France to cancel $5 billion Sudan debt: Macron

France to cancel $5 billion Sudan debt: Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat at the summit to support Soudan on Monday in Paris. (AP)
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Updated 18 May 2021

France to cancel $5 billion Sudan debt: Macron

France to cancel $5 billion Sudan debt: Macron
  • ‘France are in favour of an outright cancellation of our debt to Sudan’, Macron told an international summit on Monday

PARIS: IMF member countries have agreed to clear Sudan’s arrears to the institution, France’s president said on Monday, removing a final hurdle to the African nation getting wider relief on external debt of at least $50 billion.
Hosting a conference for Sudan in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron also kick-started the broader debt relief effort, saying his country was in favor of fully canceling the $5 billion it is owed by Khartoum.
Sudan is emerging from decades of economic sanctions and isolation under ousted former President Omar Al-Badri.
It had built up huge arrears on its debt, but has made rapid progress toward having much of it forgiven under the IMF and World Bank’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) scheme, which would reopen access to badly needed cheap international financing.
A transitional military-civilian power-sharing government is trying to pull the country out of a deep economic crisis with inflation at over 300 percent and shortages of basic goods fueled by a lack of foreign currency reserves.
In order to reach the “decision point” that would unlock the HIPC process in June, Sudan recently cleared its arrears to the World Bank and the African Development Bank with bridge loans from Western states.
The remaining step was to clear Sudan’s arrears to the IMF, which France confirmed it would facilitate through a $1.5 billion bridge loan, and for that loan to be covered by member state pledges.
Those pledges were made during the Paris conference, paving the way for HIPC to proceed and boosting the prospects of broader economic reform in Sudan, Macron said.
Key recent reforms under an IMF monitoring program, a requirement for HIPC, include lifting fuel subsidies and sharply devaluing the currency.
“The reduction of Sudan’s debt that we are going to soon initiate is a first result of these reforms, and this trajectory ... should be consolidated, both economically and politically,” Macron said.
With arrears to multilateral lenders settled, Sudan can move forward to settling its estimated $38 billion debt to bilateral creditors. Of the country’s bilateral debt, about half is with Paris Club members. An additional $6 billion of its external debt is commercial debt, an unusually high proportion.
Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a tweet that Italy and Germany had committed to clearing their shares of Sudan’s debt, which total $1.8 billion, according to IMF estimates. Norway’s ambassador to Sudan said on Twitter her country would cancel its debt, listed at $100 million.
The HIPC process operates by consensus, whereby debt is restructured along similar terms for all creditors.
Kuwait, Sudan’s largest creditor by far at $9.8 billion, said in a statement it would support debt “resolution” discussions.
Saudi Arabia, another major creditor, has also said it will press strongly for a broad agreement on debt.
China has reduced and forgiven some debt and will push for the international community to do the same, said Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman.
The first part of the Paris conference was dedicated to promoting investment, with officials touting reforms in the banking sector and showcasing projects worth billions of dollars in energy, mining, infrastructure and agriculture.


Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri (R) and his Libyan counterpart Najla al-Mangoush (L) give a joint press conference after their meeting in the capital Cairo on June 19, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 32 min 1 sec ago

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya
  • The two ministers discussed preparations for a new set of Libyan peace talks in Berlin

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called for the exit of foreign mercenaries from Libya without delay, during a joint press conference with his Libyan counterpart Najla Mangoush.
Shoukry affirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan Presidential Council during its transitional period to restore security and stability in Libya until the elections on Dec. 24.
He reaffirmed Egypt’s support for the Libyan interim executive authority, noting that he discussed with Mangoush the efforts to restore security and stability in Libya, and advancing relations between the two countries.
Shoukry said that the talks with his Libyan counterpart included discussions about preparations for the Berlin ministerial conference, which will be hosted by Germany on June 23.

HIGHLIGHTS

Egypt’s foreign minister reaffirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan interim executive authority, noting that he discussed with his counterpart the efforts to restore security and stability in Libya, and advancing relations between the two countries.

The meeting will discuss the Libyan crisis. The two ministers also discussed preparations for a new set of Libyan peace talks in Berlin.
The Egyptian foreign minister said that through this conference, both sides would seek the renewal of the commitment of the international community inside and outside of Libya.
He said that his and Magnoush’s renewed emphasis was on advancing joint cooperation frameworks aimed at ending foreign interference and preserving the capabilities of the Libyan people.
Meanwhile, his Libyan counterpart said: “We need Egypt’s support in the political process, to achieve stability and a cease-fire in Libya.”
Magnoush added that there were signs of hope for the unification of Libyans after the conference in Berlin.


Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts
Thousands of civilians have been killed in Marib since February when the rebels resumed a major offensive to seize control of the region. (Reuters/File)
Updated 11 min 31 sec ago

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts
  • Government forces repel ‘massive’ rebel assault on strategic city, forcing retreat

ALEXANDRIA: Yemen’s government warned on Sunday that Houthi military escalation in the central province of Marib and drone attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia threaten peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

