Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib
Fighters with Yemen’s government man a position near the frontline facing Houthis in the northeastern province of Marib, on June 19, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib
  • Muammar Al-Eryani said Houthis are still recruiting children
  • Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city

DUBAI: Yemen’s Information Minister said Marib was “invincible” and warned that Houthis who tried to enter would be arrested, state news agency Saba New reported on Wednesday.
Muammar Al-Eryani said Houthis are still recruiting children.
“The Houthi militia are again deploying thousands of their militants, including tribesmen and children recruited from the summer radicalization centers for suicide missions at all fronts of Marib,” the report quoted him as saying.
Fighting between Yemeni loyalists and Houthi rebels seeking to take the strategic northern city of Marib has left 90 fighters killed in two days, pro-government military sources said on Tuesday.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.
The Ministry of Defense said dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.
Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city in clashes that left 63 rebels and 27 loyalist fighters dead since Monday.


Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency
Updated 22 sec ago

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency
  • Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed is back in the interim capital of Yemen to revive hopes of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement
  • Dozens of Yemeni government troops and Houthis were killed over the past 24 hours as fighting rages in the provinces of Jouf and Marib

AL-MUKALLA: As Yemen’s prime minister touched down on Tuesday in the port city of Aden for the first time in months, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the southern city of Taiz and many other cities to protest against the country’s plunging currency and skyrocketing prices. 

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed returned to Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, to revive hopes of quick and full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and address the financial meltdown that has paralyzed the country. 

The prime minister and his cabinet left Aden in March after separatist protesters stormed the presidential palace.

For the second consecutive day, demonstrators marched around the densely populated Taiz carrying loaves of bread and posters. They demanded the government pay salaries and address the devaluation of the Yemeni riyal along with increasing prices of fuel and food. 

“I am hungry,” one protester shouted as security forces and armed vehicles were deployed outside key government facilities. Some protesters blocked roads and torched car tires. 

On Monday, at least five protesters were wounded when security forces fired live bullets to prevent protesters from blocking roads and disrupting traffic. 

The security committee in the city said it was safeguarding peaceful protests and warned against attacking private and public property. 

On Sept. 15, two protesters were killed during violent demonstrations over the economic meltdown and intensifying power cuts in Aden and Al-Mukalla. The protesters clashed with security forces, burnt garbage and tires, and stormed public facilities. 

The Yemeni riyal this week hit a record low against the dollar, trading at 1,200. The US dollar traded at 215 riyals in January 2015. 

In August, tough punitive measures by the Aden-based central bank against several currency-exchange firms that violated monetary rules helped the riyal recover by 10 percent, surging from 1,050 to 950. 

But the Yemeni riyal tumbled in the following weeks — breaking the historic 1,200 against the US dollar for the first time — as many firms have closed and banks in Houthi-controlled areas are being asked to relocate their operations to Aden.

On Tuesday, the central bank monitors inspected local exchange firms and shops, looking for violators of the bank’s rules. The banks also announced that the Bank of England had agreed to unfreeze its account, giving it access to millions of dollars.

At the same time, economists have warned that the deepening financial meltdown would exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen and would fuel violence.  

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of finance and banking sciences at Hadramout University, criticized the Yemeni government’s silence and late solutions to the continuing depreciation of the Yemeni riyal. 

“The state has given up doing the simplest things for the citizens and left them in the lurch,” he told Arab News. “This situation spells a real catastrophe as the plunging of the riyal continues and prices are going up. Salaries lost their values.”

During a brief visit to the southern city of Shabwa on Monday, the Yemeni premier attributed the fall of the riyal and the financial crisis in the country to the parallel Houthi economy and the movement’s military operations along with speculative activities by currency traders. 

“The economic situation is very difficult,” he said. 

Meanwhile, fighting has raged between Yemeni government troops and the Houthis over the past 24 hours in the province of Jouf and the central province of Marib. Dozens of combatants on both sides were killed.

The fiercest clashes on Tuesday were reported in Hareb district, south Marib province, where government troops, backed by air support from the Arab coalition warplanes, thwarted consecutive Houthi attacks. 

