Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Saif al-Islam withdrawal from political life


The difficulties faced by Saif al-Islam Qadhafi in the battle to be the principal nominee to succeed the Leader remain acute. His political position is made complex because he has been selected by his father but not in any definite and continuing way. Saif al-Islam is also currently making all signs of cutting his connections with the existing groups and individuals who form the radical part of Colonel Qadhafi's entourage.

Saif al-Islam's withdrawal from political life, for the second time, is signalled by his decision to de-politicise the management of the Qadhafi family trusts and to continue charitable operations only in sub-Saharan Africa and thereby no longer fulfilling an international role of importance.

His loss of control over newspapers and websites through which he formerly elaborated his political connections has rendered him toothless. His opponents have been adept in manipulating the existing political system against him and, in a clean sweep of his media enterprises, have divested him of his principal access to political influence outside the regime.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iraq's new government meets to discuss security


Iraq's new cabinet had its first meeting today, to address some of the country ongoing problems. After a record breaking nine months of political deadlock, Iraqi parliament voted a new team of minister into office on Tuesday 21st December.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, responsible for selecting the new cabinet members, met with his ministers this morning. Al-Maliki's advisor, Ali Moussawi, said that the prime minister met with his new team this morning to “to tell them that his three top priorities are security, public services, especially electricity, and relations with neighbouring countries."

After months of political wrangling among Iraq's main factions, the Iraqi parliament unanimously approved Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's 43 selected appointees for the cabinet. But the ministries, on Maliki's priority list, including security and electricity, currently have only acting heads.

For the time being, Maliki has assumed the role of the acting head for the ministries of defence, interior and national security, responsible for ensuring security after the pending withdrawal of US troops by the end of 2011.

The newly appointed cabinet and lawmakers face the difficult task of working together to rebuild the war-torn country, improve security and stabilise the economy. Only time will tell whether Iraq can stand on its own two feet independently.

Sources: AFP, The Independent, Guardian

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

Iran cuts gasoline subsidies but its petrochemical industry is thriving


Iran's Oil Minister Massoud Mir-Kazemi said that Iran produced more than one billion litres of gasoline to meet domestic demands. Addressing the country's lawmakers on Tuesday 21st December, he said that Iran defied expectations of shortages.

“Today, the Oil Ministry's staff are implementing the targeted subsidiary plans … and should any problems arise, we will tackle them within the hour,” said Mir-Kazemi.

“This proposal, which places the most pressure on the Oil Ministry, is being gradually implemented,” explained Mir-Kazemi, referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic reform plans.

Part of the plan is phasing out national subsidies for fuel and food, which Iran began implementing on Sunday 19th December. Speaking about it on national television Ahmadinejad told Iran that the plan would lead to a better and more healthy economy, as domestic energy consumption would decrease making it possible to export the extra reserves.

Mir-Kazemi seconded Ahmadinejad's expectations by saying that higher prices would encourage people to use less fuel and cause less pollution, which is a serious problem in the country's capital Tehran.

Under the new plan, the price of gasoline has risen fourfold from 1,000 rials per liter to 4,000 rials, and fuel beyond a person's quota – which is 50 litres per month – now costs 7,000 rials per litre.

Last week, Mirkazemi said that Iran intends to increase gasoline production capacity by 10 million litres per day. It currently produced 45 litres per day, and is the second biggest crude oil producer in the Middle East.

In other related news, Iran's Deputy Oil Minister for Petrochemical Affairs Abdolhossein Bayat has said that Iran's petrochemical industries exported over 10million tonnes of product in the first 9 months of the current Iranian year [March 21-December 21].

"More than 10mln tons of petrochemical products have been exported since the beginning of the current year, which is 22% higher than the same period in last year," said Bayat said.

He also said the country's petrochemical industry was now worth $6.2 billion, which showed a 47 per cent growth compared with revenues of petrochemical exports last year.

"This year will see a 10.5-mln-ton increase in the production capacity because of a 5.2 billion dollar investment in the petrochemical sector," said Bayat.

Sources: PressTv, Fars News Agency, Upstream

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

Ghana: New plan to boost employment says Industry and Trade minister


Minister of Trade and Industry Hannah Tetteh told parliament on 16th December of plans to implement a new Industrial Sector Support Programme to boost employment, increase foreign exchange and expanding exports. The plans are costed at GhC 82.6 million (US$55.5 million, according to Tetteh.

She added that the ministry wants to promote local goods including such as sorghum, malt and cotton. The government is working closely with its other regional partners in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to boost intra- African trade and develop a more coordinated approach to securing better market access in Europe and Asia through the World Trade Organisation and other negotiating fora.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Iraqi parliament approves new cabinet, after a nine month deadlock


The Iraqi parliament has unanimously approved Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's 43 selected appointees for the country's cabinet, a record breaking nine month after the parliamentary elections.

After months of political wrangling among the country's main factions, the parliament has finally agreed a unity government consisting of representative from the Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'a blocs. The parliament approved three deputy prime ministers, 29 other cabinet ministers and the new government programme. It also approved nine remaining interim ministers, and agreed that control of the three security portfolios should rest with al-Maliki.

Speaking about the delay in nominating the remaining ministers, al-Maliki said “I need more time to choose better, and I will continue to study the (resumes) to be able to choose on the basis of efficiency and professionalism." He also said that one of the reasons for the delay was the apparent lack of women candidates, adding “I find myself obliged... to wait for the political entities to present women candidates."

