Russia firm to take over Syria port for 49 years: Damascus

Russia has been a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s eight-year civil war. (AP)
Updated 25 April 2019
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Russia firm to take over Syria port for 49 years: Damascus

  • A deal would be signed for the “management, expansion and operation” of port of Tartus

A Russian firm is to take over Syria’s largest port for 49 years and invest $500 million in expanding it, the transport minister in Damascus said Thursday.

A deal would be signed for the “management, expansion and operation” of port of Tartus with Russian company Stroytransgaz, Transport Minister Ali Hammoud was quoted as telling pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.

“The length of the contract — 49 years — was decided after a feasibility study” so both sides could reap benefits, it said.

Russia has been a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s eight-year civil war, providing it with crucial military backing.

The minister on Tuesday told Syrian state television that the port, which started operating in the 1960s, was not deep enough to allow heavy ships to dock.

“Tartus is an old port whose docks range between four and 13 meters deep,” he said.

The current facilities are not suitable for ships heavier than 30-35 tons and “we needed to try to ensure very deep docks to accommodate cargoes of up to 100 tons.”

The expansion works are expected to increase the eastern Mediterranean port’s capacity from 4 million to 38 million tons a year, Hammoud said.

He told Al-Watan that the project would help lessen the burden of international sanctions against the Damascus regime since the start of the war in 2011.

On Saturday, Russian media quoted the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov as saying a deal for the port was in the works.

“We hope the deal will be signed within a week,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying after meeting Assad in Damascus.

Backed by Russian air power since 2015, Assad has made great military gains against rebels and jihadists, and the regime now holds up to 60 percent of the country.

Even during the war, Russian companies have invested in Syria’s oil, gas and mining sectors and won contracts to build flour mills and water-pumping stations.


Third Algerian protest figure detained within a week

Updated 24 min 3 sec ago

Third Algerian protest figure detained within a week

  • Fodil Boumala was arrested on Wednesday evening in front of his home
  • He was detained pending trial on accusations of “undermining national unity”

ALGIERS: An Algerian court on Thursday ordered the pre-trial detention of a leading figure in protests that have gripped Algeria for nearly seven months, one of his lawyers said.
Former state TV journalist Fodil Boumala was arrested on Wednesday evening in front of his home in an eastern suburb of the capital, his lawyer Abdelghani Badi said on Facebook.
Boumala was detained pending trial on accusations of “undermining national unity” after a hearing with an investigative judge at an Algiers court, his lawyer added.
He is the third protest movement figure to be detained on the same charge within a week, following Karim Tabou a week ago and Samir Benlarbi on Tuesday.
The arrests come as the army toughens its line on the demonstrations that have regularly thronged the streets of Algiers and other areas since late February, continuing despite the April resignation of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power.
On Wednesday, the military ordered police to block protesters from outside the capital entering Algiers, days after a presidential election was announced for December despite pushback from demonstrators.
Army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah has led the push for polls by the end of the year.
But protesters have demanded political reforms and the removal of the former president’s loyalists — including Gaid Salah himself — before any legitimate vote can be held.
The police have made multiple arrests in Algiers before the start of Friday rallies in recent weeks.
Officially, demonstrations had been banned in Algiers since 2001, but the prohibition had been ignored since the demonstrations started in February against the ailing Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth presidential term.
According to the coordinator of the National Committee for the Release of Prisoners, 22 protesters arrested last Friday were placed in pre-trial detention on Sunday.
In Relizane, 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of Algiers, two people were killed in overnight clashes between security forces and protesters angered by the death of a teenager in an accident involving a police car, the prosecution said Thursday.
The fighting broke out as the demonstrators tried to storm the town’s police station and find the police officer who had been driving the car when it hit the 15-year-old’s motorbike, killing him.
Two people wounded during the clashes later died, the prosecution said.