Indian village cheers for incoming US vice president Kamala Harris

Indian village cheers for incoming US vice president Kamala Harris
People from Kamala Harris maternal grandfather’s hometown of Thulasendrapuram in India are jubilant and gearing up for celebrations. (AP)
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Updated 20 January 2021

Indian village cheers for incoming US vice president Kamala Harris

Indian village cheers for incoming US vice president Kamala Harris
  • First woman, first woman of color and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency
  • People from her maternal grandfather’s hometown jubilant and gearing up for celebrations

THULASENDRAPURAM, India: A tiny, lush-green Indian village surrounded by rice paddy fields was beaming with joy Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office and becomes the US vice president.
Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first woman of color and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency.
In her maternal grandfather’s hometown of Thulasendrapuram, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, people were jubilant and gearing up for celebrations.
“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.
Harris’ grandfather moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, decades ago. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the US to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”
Ahead of the inauguration, special prayers for her success were held at the town temple during which the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, was washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest.
Ahead of the US elections in November, villagers in Thulasendrapuram also pulled together a ceremony at the temple to wish Harris good luck. After her win, they set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.
Posters of Harris from the November celebrations still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. President-elect Joe Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.
“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.
On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.


5 injured after Houthi projectile lands in Saudi Arabia's Jazan

5 injured after Houthi projectile lands in Saudi Arabia's Jazan
Updated 2 min 4 sec ago

5 injured after Houthi projectile lands in Saudi Arabia's Jazan

5 injured after Houthi projectile lands in Saudi Arabia's Jazan

Saudi Arabia's civil defense says a military projectile launched by Yemen's Houthis fell in Jazan, injuring five civilians - state news agency.

Developing...
 


Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade

Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade
Updated 14 min 19 sec ago

Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade

Global markets rebound as rate hike worries fade
  • Wall Street stocks snapped higher at the open and kept pushing up further

LONDON: World stock markets shot higher on Monday, bouncing back from last week’s heavy selloff as worries about early interest rate hikes faded and US Treasury yields dropped, dealers said.

Wall Street stocks snapped higher at the open and kept pushing up further, recovering much of the ground they lost at the end of last week.

The blue-chip Dow was up 2.1 percent in late morning trading, with the broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also gaining more than 2 percent.

In Europe, London, Frankfurt and Paris all closed the day 1.6 percent higher.

Asian stocks rose strongly on bargain-buying as the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion Covid relief stimulus through the US House of Representatives provided additional cheer.

While many Democrats are disappointed a $15 minimum wage can’t be included in the package in the US Senate, “it does have the short term benefit of making the path to passing the American Rescue Plan that bit easier,” noted Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell.

Oil prices climbed before this week’s output meeting of the OPEC group of oil producers and their allies, while the dollar advanced versus the euro and yen.

“Equity markets have shaken off the negative sentiment that was doing the rounds last week as the pullback in government bond yields has seen buyers step into the fold,” said analyst David Madden at online trading firm CMC Markets UK.

Stocks took a beating last week as government bond yields spiked higher, with investors worried that too much stimulus will spark inflation and push central banks into raising interest rates earlier than expected.

In a bid to calm markets, several central banks — including in Japan, South Korea and the European Union — sought over the weekend to reiterate their pledges to maintain their ultra-loose monetary policies for as long as needed.

Australia’s led the way by ramping up its asset purchases to keep rates low.

“Traders feel more confident about snapping up relatively cheap stocks as they are less fearful that central banks will look to tighten their policy anytime soon,” said Madden.

News that Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine had been given the green light by US regulators — paving the way for a quicker rollout of vaccinations — added to the positive sentiment on Monday.

“Now that the US has three highly effective Covid vaccines, expectations for herd immunity at some point in the summer should release a lot of pent up buying power from the US consumer,” said Oanda analyst Edward Moya.

He said this is renewing interest in stocks in smaller companies with investors betting that an early drop in restrictions will boost their fortunes.

Oil prices also rebounded with focus on the key meeting of the OPEC+ group of major producers on Thursday, when they will discuss the huge output cuts that have provided much-needed support to prices.

Russia is said to be keen to turn on the taps again but Saudi Arabia prefers to keep the status quo.


ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector

ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector
Updated 20 min 34 sec ago

ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector

ENGIE ramps up KSA expansion as energy embraces private sector
  • French conglomerate aims to more than double its workforce in the Kingdom to 5,000 by 2025

JEDDAH: ENGIE, the France-headquartered energy and services conglomerate, revealed earlier this year its plans to invest a further $6.34 billion in Saudi Arabia by 2025, adding to its existing assets and projects in the Kingdom valued at over $8 billion.

The new investments will cover a wide range of services, but the bulk of the $6.34 billion will be in new public-private partnerships (PPPs) focused on utility and social infrastructure projects, Turki Al-Shehri, ENGIE’s CEO in Saudi Arabia, explained to Arab News.

The firm aims to get involved in PPPs to establish new hospitals, universities, schools and railroads, while its focus on energy services will include renewable energy, energy efficiency, research and development (R&D), as well as advisory services.

The Saudi Ministry of Health recently released Al-Ansar Hospital in Madinah for private investment, as part of its Private Sector Participation Program (PSP). Al-Shehri noted that it is a project worth $300 million, with around 240 beds, and ENGIE is already bidding to build, operate, maintain, and provide medical equipment to the hospital for a period of 20 to 30 years.

Moreover, ENGIE was awarded the Yanbu-4 independent water producer desalination plant by the Saudi Water Partnership Company last year, projected to supply 450,000 cubic meters of desalinated seawater per day using clean energy. According to Al-Shehri, this project alone is valued at around $850 million.

“This is ENGIE’s second water project. The first was Marafiq power and water project,” said Al-Shehri. “We work with water desalination projects around the world, with Saudi being a major target for us.

“The Saudi Water Partnership company recently released a seven-year plan which will require three to four seawater desalination projects per year; bidding on such projects is part of our strategy,”
he added.

After operating in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, the conglomerate expanded its presence in the Kingdom in 2019 by establishing its holding company to bring all the group’s Saudi assets under one umbrella holding company.

Al-Shehri noted that the decision to establish the holding company was encouraged by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. Announced in 2016, the 2030 plan focuses on increasing the private sector’s long-term contribution to the economy by opening up new opportunities and removing obstacles that are preventing the sector from playing a larger role in development.

“ENGIE’s bread and butter are PPP projects,” he said. “In the past, they were very selective, mainly within Saudi Aramco, Saudi Electricity Company, and Saudi water company … it was segregated and not a countrywide strategy. However, Vision 2030 has completely changed ENGIE’s objectives toward Saudi Arabia.”

There has been a continuous increase in awarding of PPP projects in utility infrastructure projects between 2017 and 2020, while social infrastructure projects have just recently been introduced,
he explained.

Al-Shehri said the holding company was a requirement to consolidate the exerted efforts and utilize existing resources with global know-how. The French company currently has 16 Saudi subsidiaries “and the number is growing” he said.

Restrictions as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic did not have too much impact, he added, and plans for ENGIE’s PPP projects have been moving smoothly.

“Since ENGIE operates in 70 countries globally, we were able to learn from countries that were infected prior to Saudi Arabia, and we were able to take measures ahead of time,” he said.

Instead, ENGIE has directly hired 62 additional employees and acquired Allied Maintenance Company (AMC) in 2020, which added another 1,300 employees to its workforce, bringing the total number of staff in the Kingdom to around 2,000.

The firm plans to expand its workforce in Saudi Arabia to reach over 5,000 employees by 2025 and Al-Shehri said ENGIE has a strong local focus.

“When it comes to local content, we are focusing on two aspects: Manpower as well as local supplies,” he said. “ENGIE wants to be, and will be, a leader when it comes to international companies ensuring that there is local content being used and proper knowledge transferred, and local partners.”

He noted that the company spends $130 million a year on local supplies for all its assets, which equates to 85 to 90 percent of supplies being sourced locally.

Renewable energy is a core sector for ENGIE and Saudi Arabia provides big opportunities. During the Future Investment Initiative forum in January, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman said that the Kingdom aims to produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. “When the government took on this initiative, the private sector immediately started to follow suit,” Al-Shehri said.

According to a news report by research firm Frost and Sullivan, the region is expected to expand its renewables capacity from solar and wind by 18 times by 2025. “This is a very fresh market and the opportunity for growth is tremendous,” he said.

“It is the largest market in the region … It will continue to grow, and I think we will continue to see changes in policy as a result of prices continuing to decrease and opportunities being open to the private sector and regulations being relaxed,” he added.


