Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Riots in Algiers

Serious rioting broke out in the Diar Elaffia neighborhood of eastern Algiers on Tuesday 23rd November. In spite of the ring-fence barricading and heavily policing of Algiers, unrest and rioting seems to be coming more prevalent.

In October 2009, protestors threw petrol bombs at police during several days of rioting over housing conditions. We reported the sustained unrest and rioting because of the inadequate and cramped slum housing conditions in the suburb of Diar Echems, close to Diar Elaffia, in February and March of this year.

The cause of the latest rioting in the densely populated suburb of Diar Elaffia was the demolition of three houses by municipal workers, which officials had ruled had been built illegally. Although the local media seems to have avoided reporting on the incident, at least so far, Reuters reported that dozens of local residents blocked roads, with young men in particular throwing stones and glass bottles at the police.

The police called in reinforcements in the form of heavily armed riot police to quell the unrest. Our sources, who were able to film the actions of the riot police, estimated at least a dozen people injured. The riot has now been reported on both Al Jazeera and Your News (Arabic), with local reports confirming that 23 people were hospitalised, four with serious injuries. As most people try and avoid hospitalisation in order to avoid identification, the number of people injured is inevitably much higher.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Ibori's wife convicted on money-laundering charges

A jury at Southwark Crown Court in London (UK) has found Theresa Nkoyo Ibori – the wife of former Delta State governor James Ibori – guilty on two counts of money-laundering charges brought against her. While she is yet to be sentenced, the usual jail-term for the offences she has been convicted of is between two and five years.

UK lawyer Bhadresh Gohil – who was standing trial along with Mrs Ibori for similar offences – was also found guilty of the charges brought against him. They have both been remanded in custody. However, Gohil is expected to be sentenced only after the conclusion of a related trial involving the laundering of the proceeds from the sale of shares in telecommunications company V-Mobile by James Ibori, Henry Imasekha, David Edevbie and former governor of Akwa Ibom State Victor Attah.

Their trial is expected to commence on 29th November 2010 in London. Ibori is presently in detention in Dubai, awaiting the outcome of a hearing on his extradition to the UK. The convictions of Mrs Ibori and Gohil represent the third and fourth in money-laundering cases involving Ibori and his associates.

A few months ago, Ibori's sister Christine Ibori-Ibie and his associate Udoamaka Okoronkwo-Onuigbo were convicted and sentenced to prison terms for related money-laundering offences.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Inpex off Iran sanction list

Washington won't investigate Inpex under an American sanctions law after the Japanese firm withdrew from the Azadegan project and vowed to quit doing business with Iran. Inpex had a 10 per cent stake in the project.

In a statement, the State Department said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had decided to use a provision of the Iran Sanctions Act to spare Inpex from an investigation into its past Iran investments. It also explained that Inpex had promised not to conduct any activity in Iran that could trigger US sanctions.

"As long as the company continues to act in accordance with its assurances, the secretary does not regard Inpex as a company of concern for its past Iran-related activities," the statement indicated.

It should be noted that China's CNPC will be the operator of the Azadegan project. In July 2010, Iranian officials accepted CNPC's MDP to develop the field. In the contract signed between Naftiran Intertrade Company and CNPC the Iranian company agreed to transfer 70 per cent of its shares to the Chinese partner.

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Algeria: French want a fresh start

Jean-Pierre Raffarin travelled to Algiers on 24th November as part of attempts by the French government to re-launch relations with their former colony. The former prime minister, who is in charge of managing relations with Algeria, has been asked by President Nicolas Sarkozy to draw a line under the troubled relationship of recent years, which has been marked by disputes over a number of high-profile issues.

These include the aviation security measures targeting Algerian travellers to France, and handling the legacy of France's colonial role in the country, as well as major differences of opinion over the handling of counter-terrorism strategy in the Sahel. France has also refused to bow to Algerian demands for a full apology for its actions during the colonial period. As a result, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has repeatedly put off making an official visit to France, and some French officials have been put on a 'black list' by the Algerian government, effectively barring them from entry into the country. Among the least popular was former foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, who lost his job in Sarkozy's recent reshuffle.

In particular, Raffarin hopes to make progress on the economic dossier, boosting French investments in Algeria. Although France has historically been the economic partner of choice for the Algerians, investors such as Alstom have run into difficulties recently. Renault, which has been hoping to set up a car plant in the country, has been bogged down in negotiations with the government.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iraq: Gas field contracts move ahead

The start of the process of forming the next government hasn't stopped the oil ministry from continuing to act as if it has a full mandate to make decisions. In fact Nouri Al-Maliki and Hussain Al-Shahrastani are keener than ever to demonstrate that they are making a success of the energy portfolio, something that will assist them in their demand to retain the file.

This month the ministry announced that it had agreed to the draft contracts for the Mansuriya and Siba gas fields awarded in the third licensing round in October. However, the contract for the Akkas field has yet to be finalised. This is because of the trouble the contract is still provoking in Al-Anbar.

As Iraq Focus reported last month, locals took the streets in protest against the deal, claiming that it did not benefit the local area sufficiently. The protests were organised by the local Al-Anbar council which has sought to whip up popular feeling to make its point to Baghdad.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Monday, 29 November 2010

Algeria to intensify oil and gas exploration efforts

Algeria's Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi has said that the country will intensify its oil and gas exploration efforts in order to increase its hydrocarbon reserves and "guarantee the country's energy security in the very long term”.

"The Permanent Mission of our industry is to ensure the country's energy security in the very long term and ensure sufficient revenue for its development," said Yousfi in an interview. The minister added that Algeria, whose economy derives around 98 per cent of its revenue from oil, will also increase "its national capacity of oil and oilfield services."

Yousfi said that despite the current downturn in oil and gas markets, Sonatrach maintains its long-term investments plans. The state-owned company intends to invest around $63 billion to expand its capacity for gas exports.

Presently, Algeria supplies the EU with 12 per cent of its natural gas via two pipelines in Italy and Spain. A third pipeline is to be commissioned shortly and will be expected to deliver around 8 billion cubic metres of gas to various European destinations. Yousfi concluded by saying that Algerian gas exports are expected to reach approximately 100 billion cubic metres by 2015.

Source: Ennahar Online

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Egyptian parliamentary election marred by violence and fears of corruption

The Egyptian parliamentary election took place amid clashes between the opposition and the security forces. There have also been unconfirmed reports of violence outside the capital involving the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) supporters and the main opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

MB supporters said they were prevented from voting, accusing the Egyptian government of corruption and rigging. "There's no voting going on, just rigging. It's a disgrace," said one voter.

