Iraqi Kurdish leader delays independence vote announcement

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani delivers a speech during a rally to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 22, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 23 September 2017
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Iraqi Kurdish leader delays independence vote announcement

ERBIL, Iraq: Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday delayed a scheduled news conference on a controversial independence referendum he has called for next week as international pressure mounts for a postponement.
There has been uncertainty about whether the vote will go ahead on Monday as Iraq’s key allies the United States and Iran, as well as powerful neighbor Turkey, have stepped up their opposition.
“The news conference will take place on Sunday and the time and venue will be announced later,” Barzani’s office said without elaborating.
On Friday, the Iraqi Kurdish leader had insisted that the vote would be held as planned, despite a warning from the UN Security Council that it was “potentially destabilising.”
“The referendum is no longer in my hands, nor is it in those of the (political) parties — it is in your hands,” Barzani told a large crowd at a football stadium in Irbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region.
But behind the scenes negotiations are still taking place aimed at persuading Barzani to postpone any referendum, according to officials close to the discussions.
Iran and Turkey both have sizeable Kurdish populations of their own and fear the vote will stoke separatist aspirations at home.
The federal government in Baghdad is also opposed to the referendum, which it has called unconstitutional.
On Thursday, the UN Security Council urged “dialogue and compromise” to address differences between the Iraqi government and the regional authorities.
It also said the vote could weaken the military campaign against Daesh group, “in which Kurdish forces have played a critical role.”
Baghdad this week launched offensives to oust Daesh from the last two pockets it controls in Iraq.


Red Sea resorts drive Egypt tourism hopes

Holidaymakers play on Thursday at El-Sokhna beach in Suez, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 25 min 4 sec ago
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Red Sea resorts drive Egypt tourism hopes

  • The Red Sea resort of Hurghada has been listed as one of the top 25 destinations in the world
  • Egypt’s annual tourist influx rose to 8.3 million in 2017 from 5.3 million in 2016

CAIRO: Egypt’s tourism industry, struggling since the 2011 uprising plunged the country into violence, is showing signs of recovery.
Thomas Cook, one of the largest tourism companies in Egypt, announced on Sunday that 500,000 tourists will visit the country in 2018.
Egypt’s Thomas Cook agent chairman, Moody Al-Shaer, said that the company had experienced a 50 percent surge in bookings during the first half of 2018, particularly to Red Sea destinations such as Hurghada and Marsa Alam.
“The occupancy rate reached its highest levels since July 2017. We also have a slight increase in prices since last year due to the high demand for Hurghada,” Azza Hussien, marketing manager of the Hilton Hurghada resort, told Arab News.
“One of the main drivers to Hurghada is the competitive pricing and value for money, and this is one of the major reasons leading to a rise in demand among tourists,” Hussien said.
Reports from airlines indicated a rise in British tourism to Egypt. International travel agencies have also forecast a surge in tourists from the UK, with bookings and flights set for a significant increase during 2018.
“With more than 40 UK flights a week, Egypt is again a dream destination for hundreds of thousands of British tourists,” John Casson, the UK ambassador to Egypt, said.
The envoy said at the end of 2017 that Thomas Cook planned to resume flights to the Egyptian city of Marsa Alam to accommodate “growing British demand” for Egyptian holidays.
The tour company suspended flights to the city 10 years ago.
Two flights from Birmingham airport and London Gatwick airport each week will support Thomas Cook’s plans.
The Red Sea resort of Hurghada has been listed as one of the top 25 destinations in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
“The stunning coral reefs and turquoise waters are perfect for windsurfing. Within easy reach of the Giftun Islands and the eastern Arabian Desert,” TripAdvisor wrote on its official website.
“It’s a relatively easy beach escape for Europeans, and some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling sites are just offshore,” it added.
“We come here every year, we love the place. Everyone smiles at you, we really feel at home here,” said Nancy Markaus, a Serbian tourist in Hurghada.
“We love Egypt and we love how friendly people are to us,” said Marten Lutz, a German tourist.
Egypt’s annual tourist influx rose to 8.3 million in 2017 from 5.3 million in 2016. Yet results are still well off the 12 million figure for 2010.