Monday, 5 November 2012

Sweden targets MENA markets for growth

ASIF IQBAL

DOHA

A HOST of Swedish firms are targeting the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to increase exports to offset the slowdown in the European markets, and the government is taking proactive measures to tap the potential for growth in the MENA markets.

The government is offering all possible assistance to its SME sectors as it wants these smaller firms to make it to the big stage. Sweden is one of the most export dependent countries in the world and export is crucial to its standard of living. Half of Sweden’s GDP is generated from export “We are looking at markets such as Qatar, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, the UAE etc to increase our exports as there is tremendous business opportunity for our companies, Sweden’s Minister for Trade Ewa Bjorling told Qatar Tribune in Stockholm recently.

She said the government has taken various steps to promote Swedish business houses in the region and She herself has toured the MENA markets to identify business opportunities for Swedish firms.

According to the Trade Minister, the two challenges that the government has on its priority is to undertake measures to making small and mid-sized companies growing internationally and secondly grow on expanding markets while maintaining a strong position in mature markets.

Estimates from the Swedish Trade council reveals that Sweden’s exports to the Mena region is on the rise and it increased to 160 percent since 2000. Statistics also showed that the UAE has the most Swedish establishments while Saudi Arabia is Sweden’s largest export market.

When asked about the government’s recent announcement to cut corporate tax, Bjorling said “This is to improve the conditions for new jobs and investments in Sweden. The significant lowering of corporate tax is expected to strengthen the investor climate and growth in Sweden.”

QNB, IQ among FT’s top 500 global firms

TRIBUNE NEWS NETWORK

DOHA

THE Financial Times (FT) recently released its list of the top 500 global companies by market capitalisation as at end- September 2012. The total market capitalisation of the top 500 companies increased 17 percent from September 2011 to September 2012 to $25 trillion, equivalent to about 35 percent of global GDP.

The strong performance of the leading global stocks has been supported by rising global market capitalisation during this period, according to QNB Group. The MSCI All Country World Index for Large Capitalised Companies rose 18 percent in the year to end-September as concerns about sovereign debt in advanced economies, particularly the Eurozone, have eased and central banks have maintained highly accommodative policies by extending quantitative easing or expanding lending and stability funds. This led to higher market capitalisation at the end of September, but there are significant downside risks with the global economic outlook deteriorating and further sovereign debt tensions could emerge.

There are six GCC companies in the top 500 global list and their capitalisation rose 3 percent from September 2011 to September 2012 to $191 billion.

GCC’s leading companies have underperformed the rest of the world over this period as they have been less affected by the alleviation of sovereign debt concern in advanced economies and as their exposure to eurozone debt, in particular, is lower than the other large corporations.

Broadly speaking, the GCC companies have seen steady growth in market capitalisation with little impact from sovereign debt crises.

Meanwhile, many other global companies have recovered sharply after their market capitalisation was driven lower by the sovereign debt crisis.

In terms of sectors, technology hardware and software companies have performed particularly strongly, accounting for $2.6 trillion of market capitalisation in September 2012, up by 27 percent from a year earlier.

Banks and financial services companies have also performed well as they have been direct beneficiaries of the easing of tensions related to sovereign debt. There were 90 financial companies in the top 500 accounting for $4.3 trillion of market capitalisation in September 2012, up by 18 percent from a year earlier, broadly in line with growth in the overall top 500. Oil and gas producers accounted for $3.1 trillion of the total index in September 2012, up by 11 percent from a year earlier.

Oil prices have averaged $111 per barrel over this period, a relatively high level compared with historical averages. This has supported the market capitalisation of energy producers.

The company with the largest market capitalisation in the MENA region is Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC), which is predominantly a petrochemicals company but also produces fertilisers and steel. Its market capitalisation reached $73 billion at the end of September 2012 and it ranked 81st in the top 500 global companies. Although production has increased, weaker prices for its products and slow global growth have led to lower profits for the company in each of the last four quarters.

SABIC reported profits of $1.7 billion in the third quarter of 2012, 23 Sweden looking at MENA markets for growth lower than profits in the same period of 2011.

Two Qatari companies make the FT top 500 list. Market capitalisation at QNB and Industries Qatar (IQ) rose 5 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in the year to September 2012.

Algeria offers incentives to energy firms

REUTERS

ALGIERS

ALGERIA plans to start linking taxes on foreign energy firms to profits instead of turnover, according to draft amendments to its hydrocarbons law aimed at making the sector more attractive to investors.

The draft, obtained by Reuters, also offers fiscal incentives for companies wishing to invest in unconventional energy resources and offshore exploration.

The amendments maintain state energy firm Sonatrach as a majority partner in all upstream and downstream projects.