Protests have continued during the night over the conduct of Sunday's Egyptian parliamentary elections, which the opposition claimed were marred by fraud. Backers of the MB gathered outside polling stations in Alexandria, an MB stronghold, where most of the stand-offs between the MB supporters and backers of the NDP occurred.

Many of the 42 million voters, eligible to cast their ballots, stayed at home fearing Election Day violence. Early inductions suggest that President Hosni Mubarak's NDP party may win an unfeasibly large victory, further fuelling speculation over the integrity of these elections.

In 2005, the MB won about a fifth of the seats, standing as independent candidates. Critics of the Egyptian government are wondering whether the officially banned MB will retain its position as the biggest opposition group.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

Charles Okah charged over kidnappings

The brother of Nigeria's main militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has been charged with kidnapping nine foreign oil workers. Charles Okah – brother of Henry Okah – and three other men have denied involvement in the kidnappings, which took place between August and October this year.

Charles Okah was charged last month over the Independence Day car bombings in Abuja. However, the Nigerian authorities believe it was his brother Henry Okah who masterminded the attack. Henry Okah has been refused bail in South Africa where he is currently detained.

In total, 19 oil workers were rescued this month. The Nigerian authorities said 63 people had been arrested in connection with the kidnappings. Charles Okah and his accomplices were accused of kidnapping four Indian, three French and two Russian citizens.

The recent upsurge in militant activity is believed to have commenced with the attacks on the capital Abuja, which killed 12 people on 1st October, as Nigeria was celebrating 50 years of independence from the UK.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

BP finds gas in West Nile Delta

BP announced a sizeable gas discovery in the West Nile Delta. For BP and the world oil industry, the focus has been on the drilling in deepwater after the disaster of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. The Hodoa [“horseshoe”] discovery is about 80km northwest of Alexandria, in 1077m of water, and drilled to a depth of 6350m. It is the first discovery in the older deeper Oligocene geological structure in the West Nile Delta area. BP insists further appraisal is underway.

For Egypt, the well is vindication of its changed terms, finalised in July, that were to give BP greater incentive to develop fields. BP and other IOCs had argued that previous concession terms no longer justified the far higher production and development costs from very deep water which has been the focus of most recent exploration. Failure to reach satisfactory terms had led to a slowdown in production. This did not deter Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmi from declaring at every opportunity that Egypt had plentiful supplies of gas; a claim disputed not only by Egyptians suffering power cuts in the summer but foreign customers for piped gas or LNG unable to receive their contracted amounts.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Attacking Libya Press

Much commentary has interpreted the arrests of Al-Ghad's journalists simply as an escalation of the row between reformists and the old guard. The media were certainly issued with a very stern warning and their ability to criticise has probably been constrained – at least in publications printed and distributed within the Jamahiriya.

However, Oea's attack on long-time hardliner Ahmed Ibrahim, who is currently the head of the World Centre for Studies and Research on the Green Book, adds a deeper dimension to the conflict.

Ibrahim is a die-hard figure who still goes to the limit to defend the revolution. Despite his demotion in 2008 from deputy secretary of the General People's Congress to his current position, and despite his well-known misgivings about Saif al-Islam, he remains very close to the Leader, who is a cousin, and is a key figure within the upper echelons of the regime.

Libya Press goaded Ibrahim by reporting that he had held a series of meetings to mobilise support for a special internal organisation to prevent Libyans returning from abroad from being given leadership posts.

This is a very hot topic at the moment. Saif al-Islam is regularly criticised for bringing in exiles who have made their peace with the regime and appointing them to senior positions.

The article also claimed that Ibrahim had called for foreign companies to be barred from taking part in the country's development plan. It reported his view that economic openness and foreign investment are unhealthy phenomena that have damaged the economy.

The article concluded that Ibrahim wanted to take Libya back to the 1980s, a decade considered to be dark by many Libyans as it was characterised by particular brutality. It painted Ibrahim as single-handedly standing in the way of the country's future development.

Given that all the journalists who were arrested were from Libya Press, it seems reasonable to assume that Ibrahim may well have been behind their incarceration. He is certainly powerful enough to have made such a move. Indeed it is doubtful that al-Mahmoudi would have had the power to issue such instructions without backing from more senior elements in the regime.

Therefore while the arrests fell within the context of the battle between reformists and hardliners, they also appear to have been motivated by important figures within the regime taking revenge for having been publicly insulted.

Ibrahim has never been shy about hitting back at his enemies. Many remember the famous showdown in 2005 in the General People's Congress between him and his nemesis, Shukri Ghanem, when the latter was still prime minister. Ibrahim objected to a series of policies that Ghanem had tried to introduce to open up the economy.

In a bitter exchange of words he said of Ghanem, 'You cannot respond to or sympathise with someone who wants power for himself.'

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Nouri al-Maliki has 30 days to form new government

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani has appointed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form a new government. Al-Maliki has 30 days to negotiate potential obstacles as he delegates ministerial portfolios to various Iraqi political factions.

Iraq has been without a new government for a record breaking eight months, following inconclusive result returned during March parliamentary elections. After months of limbo and political wrangles, a deal was finally reached two weeks ago allowing al-Maliki to remain in his post.

His task to divide-up ministries among Iraq's notoriously fractions political parties might prove more difficult than initially thought. The new government is expected to comprise of all the major factions, including the Kurds and Shi'a political parties aligned with Iran. It is also to include Iyad Allawi's Sunni backed al-Iraqiyya coalition bloc, which won more seats than al-Maliki's largely Shi'a National Alliance, but lost out in the negotiations.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Iran decreases energy reserves for power plants

Iranian oil and gas reserves designated for the use of power plants has hit about 87 per cent of the required figure, one per cent less than during the same period last year. The total number of black oil reserves has reach 76 per cent of the necessary figure. Black oil is used by 16 power plants within Iran for the purpose of electricity generation.

Iran's gas consumption over the summer months reach 210 million cubic metres per day, on average the consumption numbers over the winder period rests at 150 million cubic metres. Power consumption increases in summer due to high temperatures.

"We hope that the interaction of the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company and the National Gas Company will fully provide Iran's power plants with the necessary amount of fuel during the cold period," said chief of Iranian Tavanir National Energy Company, Abdulrasul Pishakheng.

He added that providing Iran's power plants with the necessary numbers of fuel is crucial, as 94 per cent of the electricity in the country has been generated at thermal power plants so far this year.