The rebels have recently opened new fronts south of Marib city after their forces failed to make major headway in their push west of Marib. In the Jouf province, government troops announced liberating a number of locations, east of Hazem city, the province’s capital.


Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October
Updated 6 min 43 sec ago

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October
  • UN special envoy: Methodology agreed for moving forward in first meeting in 8 months
  • UK ambassador: ‘It’s time for the (Assad) regime to end its artificial delays of the process’

NEW YORK: Parties to the conflict in Syria will return to the negotiating table in October to discuss a new constitution, Geir Pederson, UN special envoy for the country, said on Tuesday.

However, UN Security Council members have warned that obstacles remain to a political resolution to the conflict.

Pederson said Syria’s Constitutional Committee, formed two years ago after intensive negotiations, had agreed on a methodology for moving forward and would meet for the first time in eight months in October.

Up to now, he added, the committee had “not yet begun to make steady progress on its mandate,” which is to draft a new constitution as part of the Syrian peace process initiated in 2015.
The talks, scheduled for mid-October in Geneva, will be the sixth round that the committee has conducted. Parties will deliver their drafts of constitutional texts in the meeting.

“We should all now expect the Constitutional Committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting — not just preparing — a constitutional reform,” Pederson said.

“If it does that, then we’ll have a different and credible constitutional process. We need that if we’re to build a modicum of trust.”

And trust, he said, is a commodity in desperately short supply in Syria. Ten years of war have claimed the lives of 350,000 people — at the very least — and displaced over 12 million.

“It’s clear from all our engagements that trust is low, but it’s also clear that common interests do exist, that things aren’t static, and that there’s every reason to try now to build a more effective political effort,” Pederson added.

Despite the tentative progress, UNSC members continue to express their dissatisfaction with the pace and trajectory of the political process in Syria. 

Barbara Woodward, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, said she welcomes the October meeting but warned that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has not yet participated in the talks in good faith.

“The next meeting needs to be different to those that have gone before,” she added. “It’s time for the regime to end its artificial delays of the process, and for substantive progress to be made on a new constitution, as envisaged in (UN) Resolution 2254.”

That resolution, agreed in 2015, mandates the UN to facilitate a Syrian-led political process to end the war, including the creation of a new constitution.

In 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the resolution, if effectively implemented by all parties, was “the beginning of the political path out of the tragedy” that has afflicted Syria since the popular uprising began in 2011.

Despite the diplomatic agreement, though, the reality on the ground in Syria has meant a political resolution to the conflict has long remained out of reach.

External involvement in the war has complicated the path toward peace as external players have prioritized their interests in the country over that of the Syrian people.

While active fighting has declined in the past two years, the conflict has become frozen — as has the path to a lasting solution.

“Until progress is made on the political process, and until there’s a nationwide ceasefire, the suffering of the Syrian people will continue, and the millions displaced will be unable to return,” said Woodward.

Russia’s UN delegate accused Turkey and Israel of destabilizing the peace process in Syria through their interventions in the country.

Moscow intervened on behalf of the Assad regime in 2015 and turned the tide of the war against the rebels.

Richard Mills, deputy representative of the US to the UN, called on the Assad regime to “unilaterally and immediately release the tens of thousands of arbitrarily detained men, women and children in its custody.”

This, he said, could serve as a “confidence-building” measure that would build trust and “bolster the political process.”

But, echoing the British position, he added: “We haven’t yet seen meaningful efforts from the Syria regime.”