Algeria’s last three rounds of bidding for oil and gas permits attracted lacklustre interest from foreign firms, raising questions about whether it has enough new projects coming on stream to maintain output levels and meet growing demand.

In a 2008 round, just four blocks were awarded, while in 2009 only three were picked up, and last year it awarded two permits.

The goal is “to introduce new incentives to improve the attractiveness ... so as to intensify the exploration effort and discover new reserves of conventional and non-conventional hydrocarbons,” the text of the draft read. In addition to tax incentives, the amendments introduced specific provisions to support the development of unconventional energy resources.

Investors in unconventional hydrocarbons would be granted prospecting licenses for up to 11 years and exploitation licenses of 40 years for shale gas and 30 years for shale oil.

Conventional resource licenses were kept unchanged at seven years for prospecting and 25 years for exploitation, with a five-year supplementary period for natural gas deposits. OPEC member and gas exporter Algeria seeks to develop technology-intensive shale gas and offshore production to help ensure security of supply in the long run. It currently favours a role for foreign oil majors in helping achieve those goals.

Sonatrach in July this year said it was in talks with Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil on shale gas exploration.

That followed Italy’s Eni agreement with Sonatrach last year to carry out shale gas exploration.

The amendments also stipulate that foreign energy firms interested in partnerships with Sonatrach in the refining sector are required to have their own storage capacity.

Erdogan signals Turkish Air, Lufthansa ‘joint management’

REUTERS

ISTANBUL

LUFTHANSA and Turkish Airlines should deepen their existing ties, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, but it was not immediately clear what he meant and both companies declined to make specific comment.

The airline world has seen a flurry of partnerships recently as carriers band together to counter tough market conditions.

Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa are already joint owners of the SunExpress airline and members of the Star Alliance, one of the global airline networks.

Erdogan said he had agreed to a proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to establish “joint management” of the two carriers.

“During my visit to Germany, Merkel made this proposal: ‘let’s put Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines under joint management’. I said okay,” Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling AK Party.

“This is currently among our projects and God willing we can, and will, take this joint step with Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa,” he said.

A German government spokesman declined to comment and Turkish officials were not immediately available to clarify.

A Turkish Airlines spokesman told Reuters he had not heard of such a development.

“There is nothing concrete that we have been informed of. If a big decision is to be taken here, a management board decision would be necessary.

But there is no such thing at the moment,” the spokesman said.

Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther said Germany’s largest airline had a long-term relationship with Turkish Airlines via Star Alliance and joint venture Sun Express.

“We are always in talks about how we can further improve and intensify the cooperation between Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines for the benefit of our customers,” he said.

But he declined to comment on what form a deeper cooperation could take.

A Turkish Privatisation Administration (OIB) official said last month there had been no decision on the method or size of a privatization of some of the government’s 49.12 percent stake in Turkish Airlines after a newspaper report said the state planned a 30 percent block sale.

Lufthansa is currently in the middle of a 1.5 billion euro cost cutting program to combat rising fuel costs and increased competition from low cost and Gulf rivals. It has said that the programme is needed so it can afford new fuel-efficient planes and that’s its focus at present rather than any acquisitions.

Sandy-hit NY’s oil terminal IMTT resumes operations

REUTERS

NEW YORK

THE 16-million-barrel International-Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT) oil terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey has partially re-opened following power losses due to superstorm Sandy, its operator said on Saturday.

The fuel terminal, the biggest in the New York Harbour, is still “coming back online,” said terminal manager Richard Fisette.

As of Saturday, around half of the facilities at the site were back to normal operation and the major regional fuel repository was awaiting nominations, or orders to ship out fuel, from its customers, Fisette said.

A pipeline serving the facility is operational and damage assessments at the site have not indicated fuel leakage from tanks or pipelines there, Fisette added.

Bayonne, New Jersey was hard hit by Sandy and, like other low-lying areas of the Northeast, suffered flooding and power outages when Sandy made landfall on Monday.

A part owner of the IMTT terminal, Macquarie, said on Friday that the terminal was expected to restart next week.

The Bayonne terminal, which houses 620 tanks, is located 10 miles south of Manhattan and covers an area of 600 acres. It includes loading and unloading facilities for truck and rail, and a dedicated IMTT pipeline linking it to the main longhaul oil product pipelines into the Northeast region.

Located in both New York and New Jersey, the New York Harbour’s facilities can store more than 75 million barrels of oil.

IMTT’s terminal accounts for around a fifth of the Harbour total capacity.

The Harbour resumed operations and ship traffic on Friday, but oil industry sources say that supply chains are still under strain, and some other New York Harbour fuel terminals are still completely shut.