Source: Trend News Agency

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Libya and Ukraine sign co-operation agreements

The joined committee of Libya and Ukraine have signed several agreements to strengthen bilateral co-operation between the two countries. The Secretary of the Libyan General People's Committee Mahmoud al-Baghdadi and Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov commended the outcome of the meeting.

The first agreement signed stipulated greater co-operation in the areas of commerce, industry and agriculture. The second agreement covered an MoU between the Libyan Press Agency (JANA) and the Ukrainian News Agency (Ukrania New Form) stipulating greater collaboration in exchange of information and staff training. The nature of the third agreement is unclear, but it is believed to be a draft agreement for the cancellation of visas regarding diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Speaking to the press, shortly after the signing ceremony, both officials commended the new agreements. Baghdadi said Libya and Ukraine have a long history of co-operation in a diverse range of areas including, health, education, military and nuclear power. He added that Ukraine will participate in development projects currently underway in Libya, particularly in the country's infrastructure and subway construction.

Azarov said that the new co-operation agreements are a milestone in the relations between the two countries, and expressed great optimism for the future.

Source: Afrique en ligne

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Nigeria to hold presidential election in April

Nigerian officials have said that the country will hold presidential elections on 9th April next year. Originally, the poll had been scheduled for January, but later delayed when the parliament approved constitutional changes.

Government officials said the delay was required to amend the voters' roll, largely regarded as flawed. In the past, Nigerian elections have been marred by conflict, violence and allegations of corruption.

The Independent National Election Commission said a parliamentary election would be held on 2nd April, a week before the presidential vote.

Nigeria's governing party the People's Democratic Party (PDP) has won all of Nigeria's presidential elections since the military rule ended in 1999. The candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan has been challenged by four PDP members, including former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Libya: New phase of nationalism gaining ground

There are signs of a new phase of nationalism gaining ground; an enhanced mood of pro-Arab and anti-foreign sentiment. It appears to spring from Colonel Qadhafi's old ideas on the role of the State and the ownership of the factors of production by the people. Such views are, as expected, welcome to the Old Guard and to the revolutionary committee movement. In essence, the ambition of the conservative right is the salvation of the Jamahiriya and with it, the concentration of economic power in the hands of the State.

Among the current sectors feeling some of the cold draught of growing nationalism is the banking quarter, where the regime appears to be caught in two minds about its future expansion. Saif al-Islam and his colleagues see the banking sector as an important backstop for the provision of credit to the private sector and want this task accomplished by private banking operations. Despite this, the banking privatisation programme has been considerably reduced in recent months.

The allocation of banking licences permitting the opening of new joint ventures has been distorted by the acquisition of a large stake in Italy's UniCredit on grounds of private interest by the Leader and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The delay in granting a banking license to a second foreign bank, which was promised and forecast by the government earlier in the year, gives some credence to the belief among the banking community that the gains in efficiency and honesty in the banking system are not the regime's principal aims. Foreign companies operating in Libya will benefit from some of the banking reforms that have been recently achieved but a dramatic dedication to any continuing improvement cannot be guaranteed.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Yemen car bombing kills 15 people

A car bombing of a Shi'a religious procession has killed 15 people in the Jawf province, in northern Yemen. Leader of the region's Huthi rebels said his group was targeted by the attack.

No one singular group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place during al-Shadeer, a festival not recognised by Yemen's majority Sunni Muslims. Yemen is under threat from rebel groups in the north and the south of the country, as well as al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

A number of sources have confirmed that 30 people were also injured in the car bombing. There has been speculation that al-Qa'ida or a Sunni Muslim group may have carried out the attack, but nothing has yet been confirmed by the Yemeni government.

Conflict between rebel groups, and between different tribes, particularly in northern Yemen, are as important as the religious divide between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, and equally as complicated.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

Iran and Algeria sign 11 MoUs

Iran and Algeria have signed 11 co-operation MoUs in Tehran on Monday, 22nd November. The signing ceremony was attended by Iran's First Vice President Mohammadreza Rahimi and Algeria's Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

Ouyahia's arrived in Tehran accompanied by a high-ranking economic delegation to attend the meeting of the Iran-Algeria High Joint Committee. His visit was officially welcomed by Rahimi, Iranian health minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastgerdi, and oil minister Massoud Mirkazemi.

The MoUs cover co-operation agreement in a number of different sectors including, agriculture, civil, trade, health, higher education and scientific researches, sisterhood of Imam Khomeini and Bejaia ports, establishment of joint commercial council, establishment of joint investment committee, establishment of joint investment fund, and action plan between Physical Education Organization of Iran and Algerian youth and sports ministry.

Source: Tehran Times

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

IFC invests in Ghana

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is investing GH¢1.58 million in Advans Ghana Savings and Loans Limited to help the microfinance institution expand lending to thousands of micro, small and medium sized enterprises in Ghana, according to a statement on the organisation's website. The five-year loan is the IFC's first in local currency to a microfinance institution in Ghana.

With the IFC's help, Advans will be able to expand its activities in Accra and nationally. Advans CEO Tanguy Gravot said of the news, “Microfinance institutions play a key role in helping improve the financial infrastructure in developing countries. Advans' partnership with IFC helps us on our growth and product diversification strategy, supporting not only micro enterprises but also small and medium companies.”

IFC's Ghana country manager Mary-Jean Moyo said, “IFC's investment in Advans Ghana is part of our global strategy to support micro, small and medium enterprises through microfinance institutions. Well managed, commercially run microfinance institutions like Advans Ghana are vital for creating a sound microfinance sector in Ghana, boosting lending to entrepreneurs and helping to improve people's lives.”

Advans Ghana should over the next three years create some 200 jobs and serve at least 40,000 microfinance clients, the statement said, 50 per cent of which are expected to be businesses run by females.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Nigeria: Mend claims Warri-Escravos pipeline attack

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has claimed responsibility for a weekend attack on the Warri-Escravos pipeline in the Niger Delta. The attack on the pipeline, supplying a large refinery, was confirmed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Over the past year, Mend's activities in the oil-rich Delta subsided following a ceasefire agreement but a small faction of the group's activists have recently resumed criminal activity. The group, fighting for equal distribution of oil wealth, issued a warning to the media, saying, "This attack and similar attacks on pipelines which will take place within the next few days is a reminder to the Nigerian government of the futility of wasting the nation's resources in combating militancy without addressing the underlying causes of agitation in the Niger Delta".

