Iraqi tribes put more pressure on oil companies in Basra

Extra security forces have been deployed to Basra as tensions escalate. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 12 July 2018
0

Iraqi tribes put more pressure on oil companies in Basra

  • More than 13 tribes unite in anger over killing of protester
  • Protesters plan “to restrict the movement" of oil and gas workers

BAGHDAD: Tribes in southern Iraq blocked more roads and deployed extra protesters on to the streets as demonstrations against foreign and local companies running the region’s oil fields escalated on Wednesday.

Anger has grown in Basra, the country’s main oil hub, after police opened fire on Sunday to disperse demonstrators who had gathered at the entrance of an oil company to demand jobs. One man was killed and three were injured. 

The tribe of the victim demanded that the Iraqi forces hand over the perpetrators for punishment or reveal their identities. But the Iraqi government's refusal to respond to the request has fueled anger in the city which is the main source of the country’s wealth but where the local population see little of the benefit.

More than 13 tribes on Wednesday announced they were backing the request of the Bani Mansour, the tribe of the killed protestor. 

Meanwhile thousands of protesters took to the streets in downtown of Basra and its outskirts. 

Hundreds more blocked the main roads leading to Rumaila, home of the biggest oil fields in the country “to restrict the movement of the workers of the oil and gas sector,” an organizer of the demonstrations told Arab News. Some roads were blocked with dirt barriers while burned tires were positioned across others. 

Iraqi security forces in Basra have been on high alert since Sunday and additional armed troops were deployed along the roads leading to the headquarters of oil companies and oil fields. Foreign oil companies have evacuated their senior staff from West Qurna to southern Rumaila and “have activated their contingency plans to address any potential risks,” a local security advisor of oil companies told Arab News.

The Iraqi Ministry of Oil, which supervises the work of hundreds of foreign, Arab and local oil companies in Basra, also issued new instructions to its local staff to organize their work according to “(the urgent) security conditions and roadblocks.” The advisory said they should be working more than 12 hour shifts to help cover any shortfall in labour and to use alternative routes to reach work sites.

A statement signed by the heads of Basra’s tribes laid out their main grievances. 

“We ask the oil companies to improve the infrastructure of the towns and villages where these companies are operating in Qurna and Medaina,” the statement said.

It called for improving water and electricity supplies, and improving hospitals and roads.

Iraq has suffered from a severe lack of basic services since 1991. 

The southern provinces, especially Basra, are among the most affected by high poverty and unemployment.

Local officials insist that 139,000 locals from Basra are employed in the oil and gas sector there, compared to more than 50,000 foreign and Iraqi workers from outside Basra. But the demonstrators have demanded the expulsion of workers from outside the region to provide more employment opportunities for locals.

“It is true that the largest number of workers in these (oil and gas) companies are from Basra, but it is still unsatisfactory,” Ali Shaddad al-Faris, the head of Oil and Gas Committee within the Basra Provincial Council told Arab News.

“We have already asked the big oil companies to open centers to qualify the locals for more jobs. 

“They (the companies) have expressed their readiness but the Ministry of Oil, which is the only body authorized to ask them, is not interested in developing the skills of youth or improving the situation.”

Sunday’s demonstration was initially protesting against severe electricity shortages but the anger was quickly redirected towards the oil companies.


Backed by Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, PAOK Thessaloniki celebrates first title in a generation

Updated 31 min ago
0

Backed by Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, PAOK Thessaloniki celebrates first title in a generation

  • PAOK Thessaloniki became the first team outside Athens to win the Greek league title in more than three decades
  • Savvidis’ dream of building a major club was almost toppled last season in a game against AEK, during which he stormed onto the field to challenge the referee’s decision with a handgun holstered in his belt

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Tens of thousands of fans in Greece’s second-largest city partied through the night and into Monday after PAOK Thessaloniki became the first team outside Athens to win the Greek league title in more than three decades.
In wild scenes of celebration, fans packed along the city’s seafront — hundreds holding red flares — to catch a glimpse of the winning team on a double-decker bus after its 5-0 win over Levadiakos sealed its undefeated run to victory.
At the heart of the party was Ivan Savvidis, a stout Russian billionaire who transformed the club and bet heavily on the northern Greek economy. Supporters chanted his name as he walked between two rows of flame machines during a celebration ceremony.
The 60-year-old businessman, whose family is partly of Greek ancestry, took over PAOK in 2012 and rescued the club from financial ruin, settling debts and building a 63 million euro ($70 million) roster equal in value to that of the country’s largest club, Olympiakos.
Savvidis, who made his fortune in agriculture in southern Russia, tapped into PAOK’s underdog status and broader resentment throughout the city, which believes it has been overlooked by decision-makers in Athens.
“We have laid the foundations for what I hope is the start of some great achievements,” he said late Sunday, speaking through an interpreter. “Let those in Athens think with a clear head: What they did to us made us stronger by the day.”
Over the past decade, Savvidis has invested in northern Greek businesses, some on the brink of failure, as well as television stations and newspapers that are generally supportive of the country’s left-wing government. Despite his popularity in Thessaloniki, he is seldom far from controversy.
Greece’s western allies have noted his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he served as a member of Russia’s parliament before setting up his Greek businesses. And Savvidis’ dream of building a major club was almost toppled last season in a league game against AEK Athens, during which he stormed onto the field to challenge the referee’s decision with a handgun holstered in his belt.
He remains banned from attending PAOK’s games, but fans late Sunday were forgiving, chanting under the White Tower, the city’s main monument, “Ivan, get your gun.”
PAOK last won titles a generation ago, in 1976 and 1985, and Larissa was the last team outside Athens to claim the championship trophy when it did so in 1988. Olympiakos dominated subsequent decades, winning 19 out of 21 titles before AEK’s victory last season. (Another Athens club, Panathinaikos, won the other two.)
The stranglehold fueled bitterness among PAOK’s owners and fans. Controversy surrounding big-game refereeing decisions, as well as match-fixing prosecutions in the top-flight league, prompted league organizers to use foreign referees at all key matches this season.
PAOK was founded in the mid-1920s by Greek refugees who fled to the city after a catastrophic war with Turkey and owes much of its loyal following to that history.
Not only veterans and fans feel that burden.
Vieirinha, PAOK’s Portuguese captain, wasn’t born the last time the team won the league. On Sunday, in tears, he received a standing ovation from 25,000 fans at Toumba Stadium, playing the last five minutes despite an injury.
“A great team like PAOK does not deserve to wait 34 years to win a championship,” Vieirinha said. “What we lived through this past year is a dream for every PAOK fan. I am one of them. I come from them. For me, PAOK means everything.”