Retail gasoline and heating oil distribution remains strained following Sandy.

Some heating oil distributors in the New York City area said on Friday they are uncertain when regular shipments of heating fuel will resume from the Harbour to distribution centres around the city.

IMTT, headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana, owns and operates 10 marine storage terminals in the United States and is the part owner and operator of two terminals in Canada. It has a storage capacity of more than 43 million barrels across all its terminals.

ASD volunteers work in Maldives, Mozambique

TRIBUNE NEWS NETWORK

DOHA STUDENTS and teachers at the American School of Doha (ASD) volunteered during their Eid holidays to work on two of ASD’s homegrown conservation and service projects in the Maldives and Mozambique as part of this year’s ASD international service trips.

Although school was closed for a week, learning continued for the students and faculty as they journeyed beyond the walls of school where the globe became their classroom, circumstance became their teacher, and experience became their examiner.

Twenty students visited the Maldives to work with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP), a registered NGO in the UK as a part of the Conservation Strand Service Trip led by IT Director Bob Elliott and ASD teacher Carol Cayford. The MWSRP works to monitor the population of whale sharks in the Marine Protected Area off South Ari Atoll in the Maldives archipelago.

Students worked with marine biologists and spent time in the water documenting whale sharks as well as studying reef ecology and the impact of human and environmental factors on these keystone ecosystems of the ocean.

This is the third year that the ASD has partnered with the MWSRP and this trip was again outfitted by International Travel for Schools (ITS) which is one of the main outfitters used by ASD. The group also donated school supplies to local schools on the islands of Mamaagili and Dhigura.

Seventeen students led by Chi-Yan Shang, Diane Caristo and Maria Chaplin returned to Mozambique to work to improve school infrastructure in the rural area of Magude as a part of ASD’s Footy 4 Freedom project. Footy 4 Freedom was originally started by ASD graduate Lawrence Chaplin as a fundraiser to support schools in Mozambique that were dedicated to working in communities with a high number of AIDS orphans.

This year, students worked at Escola Primaria Completa de Mawandla to build a fence around the property to secure it from trespassers, traffic and roving animals. This was a primary safety concern as traffic and animals often went through the school compound while students were present. Like many rural schools in Mozambique, many of the students’ families have been in some way touched by HIV/AIDS. The Footy 4 Freedom trip is supported by fundraisers at ASD which go towards paying construction costs. Any shortfall in fundraising is covered by ASD’s sponsor in Mozambique, Tongaat Hulett, a South African sugar company which has a myriad of community outreach projects in the communities that they operate.

Tongaat Hulett also hosted the ASD group at their Estate in Xinavane for the duration of the build. School supplies were donated by the ASD group to the Mawandla School.

Organisers said that both the trips underscore the value that ASD places on living out its core values of compassion and respect. These trips also support the objectives of ASD’s International Baccalaureate CAS programme to help students become globally aware.

The next ASD humanitarian strand trip operating over Spring Break of 2013 will be for Sichuan, China, to work in the post-2008 earthquake zone. The conservation strand trip will take students to South Africa’s Thanda Game Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal Province to work on a predator conservation project.

Katara unveils 3 expos to coincide with DTFF

RAMY SALAMA

DOHA THREE art exhibitions featuring cinematic figures such as Elizabeth Taylor and classic television series ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ opened at Katara on Sunday to coincide with the upcoming Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

The exhibitions are entitled ‘Intangible Brides’, a collection of photographs by Japanese photographer Kimiko Yoshida, ‘Elizabeth Taylor in Iran, 1976’ by Firooz Zahedi and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ by Iranian-American artist Eric Esmail Parnes.

Talking to Qatar Tribune, Parnes said, “My works at this exhibition focus on images and themes from a popular American television programme, ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ to address issues of my personal identity- being from the Middle East and living in the States.” Parnes added, “People are heavily influenced by instances of popular culture. For example, if you ask Americans where Iraq is they most of them may express their ignorance, but if you ask them about ‘I Dream of Jeannie’, they will certainly know it. This is a starting point for my artistic examinations of the relationship between the East and the West in this exhibition.” The artist used a variety of medium, including mixed medium objects and sculpture, painting, video installation, photography and other unique materials in his exhibits. The expo, curated by Sa’id Costa, curator of Visual Arts Exhibitions and Educational Programs at Katara Gallery 2, will run until November 24.

The Iranian-American artist is also participating in the International Artist in Residency Program, which is developed and supported by Katara.