The Nigerian authorities believe that the breakaway faction is also responsible for the twin car bombings which killed 12 people during a celebration of Nigeria's 50 years of independence last month.

Over the weekend, the army said it had arrested 63 militants in connection with the recent kidnapping of ExxonMobil, Afren and Shell oil workers released last Wednesday [17th November]. The operation was the first successful rescue of foreign captives in the Delta without any of the hostages being killed in the process.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Algeria: AQIM denies killing businessman

Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has denied responsibility for kidnapping and subsequently killing an Algerian businessman. The group has issued a statement accusing the Algerian government of organising the crime.

Algerian media reported that a group of suspected AQIM insurgents abducted local businessman Hand Slimana on Sunday [14th November], and shot him dead as he tried to escape.

Shortly after news of the killing, 2,500 people took to the streets, in the remote Algerian town of Freha, demanding that Algerian security forces do more to protect them from al-Qa'ida militants.

The AQIM offered condolences to the businessman's family in a statement posted on a website used by the group, and said it had no connection to the kidnapping or the killing of Slimana, further accusing the government of perpetrating the crime.

"We confirm that the first and last enemy of our tribal enemies is the criminal Algerian regime and not the jihadists. It is very likely the apostates through their intelligence system had planned this operation indirectly as part of an ongoing devilish plan to recruit our Muslim brothers in the tribal region against their brothers the Mujahedeen," said AQIM in the statement.

Source: Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Algeria: More flexibility promised as licensing round opens

Nearly 80 companies have prequalified in terms of financial resources and technical aptitude for the forthcoming licensing round. Agence Nationale pour la Valorisation des Ressources en Hydrocarbures (Alnaft) received three new demands for prequalification.

In total 45 companies took part in the opening meeting of the round at the Hotel Sheraton in Algiers in late September. Energy and mines minister Youcef Yousfi set an optimistic tone at the meeting. He said the process of discussion with Sonatrach's partners had “permitted the identification of a certain number of points which could be improved” in the licensing round procedures.

Several suggestions from IOCs had been adopted, for example the selection of areas to be included in the round, he added, encouraging interested companies to maintain the process of dialogue which he said was fundamental to Sonatrach's relationship with its partners.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iran finds major oil layer off the coast of Persian Gulf

Iran has discovered a major oil layer beneath at a natural gas field off the coast of Persian Gulf. Pars Oil and Gas Company's Managing Director Ali Vakili said the company found an oil layer at the Ferdowsi gas field, estimated to contain around 34 billion barrels of oil.

"The new oil layer is regarded as one of the biggest layers in the country and it is located beneath Ferdowsi gas field. We are currently digging an oil rig to complete our assessments," said Vakili in a meeting in Tehran.

He also said the oil layer was one of the largest in the country, uncovered in the South Pars field. Vakili gave no details about the size of the latest discovery, but added that more than half of the gas from South Pars would come on stream by early 2012.

Source: Press TV

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Bahrain and US sign a CMAA

Bahrain and US have signed a co-operation Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA). The agreement signed by Bahrain's Customs President Maj Gen Basim Yacob Al-Hamer and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Alan Bersin provides the legal framework for bilateral exchange of information between customs authorities.

“The signing of the Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement illustrates the alliance and friendship as well as the cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of Bahrain. I am confident that the confluence of national interest and personal respect will result in mutual benefit for both nations,” said Bersin.

The CMAA sets up a working framework for customs-to-customs technical assistance, information sharing, and law enforcement co-operation to enable greater trade and prevent customs crimes.

The CMAA will assist all parties in gathering evidence of trade fraud, transnational dealings, money laundering, unlawful exports and imports and substance smuggling. It will also work to curtain terrorism and human trafficking.

Source: Global Arab Network

For more news and expert analysis, please visit the Menas Associates Newsroom.

Israel starts building barrier on Egypt border

Work is beginning in Israel on a barrier along the border with Egypt, aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

The barrier, including an electric fence and surveillance technology, will run for 250km (155 miles).

Work on the $372m (£232m) project is expected to take up to a year.

Hundreds of migrants - including many asylum seekers - enter Israel from Egypt every week, Israeli government figures suggest.

Egyptian border guards have shot dead dozens of migrants - mostly from Africa - in recent years.

Egyptian officials insist they only shoot at the border after those crossing ignore repeated orders to stop, and point out that human-trafficking gangs carry guns.

However, the UN and human rights groups have asked Egypt to stop excessive force being used.

The Israeli defence ministry said on Sunday 21st November that "dozens of heavy engineering vehicles will be deployed at points along the Israeli-Egypt border" on Monday.

The Israeli government approved the construction of the barrier in March, after months of planning and preparatory work.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the influx of illegal migrants across the border as a major threat to "the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel".

The Israeli immigration authority said in a report earlier this month that some 700 illegal migrants - a record number - infiltrated through the Egypt-Israel border on a weekly basis.

This marked an increase of about 300 per cent since the start of 2010, according to the report, which put the number of migrants at 10,858 over the January-November period.

In 2009, 4,341 migrants were recorded.

A deal struck between Libya and Italy in 2009 has cut off a popular sea route to Europe for illegal African migrants and helped direct the flow towards Israel.

Source: BBC

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

Algeria's problems in the Sahel mount

Last week's issue reported on how Algeria's difficulties in the Sahel were mounting. The problem was that the countries of the Sahel, notably Mali and Mauritania, were undertaking military operations, in the form of patrols and exercises, against AQIM in disregard of Algeria and the Joint Command set up by the four countries (Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger) in Tamanrasset.

In short, the Sahel countries, seemingly supported by France, were showing that they could operate quite independently of Algeria in the fight against AQIM. Algeria, as we have been explaining over the last few months, has been trying to establish itself as the military hegemony in the region thereby excluding both Morocco and Libya.

Last week saw not only a continuation of such military co-operation between Mauritania and Mali, albeit perhaps on a small scale in terms of the number of troops and amount of equipment involved, but, and far more damaging for Algeria, a proliferation of media articles in both countries extolling the virtues of their new partnership, which was illustrated by the visit last week of Mali's army chief of staff, General Gabriel Poudiougou, to Nouakchott.

The daily newspapers are giving this new rapprochement big headlines. Mauritania's La Tribune, for example, carried a full-page story under the title 'War against AQIM: Mali and Mauritania team up,' saying 'the Mauritanian forces (have) committed to combat terrorism since mid-September in northern Mali with joint patrols, composed of elements from Mali and Mauritania, who are going through northern Mali in search of AQIM bands.' The daily Nouakchott-Info also reported on the visit of General Poudiougou, with a front page headline: 'Visit of the head of the Malian army: Nouakchott and Bamako unite against AQIM.' The daily Le Rénovateur described the alliance between Nouakchott and Bamako as 'a new bulwark against terrorism.'