Former Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya bloc took 91 seats in the March elections but was unable to form a government, expressed approval of the new government on behalf of the party by saying "We wish and we hope for this government to succeed in meeting the people's requirements… we are announcing our full support for the government."

The newly appointed cabinet and lawmakers of the Iraqi 325-member Parliament face the difficult task of working together to rebuild the war-torn country. Speaking about the incomplete cabinet, al-Maliki's advisor, Ali Moussawi, said the selected candidates represented the various factions of political blocs rather than al-Maliki's own personal preference.

Al-Maliki's State of Law Aliance managed to win 89 seats in the March elections, and like Allawi's Iraqiya was unable to form a government, despite prolonged negotiations with various representative of the Shi's, Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

Sources: Guardian, AFP, The New York Times, Reuters

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

Chevron stops production in Niger Delta due to sabotaged pipeline


The Niger Delta Liberation Force has claimed responsibility for sabotaging one of Chevron's pipelines, which has let the company to suspend production. The US energy major said it was investigating the damage to its Dibi-Abiteye pipeline, in the Niger Delta, which transports the Escravos oil stream.

A statement released by Chevron said: "The breach is being investigated and we are reviewing our operations." The Niger Delta Liberation Force, led by the mysterious John Togo, said they were responsible for the attack in a statement released on Saturday 18th December.

The group demanded the withdrawal of army forces from the Ayokomor community, where the military recently raided suspected militant camps in pursuit of Togo. The operation resulted in six civilian and eight army officer deaths.

Several local human rights groups have said that the armed forces targeted civilians and burned down homes during an outbreak of violence. But the army has countered the accusation by saying that it followed Togo's supporters when they opened fire.

Speaking about the fires, Nigeria's Army Chief of Staff Onyeabo Ihejirika said that President Goodluck Jonathan has asked the army to rebuild homes that were destroyed in the attack and that the army had every intention to do so.

Sources: UPI, Vanguard, Bloomberg Business Week,


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

BG appoints new Brazilian CEO


BG has appointed Vale's former CEO, Fabio de Oliveira Barbosa, as the new chief of finance. Barbosa will replace Ashley Almanza, CEO for eight years, on March 31st. The appointment was announced shortly after the company boosted estimates for its oil and gas prospects in Brazil.

Almanza is expected to complete ongoing projects before leaving office. Alongside the company's Chief Executive Frank Chapman, Almanza oversaw BG grown into a multinational giant with an estimated market capitalization of £72 billion.

According to a company spokeswoman the departure was “initiated by Ashley and his desire to leave the company in a well-managed manner." She added that Amanza would leave within two years.

BG is expected to spend in the region of several billion to develop its share of offshore fields in Brazil's Santos Basin. In November, the company raised gross resource estimates from the Tupi, Iracema, and Guara fields by 34 per cent to 10.8 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Barbosa, who stepped down from his position at Vale in June to “pursue new professional challenges”, had previously worked as Brazil's national treasury secretary.

“He has extensive financial leadership experience with one of the world's largest resources companies,” said BG Chairman Sir Robert Wilson.

“Fabio's skills and experience will be invaluable as the group enters its next decade of growth,” Chapman added.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Evening Standard, Dow Jones

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

Egypt says it's uncovered an Israeli spy ring


Egyptian authorities have charged an Egyptian businessman and two Israelis with recruiting agents to spy for Israel. An attorney working for the Egyptian state security service said the suspects had established a spy ring in order to kidnap tourists for ransom and harm the country's economy.

"State security prosecutors have announced a spying network that included an Egyptian and two Israelis," said attorney Hicham Badawi.

The Egyptian business man in question, Tarek Abdel Rezek Hussein, was charged with harming Egypt's national interests, and is in custody, while the two Israeli men, who fled the country, were charged in abstention.

The charges were brought against the three men, days after news of an alleged spy group, consisting of four Egyptians and two Israelis, had planned to kidnap touristS in Sinai. It is yet unclear whether or not the cases are linked, the Egyptian authorities declined to comment. But according to Badawi, Hassan accepted a sum of $37,000 in exchange for information about Egyptian personnel working telecommunications, who could potentially be recruited as spies in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

Egypt's state news agency, MENA, reported that:"The general prosecutor ordered the transfer of three accused persons, who included two Israeli fugitives and one detained Egyptian, to be sent ... before the emergency state security supreme criminal court on the charges of spying for Israel and harming the country's national interests.”

Both Israel's Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo denied knowledge of the case. The country's Foreign Minister Yigal Palmor said "We are not familiar with the charges. We will have to look into it in order to understand what this is all about."

There have been several instance of alleged spying activity in Egypt in the last several decades, most notably the 1996 case of Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Arab textile worker, who was sentenced to 15 years for spying for Israel.

Sources: BCC News, YNetNews, Reuters, YaLibnan

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

Iraqi parliament due to vote on formation of new government


Iraqi parliament is due to vote on the formation of new government later today, following Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's selection of 42 nominees for ministerial posts after more than nine of political deadlock.

The new parliament will represent all major factions including the Kurds, Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. Iraqi lawmakers are schedualed to cast their votes on al-Maliki's nominees – which leaves Kurdish foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari in place and includes current oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani as deputy prime minister for energy – later this morning.

Al-Maliki was set to unveil his selection on Monday 20th December, but prolonged negotiations between rival factions delayed the proceedings and the parliament adjourned without the selection. Experts say that there will be disagreements among the nominees, and some will meet resistance from rival faction members but the real test of the coalition will be when the newly selected government gets down to work to tackle many of Iraq's ongoing problems.