The ‘Intangible Brides’ features Yoshida’s interpretation of the Middle Eastern, Arab and North African traditional dress and accessories. Through her unique work, Yoshida reveals a blend of countless cultures, rituals and mythologies to portray timeless female beauty while emphasising not only the human diversity but also the similarities. The exhibition, which marks the last event in the celebration of 40 years of friendship between Qatar and Japan, will run until December 1, at Gallery 2, Building 18, Katara.

‘Elizabeth Taylor in Iran’ presents exclusive photographs of the late Hollywood actress during her visit to Iran in 1976, which have never been seen before in the Middle East.

The Iranian-American photographer Zahedi moved to the US to study and subsequently became friends with Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol. He took photographs of celebrities, including of Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie and Barbra Streisand. The works will be on display at Katara Gallery 1, Building 19, until December 1.

QU, US varsity renew research partnership

CATHERINE W GICHUKI

DOHA QATAR University’s (QU) Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) on Sunday renewed its partnership agreement with the University of Michigan’s (UM) Institute for Social Research (ISR) to expand the area of their collaboration to include establishment of the Policy Analysis Center and the Telephone Calling Center.

Under the partnership, the Policy Analysis Center will produce and disseminate SESRI reports about issues of public policy; archiving and making them accessible to QU faculty and students. The Telephone Calling Center will draw on SESRI’s face-toface survey operations.

The partnership will also see SESRI strengthen collaboration with ISR in designing and conducting academic research, advance relationships among ISR, SESRI and QU faculty and students as well as implement training and consultation activities.

QU President Prof Sheikha Abdulla al Misnad and UM Provost and Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs Prof Philip Hanlon signed the agreement in the presence of SESRI Director Dr Darwish al Emadi and ISR Director Prof James Jackson.

Speaking at the event, Prof Misnad said, “As the Institute approaches the completion of the first phase of its development, we look forward to an exciting new phase where it will build on previous achievements and expand its facilities and services.” She said the renewed agreement will further develop SESRI’s capacity as a leading social science research organisation in Qatar and a key contributor to social science research in the Gulf.

“In four years, SESRI has garnered recognition, both locally and regionally, for its innovative surveys and capacity building workshops. The collaboration with the Institute for Social Research has ensured that every phase of the institute’s development has been implemented to the highest standards,” she said.

Dr Emadi said the center would be entrusted with the task of transforming the results of SESRI’s survey and other studies into policies to be implemented.

“The policy centre will establish a better link between the institute and various institutions so that they can benefit from the results of our services,” Emadi said.

Dr Emadi said the SESRI has conducted some successful researches, including its survey on ‘Life in Qatar’, the first-ever conducted in the country, the Social Capital Survey and the World Values Survey.

“As we approach the 5th year of SESRI’s operation, we renew our commitment to keeping abreast of the important social and economic developments that will impact society, such as those that will lead up to and accompany the World Cup 2022 to ensure that we contribute to the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016 and the Qatar National Vision 2030,” he said.

On his part, Prof Hanlon said, “Evidence of SESRI’s accomplishments comes not only from the quality of the surveys it carries out but also from its success in obtaining grants in international peer-reviewed competitions and in publishing reports of its research in peer- international journals.” UM Vice-Provost for International Affairs Dr Mark Tessler said, “All of us at the university have found our collaboration with SESRI not only to be enjoyable but also rewarding. It has been satisfying because of Qatar University’s visionary leadership and the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of professionals.” Other dignitaries at the signing ceremony were US Ambassador to Qatar and UM alum HE Susan L Ziadeh, QU Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer Dr Humaid al Midfaa, Acting Vice-President for Academic Affairs Dr Mazen Hasna, Vice-President for Institutional Planning and Development Dr Saif al Sowaidi, Director of ISR Center for Political Studies Dr Nancy Burns as well as SESRI faculty members, students and US embassy staff.

MoI training programme educates Asian expatriates on traffic safety

TRIBUNE NEWS NETWORK

DOHA THE first traffic safety training programme for representatives of Asian community bodies organised by the Traffic Department of the Ministry of Interior concluded recently.

The programme was held as part of the “Pedestrian Safety Campaign 2012 - 2013” with the aim of raising awareness on pedestrian safety, especially among workers in Qatar from different Asian countries.

Inaugurating the training session, Director of Traffic Department Brig Muhammed Saad al Kharji said that the department was keen on protecting pedestrians from accidents.

“We urge the community representatives attending the session to spread the safety messages to the members of their communities, Brig Kharji said.

Forty-three trainees from 43 community organisations representing countries such as India (19), Nepal (nine), Filipino (six), Sri Lanka (four), Bangladesh (one), Pakistan (three) and Indonesia (one) attended the training.

