Lebanon to resume IMF talks, begin reforms, draft policy statement says

Lebanon to resume IMF talks, begin reforms, draft policy statement says
New Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will also resume negotiations with creditors over a restructuring of public debt on which Lebanon defaulted last year. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Lebanon to resume IMF talks, begin reforms, draft policy statement says

Lebanon to resume IMF talks, begin reforms, draft policy statement says
  • New government will also resume negotiations with creditors over a restructuring of public debt
  • The draft said the government was committed to resuming talks with the IMF for a short- and medium-term support plan

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government will resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund while beginning reforms demanded by donors, according to a draft policy program that aims to tackle one of the worst financial meltdowns in history.
New Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will also resume negotiations with creditors over a restructuring of public debt on which Lebanon defaulted last year, the draft seen by Reuters on Wednesday said.
The government was agreed on Friday after more than a year of political conflict over seats in cabinet that left the country rudderless as more than three-quarters of the population fell into poverty and shortages crippled normal life.
The cabinet is due to meet on Thursday to approve the draft, which will then go to a vote of confidence in parliament.
Underscoring the gravity of the situation, the policy program was drawn up in a matter of days, much faster than the weeks the process has taken in the past.
The draft said the government was committed to resuming talks with the IMF for a short- and medium-term support plan.
Donors want to see Lebanon enact reforms, including measures to tackle the corruption and graft that led to the economic collapse, before they will unlock billions of dollars of assistance already earmarked for the country.
Talks with the IMF broke down last summer when Lebanon’s political elite and banking sector objected to the scale of financial losses set out in a recovery plan drawn up by the previous government.
The draft program said the Mikati government would renew and develop the previous financial recovery plan, which set out a shortfall in the financial system of some $90 billion — a figure endorsed by the IMF.
The government will also draw up a plan to “correct the situation of (the) banking sector,” which has been paralyzed since late 2019, the draft said.
Lebanon’s financial system unraveled in late 2019.
The root cause was decades of profligate spending by the state and the unsustainable way in which it was financed.
As dollars dried up, depositors were frozen out of their accounts. The value of hard currency savings has plummeted by up to 80 percent since then, with the Lebanese pound collapsing by 90 percent from a peg that had existed for more than two decades.
The program draft said the government was committed to all the articles set out in a reform initiative drawn up by France, which has been at the forefront of efforts to help Lebanon.
The government will work with parliament to pass a capital control law, the draft document said.
It also said parliamentary elections due next spring would be held on time.


PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project
Updated 7 min 15 sec ago

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced today the launch of “THE RIG”, a new tourism project on oil offshore platforms to be located in the Arabian Gulf.

“THE RIG” will span a combined total area of more than 150,000 square meters and provide a multitude of hospitality offerings, adventures, and aquatic sporting experiences, the PIF said in a statement.


El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes

 El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes
Updated 11 min 42 sec ago

El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes

 El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes
  • Geothermal power accounts for about a quarter of the country’s total energy mix

BERLIN, EL SALVADOR: At a geothermal power plant near El Salvador’s Tecapa volcano, 300 computers whir inside a trailer as they make complex mathematical calculations day and night verifying transactions for the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
The pilot project has inspired a rash of volcano emojis from President Nayib Bukele, who made bitcoin legal tender in September, and promises of cheap, renewable energy for so-called bitcoin “mining.” Bukele and others say El Salvador’s geothermal resources — generating electricity from high-pressure steam produced by the volcano’s subterranean heat — could be a solution. But the picture in the tiny Central American country is more complicated.
“We don’t spend resources that contaminate the environment, we don’t depend on oil, we don’t depend on natural gas, on any resource that isn’t renewable,” Daniel Alvarez, president of the Rio Lempa Hydroelectric Executive Commission, which oversees the plant, said during a tour on Friday.
Cheap power and a supportive government are the two critical factors for attracting bitcoin mining operations, said Brandon Arvanaghi, a bitcoin mining consultant.
Two years ago, China provided about three-quarters of all the electricity used for crypto mining, with operations flocking to take advantage of its cheap hydroelectric power. But the government began restricting mining and in September declared all transactions involving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies illegal.
That has led to a scramble to set up mining operations in other countries.
It would appear to be fortuitous for Bukele, who shocked the nation and many around the world with his announcement last summer that bitcoin would become legal tender beside the US dollar in El Salvador. The president sold the plan in part as a way for Salvadorans living overseas — mostly in the US — to send money home to their families more cheaply. It also made him a darling of the bitcoin world.
Bitcoin mining in El Salvador would appear to have a supportive government in Bukele, but cheap electricity is so far just a promise.
El Salvador imports about one-fifth to one-quarter of its electricity. The rest of production is divided among hydroelectric, geothermal and plants fired by fossil fuels.
Geothermal accounts for about a quarter of the country’s energy. El Salvador has 23 volcanoes.
“When you add these renewable sources like these vast abundant areas, a ton of renewable sources and a friendly regime it can be very attractive and El Salvador may very well fit that model,” Arvanaghi said.
Right now, El Salvador’s electricity is not considered particularly cheap.
The website GlobalPetrolPrices.com, which publishes retail energy prices around the world, puts electric costs to households and businesses in El Salvador well above the global average.
Arvanaghi said that bitcoin mining incentivizes the expansion of renewable energy production by providing high demand for cheap power and that miners have shown themselves to be willing to pause a portion of their machines at times when there is less power available from the grid.
Bukele’s promise of cheap power for bitcoin mining then would have to involve a subsidy, at least until renewable capacity expanded and rates declined.
 


Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Updated 36 min 57 sec ago

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in Iran
  • Her lawyer said the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year

TEHRAN: An Iranian appeals court has upheld a verdict sentencing an Iranian-British woman long held in Tehran to another year in prison, her lawyer said Saturday.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic. Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told The Associated Press that the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year.
The verdict additionally includes a one-year travel ban abroad, meaning she cannot leave Iran to join her family for nearly two years.
In April, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced for allegedly spreading “propaganda against the system” when she participated in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.
Kermani said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “concerned” when he informed her about the appeals court decision. He said his client is in touch with her family.
State media in Iran did not immediately acknowledge the ruling, apparently issued after a closed-door hearing.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.
Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance.
Authorities furloughed Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison because of the surging coronavirus pandemic and she has been restricted to her parents’ Tehran home since.


Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
Updated 16 October 2021

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
  • Espen Andersen Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived
  • While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person

KONGSBERG, Norway: A bow-and-arrow attack in Norway that left five people dead this week appears to have been motivated by mental illness, authorities indicated Friday, as the perpetrator was ordered to be kept in a medical facility.
Espen Andersen Brathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen who converted to Islam and is believed to have been radicalized, has confessed to the Wednesday killings in police questioning.
He was in custody in a medical facility on Friday pending a psychiatric evaluation.
“The strongest hypothesis after the first days of the investigation is that illness is in the background,” police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told reporters on Friday.
Police were however keeping other possibilities open, and have investigated a range of motives including “anger, revenge, impulse, extremism, illness and provocation,” Omholt said.
The psychiatric evaluation, which could take several months, is necessary to determine whether Brathen can be held legally responsible for his actions.
“This indicates that things are not exactly as they should be,” his lawyer Fredrik Neumann said, referring to his client’s mental health.
“A complete judicial assessment will clarify that,” he told the Norwegian newspaper VG.
Omholt said Friday that Brathen had admitted to the acts but did not admit guilt.
While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person.
“There is no doubt that (it) appears as if it could be an act of terror, but it’s important that the investigation continues and that we establish the motive of the suspect,” the head of Norway’s intelligence service PST, Hans Sverre Sjovold, said Thursday.
“This is a person who has been in and out of the health system for some time.”
Four women and one man were killed and three people injured in the attack in the town of Kongsberg, and police said a bow and arrows and two other undisclosed weapons were used before he was arrested.
Brathan was known to PST, which is in charge of Norway’s anti-terrorism efforts, but few details have emerged about why. According to public broadcaster NRK, the first warning was in 2015.
“There were fears linked to radicalization previously,” police official Ole Bredrup Saeverud told reporters.
Those reports dated to last year or earlier, and police said they had followed up at the time.
Norwegian media reported that in 2018 the PST had warned that he could commit “a small-scale attack.”
It also said that Brathen was subject to two prior court rulings, including a restraining order against him regarding his parents after threatening to kill his father, and a conviction for burglary and purchasing narcotics in 2012.
Local media also unearthed a video Brathen allegedly posted on social media in 2017, in which he issued a “warning” and declared his Muslim faith.
Speaking anonymously, one of Brathen’s neighbors described him as a big person with a crew cut and a serious demeanour, who was always seen “alone.”
“No smile, nothing in the face. He was just staring,” the neighbor told AFP.
Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived.
Flowers and candles were placed in front of the various crime scenes in Kongsberg, a town of 25,000 people still reeling from the attack.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who took office on Thursday following elections last month, visited the town on Friday.
“We stand together when crisis strikes. For those of who have political responsibility, the safety of our citizens is the most important thing,” he said in a speech.
Svein Westad, a 75-year-old pensioner wandered aimlessly on Hyttegata street, where two of his neighbors and close friends were killed in their homes.
“I’m totally broken into pieces, I cannot say anything more than that. I will never get over this,” he told AFP.
“They should have caught him immediately,” he said, referring to criticism against the police for arresting Brathen more than 30 minutes after the first reports came in.
Norway rarely experiences such violence, but 10 years ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the country’s worst massacre since World War II.


Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
Updated 53 min 28 sec ago

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
  • Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23
  • The coalition added that it continues to support the Yemeni army in its efforts to protect civilians from Houthi violations

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Saturday that 160 Houthis had been killed and 11 military vehicles destroyed in operations in Abedia.

The coalition said it had carried out 32 operations targeting Houthis in Marib’s Abedia district over the past 24 hours.

Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23, hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.

The coalition added that it continues to support the Yemeni army in its efforts to protect civilians from Houthi violations.

The coalition announced on Friday that it had killed over 180 Houthis and destroyed ten military vehicles in similar operations in Abedia.