The Mauritanian and Malian media are rubbing in what is effectively a direct snub to Algeria. And the message is clear: 'We can manage without Algeria'.

To make matters worse, Morocco is also cashing in on this new 'diplomatic encirclement' of Algeria. It is arguing that some of the recent 'drug busts' in Morocco, the veracity of which cannot be easily established, are linked to AQIM. In other words, Morocco is sending out clear messages to the international community that AQIM is responsible for much of the drug trafficking between the Sahel and Morocco, but that Algeria is excluding it from all participation in attempts to get to grips with al-Qa'ida in the Sahel. In short, Morocco is saying that if Algeria is not directly aiding and abetting terrorism in the region, it is certainly making its eradication extremely difficult by excluding countries such as Morocco from the initiatives that are being designed (and so far failing) to put an end to it.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Vietnam joins the club

It has been a busy month for Vietnam's leaders. Prime Minster Nguyen Tan Dung jetted off to Korean capital Seoul this month to join G20 leaders for the Seoul summit. Prime Minster Dung attended the summit representing both Vietnam and ASEAN and met again many of the world leaders who had earlier joined the 17th ASEAN meeting in Hanoi, though the meeting gave the prime minister the opportunity to again meet American President Barack Obama. The focus of the G20 summit was understandably to address the post-crisis global economy.

Obama tried to use the summit to address the global imbalance in trade between East Asia, the United States, and Europe, in particular the imbalance between the United States and China as well as China's undervalued currency and build-up of US dollars.

Vietnam's prime minister would have listened with some concern and interest to Obama's proposal for a 4 per cent limit on national trade deficits and suggestion of an apparent 'currency war,' in which several countries are accused of artificially devaluing their currencies in order to drive export growth.

Vietnam and the United States have both seen their trade deficit with China grow hugely over the last 10 years. Vietnam's went from a modest $32 million in 2000 to a worrying $10.5 billion in 2008 and is expected to reach over $11 billion in 2010. Vietnam has also engaged in a series of dong devaluations over the last 12 months in an attempt to bolster its flagging exports and address some of the trade deficit.

Following the G20 meeting, Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet was again joined by many of the same leaders at the 18th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama in Japan.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Friday, 19 November 2010

Libya to train its graduates into petroleum engineering specialists

The Libyan National Oil Company's (NOC) human resources department has said that starting 5th December it will run a training programme aimed at making 1,000 Libyan graduates specialists in petroleum engineering.

The three-month long programme would be supervised by international oil companies working in Libya under a petroleum exploration and production agreement signed with the Libyan government. Over 2000 new graduates have already been recruited by the government to participate in the programme, devised as part of the plan to create a more skilled workforce and shun foreign labour. Almost 5000 oil sector jobs have been created for Libyan nationals since the authorities signed an agreement with 27 of the country's oil companies.

The Libyan government is also planning a corresponding training programme in collaboration with the Libyan Academy for Advanced Studies for new graduates in the areas of accounting, economics and insurance.

Source: Africa News

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

ria: Oil workers freed

The recently kidnapped ExxonMobil workers have been released together with six Afren workers, abducted about three weeks ago, and five Shell members of staff taken hostage about two months ago.

Niger Delta People Volunteer Force general, Nico Sinte, said that Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was not, in fact, responsible for the kidnappings, which he attributed to sea pirates, despite contrary claims by MEND.

Sinte said the pirates have their camps along the waterways in Oron axis of Akwa Ibom state and the only way to curtail their unlawful activities was for the military to work with repentant militant groups who know the creeks and their hideouts.

Briefing the press in Uyo, shortly after a meeting with the Akwa Ibom state governor, Godswill Akpabio, Labour leaders praised the government as well as the security agencies for rising to the occasion.

Source: AllAfrica

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Iran-Azerbaijan sign transport and energy co-operation agreement

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said that Iran will increase co-operation with Azerbaijan, especially in the transport and energy sectors. He added that an agreement was reached after in-depth talks with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.

"Iran-Azerbaijan relations are more than relations between two neighbouring, friendly countries. They are relations between two fraternal nations. No one can interrupt our relations," said Ahmadinejad.

According to official statistics, compiled by the Azerbaijani State Statistics Committee, trade turnover with Iran totalled $167.26 million in January-September; $76.87 million accounted for imports from Iran and $90.39 million for exports to the country.

The two countries are connected via the, 1,474.5km long, Gazi-Magomed-Astara-Bind-Biand gas pipeline. The route is a branch of the Gazakh-Astara-Iran gas pipeline, which was commissioned in 1971. The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) is in the process of constructing a new compressor station in the Astara region, which will increase gas transportation to Iran by late 2010.

The gas supplied to Iran is used to deliver fuel to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic .Once the expansion of the gas compressor station in Astara is complete it will fully provide gas to Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.

Source: Trends News Agency

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Egypt: Police brutality ends in another death

Alexandria is under scrutiny as the site of another report of police brutality. According to Amnesty International, the family of 19 year-old Ahmed Shaaban allege that he died after being tortured and physically abused by police officers at Sidi Gabr police station on 7th November, and that his body was then dumped into a canal near his neighbourhood to give the impression that he committed suicide.

The organisation has called on the Egyptian authorities for an independent investigation of the allegations without delay.

According to Amnesty International, Shaaban's corpse was returned to his family on 11th November, covered in bruises to the head and body.

Police reportedly told the family not to hold a funeral but to bury the body immediately. Members of the security forces are said to have accompanied the family at the burial and afterwards to have been stationed near the family's home.

Sidi Gabr police station was the place of work of two police officers currently on trial over the death of Khaled Said, who was dragged out of an internet café by plainclothes police and beaten to death in public on the sidewalk. His death led to mass protests in Alexandria and elsewhere against police brutality.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iran ready to sell gas to Europe says Ahmadinejad

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said the Islamic republic is ready to sell gas to Europe via the European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline project.

"Europe needs Iranian gas and we are ready to sell gas to them at an acceptable price if they want," said Ahmadinejad during a news conference in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Iran has been hit by four rounds of sanctions imposed by the US and EU over its nuclear programme, which the West believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

The $11 billion Nabucco pipeline is part of the EU's effort to diversify its natural gas supplies by bringing up to 31 billion cubic metres of gas annually from the Caspian region to an Austrian hub via Turkey and the Balkans.