The programme was led by the Director of Karwa Training Centre Robert G Mokando. Faisal al Hudawi of MoI Public Relations Department made a presentation on “Pedestrian Accidents: Reasons and Remedies”, while Mokando spoke on “Common Traffic Mistakes”.

During the programme, causes of pedestrian and traffic accidents such as differences in the traffic systems of Qatar and other countries, absence of traffic culture among workers, wrong calculation of speed by pedestrians, poor eye sight of some road users, work pressure and mental depression because of new job atmosphere, wrong crossing at roundabouts and negligence of traffic rules and regulations were elaborately discussed.

Suggestions for safer usage of public roads by pedestrians and drivers were also made.

In his presentation, Mokando explained the most common traffic mistakes committed by drivers and pedestrians, including not moving the vehicles to the nearest parking area in case of minor accidents, driving vehicles slowly on the fast lane, talking on the phone while driving, not fastening seat belts by both drivers and front seat passengers, approaching the signals and roundabouts at high speed, jumping red signals and overtaking other vehicles from the right side.

Army chief to visit Lanka in December

IANS

HYDERABAD TORRENTIAL rains continued to batter coastal Andhra Pradesh on Sunday, claiming 22 lives, inundating hundreds of villages, paralysing road and rail traffic and damaging crops.

The rains triggered by northeast monsoon and Cyclone Nilam, which crossed the coast near Chennai on Wednesday, have so far killed 22 people, said T Radha, commissioner, disaster management.

About 60,000 people from affected areas were shifted to 86 relief camps. Incessant rains in eight districts of Andhra Pradesh have damaged 480 houses completely and 766 houses partially. Standing crops in over 250,000 hectares were also damaged.

In East Godavari district, one of the worst-hit by flash floods, seven deaths were reported while about 30,000 people were shifted to relief camps.

Over 500 villages in the district were marooned due to overflowing rivulets, tanks, streams and reservoirs. As many as 72 tanks were breached in the coastal district, inundating dozens of villages, which were without electricity.

In Visakhapatnam district, passengers of two buses were stranded in flood waters in a stream. Authorities have sought help from the Navy to rescue the passengers.

East Godavari, West Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts were the worst hit by the rains, which left a trail of destruction and brought road and rail services to a halt.

The railways suspended all train services between coastal city of Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at railway stations as train movement was thrown out of gear between Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam — the two major rail transit hubs in coastal Andhra Pradesh.

The railways have either cancelled or diverted trains due to flooding of tracks in East Godavari, West Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts, officials said.

Trains between Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore and other cities in south India and the destinations in Orissa and West Bengal were also hit.

Several trains from Howrah, Bhubaneswar and other destinations were running several hours late and stranded in affected areas.

75% votes cast in Himachal assembly polls

IANS

SHIMLA/NEW DELHI HIMACHAL Pradesh on Sunday registered a record high polling of around 75 percent in elections for 68 assembly constituencies, Election Commission officials said.

The state’s Chief Electoral Officer, Narinder Chauhan, told IANS in Shimla: “The voter turnout was approximately 75 percent.” In New Delhi, Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla told reporters that the final figure for turnout was likely to go up as voting in about 200 booths continued even after 5 pm.

“It is quite possible (that a) record is set. It is already higher (than the figure of 2007 polls),” Shukla said.

He said the polling had been “absolutely peaceful and completely incident-free”.

There were reports of a minor clash between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress workers at a polling station in Chamba town, election officials said.

In 2007 assembly polls, the poll percentage was 71.61 percent, in 2003 it was 74.51 percent, in 1998 it was 71.23 percent, in 1993 it was 71.50 percent and in 1990 it was 67.76 percent.

The voter turnout in the state was just nine percent in the first hour but by noon, it rose to 30 percent and 60 percent by 3 pm, said Chauhan.

The maximum turnout was in Sirmaur district (81.48 percent), followed by Solan district (80.34 percent), Kullu district (78.74 percent), Mandi (76.95 percent) and Chamba (75.25 percent).

The state’s largest district Kangra, with the maximum number of 15 seats, saw 72.25 percent polling.

“The highest percentage of polling among the constituencies was 94.80 percent in Nalagarh in Solan district, while the lowest polling percentage of 58.77 percent was in Shimla (urban),” Chauhan said.

The remote districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, where the minimum temperatures have already dipped below the freezing point, saw 74.20 percent and 68 percent turnout, respectively.

India’s highest polling booth in Lahaul-Spiti district recorded 80 percent turnout.

At the Hikkim polling station, located at an altitude of 14,567 feet, 267 voters out of the 333 on the rolls cast votes.

The Ka polling station in Kinnaur district, which has the lowest number of 18 electors in the state, saw 100 percent turnout.

