Triumphs and tests: Brazil’s Lula marks one year back in office

Triumphs and tests: Brazil’s Lula marks one year back in office
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gives his thumb up holding a flower during the visit to the premise where the Copa do Povo housing complex will be built, in São Paulo, Brazil, on Dec. 16, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 29 December 2023
Follow

Triumphs and tests: Brazil’s Lula marks one year back in office

Triumphs and tests: Brazil’s Lula marks one year back in office
  • The leftist veteran Lula narrowly won the presidency from his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro in a bitter election that deeply divided Brazil
  • Brazil’s inflation has continued to fall, and Lula managed to obtain four consecutive interest rate cuts

RIO DE JANEIRO: In the year since Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva returned to office, he has overseen a reduction in Amazon deforestation and some wins on the economic front.
However, new environmental and fiscal challenges are looming for the 78-year-old leader of Latin America’s biggest economy.
Here are some things you need to know about Lula’s first year back in power:

• The leftist veteran Lula narrowly won the presidency from his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro in a bitter election that deeply divided Brazil, leaving him no honeymoon period at the start of his third term in office.
A week after he was sworn in, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters invaded government buildings in the capital in January 8 riots.
“Lula has to face more challenges than during previous mandates. He had no grace period and faced a hostile parliament” dominated by the right, said Andre Rosa, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.
Nevertheless, he managed to push through significant social aid programs and the economy has been doing better than expected.
“We are coming to the end of the year in a very good situation, I would say exceptional even, when we know the state in which we found the country,” Lula said after his final cabinet meeting for 2023.

• Brazil’s inflation has continued to fall, and Lula — after months of standoff with the Central Bank — managed to obtain four consecutive interest rate cuts.
The government estimates growth of three percent in 2023, after the economy performed better than expected in first three quarters, and unemployment figures are at their lowest since 2015.
The end of the year was marked by parliament adopting a vast reform of the tax system that the business community has demanded for over three decades.
The reform was welcomed by the S&P Global ratings agency which upgraded Brazil from BB- to BB, following fellow credit rating agency Fitch which did so in July.
However, some economists warn the government could struggle to balance public finances in 2024, when growth is expected to slow.

• One of Brazil’s most high-profile challenges has been the destruction of the Amazon, and deforestation halved between January and November compared to the same period in 2022.
Suely Araujo, a senior specialist of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, said that one of the factors was “increased controls” by IBAMA, the government’s main environmental agency which suffered severe budget and staff cuts under Bolsonaro.
The government also approved eight new indigenous reserves, considered by scientists to be essential defenses against deforestation.
But the good news on the rainforest — whose carbon-absorbing trees are key to the climate race — was offset by record-high deforestation for November in the Cerrado savanna, a biodiverse region below the Amazon that has been hit by a recent surge in clear-cutting, mainly for farming.
Lula’s government has also faced criticism for oil exploration projects near the mouth of the Amazon, and its announcement in the middle of global climate talks that it planned to join OPEC+, an expansion of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
“Being a leader on climate and joining OPEC+ is incompatible,” said Araujo.

• Lula paid visits to the United States, China, attended a BRICS summit in South Africa and a G7 meeting in Japan, along with the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, to show Brazil was back on the international scene after ties deteriorated under Bolsonaro.
While Rosa, the political scientist said foreign relations have improved, Lula has also caused consternation with his stance on the conflict in Ukraine, where he says both Kyiv and Moscow are equally responsible for the war.
Lula has also accused Israel of committing the “equivalent of terrorism” in Gaza by killing innocent women and children in its war on Hamas.
In 2024, experts expect him to focus more on internal politics and rising crime ahead of municipal elections in October.
 


Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
Updated 4 sec ago
Follow

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
  • Known for its beaches and coral reefs, Boracay is one of the world’s most famous islands
  • Philippines wants to grow its Muslim-friendly and halal tourism portfolio, tourism secretary says

MANILA: The Philippines is developing halal-friendly options in its top resort island of Boracay to attract more Muslim visitors, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said on Wednesday.

Located in the province of Aklan, in the center of the Philippine archipelago, Boracay is known for its white sand beaches and coral reefs that make it one of the world’s most famous islands.

Tourism is a key sector for the Philippines, and its Department of Tourism has lately been trying to attract more Muslim visitors, particularly by ensuring that they have access to halal products and services.