Source: Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Relations between Libya and the US strained again

The relations between Libya and the US have again been upset by minor events. The expulsion of a US diplomat has, according to sources in Tripoli, been carried through. The declaration of the diplomat as persona non grata is a small affair and seems to have been designed to embarrass the Americans and the Libyan authorities. US representation in Libya is already under par and is struggling to make a position for itself, despite the lukewarm treatment of Libya by the Obama Administration.

The tourism sector has received a considerable boost with the easing of visa restrictions for American visitors. Regular international cruise companies are once again calling into Libya to see key historic sites.

The US also courted animosity from the Libyans during the UN Human Rights Council meeting where the US spokesman decried the poor treatment of detainees and the torture which is widely reported as basic to the system of control at the Abu Selim prison and its offshoots.

In all the information circulating in the foreign and domestic media in the last week has tended to confirm US opinion that Libya has not yet qualified as an acceptable ally and for as long as petty infringements are magnified in the US State Department this position is unlikely to change.

The foreign business community might gain some confidence from the promised start of exploration operations by the major international oil companies, but without political acceptance of the Libyan regime by Washington, real progress by the US private sector in development will be inhibited.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Political fallout from cocoa trading dispute

The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) has denied that Vice President Mahama intervened to lift a trading ban on one of the world's richest cocoa traders. Anthony Ward's company Armajaro Holdings was banned from trading along with two other companies following allegations that one of its contractors had been smuggling cocoa out of Ghana into Côte d'Ivoire.

The UK Sunday Times reported that Ward appealed to UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell to intervene in the dispute. Following that communication, the newspaper claimed, Foreign and Commonwealth Office official Henry Bellingham lobbied Vice President Mahama and the ban was subsequently lifted.

However, in a press release issued in Accra on 8th November, COCOBOD said that the decision to lift the ban had been taken after hearing appeals from the three companies involved, as well as from local cocoa farmers.

COCOBOD took the decision, the statement asserted, because the three companies had respected the ban and had organized anti-smuggling workshops for their employees. A continuation of the ban, COCOBOD said , could have impacted negatively on local cocoa farmers, company employees and community projects.

The statement stressed that, “ at no time did the Vice President H.E. John Dramani Mahama interfere with or show any interest whatsoever in this matter as is being alleged in certain quarters.”

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Petrobras finds light oil in a well south of the Santos Basin

Petrobras has discovered light oil in a well south of the Santos Basin off the Brazilian southeast coast. The well is located 280km off the coast of Sao Paulo state, about 15km away from the Tiro and Sidon area, in water depths of 400 metres. Petrobras announced the find on Tuesday [16th November], but did not give an estimate of how much oil the find might contain.

It made the discovery at the S-M-1352 block in the BM-S-41 concession in which it has an 80 per cent stake, after transferring a 20 per cent stake to its co-operative partner Karoon. The company said it was continuing to drill in the same well, with the possibility it could find more reserves at a greater depth.

Petrobras said the discovery proves the success of the exploratory strategy of searching for new sources of oil and gas in the southeast of Santos Basin, where a series of fields have been discovered already.

Source: Xinhua

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

Ghana plans major infrastructure spending in 2011

The Ghanaian finance ministry has published a summary report on Ghana's 2011 budget, due to be unveiled on Thursday 18th November. The report indicates major infrastructure spending aimed at economic growth and employment.

"There will be significant investments in the areas of agriculture, energy, housing, rail transport, roads and highways," said the report, which gave no indication of the planned spending or its estimated impact on the country's economy.

The report also said that even though Ghana's economy will benefit from its fledgling oil and gas industry the impact in terms of revenue will only contribute “small portions" to the 2011 fiscal year. It estimated about six per cent of total revenue saying, “Ghanaians must therefore continue to focus their attention on the non-oil sectors of the economy which hitherto have been the backbone of the economy."

The report added that most of the spending will focus on the farming sector; completion of several roadwork projects; the rebuilding of the rail network; and the construction of 200,000 new affordable housing units.

Source: Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

Iran accused of violence against French diplomats in Tehran

The French embassy in Tehran has accused Iranian security services of carrying out "unacceptable acts of violence" on its diplomatic personnel residing in the Iranian capital.

The French foreign ministry released a statement saying, "On November 14, particularly serious incidents took place at the entry to the ambassadorial residence in Tehran. Its entry was blocked by unidentified security services who proceeded to arrest guests of the French ambassador and carried out unacceptable acts of violence including against French diplomatic personnel.”

Iran is yet to comment on the claims. However, France has summoned the Iranian ambassador in Paris to express, “condemnation of this extremely serious violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.”

The incident occurred when Iranian security officials proceeded to arrest some guests arriving at the residence of French ambassador Bernard Poletti, who had invited French and Iranian guests there for an evening of Persian music. Insiders say that the latest incident is another sign of the ongoing tensions between the two countries, which have been further strained by France's tough stand on Iran's nuclear programme.

Source: iAfrica

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

ECG buys new equipment to improve country's power supply

During a meeting between the Public Utilities and Regulatory Commission (PURC) and the management of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), to discuss the causes for the recent power outages in the greater Accra region, ECG's Director of Customer Services Smart Yeboah said that the company has purchased new equipment to improve the country's power supply.

The new equipment will replace the old technology which is partly responsible for the unstable power supply within Ghana. The contracts for installation have been signed and the works are expected to commence early next year.

For the last couple of weeks there have been continual power outages, within several areas in Accra, leading the public to complaint to the PURC, which necessitated the meeting. PURC's Executive Secretary Stephen Adu, who chaired the meeting, said since the adjustments of tariffs, clients were supposed to be enjoying better and uninterrupted services, "but that has not been the case".

Yeboah explained that the ECG management was embarking on projects that would enhance the quality of services and that most of the problems encountered a couple of weeks ago were emergencies that were not anticipated. He also said that the management of ECG would, by the end of the year, see 30 prime sub-stations throughout the country, to improve their services to customers, and apologised for to the public for the inconvenience.

Source: GBC

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

US calls on Egypt to allow foreign election monitors

The US has called on Egypt to allow foreign election monitors for its 28th November parliamentary elections and greater freedoms in regard to political gatherings and media coverage. In the past, Egypt has perennially refused to allow international monitors into the country, saying it does not need external supervision when it comes to its political proceedings.