A record breaking nine months of political deadlock was broken when former prime minister Iyad Allawi - whose Sunni-backed coalition won the most seats in Iraq's March election - ended weeks of wavering and said he would join a new government unveiled on Monday. His decision has paved the way for co-operation between Iraq's Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish political factions.

Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi said that al-Maliki had met the deadline to designate Iraq's new government and that the vote could take place as early as Tuesday 22nd December. Al-Nujaifi, member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance that won the most seats in the March election, fought al-Maliki from keeping his job until this month.

Speaking about the task in hand al-Maliki said, “The formation of national unity government in Iraq is a difficult and hard task because we need to find place in the government for all those who participated and won in the elections.”

Sources: BBC News, Alsumaria, Reuters, Tehran Times

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

Monday, 20 December 2010

Yemen's radioactive storage facility was left unguarded for a week


According to a US cable, released by WikiLeaks, a storage facility holding Yemen's radioactive material was left without security for up to a week, after its only security guard was fired on 30th December 2009.

The cable, published by the Guardian newspaper, was sent by a Yemeni official to the US homeland security department and other security authorities as well as the US Secretary of State. The cable made its way to the US shortly after last year's failed Christmas day bomb attack targeting a Detroit bound plane.

The plot was masterminded by a Nigerian born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, believed to have been radicalised in Yemen. Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down the airliner over Detroit, but was intercepted.

The cable also revealed that the single closed circuit security camera monitoring the storage facility was broken and never fixed. The Yemeni government official, whose name was removed from the documents, expressed concern about the unsecured state of a National Atomic Energy Commission facility (NAEC). According to the cable, the official called on the US to persuade the Yemeni government to "remove all materials from the country until they can be better secured, or immediately improve security measures at the NAEC facility".

A couple of days prior to the January 9th 2009 cable, Yemeni foreign minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told the US ambassador in Yemen that, "no radioactive material was currently stored in Sana'a and that all "radioactive waste was shipped to Syria".

Sources: Aljazeera, The Telegraph, Guardian

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

Mottaki says dismissal “un-Islamic” and “offensive”


Former Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, has called his sacking “un-Islamic” and “offensive.” Mottaki who was fired, by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while on an official state visit to Senegal, said he had not received warning about his impending removal from office.

Ahmadinejad's office has not released a statement regarding the sacking, but speculations have emerged that the dismissal is indicative of a power struggle in the government. Upon news of the dismissal several senior Iranian officials voiced criticism over Ahmadinejad decision. Since then, the Iranian parliament speaker and close ally of Mottaki, Ali Larijani, told the parliament: "The right way was that the change should have happened with prudence and observing dignity and not during the visit."

Speaking to the Mehr news agency, Mottaki said that the way his dismissal was handled was “outside the practices of politics.” He also said that he was not informed of the “appointment of a new person within 24 hours of my departure for the mission."

On Saturday 18th December, the foreign office held a function to officially introduce his replacement, nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, even though the event was also supposed to be a farewell ceremony for Mottaki. Some senior officials, close to Ahmadinejad, have said that Mottaki was informed of his impending dismissal before travelling to Sengal.

Ahmadinejad and Mottaki have a long history of mutual distrust and while the president has managed to eject a critic from close quarters, some believe that the move may cause problems in a parliament increasingly disenchanted with the presidency.

The news of Mottaki's comments comes amid reports that Iran has cut the country's fuel and food subsidies, which means a four-fold increase in the price of petrol and reduced subsidies for basic rations such as bread. The initiative took effect on Sunday 19th December, with plans for subsidies to be suspended permanently within the next five years.

Under the initiative, every car will get 60 litres of fuel per month at a subsidised price of 40 cents per litre, up from 10 cents per litre. The Islamic republic said that it pays out in excess of $100 billion in subsidies each year, with bread subsidies accounting for another $4 billion annually.

Some world economists fear that an increase in prices will also be applied to domestic amenities such as water, electricity, and other consumables such as flour and thus increase inflation already estimated at 20 per cent.

Iran's subsidy initiative restructure is said to be part of the government's plant to decrease domestic demand for fuel, thereby making the country more fuel-efficient and prosperous from its natural resources.

Sources: BBC News, CNN, The Washington Post, Trend, Press TV

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

Ghana delivers first oil amid hopes and fears


Ghana has delivered its first barrels of oil from the Jubilee wells, days after President John Atta Mills opened the valves, in a televised inauguration ceremony, at the 330 metre long platform off the country's Atlantic coast. It is estimated that the Jubilee field holds as much as 1.8 billion barrels of crude oil, which could earn Ghana around 50 per cent of its national revenue within the next 20 years.

Ghana has taken steps to ensure that oil revenue is distributed fairly and to the benefit of Ghanaian people. In a speech before the inauguration ceremony, Mills said that Ghana's oil wealth will be a “blessing” rather than a source of strife.

The country's lawmakers have stipulated that a clause, in the new Petroleum Revenue Management Bill, mandates the government to use the country's oil as collateral in securing funds to develop Ghana's infrastructure and economy.


Former Ghanaian president John Agyekum Kufuor has called on Ghana to manage its oil wealth judiciously and for the benefit of the people; further adding that the government should safeguard the country's energy sector with regulation that is transparent and free from corruption.

