reporters after attending a meeting of GCC finance ministers in Jeddah, Al-Assaf also said that de Rato had praised the Kingdom's plan to use part of its surplus budget for welfare projects and cut down public debts of SR600 billion. "We are working continuously to reduce public debts and there is good progress in this respect. God willing, we'll announce the remaining debts by the end of this year," the minister said while answering a question. Al-Assaf said the Kingdom had approved the applications of GCC banks to open their branches in the country, adding that the Emirates Bank International had already opened its branch. "GCC banks which want to open their branches in the Kingdom will face no obstacles," he added.

Al-Assaf denied reports that the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) had urged the Finance Ministry to cut down corporate taxes. "We have already brought down income tax to 20 percent, which is a competitive rate compared to other countries," he explained.


The Islamic Republic of Iran's commerce minister said it takes seven years for the country to join World Trade Organization (WTO). Masud Mirkazemi told reporters, "We should produce high-quality goods to be able to compete with other countries before joining WTO." He pointed to changing production styles and current internal regulations as main prerequisites for joining WTO. He also urged the government to decrease import taxes. Criticizing low quality of domestic products, Mirkazemi said Iranian goods could not compete in the international markets last year. "Spread of production management should be regarded as a priority by the industrialists across the country. We should improve production infrastructure and planning on the basis of world standards," Mirkazemi concluded.


Middle Eastern holding company Kuwait Projects Co. (KIPCO) plans to establish a $100-million firm in Tunis to handle all its investments in North Africa, an official said in remarks published on Monday. Mohammad Al-Faquih, deputy president of KIPCO offshoot Tunis International Bank (TIB), told Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA the new company would be launched by end of the year. With assets of $10 billion under management, KIPCO has a portfolio of some 70 companies in financial services, media and telecommunications, real estate and industry throughout the Middle East and North Africa.


HH the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has issued directives to Qatar Red Crescent Society to provide urgent additional humanitarian relief supplies for Pakistan earthquake victims. An official source at the Foreign Ministry said the aid was part of Qatar's relief supplies to Pakistan to express its solidarity with the friendly people of Pakistan and as a contribution to help alleviate the effect of this disaster.

A strong new aftershock jolted cities across northern Pakistan late yesterday, hours after two other tremors rattled survivors of the massive October 8 quake, witnesses and officials said. The latest shock measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale was felt at 5.47pm (1247 GMT), shortly after the end of the day's Ramadan fast, Meteorological department chief Qamaruz Zaman said. The epicentre was near quake-hit Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, about 120km (74 miles) north of Islamabad. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made a dramatic appeal for urgent help from the world community for Pakistan to prevent a second massive wave of deaths in the wake of the recent earthquake. Annan told reporters that an estimated 3mn people were homeless with no blankets or tents to protect them from the merciless Himalayan winter. "That means a second, massive wave of death will happen if we do not step up our efforts now," he added.

Qatar Red Crescent (QRC) Society has urged doctors and nurses to volunteer for earthquake relief operations in Pakistan and India. The minimum period of service will be 21 days. Those interested can call the QRC media co-ordinator at 5837338, or send their CVs to QRC said that there was an urgent need for three doctors, two orthopaedic surgeons and four nurses. QRC has already established a medical centre in Bagh in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, in co-ordination with the Pakistani Red Crescent. The camp will be open for the next four months. According to the QRC figures, the tremor has left 2.5mn people homeless and 75,000 injured, of which only 17,000 have been treated. The relief teams are yet to reach 35% of the quake-hit areas, the society said.


Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) has received a license for a full-fledged Islamic bank in Malaysia. To be known as Asian Finance Bank (AFB), it will be based in Malaysia and will cater to the Islamic banking requirements of customers in that country besides Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei. QIB general manager Salah Mohamed al-Jaidah observed. AFB would start functioning in the first half of 2006.

"We will design and launch Sharia-compliant products both for the retail and corporate segments. There is a huge demand for Islamic banking products in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei. We will tap it," al-Jaidah said.

He said QIB would represent 70% of the investors in AFB. The bank's actual stake in Asian Finance Bank, however, would be lower than that. Kuwait-based Gulf Investment House and a GCC entity based in Malaysia will represent the remaining (30%) investors. Al-Jaidah said QIB was in the process of establishing a European Finance House (EFH) in London. It was aimed at helping investors place their money in the European market and non-Islamic European banks structure and market Sharia-complaint products in that continent. Trade finance, trade guarantee and refinance requirements based on Sharia principles will also be met by the EFH.