Precautions urged even after vaccination

Precautions urged even after vaccination
The number of Saudis and expats who have received the COVID-19 vaccine has reached 780,667. (SPA)
Updated 21 min 36 sec ago

Precautions urged even after vaccination

Precautions urged even after vaccination
  • Health chiefs say COVID-19 vaccine does not undermine immunity

JEDDAH: The Saudi health authorities have reassured the public that any mild symptoms people may experience after receiving the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine is not a sign that their immunity has been affected.

“A person’s immunity is not undermined by taking the vaccine,” said Dr. Fahad Al-Zamil, a Saudi infectious diseases consultant, in a phone interview with Al-Youm TV show on Al Ekhbariya channel.
“What happens to people after taking the vaccination is that they experience some mild symptoms such as a cold, fever, and they assume that the vaccination reduced their immunity,” he explained. “The main goal of vaccinations is to enhance immunity, not reduce it.”
The consultant also stressed even after taking the vaccine people needed to adhere to precautionary measures, such as social distancing and wearing a mask.
Al-Zamil said that the COVID-19 vaccine is similar to other vaccinations, such as that of influenza.
“Vaccines, God willing, are a powerful weapon in protecting lives,” said Health Ministry’s spokesperson Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly describing the vaccine as “highly safe and effective.”
The Ministry of Health on Monday reported 317 new cases, meaning that 377,700 people have now contracted the disease since the beginning of the outbreak. Of these, 2,560 remain active, 492 of them in critical condition.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Kingdom on Monday reported 317 new cases.

• 335 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 368,640 recoveries.

• Saudi Arabia reported six more virus-related deaths on Monday.

According to the ministry, 142 of the newly recorded cases were in the Riyadh region, 72 in the Eastern Province, 45 in the Makkah region and seven in the Madinah region.
In addition, 335 patients had recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 368,640 recoveries.
Saudi Arabia reported six more virus-related deaths on Monday. The death toll now stands at 6,500.
The Kingdom has so far conducted 13,680,202 PCR tests, with 47,125 carried out in the past 24 hours.
Saudi health clinics set up by the ministry as testing hubs or treatment centers have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the Kingdom since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Among those testing hubs are Taakad (make sure) centers and Tetamman (rest assured) clinics.
Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while the Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms, such as fever, loss of taste and smell and breathing difficulties.
Appointments to both services can be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.
Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their doses of the vaccine, which they registered for through the ministry’s app.
The number of those who received the COVID-19 vaccine stands at 780,667 people so far.


Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says

Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says
Updated 25 min 9 sec ago

Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says

Bitcoin is at a ‘tipping point,’ Citi says
  • With the recent embrace of the likes of Tesla Inc. and Mastercard Inc., Bitcoin could be at the start of a ‘massive transformation’ into the mainstream, Citi says

LONDON: Bitcoin rose nearly 6 percent on Monday as risk assets rallied after last week’s bond rout cooled, and Citi said the most popular cryptocurrency was at a “tipping point” and could become the preferred currency for international trade.

With the recent embrace of the likes of Tesla Inc. and Mastercard Inc., Bitcoin could be at the start of a “massive transformation” into the mainstream, Citi added.

Bitcoin, which has risen to $47,000 from $4,700 last March, could in the future become the preferred currency for international trade or face a “speculative implosion,” the investment bank said. It was up 5.7 percent at $47,834 on the Bitstamp exchange. Smaller rival ether rallied 7.5 percent to $1,525.

Bitcoin’s recent performance has come with the growing involvement of institutional investors in recent years, contrasting with its heavy retail investor focus for most of the past decade, Citi added.

If businesses and individuals gain access via digital wallets to planned central bank digital cash and so-called stablecoins, bitcoin’s global reach, traceability and potential for quick payments would see it “optimally positioned” to become the preferred currency for international trade, Citi said.

Bitcoin, designed as a payment tool, is little used for commerce in major economies, hampered by high volatility and relatively costly transactions. 

Still, it has over the past year gained traction in some emerging markets such as Nigeria.

Such a dramatic transformation for bitcoin to the de facto currency of world trade — a status currently held by the dollar — would depend on changes to its market to allow wider institutional participation and closer oversight by financial regulators, Citi said.

Still, shifts in the macro-economic environment may also make the demand for bitcoin less pressing, it added.