In an attempt to counter Ghana's fears that oil wealth may bring violence and conflict, Mills said that he intends to see that oil resources are used judiciously to reconstruct the country's roads and build hospitals. Speaking along the same lines, Select Committee's Energy Chairman, Moses Asaga, said that first Ghanaian oil has united the country's political parties as they prepare to develop the nation. He added that the government has also come up with a heritage fund initiative to stabilise Ghana's economy.

President of Nzema Maanle Council, Awulae Annor Adjaye, has expressed concern about the dispensation of Ghana's oil wealth, saying that he thought that meeting the 10 per cent revenue demand made by the Chiefs of Ghana's Western region, may be problematic. The demand has been officialy confirmed by Ghana's Vice President John Mahama.

Sources: Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Modern Ghana, Peace FM Online

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

WikiLeaks reveal President Mubarak turned down nuclear deal with Russia


A WikiLeaks cable, published by the Guardian newspaper, has revealed that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak turned down a black-market proposal to purchase nuclear weapons from Russia.

The May 2009 cable, said that Egypt's UN ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, told US nuclear arms control negotiator, Rose Gottemoeller, during a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference in New York, that Egypt “had been offered nuclear scientists, materials and even weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Egypt had refused all such offers."

Abdelaziz said that Egypt was keen to portray itself as a responsible member of the international community and therefore refused to make nuclear deals with Russia. The revelation has roused concern as to what nuclear sales were made by the other states or groups in the aftermath of the early 1990s economic collapse in Russia and the FSU.

The subject of nuclear arm sales came up following a discussion of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, during the New York conference. When asked how he knew the proposed sale to be true, “Abdelaziz replied he was in Moscow at that time and had direct personal knowledge."

Sources: Ha'aretz, Guardian, Jerusalem Post

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

Al-Maliki to unveil new government


Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, is due to unveil his newly selected cabinet today, more than a record braking nine months of political deadlock after inconclusive parliamentary elections. The new cabinet is expected to be divided among all the main factions within the country and will include the Kurds, Shi'a and Sunni Muslims.

All of al-Makliki's nominations will have to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. Speaking about the much anticipated selection, lawmaker of the Shi'a led National Alliance, Kamal al-Saadi, said “Negotiations are still underway this morning over candidates for the different ministries.”

The 37 posts on offer will be divided among Iraq's main ethnic groups, which have been the focus of considerable political wrangling until November when all parties reached a consensus to re-elect President Jalal Talabani, who then appointed al-Maliki as premier for a second term.

The formation of a new Iraqi government will be a big breakthrough for the war-torn country. But only time will tell, whether the new appointees ministers are able to work together to tackle the country's many problems.

Last week, the UN Security Council lifted most of the international sanctions imposed on Iraq during Saddam Hussein's time in power. It also granted Iraq permission to develop a civil nuclear programme.

Following the news of UN Security Council's decision, Kuwait has urged neighbouring Iraq to resolve its outstanding issues and get apply international resolutions in order to get the remainder of the sanctions lifted.

Kuwait's parliament released a statement saying, "commitment to serious and full implementation of Security Council resolutions related to the situation between Iraq and Kuwait will close all files and settle outstanding issues.This will also lay foundations for strong relations based on the respect of sovereignty and independence and the principle of good neighbourly relations and non-interference in internal affairs."

The UN ordered Iraq to pay Kuwait 5 per cent of its annual oil revenue to subsidise war reparations, from the 1990 Iraqi invasion. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed that Iraq must work to agree on a border with Kuwait and settle it's debt with Kuwait if all sanctions are to be lifted.

Sources: Ahram Online, BBC News, Deutsche Presse Agentur

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

President Omar Al-Bashir says Islamic laws to be enforced if South-Sudan splits


Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has said that if South-Sudan decides on independence in next month's referendum, the country will reinforce its Islamic laws. He said that constitution would also be altered, to make Islam the only religion, Sharia the only law and Arabic the official language within the region.

"If south Sudan secedes, we'll change the constitution. There will be no question of cultural or ethnic diversity. Sharia will be the only source of the constitution, and Arabic the only official language," said al-Bashir on national television.

It is expected that al-Bashir's assertion may cause moral panic among thousands of non-Muslim southerners living in the north of the country. Previous attempts to impose Sharia laws on non-Muslim southerners resulted in civil war, which ended when a peace treaty was penned in 2005.

The treaty stipulated the upcoming referendum and an agreement between the north and the south for an interim constitution that considered both Islamic and Christian social and cultural values. Subsequently, Arabic and English were recognized as the official languages within Sudan and will remain so until July 2011.

And official from Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) Yasir Arman said that Bashir's comments are likely to cause repression in the north.

“This type of discourse is preparing the ground for a police state. The north, whether alone or with the south, is an extremely diverse place," Arman added.

South Sudan's referendum, expected to take place on January 9th 2011, will determined the future of the largely Christian population in the region. It is expected that the southerners will vote for independence, however, there have been calls form the likes of Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi for the country to remain unified.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Alain LeRoy, said that although the situation in Southern Sudan appears to have stabilised the region remains fragile. He also noted that the security situation could become compromised during and after the referendum.

Sources: BBC News, Press TV, Guardian

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

Friday, 17 December 2010

The latest Kabylia anti-terrorism operation


Last week we reported on the launch on Thursday 9th December of a massive army operation against AQIM 'terrorists' covering much of the Tizi Ouzou and Boumerdès. As is so often the case with such operations, it becomes impossible to know where truth becomes disinformation and propaganda.