Speaking about the lack of freedoms within Egypt, opposition leader George Ishaq said, “they say this and then we know what happened and what will happen,” adding that the Egyptian elections are “the farthest thing from free and if anyone believes the government they are mistaken.”

In view of past elections and recent censures of the country's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the international community has expressed concern about the bias nature of the Egyptian election process and the integrity of the vote set to take place at the end of the month.

The Egyptian government has recently arrested dozens of MB members and has periodically restricted media coverage of opposition campaigns. The US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley recently issued a statement saying, “An open electoral process would include a credible and impartial mechanism for reviewing election-related complaints, a domestic election observation effort according to international standards, and the presence of international observers.”

The government said it would allow local civil society groups to monitor the parliamentary elections, but Ishaq and other critics think these measures are simply not enough to ensure a fair election. As opposition activists in Cairo continually push for greater freedoms and a change in how government functions, they have called on president Barack Obama to follow his June 2009 speech in Cairo with action.

“We want Obama to stand for us disenfranchised people, but right now he is just giving lip service to us because they don't want to ruin their relationship with the government,” said another activist Reda Hamza.

Source: Bikya Masr

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

MEND attacks Exxon Mobil facility and kidnaps seven workers

Nigeria's main militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has claimed responsibility for an attack on Exxon Mobil's oil platform in Akwa Ibom state, and the kidnapping of seven Nigerian workers. The US based energy firm said men boarded the offshore facility, operated by its Mobil Producing Nigeria unit in a joint venture with the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), but gave no further details. The attack and subsequent seizure of seven Exxon Mobil employees was confirmed by MEND's spokesman Jomo Gbomo.

In an email to Nigeria authorities, Gbomo said that in the next few weeks, the group intends to, “launch a major operation that will simultaneously affect oil facilities across the Niger delta.” He also said that the oil workers were “taken to prevent the Nigerian government from attributing the damage to this facility to an industrial accident,” further adding that “no amount of military activities will secure the release of these hostages” who shall be released “at our time.”

The Niger Delata region, home to Nigeria's oil and gas industry, has seen a surge of violence since a government amnesty in 2009 led to the disarming of thousands of fighters and a period of relative quiet. Nigerian authorities and security agencies have been informed of the latest attack and “appropriate” response measures are under way said Exxon Mobil in an e-mailed statement.

Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Russia and Vietnam sign co-operation agreement

Russia's President Dmitri Medvedev has signed a co-operation agreement with Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet for the Russians to build a nuclear power station in Vietnam, the first for the south-east Asian country.

“If we reach the goals we've set, this power plant will account for a great share of Vietnam's energy market and will allow it to develop as a modern state that not only produces and processes oil, but also uses other energy sources, which is very important in today's world,” said Medvedev.

During a state visit to Vietnam, on the back of a regional summit, the Russian leader said he was looking forward to working with Vietnam and added that the country, “is actively developing in terms of construction, organisation of economy, fortification of defence and security, and also solving social issues. In all these areas Russia will assist Vietnam, which is our close friend.”

The deal, said to be worth more than $5 billion, was commended by Vietnam's president and held up as a sign of how ties between Moscow and Hanoi are strengthening.

“The signing of an agreement on the construction of an atomic power plant in Vietnam demonstrates the special ties we have with Russia and, of course, the deal indicates the confidence which Vietnam has in Russia's technology. We will continue to work together in the oil and gas industry, both in Russia and Vietnam,” said Nguyen Minh Triet.

Source: Tribune Magazine

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

Iran reports high gas output from South Pars field

Iran's Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC) has said that South Pars gas field has produced in excess of 43 billion cubic metres of gas, in the first half of 2010.

"From September 23 to October 22, around 278 million cubic meters of rich gas has been produced in phase 2, 881 million in phase 3, 1,844 in phase 4 and 2,185 in phase 5 of the development project in south pars," said POGC spokesman Hossein Nosrat-Zadeha.

Speaking about the production numbers, Nosrat-Zadeh said that in the past seven months, 4.275 million cubic metres of gas were produced in phase 1 along with 193 million cubic metres in phases 2 and 3. The production volume in phases 4 and 5 has been registered at 11.734 billion cubic metres and 16.422 billion cubic metres of rich gas in phases 6, 7, 8 of South Pars project.

He added that production in phases 6, 7 and 8 in the one-year period starting April 2009 stood at 19.654 billion cubic metres. This is while in the five months left to the end of 2010, the figure stands at 16 billion and will run much higher by April 2011. Nosrat-Zadeha said that the planned opening of phases 15, 16, 17 and 18 in less than two years would elevate Iran's position as a major energy producer.

Source: Press TV

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Iraq signs natural gas contracts with three foreign investors

Kuwait Energy, Turkiye Petrolleri and Korea Gas have signed contracts to develop Iraq's Mansouriya and Siba gas fields, after winning rights to work on the deposits last month. Iraq delayed signing an agreement for a third natural gas field, Akkas, in order to clear up the “misunderstanding” over the planned use of fuel from the deposit, said Iraq's Oil Ministry's Deputy Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi. The signing for Akkas will take place after this week's Eid al-Adha holiday.

The foreign investors will work together with Iraq's North Oil Company (NOC) to start production in the gas areas. However, the agreements must first receive approval from deputy director general at the ministry's Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate before any work commences.

The contracts, awarded last month in the country's first auction of gas concessions, mark a further move in Iraq's efforts to develop its oil and gas resources. Kuwait Energy, Turkiye Petrolleri and Korea Gas won rights to develop the Mansouriya field and pledged to produce 320 million standard cubic feet of gas a day. Kuwait Energy and Turkiye Petrolleri also won bidding for the Sib a field, agreeing to produce 100 million standard cubic feet of gas a day.

Korea Gas and Kazakhstan's KazMunaiGaz won the rights to develop Akkas, the largest of the three gas fields for which Iraq's government awarded licenses on 20th October. The two partners, with equal stakes in their bidding group, agreed to produce 400 million standard cubic feet of gas a day.

Iraq wants foreign investors to help it increase production of oil and gas to stimulate a recovery after years of conflict and economic sanctions. Iraq has the world's fifth-largest oil reserves, and its gas reserves rank fifth in size in the Middle East.

Source: Bloomberg

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Combing operation in 'triangle of death'

A major anti-terrorism security operation was reported in the media last week. Precise details of the timing of the operation were not given, although we believe that it was in full swing by the middle of this week. The operation appears to be a 'combing operation' of the so-called 'triangle of death' (a much over-used Algerian reference) which extends from the Delis mountains, South-east of Boumerdes, to the borders of Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers, and from Sidi Bounab and the Mizrana forests to Béjaia.

