Saudi Arabia condemns Douma chemical attack

Saudi Arabia condemns Douma chemical attack
Saudi Arabia condemned the Douma chemical attack through a statement issued by the kingdom's foreign ministry. (AFP)
Updated 08 April 2018

Saudi Arabia condemns Douma chemical attack

Saudi Arabia condemns Douma chemical attack

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has expressed deep concern and condemned the purported chemical attack on Douma in the eastern region of Syria, according to an official source at the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The attack killed dozens of civilians, among them women and children.
The source stressed the need to stop these tragedies and to pursue a peaceful solution based on the principles of the Geneva Declaration and UN Security Council resolutions.
The source pointed out the importance of the international community’s responsibilities toward civilians in Syria.


Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead
Updated 5 min 32 sec ago

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead
  • The woman spent over 5 hours buried under rubble of the four-story building
  • Rescuers managed to locate and speak with the woman and passing her a bottle of water

CAIRO: An apartment building in the Egyptian capital of Cairo collapsed on Tuesday, killing a man while rescue workers hours later pulled his wife alive from under the rubble, officials said.
The woman spent more than five hours buried under the rubble of the four-story building in the city’s Waraq neighborhood, officials said. She was taken to hospital. No other residents were believed to be inside the building at the time of the collapse.
Earlier, the rescuers had managed to locate and speak with the woman — even passing her a bottle of water, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Prosecutors opened an investigation, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the collapse but such incidents are common in Egypt, where shoddy construction is widespread in shantytowns, poor city neighborhoods and rural areas.
Last month, at least five women died when an apartment building collapsed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Another building in Cairo collapsed in March, leaving at least 25 dead.
With real estate at a premium in big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, developers seeking bigger profits frequently violate planning permits. Extra floors often, for example, are sometimes added without proper government permits.
The government recently launched a crackdown on illegal construction across the country, jailing and fining violators, and in many cases demolishing the buildings.


Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19
Updated 23 min ago

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19

DUBAI: The Saudi Arabian government has warned against travel to destinations on the Kingdom’s ban list amid COVID-19.

The Interior Ministry said citizens who have traveled to banned countries will be barred from traveling for three years, state news agency SPA reported.

Saudi citizens have been earlier prohibited from traveling to Indonesia over coronavirus disease concerns. Saudi citizens currently in the Asian nation have been told to exercise caution, and stay away from areas with high infection rates.

Saudi authorities have also banned travel, without prior permission, to and from the UAE, Ethiopia and Vietnam, over concerns about the spread of more-infectious variants of the coronavirus.

– More to follow –


E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery

E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery
Updated 37 min 24 sec ago

E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery

E-commerce, online video set to fuel global ad spend recovery
  • Digital channels will contribute to ad industry’s recovery: Zenith forecast

DUBAI: Global spending on advertising was expected to grow by 11.2 percent this year to $669 billion, according to new industry figures.

The expenditure boom was being driven by demand for performance-led e-commerce advertising and brand advertising on online video, said Zenith in its latest advertising expenditure forecasts report.

If the predictions ring true, the total spend this year will be $40 billion more than before the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in 2019. And growth was likely to remain robust in the medium term, at an anticipated 6.9 percent next year, and 5.6 percent in 2023.

“After a very tough year last year, the ad market is enjoying rapid and broad-based recovery, and will end this year well above the level it achieved in 2019,” said Jonathan Barnard, head of forecasting at Zenith, which is part of Publicis Groupe.

A rise in ad spending was expected globally this year with the Middle East and North Africa region, currently recovering from the steepest decline, forecast to see expenditure increase by 15 percent.

According to data, the strongest growth since 2019 was taking place in North America where spending was up 13 percent this year after shrinking by only 1 percent last year.

Effect of e-commerce on advertising market

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift from physical sales to e-commerce, driving more consumers than ever before to research and complete purchases online. Brands responded to the change in customer behavior by forming partnerships with retailers and creating new direct-to-consumer operations, using performance-driven advertising – primarily in social media and paid search – to lead consumers down the path to buy.

The Zenith report noted that the patterns would expand social media advertising by 25 percent this year to reach $137 billion, overtaking in scale for the first time paid search that was expected to grow by 19 percent to $135 billion.

FASTFACTS

Ad spend will exceed the pre-pandemic peak by 6% this year.

Digital advertising will command 58% share of market in 2021, up from 48% in 2019.

Online video advertising will be fastest-growing digital channel in 2021, rising 26% to reach $63bn.

The average cost of television advertising is up 5% this year.

Middle East, North Africa region will see growth of 15% in ad spend this year.

A significant part of the new money being pumped into advertising was coming from small businesses that had to pivot to e-commerce due to COVID-19 lockdowns, and from brands that reallocated money from securing physical shelf space with retailers to display and search ads on retailers’ websites.

As lockdowns ease around the world, the growth of e-commerce will slow down but not return to pre-pandemic levels, the report revealed, adding that e-commerce would continue to pull in incremental revenues to the ad market, driving growth next year of 13 percent in social media and 12 percent in search.

Growth of online video

Audiences continued to migrate online where video viewing was growing rapidly, the report found, and despite traditional television ratings experiencing a surge when lockdowns began last year, they were shrinking again.

Advertisers valued online video as a means of maintaining reach while TV declined, but it was also an effective form of brand communication in its own right. Zenith predicted that online video advertising would be the fastest-growing digital channel this year, rising by 26 percent to reach $63 billion.

Benoit Cacheux, global chief digital officer at Zenith, said: “The online video landscape continues to transform, fueled by the growth of streaming services and connected TVs.

“Its continued evolution requires a radical rethink of how to build the optimal screen-neutral reach model. The ingestion of new data sources into TV planning also creates further opportunities to further sync TV and video planning.”