A record number of 459 candidates, including 36 women, were in the fray.

The Election Commission set up 7,253 polling stations for 4,608,359 electors, including 2,376,587 men.

The main contest was between the Congress and the ruling BJP.

Congress leader and fivetime chief minister Virbhadra Singh cast his vote at his native place in Rampur town, around 120 km from Shimla, while Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal exercised his franchise in Samirpur, now part of Bhoranj constituency.

Virbhadra Singh is contesting the elections from Shimla (rural) and Dhumal from Hamirpur constituency.

Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma also cast his vote in the state capital.

“We will form the government.

This is my belief,” Sharma told reporters after casting his ballot.

Taking a jibe at the BJP over its promise of giving induction stoves to every household if the party returned to power, Sharma said: “Who will pay for buying utensils required for induction stove? Will the BJP pay this? It is just misguiding the voters.” Poll officials said Shyam Saran, 95, from Kalpa in Kinnaur district, one of the oldest voters in the state also cast his vote.

Saran was among the first to vote after the country’s independence in the 1951 general elections.

Congress attacks detractors, highlights reforms at rally

IANS

NEW DELHI BUFFETED by charges of corruption against its government, a combative Congress on Sunday hit out at detractors saying it would give them a “fitting reply” and also touted the benefits of its economic reforms agenda in a massive show of strength in New Delhi.

An aggressive Congress president Sonia Gandhi took on the opposition parties and the anti-corruption activists head-on at a rally held in Ramlila Ground, while Prime Minister Mammohan Singh stressed that the economic reforms were needed to create more jobs.

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not very impressed, terming the rally “anti-people”.

The rally in the heart of the national capital took a major toll on vehicular movement on major thoroughfares, choking several roads and huge traffic snarls were reported from all over the city.

Nearly 3,000 buses from Rajasthan and Haryana and another 2,000 buses from the capital itself disgorged thousands of Congress supporters to the rally venue in central Delhi.

Addressing a massive crowd, estimated to be over 50,000, the prime minister said the move to allow FDI and hiking diesel prices in the face of much opposition were aimed at ushering in faster economic reforms that “will help the country to progress and earn more money to launch welfare schemes to help the poor people”.

He said the economic reforms were needed to create more jobs. “People are being misled about our recent economic decisions.” The UPA has just about 18 months to go before the 2014 general elections and the mega rally is seen as a first step to giving a boost to the morale of cadres in the face of corruption charges, including faulty coal blocks allocation, the 2G spectrum issue, and the recent allegations by India Against Corruption.

In a reiteration of his September 21 address to the nation, the prime minister said FDI was beneficial for farmers and would not hurt small traders.

He also mentioned the government’s subsidy bill to justify the hike in diesel prices.

The Trinamool Congress had walked out of the UPA government over the economic move, which has been slammed by the opposition parties, while UPA ally Samajwadi Party too has voiced concern.

Taking on the opposition, including the anti-corruption activists, Sonia Gandhi challenged them saying the truth and untruth in their charges needs to be understood well.

“We will give a fitting reply,” she said amid cheers from the party loyalists.

“I admit, corruption is a cancer, a disease. But we have fought this disease before and we will continue to fight this disease with all strength once again,” she said.

“We will fight all graft charges against us and none found guilty will be spared,” the Congress chief asserted.

Indirectly hitting out at BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, who has been targeted by the IAC’s Arvind Kejriwal for alleged financial impropriety in the running of his Purti Group, she said: “Those who are talking about corruption are finding themselves neck-deep in corruption.”

69% Qataris in professional, clerical jobs; workers’ number up 5%

ASIF IQBAL

DOHA NEARLY 69 percent of economically active Qataris are professionals or clerks though white collar workers comprise only 9 percent of the country’s labour force, a Qatar Statistics Authority (QSA) survey has found.

The Labour Force Sample Survey also revealed that the number of workers (including expatriates) rose 5 percent over last year’s count to reach 1.3 million in 2012 and comprises 86.5 percent of the country’s population in the 15 plus age group. In the given age bracket, 95.7 percent males and 52.4 percent females are employed.

The survey found economic participation peaking in the 25 to 34 year age group at 92.6 percent. It also found economic dependency down from 34.7 percent in 2011 to 33.6 percent in 2012.

Half of economically active Qataris are specialists or clerks and if those engaged in other regular occupations or operating machines are included, the percentage rises to 69.2, the QSA survey said.

Out of every 10 Qatari workers, three are in clerical jobs and as many are specialists, it pointed out.

The survey noted that the construction industry engages the maximum number of workers for any single activity (37.2 percent), and together with trading, it provides employment to 50 percent of the workers in the country. It further revealed that 98 percent of workers engaged in these two types of activities are expatriate males.