According to press reports, the security forces believe that they have 500 'terrorists' besieged within this area, including the GSPC/AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, (alias Abu Mosaab Abdelouadoud).

Although no details of troop numbers have been released, the operation appears to be one of the biggest military offensives against 'terrorists' for some time, and is being led by Generals from the First, Second and Fifth military regions. The aim of the operation is clearly to throw a noose around this extensive area and then draw it tighter. Official sources are quoted as saying that the intention of the military is to capture and arrest 'terrorists' alive, after besieging them and cutting off all communication routes used in supplying them with ammunition and supplies.

How successful the operation will be remains to be seen. The first reports, released we believe on 11th November, are that the combing operation in the Zekri forest, located in Ikourane (Tizi Ouzou) and led by Abdelkader Ben Zekhroufa, Chief of Staff of the First military region, resulted in the elimination of two 'terrorists' after engagements lasting more than six hours.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Friday, 12 November 2010

Iraq: Deal Reached but Pitfalls Remain

After months of deadlock, Iraq's political leaders have finally reached consensus over the formation of the next government. This consensus is, of course, a fragile one and is already beset with problems. However, a basic power-sharing agreement has at least been hammered out and agreed upon, albeit begrudgingly by some parties. Unsurprisingly, the deal was reached under sustained pressure from the US.

Anxious for Iraq not to slip back into the sectarian strife that characterised the period of the pre-2007 troop surge, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been in constant touch with the main players in recent weeks to try to force them into a deal that would see the country move forward. Indeed, it was Washington rather than Tehran that finally pushed the country's various political actors into compromise.

Under the deal, Nouri Al-Maliki gets to keep his cherished prime minister's post; Jalal Talabani gets to retain the presidency leaving Ayad Allawi with the head of the National Council for Strategic Policy. However, Allawi also insisted on his Iraqiya party taking other key positions, including the head of parliament as well as a number of key ministries including the Foreign Ministry.

Iraqiya also made a number of other demands that they considered as pre-conditions for agreeing to relinquish the prime minister's post. One of these is that the file of the Accountability and Justice Commission, which is responsible for de-Ba'athification, be cancelled.

The de-Ba'athification issue is crucial for Allawi because he wants a number of former Ba'athists - who were included in the government's list of those banned from contesting the March elections and who are part of Iraqiya - to take up some of the compensatory seats awarded to Iraqiya in the parliament. He also has his ally and former Ba'athist Saleh Al-Mutlaq, who is on the list, lined up for the post of Foreign Minister.

More importantly, Allawi also demanded that the National Council for Strategic Policy be awarded executive powers, and that these powers be clearly delineated in parliament prior to voting for any of the main posts. The various other parties reportedly agreed to these conditions before Thursday's parliamentary session.

Allawi was, however, to be bitterly disappointed. During a very fiery four-hour session of parliament, some non-Iraqiya MPs, and those from the National Alliance in particular, refused to discuss the de-Ba'athification issue and that of the National Council for Strategic Policy. They insisted that such matters should be postponed until after the three presidency posts (President of the Republic, Prime Minister and Head of Parliament) had been voted upon. This refusal to discuss what are vital issues for the Sunni bloc prompted an infuriated Allawi and other Iraqiya members to storm out of the session in protest.

Despite Iraqiya's absence, the voting went on. Jalal Talabani was elected as president and he duly tasked Nouri Al-Maliki with forming the next government. Al-Maliki now has one month to form his government. Osama Najaifi from Iraqiya meanwhile was elected as Head of the Parliament.

The affair is clearly a triumph for Al-Maliki who, after months of criticism from every side for his insistence on taking another term in office, has finally got what he wanted.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Constitutional amendment voided by High Court

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ruled the National Assembly's amendment to the 1999 Constitution to be null and void because it was not sent to President Goodluck Jonathan for assent. The ruling was given by Justice Okechukwu Okeke following a suit filed by renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Olisa Agbakogba.

Agbakogba's suit challenged the National Assembly's standpoint that the constitutional amendment process was complete and did not require the president's signature. This position sparked several debates on the validity of the constitutional amendment process. Stating the Federal Government's position, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) argued that the constitutional amendment process would not be complete until the president assents to the amendments.

In his ruling, Justice Okeke stated that the National Assembly had failed to comply with the provisions of Section 58 of the Constitution, thereby rendering the purported amendment null and void. The judge further stated that the only instance in which the requirement for presidential assent may be overridden is when the president does not give his assent within 30 days of the amendments being transmitted to him for signature.

On the comparisons between the procedure in the US and Nigeria – which both operate a federal constitution – the judge ruled that the National Assembly could not rely on the argument that presidential assent to constitutional revision was not required in Nigeria because it is not required in the US. Okeke asserted that whereas the American Constitution originated by way of a proclamation, the Constitution of Nigeria originated through a legislative Act and so can only be properly amended through an Act, requiring the assent of the president for it to be complete.

Through its counsel Yusuf Ustaz Usman, the National Assembly has stated that it will appeal the judgment of the Federal High Court and has since filed a Notice of Appeal at the Court of Appeal.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Ghana's Petroleum Revenue Management Bill delayed by lack of consensus

Ghana's Joint Committee of Energy and Finance has failed to agree on an amendment while deliberating on the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill, which will delay a reading and the recommendation expected to have been presented to the House on Thursday [11th November].

Committee chairman, James Avedzi, said members were yet to reach a consensus on an amendment proposed by the government limiting how much revenue can be used as collateral for loans. Under that proposal, the 30 per cent of revenues that are lodged in funds cannot be used as loan collateral, leaving only the remainder in the budget for the latter.

"We are unable to submit our report to the house today because we could not reach a consensus at our last meeting," said Avedzi.

It is estimated that Ghana will produce around 250,000 b/d by 2013 which, based on current levels, would make it Sub-Saharan Africa's sixth largest oil producer. President John Atta Mills has been adamant that Ghana's fledgling oil and gas industry will not be fuelled by political corruption and scandal.

"Getting our report to the House this week will not be possible. It is our hope that we'll be able to reach a consensus after tomorrow's meeting so that we can submit our recommendation next week Wednesday," added Avedzi.

Should the committee fail to reach an agreement; the report will be submitted for the House to vote on. Initially, the government had wanted the bill passed ahead of the 2011 presentation of the budget statement and its financial policy to be delivered to Parliament next week, however that is very unlikely to happen.

Source: Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.