“Muslim-friendly and halal tourism is a portfolio that we wish to grow,” Frasco told reporters.

“We are now in talks with a Boracay local government unit, as well as the Department of Tourism, to … offer halal-friendly tourism in Boracay.”

The predominantly Catholic Philippines — where Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million population — welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of the year and marked a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

The Philippines was recognized with the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award in 2023 at the Halal in Travel Global Summit in Singapore. Since then, the Muslim market has been its priority.

Earlier this month, the Department of Tourism led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where it promoted the country’s best destinations.

“When we attended the Arabian Travel Market … we signed a memorandum of understanding with Megaworld such that all their properties will be converted into Muslim-friendly and halal-friendly tourism establishments,” Frasco said, referring to one of the largest Philippine hospitality chains.

“What we expect is really to be able to tap into this billion-dollar industry that is halal and Muslim-friendly tourism.”


Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist

Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist
Updated 2 min 41 sec ago
Follow

Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist

Dutch police say they’re homing in on robbers responsible for multimillion-dollar jewelry heist
  • Police said they now have narrowed down the location of the robbers, who they previously said came from the Balkans
  • The investigation team also said that a diamond taken from a necklace that was stolen in the robbery had been found in Israel and another in Hong Kong

THE HAGUE: An international investigation is homing in on a gang of robbers believed to be responsible for a brazen multimillion-dollar jewelry heist at an art show in the Netherlands and two stolen gemstones have been recovered, Dutch police said Wednesday.
Smartly dressed robbers wielding sledge hammers snatched jewelry from display cases at an international art fair in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht nearly two years ago, triggering an international police operation to hunt them down and recover the loot that police say is worth tens of millions of dollars.
In their latest update on the progress of the investigation, police in the southern Dutch province of Limburg said they now have narrowed down the location of the robbers, who they previously said came from the Balkans.
“It is now clear that this concerns Serbia, more specifically the town of Nis. It cannot be ruled out that the suspects are currently staying there, but possibly also in Belgrade or the surrounding area,” police said in a statement.
The investigation team also said that a diamond taken from a necklace that was stolen in the robbery had been found in Israel and another in Hong Kong. Police last year reported the discovery of one of the diamonds, but at the time gave no further details.
“Both diamonds have been seized for examination,” police said in Wednesday’s statement, without giving details of when the stones were recovered.
Police had previously revealed that they were hunting for four men and said Wednesday that a woman also is a suspect in the heist.
Two more women are under investigation for allegedly returning a rental car to a company near the airport in the German city of Frankfurt. The two women are “at the moment, not suspects in the investigation into the robbery,” police said.


Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say
Updated 14 min 25 sec ago
Follow

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say
  • Just days before European elections, the Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels
  • Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation

BRUSSELS: Police searched the offices and residence of an employee of the European Parliament on Wednesday as part of an investigation into whether EU lawmakers were bribed to promote Russian propaganda to undermine support for Ukraine, prosecutors said.
Just days before European elections, the Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels. His parliamentary offices in the EU capital city and Strasbourg, where the EU Parliament’s headquarters are located in France, were also checked.
Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation.
Europe-wide polls to elect a new EU parliament are set for June 6-9.
An investigation was announced last month by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who said his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine.
“The searches are part of a case of interference, passive corruption and membership of a criminal organization and relates to indications of Russian interference, whereby Members of the European Parliament were approached and paid to promote Russian propaganda via the Voice of Europe news website,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they believe the employee played “a significant role in this.”
Several news outlets identified the suspect as Guillaume Pradoura, a staffer for EU lawmaker Marcel de Graaff of the far-right Dutch party Forum for Democracy. A person with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that the reports were accurate. The official was not allowed to speak publicly because the probe is ongoing.
De Graaff said on the social media platform X that he and Pradoura were not contacted by authorities.
“For me, all this comes as a complete surprise,” he said. “By the way, I have no involvement in any so-called Russian disinformation operation whatsoever. I have my own political beliefs and I proclaim them. That is my job as an MEP.”
Pradoura previously worked for Maximilian Krah, the top candidate of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany in next month’s European election, who was recently banned from campaigning by his party.
Krah had already been under scrutiny after authorities in Brussels searched his offices at the European Parliament in connection with one of his assistants who was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for China.
Krah said in a message posted on X that none of his offices had been searched on Wednesday.
“The ex-employee in question has long been working for another MP,” he said.
The EU this month banned Voice of Europe and three other Russian media from broadcasting in the 27-nation bloc. The EU said they were all under control of the Kremlin and were targeting “European political parties, especially during election periods.” Since the war started in February 2022, the EU had already suspended Russia Today and Sputnik, among several other outlets.
De Croo said last month that the probe showed that members of the European Parliament were approached and offered money to promote Russian propaganda.
“According to our intelligence service, the objectives of Moscow are very clear. The objective is to help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution,” he said.
“The goal is very clear: A weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks,” he added.
EU nations have poured billions of euros into Ukraine, along with significant amounts of weaponry and ammunition. They’ve also slapped sanctions on top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, banks, companies and the energy sector since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.


Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza

Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza
Updated 58 min 12 sec ago
Follow

Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza

Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza
  • Palestinian PM was joined by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani
  • More than 140 countries recognize a Palestinian state

BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa and leading officials from several Middle Eastern countries in Madrid on Wednesday after Spain, Ireland and Norway recognized a Palestinian state.
The diplomatic move by the three western European nations on Tuesday was slammed by Israel and will have little immediate impact on its grinding war in Gaza, but it was a victory for the Palestinians and could encourage other Western powers to follow suit.
“On behalf of President (Mahmoud) Abbas and the government of Palestine, the people of Palestine, we warmly welcome Spain’s recognition of the state of Palestine,” Mustafa said after their meeting with Spain’s leader and Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares.
Mustafa was joined by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Organization of Islamic Cooperation chairman Hussain Ibrahim Taha, and the foreign ministers for Turkiye and Jordan, members of the group called the Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza.
More than 140 countries recognize a Palestinian state — more than two-thirds of the United Nations.
With Spain and Ireland, there are now nine members of the 27-nation European Union that officially recognize a Palestinian state. Norway is not an EU member but its foreign policy is usually aligned with the bloc.
Slovenia, an EU member, will decide on the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday and forward its decision to parliament for final approval.
“We salute Spain, and we salute Norway, Ireland and Slovenia for doing the right thing. We urge other European partners to do the same thing,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
The move to recognize a Palestinian state has caused relations between the EU and Israel to nosedive. Madrid and Dublin are pushing for the EU to take measures against Israel for its continued attacks on southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.
The decision by Spain, Ireland and Norway comes more than seven months into an assault waged by Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage. Israel’s air and land attacks have since killed 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.


World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
Updated 29 May 2024
Follow

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
  • Humanitarian conditions in Rohingya camps deteriorate as international aid drops
  • Maintaining 1m refugees puts stress on the Bangladeshi economy

DHAKA: The World Bank approved on Wednesday $700 million to help address the protracted humanitarian crisis facing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as international aid drops.

Bangladesh hosts more than 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims who over decades escaped death and persecution in neighboring Myanmar, especially during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of them live in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in eastern Bangladesh, which with their arrival became the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Humanitarian conditions in the camps have been deteriorating over the years and Bangladeshi authorities have warned they were reaching crisis levels as global aid for the oppressed stateless minority has sharply declined.

The World Bank funding is “to provide basic services and build disaster and social resilience for both the host communities and displaced Rohingya population.”

The financing will be partly a loan, Hasan Sarwar, additional secretary at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News.

“Around half of the amount, which is approved for the well-being of the Rohingyas, will come here as a grant, and the rest of the amount which is for the host community people will be received as a loan,” he said.

He added: “This grant from the World Bank will be helpful for building and repairing infrastructure like roads, drainage systems, solar electricity systems, etc., inside the Rohingya camps. Besides, this fund will be spent on skill development and livelihood projects.

“The majority of the grants will be spent through the UN system for the Rohingyas’ well-being.”

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, its government supports the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, a huge law-enforcement presence, as well as medical and administrative officials.

Sarwar said the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining the infrastructure and managing the community of over 1 million people.

He said part of the World Bank funding could be spent on law enforcement, as security in the camps has been deteriorating amid the continuing civil war in Myanmar, which prevents a UN-backed repatriation process from taking off.

“Repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar is the only sustainable solution to this crisis,” Sarwar said. “It has been stalled for months due to the unrestful situation inside Myanmar. We are in touch with the Myanmar military authorities, but the repatriation is almost impossible for now.”