About 73.2 percent of Qatari workers are in jobs in “public administration, education and health”. Of these, 63.9 percent are males and 36.1 percent females, the survey pointed out.

The private sector accounts for approximately three-quarters of total labour force, most of them non- Qatari (99.2 percent), the survey said. As much as 83.7 percent of Qatari labour is concentrated in the public sector (67.2 percent male and 32.8 percent female).

Only 9.3 percent of Qatari labour force (57.4 percent male and 42.6 percent female) works for the private sector. However, this is more than 8.4 percent last year, the survey has found.

The survey revealed that the average job-holder works 50 hours a week and draws QR9,000 a month as salary.

The maximum average monthly wage given to males working in areas like public administration, defence and social security reached QR23,000 in 2012 while for female workers it climbed to QR20,000.

Iran’s hope of Syria hostage release rests on Qatar: Salehi

TRIBUNE NEWS NETWORK

DOHA THE Emir His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani’s visit to the Gaza Strip has been lauded by Iran as exemplary for other Arab and Islamic countries.

Having expressed his country’s appreciation for HH the Emir’s bold action, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told a Doha-based Arabic daily Al Watan in an interview that similar moves by other Arab and Islamic nations would go a long way in ending the blockade of Gaza.

Pointing out that Iran recognises the human and the political aspects of HH the Emir’s Gaza visit, Salehi hoped that Qatar will continue to support “our brothers in Gaza”.

Reminding of the “very good” ties between the two countries, he said release of Iranians held hostage in Syria since August was one of the items on the visit agenda and added, “we hope to hear some good news from them (Qatar) regarding the hostages detained in Syria”.

He was candid about the differences in the viewpoints of the two countries on certain issues. “As everyone knows, Iran disagrees with Qatar on Syria. However, this should not reflect upon the bilateral relations”, he said.

He pointed out that bilateral engagement at the highest level was robust, saying, “Over the past seven years, more than a dozen visits have been exchanged between the HH Emir and the Iranian president in addition to the meetings that took place on the sidelines of a number of international meetings. This means that the bilateral political relations are great.” Salehi described his visit as “regular”, but went on to add, “one week before the visit, I contacted His Excellency (the Qatari) Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and sought his intervention for the release of the detained Iranian hostages. His reaction was positive and he promised to do his best for their release.” “Yet, because he had some specific information he wanted to communicate to me, it was preferable for me to visit Qatar as some information cannot be exchanged over the phone.

“Now, we are in constant touch with our brothers in Qatar and hope to hear some good news from them regarding the hostages detained in Syria”, Salehi said.

Asked about other recent developments with regard to the hostages he said, “positive” steps have been taken and added “we need time to get to the desired result.

“Before contacting HE (the Qatari) Prime Minister, I was in touch with our Turkish brothers. Earlier, when 28 Iranians were kidnapped, we were able to secure their release through the mediation of our Turkish brothers.

But in the present case, we have contacted both our Turkish and Qatari brothers and they are also in touch with each other to coordinate their efforts”, he further said.

A number of other issues also came up for discussion during the visit, he said.

“During visit, we discussed other issues, including bilateral relations in various areas and how to reinforce them, besides regional issues.

Regarding the Syrian opposition meeting for formation of a transitional government (now underway in Doha) and the implications for Iran, a key strategic ally of Damascus, Salehi said: “In New York, we presented a paper highlighting a framework for solving the Syrian crisis. Our Saudi, Turkish and Egyptian brothers, UN and Arab League Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi as well as the Syrians themselves have reviewed the paper.

“The main articles in the paper concern a cease-fire by both sides and dialogue between them. The government is requested to recognise the opposition and the opposition is requested to recognise that the government exists in and controls Syria. Without this mutual recognition, we will not reach any solution,” Salehi asserted.

“The Syrian government is now ready for dialogue with the opposition. For us, the preferred way to solve the crisis is through dialogue between the government and the opposition”, he elaborated.

Responding to the allegations that Iran has become a principle part of the Syrian problem and not a component of its solution and that it is sending Shiite volunteers from Iran and Iraq to fight for the Assad regime, he said: “These people should produce evidence of Iranian volunteers fighting in Syria. In any case, Iran is in a challenge with the West, and as I have said many times, the West would hold Iran responsible for the tsunami in Indonesia if they could. We are used to such accusations.” He stressed that Iran supports Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and the resistance in Palestine. “Are these Shiites? Ask Palestinians who is really supporting them? The answer will be Iran. Is the Islamic revolution called Shiite Iranian Revolution is it not associated with Islam?” About the strife between the government and the opposition in Bahrain, he stressed his country’s respect for the sovereignty and independence of Bahrain. “Iran has not called for ouster of the country’s government and the king of Bahrain is aware of this. During the Makkah meeting I discussed this with him for half an hour. Bahraini officials and the US Ambassador in Bahrain have confirmed that Iran has not interfered in Bahrain’s internal affairs,” he said.