During the course of the last week, the scale of the operation has grown bigger and bigger according to media reports sourced to the security services. In the course of the week the number of soldiers involved has grown from 4,000 to 7,000 and then to 9,000.

Similarly the number of 'terrorists' allegedly surrounded has grown from some 50 to 500. This later figure may, of course, be true, but it is difficult to reconcile with the security forces' own information which tells the world that there are only some 600 AQIM ' terrorists' . In fact, one such report claims that there are only 400 in northern Algeria.

The ' truth' is that the army is undertaking one of its periodic sweep operations in the region but that the figures, both of the scale of the operation and the number of ' terrorists' about to be eliminated are almost certainly grossly exaggerated.

However, such exaggeration is important. It serves to justify to its Western allies and the more sceptical Algerian public all the money spent on the Algerian armed forces and their counter-terrorism campaigns. Such operations and their exaggeration are, ' internationally important' .

One of the barometers of the ' truth-exaggeration' problem – and this is not a comedy skit – relates to Ali Belhadj's DNA. As noted above Belhadj has a son who is a member of AQIM .

According to the media, the security forces say they have taken samples of Belhadj's DNA to help them identify corpses that are too mutilated to be identified by other means.

According to Ali Belhadj, to whom one of our sources spoke this week, this is totally untrue. Indeed, according to Belhadj, this is the fourth or fifth time that this DNA story has been put out into the media by the security services. In his opinion, it is becoming almost the clearest indicator of when the security forces want to exaggerate the scale or outcome of its operations.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

PetroVietnam starts gas output from offshore facility


PetroVietnam has begun gas production from its processing plant and pipeline network, based at its offshore Rong-Doi Moi oil fields. The gas compressing rig, in southern Vietnam, processed in the region of 960,000 cubic metres per day, which accounts for 4.3 per cent of the estimated daily output for this year. The field contains around 2.5 billion cubic metres of gas.

The gas unit is connected to the gas pipeline in the Rong-Doi Moi and White Tiger oil field through a RC-3 rig and five underwater pipelines totaling 43 kilometers. PetroVietnam and its subsidiary PVGas are partners in the project together with VietsovPetro, a joint venture of PetroVietnam and Russia state-owned oil and gas company Zarubezhneft.

VietsovPetro said the project will supply gas to power plants material production plats and household customers throughout Vietnam. The annual gas volume is estimated to cost around $56.5 million annually and is expected to cover the investment cost in eight years.

PetroVietnam has said that Rong-Doi Moi is one of several gas projects the company has been working on and that its subsidiary PVGas currently operates five gas pipeline networks, with annual capacity of 14 billion cubic metres. More projects are shedualed for competion by 2014.

Sources: VietNamNet, Platts

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

UN Security Council concerned for Sudan's oil rich Abyei region


The UN Security Council has expressed concern about the situation in Sudan's oil rich Abyei region, where a referendum on self-determination is expected to take place on January 9th 2011.

In a statement, approved by all its 15 members, the Council urged Sudan to reach an agreement on Abyei and appease the mounting tension in the region. In a separate development, the Council welcomed the conclusion of a peaceful registration process for the referendum in South Sudan. The head of UN peacekeeping, Alain LeRoy, said that although the situation in Southern Sudan appears to have stabilised the region remains fragile. He also noted that the security situation could become compromised during and after the referendum.

"As the Council is aware, we are working on options for a possible augmentation of U.N. troops in Sudan, to prevent any deterioration in the security situation after the referendum, and to increase our capacity to monitor possible ceasefire violations and protect civilians throughout the mission area," said LeRoy.

The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told the Security Council that a peaceful referendum is essential in order to establish long-term peace and stability in Sudan. She added that if referendum protocol is followed polling will commence on schedule, but said that status of Abyei remains unresolved.

"Any resolution regarding the future of the Abyei area must respect the legally affirmed rights of the people of that region and it must be reached with the consent of both parties. We also face additional upcoming challenges, including the effective conduct of the Southern Sudan referendum itself," said Rice.

Sources: Voice of America, Global Security, UN

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

President Jonathan vows to ensure a fair election


Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has said that he will ensure that the country's election poll, set to take place in April next year, will be credible and free from interference. He said he would uphold his duty as the head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by ensuring that the vote is fair and added “I will accept no less than what I have called for in The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire in Nigeria during and after the 2011 elections which are free and fair elections that are seen to be so by the average man."

As the head of ECOWAS Jonathan called on all the parties involved in the Cote D'Ivoire electoral process, to respect proper procedure and ensure it was conducted according to the rules set out by the Independent Electoral Commission.

Speaking about the forthcoming Nigerian elections, Jonathan asked all Nigerians to be steadfast and work with him to ensure a transparent electoral process in 2011. He also mentioned the recently stolen new voter registration equipment, which went missing from Murtala Muhammed international airport in Lagos.

"I specifically want to mention the stolen Direct Data Capture machines. I am glad that the police have lived up to their responsibilities and have made arrests and recovery of items. This is laudable and should be supported by everyone," Jonathan said.

He also added that his administration has taken steps to ensure that breaking the law will not be tolerated. Jonathan assured Nigeria that the stolen Direct Data Capture equipment has not interfered with the process that will lead to credible elections.

Jonathan finished by saying that the election process will be devoid of the “win at all cost” syndrome and said that “there shall not be any do or die elections… every vote will count and the results will be sacrosanct no matter who wins.”