France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation

France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation
Updated 28 September 2021

France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation

France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation
  • French presidency official says Iran could not set new conditions before returning to the talks

PARIS: Iran must return to talks with world powers over its 2015 nuclear deal to avoid a diplomatic escalation that could jeopardize the negotiations, a French presidency official said on Tuesday
The official also said Iran could not set new conditions before returning to the talks in Vienna as the terms on the table were clear.
Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the accord aimed at keeping Iran from being able to develop a nuclear weapon stopped in June before Ebrahim Raisi took office as Iranian president last month.
Western powers have urged Iran to return to negotiations and said time is running out as its nuclear programme is advancing well beyond the limits set by the deal, which Washington abandoned in 2018.
"Nobody wants an escalation, but to avoid an escalation Iran must return to the negotiating table," the French presidency official told reporters.
Tehran has signalled in recent weeks that negotiations would resume in a few weeks without giving a specific date, increasing frustration among the Western parties - Britain, France, Germany and the United States - to the 2015 accord.
"The more that time passes, the harder it becomes to return to the negotiating table...and the key question of restoring a manageable and acceptable breakout time for us becomes complicated to resolve," the official said, referring to the time it takes to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon.
The official said that world powers, including Russia and China, needed to remain united and that Beijing especially needed to "express itself and act in a more determined way".


France slashes visas for Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia in migrant row

France slashes visas for Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia in migrant row
Updated 28 September 2021

France slashes visas for Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia in migrant row

France slashes visas for Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia in migrant row
  • Reports say President Emmanuel Macron took the decision after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries

PARIS: France on Tuesday said it would sharply reduce the number of visas granted to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the former French colonies of not doing enough to allow illegal immigrants to return.
“It’s a drastic decision, and unprecedented, but one made necessary by the fact that these countries are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio.
The station first reported the visa clampdown earlier Tuesday, saying President Emmanuel Macron took the decision a month ago after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries.
Immigration is shaping up to be a key issue in next year’s French presidential election, when Macron is widely expected to face off again against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
When a French court denies a person’s visa request, authorities must still secure a special travel pass from his or her home country in order to forcibly expel them, a document that Paris says Algiers, Rabat and Tunis are refusing to provide.
“There was dialogue, then there were threats, and today we’re carrying out those threats,” Attal said.
“We’re hoping that the response will be more cooperation with France so that we can apply our immigration rules,” he said.
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita however condemned the move as “unjustified,” saying his country had carefully dealt with migrant issues to find a balance between allowing freedom of movement while clamping down on illegal migration.
“The decision (by France) is sovereign. Morocco will study it, but the reasons given to justify it require explanation and a dialogue, because they do not reflect reality,” he told reporters in Rabat.
According to Europe 1, which cited administration figures, Macron has ordered the number of visa deliveries to Algeria and Morocco to be halved from 2020 levels, and by a third for Tunisia.
It said that in the case of Algeria, French courts had rejected 7,731 visa requests in the first six months of this year, yet because the travel passes had not been granted, only 22 individuals had been expelled from French territory.
For the next six months, Macron has capped visas for Algerians at 31,500, the report said.
France granted a record number of visas — 275,000 — to Algerians in 2019.


Mustafa Al-Kadhimi wants Iraqis to achieve the change they want — through the ballot box

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 28 September 2021

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi wants Iraqis to achieve the change they want — through the ballot box

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Iraqi PM has been exhorting compatriots to turn out in large numbers to cast their ballots on Oct. 10
  • The country has been divided into constituencies following the adoption of a new electoral law last year

DUBAI: As the countdown begins to Iraq’s parliamentary elections on Oct. 10, some political parties are hoping that the voting-age population will overlook their history of broken promises and succumb to their blandishments. The onus is on the 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose their representatives wisely if they want to see different results this time around.

That message is being hammered home by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s prime minister, via tweets and public statements, concurrently with appeals to voters to turn out in large numbers on election day. “Our dear Iraqi people. For the sake of yours & your children’s future, I urge you to get your voter registration cards,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.

“Your votes are a responsibility that shouldn’t go to waste. Those wanting reform & change should aim for a high voter turnout. Your votes are the future of Iraq.”

In a tweet on Sept. 24, Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqis to cast their ballots wisely so that costly mistakes of the past are not repeated. “Don’t trust fake promises, and don’t listen to threats and intimidation,” he said. “Defeat them with your votes, in free and fair elections. Together we move forward towards a future that Iraqis deserve.”

Al-Kadhimi listens as US President Joe Biden speaks during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on July 26, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Few Iraqis know better than Al-Kadhimi how slim the chances are of major change occurring through the ballot box alone. Following the re-introduction of parliamentary elections in 2005, Iraqis did not vote for individual candidates, but for patronage-friendly lists — or tickets — that competed for the seats in each of the 18 provinces.