In a statement carried by the official news agency SABA, Yemen’s foreign ministry slammed the Houthis for stepping up shelling of residential areas in the central city of Marib, as well as intensifying ground offensives in the province and firing explosive-rigged drones and ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia.
The ministry accused the Houthis of executing Iran’s “subversive” policies in Yemen and seeking to derail efforts to end the war.
“Those terrorist attacks and the ongoing military escalations are clear messages and responses to all regional and international efforts to bring peace and end the war in Yemen,” the ministry said, renewing the government’s support to the Kingdom in defending its soil against Houthi strikes.
The warning comes as fighting between the Houthis and Yemeni government flared up over the last two days in Marib after the rebels resumed their push to seize control of the strategic city.
Yemen’s defense minister said that dozens of rebel fighters were killed in key battlefields outside the city of Marib after army troops and allied tribesmen repelled a large Houthi offensive.
Speaking to Arab News on Sunday from Marib, a local military official said that on Saturday, the Houthis mounted a “massive” assault on government forces in Al-Kasara, west of Marib city, and retreated after suffering heavy casualties and losses in military equipment.
“We crushed their waves of fighters, burnt two armed vehicles and captured a key Houthi military leader along with his group,” the official said.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib since February when the rebels resumed a major offensive to seize control of the oil- and gas-rich region, the Yemeni government’s last bastion in northern parts of the country.
At the same time, dozens of civilians in the densely populated city have been killed after Houthis targeted residential areas with missiles, mortal shells and drones.
A week ago, Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad told Arab News that the government “would not allow the Houthis to capture Marib” as it had thrown all of its weight behind the “make-or-break” battle.
The latest round of fighting in the province comes as regional and international mediators shuttle between Riyadh, Muscat and Sanaa to make a breakthrough toward reaching an agreement to end the war.
At the same time, Awad said that the Omani delegation that visited Houthi-held Sanaa earlier this month could not convince the rebels to accept the UN-brokered peace initiative, adding that the Yemeni government is in favor of stopping fighting immediately to ease the humanitarian crisis in the country.
“We see that the first humanitarian step is a comprehensive cease-fire on all fronts — on the ground and in the air. This is the most important step, because it will stop the bloodshed and will open crossings and passages,” the minister said, adding that along with halting hostilities, the peace plan calls for reopening Sanaa airport, lifting restrictions on Hodeidah port and resuming peace talks.


Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
Updated 20 June 2021

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
  • The Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last for three to four days, state TV says

TEHRAN: Iran’s sole nuclear power plant has undergone an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown, state TV reported on Sunday.
An official from the state electric energy company, Gholamali Rakhshanimehr, said on a talk show that the Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last “for three to four days.”
He said that power outages could result. He did not elaborate but this is the first time Iran has reported an emergency shutdown of the plant, located in the southern port city of Bushehr. It went online in 2011 with help from Russia. Iran is required to send spent fuel rods from the reactor back to Russia as a nuclear nonproliferation measure.
In March, nuclear official Mahmoud Jafari said the plant could stop working since Iran cannot procure parts and equipment for it from Russia due to banking sanctions imposed by the US in 2018.
Bushehr is fueled by uranium produced in Russia, not Iran, and is monitored by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA did not immediately respond to request for comment on the reported shutdown.
Construction on Bushehr, on the coast of the northern reaches of the Arabian Gulf, began under Iran’s shah in the mid-1970s. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the plant was repeatedly targeted in the Iran-Iraq war. Russia later completed construction of the facility.
The plant, which sits near active fault lines and was built to withstand powerful quakes, has been periodically shaken by temblors. There have been no significant earthquakes reported in the area in recent days.


Decision time on Iran nuclear deal ‘approaching fast,’ says European diplomat

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2021

Decision time on Iran nuclear deal ‘approaching fast,’ says European diplomat

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
  • E3 official said talks could not be open ended
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on world powers to “wake up”

VIENNA: Talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers cannot continue indefinitely and a decision needs to be made soon, a senior diplomat from the ‘E3’ grouping of France, Germany and Britain said on Sunday.

“We continue to make progress but we still need to resolve the most difficult issues. As we have stated before, time is on nobody’s side. These talks cannot be open ended,” the diplomat said

“Delegations will now travel to capitals in order to consult with their leadership. We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to conclude a deal. The time for decision is fast approaching.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday opened his first Cabinet meeting since swearing in his new coalition government last week with a condemnation of the new Iranian president.

He said Iran’s presidential election was a sign for world powers to “wake up” before returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected Saturday with 62% of the vote amid a historically low voter turnout.

He is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi has not commented specifically on the event.

* With AP and Reuters

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Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede
Updated 20 June 2021

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede
  • Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival despite coronavirus restrictions
  • Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds
JERUSALEM: Israel’s government approved Sunday the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry into a deadly disaster at a Jewish holy site in April that left 45 people dead.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the commission would investigate major safety shortcomings that led to a deadly stampede at Lag Baomer celebrations on Mount Meron.
It will be headed by a current or former senior judge, and its members selected by the country’s chief Supreme Court justice.
Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings. The state comptroller’s office had previously issued a pair of reports in 2008 and 2011 warning that the conditions at Mount Meron were dangerous.
Hundreds of people funneled through a narrow passageway descending the mountain’s holy site during the festival. A slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall, precipitating a human avalanche that killed 45 people and injured at least 150.
The police launched an investigation into the disaster, but to date have yet to make any arrests.
The government said the commission would investigate the officials “who made the decisions that led to approving the event and determining the framework that was approved and its terms.”
Powerful ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to lift attendance restrictions at the religious festival.
Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds that flock there during the springtime holiday, and that existing infrastructure was a safety risk.
Netanyahu’s political allies, including ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, walked out on a Knesset committee hearing that discussed forming an investigation last month. Families of the mostly ultra-Orthodox victims of the disaster had called on Netanyahu to take action and form an independent state commission to investigate the incident.
Bennett said at the start of his newly formed government’s first Cabinet meeting that “the responsibility is on our shoulders to learn the lessons to prevent the disaster to come.”
“The commission cannot bring back those who died, but the government can do everything to prevent an unnecessary loss in the future,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, one of the ministers who advanced the motion to launch the commission, said in a statement: “We must make sure that a tragedy of this nature never repeats itself. The taskforce’s purpose is, above anything else, to save human life.”