On Thursday 16th December, twenty of Nigeria's most powerful state governors said they will support Jonathan as the ruling party's candidate in next year's election. Jonathan's decision to run next year has attracted some controversy as the ruling party has a pact which stipulates that power should be rotated between the largely Muslim north and the mostly Christian south every two terms.

A recent cable released by WikiLeaks revealed that Jonathan had doubts about his presidential bid and told US Ambassador Robin Sanders that he would only consider running if he was persuaded to do so. The cable also said that Jonathan was keen to “put into place an electoral structure that will be ready for national elections,” and ensure their transparency.

Source: Africa News, Indepth Africa, Reuters, Vanguard

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

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Iran says the sacking of Mottaki will not impact foreign policy


Iran says its foreign policy will not be affected by the recent sacking of the country's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired Mottaki on Monday 13th December for reasons which have not been disclosed.

The presidential directive to Mottaki's interim replacement, Iran's nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi read “Considering your commitment, knowledge, and valued expertise, and in accordance with Article 135 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and based on this decree you are appointed as acting foreign minister.”

Speaking to the press on Tuesday 14th December, Iran's Foreign Ministry's Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that Mottaki's removal from office “will not see any alteration of Iran's basic policies” as they are "decided at higher levels".

Mehmanparast also added that the sacking will not affect the country's stance on its nuclear programme and that the decision to fire Mottaki was due to practical reasons, but declined to elaborate. He went on to commend Mottaki and laud his successor Salehi.

Some members of the parliament have criticized Ahmadinejad's impromptu decision, which may have been a result of a power struggled between Iran's ruling conservatives and Ahmadinejad's opponents with whom Mottaki was allied.

Iranian media has expressed shock about the sudden dismissal of the foreign minister, questioning why it took place while Mottaki was on a stake visit to Senegal. Mehmanparast declined to comment about the timing.

Kayhan daily described the sacking as a “clear insult” to Mottaki who had been the country's Foreign Minister since 2005. The newspaper implied that the sacking was a result of a disagreement between Ahmadinejad and Mottaki over “parallel diplomacy” which transpired in summer following Ahmadinejad's attempts to appoint his aides as envoys to work alongside the foreign office. It is believe that, Ahmadinejad's decision to back down was heavily influenced by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani Sadr called the firing "scandalous," and noted that Ahmadinejad is trying to convince the world that he and Supreme Leader Khamenei are "in charge" of Iran's foreign policy.

Sadr also stressed that Khamenei would have no doubt seconded Ahmadinejad's decision. He also said that the choice of Salehi as the replacement could be a signal to the West that he and Khamenei will be the ultimate arbiteurs during nuclear negotiations in January.

Iranian lawmakers, who will have to approve the new appointee, have also voiced concern over Mottaki's sacking and the way it transpired. A senior member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Esmail Kowsari said," I do not approve of the manner Mr Mottaki was dismissed, because he was on duty in Senegal when his dismissal order was issued."

Kowsari added that a commission would have to review and approve the appointment of Salehi as an interim foreign minister. Salehi, who was appointed as Iran's atomic energy chief in 2009, has been a driving force behind the country's nuclear programme.

Sources: Voice of America, BBC News, PressTV

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

Conspiracy theorist believe the next Egyptian president will be Washington's man


It is widely believed by conspiracy theorists in the Middle East, and there are many, that the next president of Egypt must enjoy the blessing of the US. This is not a view that emerges out of the latest batch of cables from the US embassy in Cairo released by WikiLeaks.

What the cables reveal is the assessment of successive US ambassadors to Egypt that President Mubarak is someone who will not be pushed around on matters of human rights, democratisation or other aspects of how Egypt runs its affairs. And furthermore, that the successive ambassadors do not pretend to know who might be the next president after Mubarak. A number of names are put forward as possibilities: the president's younger son Gamal; the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman; the “charismatic” head of the Arab League, Amr Mousa [this was back in 2007]; or some unknown military man.

It has been said that President Mubarak will not step down but is more likely to die in office.

In addition, the previous US ambassador Frank Ricciardone suggests that the next president, whoever it might be, could have an "initial anti-American tone in his public rhetoric" to win over the Egyptian street."

The conspiracy theorists might be unwilling or unable to take the cables at face value. They will persist in their conviction that the next president of Egypt will be Washington's man. That is certainly not the view of Washington.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

UN lifts Iraq sanctions


The UN Security Council has lifted most of the international sanctions imposed on Iraq during Saddam Hussein's time in power. It also granted Iraq permission to develop a civil nuclear programme and officially discontinued the widely corrupt oil-for-food initiative.

The UN's resolution is in recognition of the political progress made in Iraq, after an eight month delay in the formation of a new government. Speaking about UN's decision, US Vice President Joseph Biden, who chaired the high-level meeting, commended Obama Administration's accomplishments.

UN Dispatch said Biden praised the “withdrawal of 100,000 troops and completion of the combat mission there, which has been accompanied by the transition from a military-led to civilian-led engagement.”

The resolution ending sanctions that were imposed to stop Iraq building nuclear weapons is a big step in granting the country its independence. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was prompted by fears that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

The council also voted to return control of Iraq's oil and gas revenue to the government on June 30th and to end all remaining activities of the oil-for-food programme, originally designed to help ordinary Iraqis cope with the sanctions.