With the adoption of a new electoral law last year that divides the country into constituencies, independent candidates now have an opportunity to compete for the 329 parliamentary seats. But the electoral system has bred deep disillusionment with a political class that has proved either incapable or unwilling to provide security and good governance, fix the economy and heal sectarian and religious divisions.

“Although Iraq’s political elites have shown little willingness to change, some acknowledge that opening the political field for reform may be the only way to prevent another mass outburst, whose consequences could be far more damaging,” Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst for the Crisis Group, said on Twitter.

She added: “In order to restore public confidence in the short term, the government must facilitate a safe environment for elections, where new political actors can compete without fear of losing their lives.”

In a tweet on Sept. 24, Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqis to cast their ballots wisely so that costly mistakes of the past are not repeated. (AFP/File Photo)

Before Al-Kadhimi, four prime ministers have held office in Baghdad since 2005, but none of them was able to make progress in ending corruption, raising living standards, creating jobs and opportunities for young people, or providing security.

Admittedly, not all the failures can be chalked up to individual incompetence.

Iraq’s sectarian power-sharing system has stood in the way of the political reforms demanded by protesters who took to the streets of Baghdad in October 2019. Although assassinations and the pandemic put a damper on the protests, parties from across the ethno-sectarian spectrum continued to be viewed as only interested in keeping their positions of power.

Since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 has infected over 2 million Iraqis, leaving more than 22,000 of them dead, according to Worldometer data. The rapid spread of the disease has put tremendous strain on Iraq’s battered healthcare system.

Al-Kadhimi (R) receiving Dubai's Ruler and UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (L), upon his arrival at the airport in the capital Baghdad. (AFP/File Photo)

Falling oil prices in 2020 caused by the pandemic upended Iraq’s budget, which remains heavily dependent on crude exports. On top of everything, the leadership has had to face challenges in the form of paramilitary groups, remnants of Daesh and violations of Iraq’s territorial integrity by neighboring states.   

Clearly, the task of restoring hope remains as daunting as ever, but as long as Al-Kadhimi is in charge, Iraqis at least have reason not to despair. On his watch, a key demand of the anti-government protesters who took to the streets in 2019 — that the government bring forward elections originally scheduled for May 2022 — has been met.

In foreign policy, one of the biggest successes has been the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership of Aug. 28. It was attended by high-level delegations from France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE in addition to the general secretaries of the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

That the Iraqi prime minister managed to bring so many heads of governments and organizations under one roof, even if for only one day, was undoubtedly a major achievement. The assurance of support from the international community that Al-Kadhimi evidently enjoys will probably continue to be his strong suit going forward.

Being seen as a rare safe pair of hands means that friends of Iraq, mindful of the competing interests that Al-Kadhimi has to juggle, are willing to cut him some slack, particularly in how he deals with the security and administrative challenges posed by the country’s unruly Shiite militias.

Being seen as a rare safe pair of hands means that friends of Iraq, mindful of the competing interests that Al-Kadhimi has to juggle, are willing to cut him some slack. (AFP/File Photo)

If Al-Kadhimi returns as prime minister after the October elections, analysts believe the government is likely to stick to the current non-sectarian tack.

“His performance so far has proved that he is capable of doing it. Among the political figures who have tried it so far, Al-Kadhimi has demonstrated the most dexterity,” wrote Yasar Yakis, a former foreign minister of Turkey, in an op-ed this week for Arab News.

For his part, Al-Kadhimi, aware of the many political constraints of his job, has been reminding his compatriots that they have to do their bit too if they want a brighter future.

“Protecting our nation and upholding our integrity can’t be achieved by turning a blind eye to errors,” he said via Twitter on Tuesday. “The Iraqi people upheld the values of justice, tolerance and sacrifice throughout history. They deserve a dignified life in the democracy they have chosen.”

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. That old dictum is a reminder of the slight comparative advantage that Iraqis have in spite of all the hardships they face.