The QIB general manager said a plan was being put in place to reactivate the Arab Finance House in Lebanon, in which Qatar Islamic Bank had a major stake. "We wish to make the best use of the emerging Lebanese market. We are closely watching the recent political developments in that country," he said. Al-Jaidah said Solidarity Insurance, a Bahrain-based joint venture Islamic insurer with QIB as its major promoter, would design and launch several Sharia-compliant insurance products in the Qatari market next year.

"It has the license to market them locally through the QIB platform. Solidarity has already become operational in Qatar through Qatar Islamic Bank," al-Jaidah added.


Consumers should brace for crude oil and natural gas prices possibly doubling or tripling this winter, Matthew Simmons, a best-selling author and oil-supply bear, said.

"Prices are really cheap today and they need to go a lot higher, and they probably will go a lot higher," Simmons said in Ottawa. "I am very concerned, given the destructive damage done by (Hurricanes) Katrina and Rita that the US must be closer to starting to see significant product shortages than we've seen since 1979."

Too much got destroyed and too little has been brought back on stream, the Houston-based analyst said. He also said that cold weather this winter could bring a very high risk of natural gas curtailment in the US. "Either one of those events (oil product shortage or natural gas shortage) could send prices two to three times higher than they are today," he said after a speech in Ottawa.

That could translate into natural gas prices of $40 per million British thermal units from more than $13 now, he said. Doubling or tripling crude would put it in the range of $125 to $190 per barrel. "Everyone keeps thinking there is a (price) ceiling...There is no ceiling," said Simmons, who wrote in his book Twilight in the Desert that Saudi oil output is at or near its peak. He said he has seen little sign that higher prices so far have done much to reduce consumption. Simmons said supplies of heating fuel oil were in okay shape, but could drain fast if the weather turned cold. Diesel is tight and shortages of jet fuel had caused some planes to be diverted from some airports.

"It's going to be painful for people to get used to actually paying real money for a really valuable resource," he said. Oil prices, meanwhile, sank yesterday on news of a surprise jump in US gasoline and crude reserves last week, while Hurricane Wilma looked set to avoid storm-weary Gulf Coast installations, dealers said. Crude oil for November delivery fell 90, or 1.4%, to $62.30 a barrel at the 2:30pm closes of floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline for November delivery declined 6.52, or 3.8%, to $1.67 a gallon in New York.

In London, the December Brent crude-oil futures contract fell 77, or 1.3%, to $58.51 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange. Heating oil for November delivery fell 2.42, or 1.3%, to $1.91 a gallon in New York. Futures touched $1.875, the lowest since September 26.

Traders were digesting the latest snapshot from the US Department of Energy, which showed that crude stocks surged over the past week as more supplies came online following recent hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The DoE said crude stocks rose 5.6mn barrels in the week to October 14, almost three times more than forecasts of a 2mn-barrel increase. Gasoline reserves gained 2.77mn barrels, compared with market predictions of a 1.2mn-barrel decrease. Most analysts had expected a decline as a result of the refinery shutdowns in the US Gulf of Mexico.

"The figures are extremely bearish," noted Societe General analyst Deborah White. "The crude build is much larger than we expected and the market was expecting a gasoline draw and of course we saw a build." Distillates, used for heating oil and diesel fuel, showed a decline of 1.9mn barrels, more than analysts' forecasts of a decrease of 1.7mn.

White added: "The unexpected factor is just how much they managed to increase gasoline" production at US refineries, while "gasoline imports were the highest ever in my view. Those two things in tandem were enough to flip the market."

Meanwhile, Hurricane Wilma became the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic as it hurtled toward Mexico and the US coast - but would likely spare oil infrastructures. "Wilma is supposed to hit Florida and not the Gulf of Mexico, but it could easily change direction when it hits land," said Investec analyst Bruce Evers.

"It would be absolutely disastrous if Wilma went through the oil platforms again." Authorities ordered the evacuation of tourist resorts in the path of the monster storm, the 12th hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic season, which the US National Hurricane Centre said was "potentially catastrophic". Oil prices had retreated $1.16 in New York on Tuesday after Wilma changed direction towards the Florida coastline.

Prices have fallen over 5% since the start of the month but analysts fear that low stockpiles of distillates - including crucial heating fuel - could cause problems ahead of the northern hemisphere winter. Six Gulf Coast refineries remain closed following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and others are just restarting. Those six facilities account for around 7.6% of the total refining capacity of the US, while the Gulf Coast itself accounts for some 29% of total US crude production.


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