Biden also said that violence in the country had reached its lowest levels since 2003 and that the remaining 50,000 troops will continue supporting their Iraqi counterparts in areas of trade, energy, health, security and law enforcement until the end of next year. He also commended the Iraqi leaders for reaching an agreement which will create “a national partnership government and ensure the first peaceful transition of power between elected governments under full Iraqi sovereignty.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that in order for all sanctions to be lifted, Iraq must make efforts to agree a border with Kuwait and make war reparations of 5 per cent from its oil sale revenues to assist the neighbouring country with rebuilding itself post the 1990 Iraqi invasion.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said normalisation of relations with Kuwait is a priority for the new government, as Iraq is keen to make a fresh start after years of "sanctions caused by wars and misdeeds of the former regime."

Sources: BBC News, The New York Times, UN Dispatch, Arabian Business

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

UN lifts sanctions against Iraq


The UN Security Council has lifted most of the international sanctions imposed on Iraq during Saddam Hussein's time in power. It also granted Iraq permission to develop a civil nuclear programme and officially discontinued the widely corrupt oil-for-food initiative.

The UN's resolution is in recognition of the political progress made in Iraq, after an eight month delay in the formation of a new government. Speaking about UN's decision, US Vice President Joseph Biden, who chaired the high-level meeting, commended Obama Administration's accomplishments.

UN Dispatch said Biden praised the “withdrawal of 100,000 troops and completion of the combat mission there, which has been accompanied by the transition from a military-led to civilian-led engagement.”

The resolution ending sanctions that were imposed to stop Iraq building nuclear weapons is a big step in granting the country its independence. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was prompted by fears that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

The council also voted to return control of Iraq's oil and gas revenue to the government on June 30th and to end all remaining activities of the oil-for-food programme, originally designed to help ordinary Iraqis cope with the sanctions.

Biden also said that violence in the country had reached its lowest levels since 2003 and that the remaining 50,000 troops will continue supporting their Iraqi counterparts in areas of trade, energy, health, security and law enforcement until the end of next year. He also commended the Iraqi leaders for reaching an agreement which will create “a national partnership government and ensure the first peaceful transition of power between elected governments under full Iraqi sovereignty.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that in order for all sanctions to be lifted, Iraq must make efforts to agree a border with Kuwait and make war reparations of 5 per cent from its oil sale revenues to assist the neighbouring country with rebuilding itself post the 1990 Iraqi invasion.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said normalisation of relations with Kuwait is a priority for the new government, as Iraq is keen to make a fresh start after years of "sanctions caused by wars and misdeeds of the former regime."

Sources: BBC News, The New York Times, UN Dispatch, Arabian Business

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

Ghana: President Mills fears drug trafficking among staff


A US cable released by WikiLeaks has revealed that Ghana's President John Atta Mills is concerned that elements of his administration are compromised by drug trafficking. In a bid to eliminate his concerns, Mills requested airport drug screening checks for his personal entourage.

The cable in question stated that Mills “made a point of submitting his luggage to a search and required his entire entourage to do the same.” West Africa has become a key transit stop for smuggling cocaine from Latin America into Europe. When Mills took up office in January 2009, he pledged to tackle the problem which has become increasingly paramount.

According to a cable from June 2009, Mills told the US ambassador to Ghana, Donald Teitelbaum, that he knew that "elements of his government are already compromised and that officials at the airport tipped off drug traffickers about operations there".

Several months later a UK customs official, Roland O'Hagan, told US diplomats that Ghana's president wanted his own entourage screened before leaving the country. O'Hagan added that the President wanted his staff to be “checked in the privacy of his suite to avoid any surprises if they are caught carrying drugs.”

The UN drugs agency estimated that around 60 tonnes of cocaine is smuggled through West Africa every year. According to the same cable from June 2009, “President Mills has stated that he is resolute in stopping people from using Ghana as a narcotics transit corridor and will vigorously fight for the total eradication of hard drugs in the country. So far, he has shown a good faith effort.”

Sources: BBC News, Guardian

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

Nigeria: The EFCC drops charges against Cheney


Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has dropped bribery charges against, former US vice president and CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney after Halliburton agreed to pay up to $250 million in fines. A spokesman for the anti corruption agency Femi Babafemi said, "There was a plea bargain on the part of the company to pay $250m as fines in lieu of prosecution."

The EFCC met with Dick Cheney's representatives and Halliburton officials in London last week, after filing 16 count charges against Cheney relating to the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Niger Delta. Halliburton and four of its subsidies were also charged with allegedly bribing Nigerian officials to secure contracts.

Last year, Halliburton and one of its now former subsidiaries, KBR, pleaded guilty, in a US court, to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act by paying in excess of $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials. The companies were fined $579 million, the largest fine ever paid under the act.

Executive Chairman of the EFCC, Farida Mzamber Waziri, said that Nigeria will not eradicate corruption until it starts prosecuting those breaching the law irrespective of who they are.

"It's not about profile. It's about breaching the laws of the land," Waziri said.

Prior to the plea bargain Cheney's lawyer, Terrance O'Donnell, issued a statement on his client's behalf saying the charges were “baseless” and further added that the US investigation "found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton."

Speaking about Cheney's claims of innocence Waziri said, "Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton. There's no way such amount of money would've been moved to bribe Nigerians without his approval and without his knowledge, this is what we're saying."

Several of Nigeria's rights groups expressed disappointment about the outcome. Programme officer at Social Action Nigeria Celestine AkpoBari said, "I would have loved to see Dick Cheney in chains in our court and facing justice in our prisons. That would have been a very big point that would have lifted Nigeria out of its woes."