Traditional media will continue to trail behind digital

Overall, Zenith expected digital advertising to grow by 19 percent this year and increase its share of total ad spend to 58 percent, up from 48 percent in 2019, and 54 percent last year.

Most other media channels were enjoying growth this year, as spending rebounded from the 16 percent drop in traditional media ad spend in 2020. Cinema and out-of-home were the most affected by COVID-19-related restrictions, shrinking by 72 percent and 28 percent, respectively, but were expected to witness the fastest recovery this year with respective growth rates of 116 percent and 16 percent.

Radio advertising, which shrank by 22 percent last year, was forecast to grow by 4 percent this year, while television fell 8 percent in 2020 and was predicted to grow 1 percent in 2021.

Print would continue its long decline, now in its 14th consecutive year, with an 8 percent drop in ad spend in 2021, the report said.

Although cinema and out-of-home would have made up almost all lost ground by 2023, ad spend across traditional channels would still be below 2019 levels.

Cost of advertising

This year’s rapid recovery, coupled with the continued migration of audiences from traditional to digital channels, was fueling substantial increases in media prices, particularly in television.

The cost of television advertising was up 5 percent this year on average, though the variance between markets and audiences was wide. Television spend has increased by 1 percent, so the volume of audiences reached globally has shrunk.

In contrast, digital media growth was mainly driven by rising audiences and more extensive monetization with online video inflation averaging 7 percent, and social media roughly flat, compared to their 26 percent and 25 percent respective ad spend growth rates.

“Digital advertising is becoming a more effective tool for brand growth as media and commerce continue to move online, attracting greater investment from large brands and small businesses alike,” added Barnard.


Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
Updated 50 min 50 sec ago

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
  • The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new prime minister-designate Najib Mikati started consultations with leading political parties Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.
The billionaire politician, already twice a prime minister, was designated on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.
The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August and efforts to agree on a new lineup have proved fruitless.
The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s worst crises since the mid-19th century.
On Tuesday, Mikati met with top political parties, including the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.
Following their meeting, Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said his party is ready to “seriously cooperate” with the new PM-designate.
“What is required is speedy cabinet formation and cooperation from all parties toward that end,” Raad told reporters.
FPM chief Gebran Bassil, accused by critics of repeatedly obstructing efforts to form a new government, said his party has decided “not to participate in the next cabinet, which means we will not get involved in the formation process.”
In an interview with the An-Nahar newspaper, Mikati vowed his lineup would be “purely technical” and tasked with bridging the gap to elections due next year.
Several lawmakers, including deputy speaker Elie Ferzli, on Tuesday, backed this push.
“The government will consist of specialists,” Ferzli said. “As for the nominating process, it will rest on Mikati and his agreements with the president.”
The designation of the 65-year-old Mikati, Lebanon’s richest man and to many a symbol of its corrupt oligarchy, was met with general skepticism.
A native of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest, he was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment, a charge he denies.
“How can I trust a thief who stole from me and my children and their future?” asked 57-year-old Beirut resident Mohammed Deeb, after Mikati’s designation.
“As long as this (political) class is still in power, nothing will change.”
On Sunday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside Mikati’s Beirut home, accusing him of corruption and cronyism.
Lebanon’s former colonial ruler France and other Western governments stopped short of welcoming Mikati’s designation and simply urged him to swiftly deliver a competent lineup.
But Lebanon’s bickering politicians view Mikati as a consensus candidate, who may be capable of easing a political deadlock that has stymied efforts toward forming a government.
Mikati, the third politician in a year to attempt the job, promised his government would work on implementing a French roadmap conditioning a huge aid package on reform and transparency.
Tuesday’s meetings with the parliamentary blocs are the customary official step that follows a new prime minister’s designation but the high-stakes horse-trading has yet to begin.
In some of his first comments after his designation, Mikati addressed the shortages that have plunged the country into darkness and further crippled its crumbling economy.
Lebanon can no longer provide mains electricity to its citizens for more than a handful of hours a day nor can it afford to buy the fuel needed to power generators.
Almost none of the international community’s demands for a broad program of reforms have so far been met.
Further stalling the bankrupt state’s recapitalization has been the government’s failure to engage the International Monetary Fund and discuss a fully-fledged rescue plan.
Until then, the monetary institution is due to send around $900 million as part of its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) aid financing scheme to help Lebanon recover.
Experts have warned however that the amount would not be enough and risked being misused by a ruling class that offers no more guarantees of transparency than before.
According to the Al-Akhbar newspaper, Mikati wants to use the IMF money to build new plants aimed at stabilising Lebanon’s power supply.


Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
Updated 51 min 47 sec ago

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
  • The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier
  • The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week

TEHRAN: Iran recorded over 34,900 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, setting the nation’s single-day record for cases as vaccinations lag, public complacency deepens and the country’s outbreak spirals further out of control.
The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier, providing a sense of how quickly Iran’s latest surge, fueled by the contagious delta variant, is mounting. Health authorities recorded 357 COVID-19 fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 89,479 — the highest in the Middle East.
The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week. The government ordered the closure of state offices, public places and non-essential businesses in the capital of Tehran. But as with previous government measures, the lockdown looked very little like a lockdown at all. Tehran’s malls and markets were busy as usual and workers crowded offices and metro stations.
Iranian authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules on a population that can little afford to bear them. The country, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from a series of crises: tough US sanctions, global isolation, a heat wave, the worst blackouts in recent memory and ongoing protests over water shortages in the southwest.
Now, health officials warn that hospitals in the capital are overwhelmed with breathless COVID patients too numerous to handle. Fewer than 3 percent of Iranians have been fully vaccinated in the sanctions-hit country. Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots or the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine that may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced that its homemade vaccine provides 85 percent protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data or details. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.