Regarding the dispute with the United Arab Emirates over Arab islands, Salehi said that there was no need for international arbitration as the two countries are capable of solving the issue on their own through negotiations.

Iran-UAE relations are at their best and there is only minor misunderstanding over the islands, he added.

Asserting that Iran did not intend to close the Strait of Hormuz if the country was attacked, he said that the official position of the country would be articulated only by the foreign ministry.

Rebuffing the notion that Iraq is under Iranian influence, Salehi said: “Iraq is an independent country. Any suggestion about the Iranian influence does not make any sense and represents an abuse of Iraq’s independent status.” (Translated from Al Watan by Mohamed Khoulaidi)

SNC makeover meet remains divided

AP

DOHA SHARP disagreements arose on Sunday on the first day of a Syrian opposition conference meant to forge a more cohesive leadership that the international community says is necessary before it will boost its support for those trying to overthrow President Bashar al Assad.

The main opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, balked at a US-backed plan that would largely sideline it to make room in a new leadership council for fighters and activists inside Syria. However, with international pressure mounting, the SNC also suggested it is willing to negotiate a compromise that would give the SNC more influence in a new leadership team.

The international community has long urged the SNC, widely seen as dysfunctional and out of touch, to broaden its base and include a greater spectrum of Syrian society, especially those fighting inside the country. Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unusually harsh, suggesting the SNC’s leadership days are over.

Failure to reach a deal in Doha could further heighten tensions between Syria’s political opposition and the international community.

Opposition leaders feel abandoned by the US and other foreign backers, saying they are not providing the money and weapons the rebels need to defeat Assad in a stalemated civil war. Washington and others say they can’t step up aid unless the opposition stops bickering and establishes a more representative — and unified — leadership.

The conflict erupted nearly 20 months ago as a peaceful uprising that escalated into a civil war and has claimed more than 36,000 lives, according to a tally by activists.

At the conference in Doha, the SNC will have to decide whether to accept a plan proposed by a prominent dissident, Riad Seif, to set up a new leadership group of about 50 members. The SNC would get some 15 seats, meaning its influence would be diluted, while military commanders and local leaders in rebel-held areas would win wider representation.

Seif said his plan has broad international backing and portrayed it as a stepping stone to more robust foreign aid.

SNC chief Abdelbaset Sieda dismissed Seif’s optimism, saying he and others in the SNC no longer trust promises of international support that are linked to restructuring of the opposition.

“We faced this situation before, when we formed the SNC (last year),” he said.

“There were promises like that, but the international community in fact did not give us the support needed for the SNC to do its job.” The SNC is to decide on Wednesday whether to accept Seif’s plan. Sieda said the SNC believes it deserves at least 40 percent of the seats, should it decide to join the new group, suggesting the group may have decided it’s under too much pressure to reject the plan entirely.

In Cairo, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but they differed in their assessments.

Brahimi called the situation “deplorable,” adding, “The solution will either be a political one that all sides agree on, or the future of Syria is very bad.” Lavrov blamed the Syrian opposition for not accepting a cease-fire proposal that left the door open for a transitional period with Assad still in power.

The Arab League scheduled a special session of its Syria committee for November 12.

As opposition leaders haggled in Qatar, activists said rebels captured an oilfield in eastern Syria on Sunday after three days of fighting with government troops, and shot down a Syrian warplane in the area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels overran the Al-Ward oilfield in the province of Deir el- Zour near Iraq.

Oil was a major source of revenue for Assad’s regime before the US and the European Union imposed an embargo on Syria’s crude exports last year, in response to Assad’s brutal crackdown on the uprising against him.

Syrian officials have accused rebel units of targeting the country’s infrastructure, including blowing up the oil and gas pipelines.

Syrian state media, meanwhile, said rebels detonated a car bomb near the Dama Rose hotel in the capital, wounding several people. The hotel has been used in the past by UN observers visiting Syria. The reports also said rebels were behind the assassination of a leading member of the ruling Baath party in northeast Raqqa province.

The Syrian opposition leaders met at a luxury hotel in Doha, Qatar, which has emerged as a major backer of the Syrian rebels. Organisers said more than 400 delegates are attending four days of internal SNC meetings and will choose new SNC leaders on Tuesday. A day later, the SNC is to vote on Seif’s plan.