Sources: Guardian, The Telegraph, ABC News

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

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

President Mills inaugurates Ghana's first oil


Ghana has finally joined a host of oil exporting African nations by pumping its first commercial oil after the discovery of the offshore Jubilee field in 2007. President John Atta Mills opened the valves, in a televised inauguration ceremony, at the 330 metre long platform off the country's Atlantic coast.

A consortium led by Tullow will aim to produce around 55,000 b/d increasing it to up to 120,000 b/d within the next six months. The initial production output is expected to double within three years. Ghana's is likely to earn in the region of $400 million in the first year.

Ghana's Energy Minister Joseph Oteng-Adjei said that the government has ensured that the country benefits from its oil wealth, adding “Ghana has taken various decisions, which proves that we are not going the path of other countries. We've also put down some basic rules to ensure transparency in the management of the revenue that will come out of this natural resource.”

The government has been deliberating legislation to safeguard the country's oil industry – and avoid the pitfalls faced by nearby Nigeria – but it is yet to put the laws in place.

Speaking before the inauguration ceremony, President Mills assured Ghanaians that oil wealth would be distributed fairly across the board. Reiterating his reassurance from earlier in the year Mills said, "I'd also wish to restate that revenue from the oil will be used for the benefit of all, and not the benefit of a few."

The government has estimated that the oil will boost Ghana's economic growth rate from 5 per cent this year up to 12 per cent by next year, with oil production bringing in around $1 billion in revenue. The Jubilee field, 60km of Ghana 's Atlantic coast, is estimated to hold up to 1.5 barrels of oil. A second offshore field, discovered in September, is also estimated to contain up to 1.4 billion barrels oil.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Voice of America

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

Nigerian army says 14 killed in Niger Delta violence


Nigeria's Army Chief of Staff Onyeabo Ihejirika has spoken out about the recent clashes between Nigeria's armed forces and the militants in the oil rich Niger Delta. Ihejirika said that eight soldiers and six civilians were killed in a recent army raid on militant camps, thought to belong to the militant leader John Togo.

The violence taking place in Warri, has spread to neighbouring communities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nigerian Red Cross Society are on hand to provide assistance to those affected by the fighting. ICRC spokesman in Abuja, Robin Waudo, has said that many people displaced by the violence have been left homeless. Waudo pointed out that it is imperative for the Red Cross to have access to those in need further adding, “We continue to have a good ongoing dialogue with the military hierarchy of the joint task force, but we also need to be able to talk to the other side, in order to be able to access places that are out of the reach of the military as well.”

Several local human rights groups have said that the armed forces have targeted civilians and burned down homes during an outbreak of violence in Ayakoromo, nearby Togo's suspected hideaway. But the army has countered the accusation by saying that it followed Togo's followers into Aykaoromo when they opened fire.

"We lost a total of eight soldiers in the cross-fire and we also received reports from those on the ground that six civilians were killed during that operation," said Ihejirika. Speaking about the fires, Ihejirija said that President Goodluck Jonathan had asked the army to rebuild homes that were destroyed in the attack.

In other Niger Delta news, the commanding officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS), Henry Babalola, has said that there has been a significant drop in illegal oil bunkering in the Delta. He noted that oil bunkering was on the decline compared to two/three years ago, when as much as 200,000barrels of crude were being misplaced on a daily basis.

“As I have always said, we are watchdogs to the oil industry and the national economy. We may not be telling you in detail, this is what we are able to do; but our joy is that from statistics from oil companies like Shell and Chevron, illegal bunkering activities have actually declined,” added Ihejirija.

Sources: Reuters, Vatican Voice, Nigerian Compass

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

Petrobras buys Repsol's stake in the Refap refinery


Petrobras has bought Repsol's 30 per cent stake in the Refap refinery, acquiring full ownership of the facility. Brazilian state-owned Petrobras agreed to pay Reposol $350 million and take on the $500 million debt as part of the stake acquisition.

Petrobras intends to spend around $224 billion between now and 2014, to develop oil fields and expand refining in a bid to increase fuel output by 77 per cent to 3.2 million b/d by 2020. According to the company's refining director, Paulo Roberto Costa, the new acquisition will enable Petrobras to increase capacity and cut costs.

Speaking to the press in Rio de Janerio, Costa said "It's very important for Petrobras to seek synergies between all its refineries." He added that the company expects to supply all its facilities with “100 percent” of domestic oil.

The Refap refinery, said to be Brazil's fifth largest, has the capacity to process as much as 190,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

In 2001, Pertobras sold Repsol a 30 per cent stake in the refinery as part of an asset exchange initiative. Repsol had also bought a chain of service stations around Brazil, which it later sold.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) approves Caspian pipeline expansion


Chevron has said that the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) has approved a $5.4 billion expansion of the Caspian pipeline. The capacity of the 1500km pipeline, carrying crude from western Kazakhstan to a designated terminal in the Black Sea, will increase to 1.4 million b/d from its current capacity of 730,000 b/d.

The expansion of the pipeline is a key step toward the utilization of the Tengiz field, estimated to hold reserves of 6-9 billion barrels of oil. The CPC will carry the Tengiz crude and transport oil from both Kazakhstan and Russia. The project will be implemented in three phases, with capacity increasing gradually from 2012 to 2015. The three largest CPC partners - Transneft, KazMunaiGaz (KMG) and Chevron - will co-manage the project which will involved refurblisment of the existing five pump station, installation of 10 new pumping stations, six new storage tanks and the addition of a third offshore mooring point at the Black Sea terminal.

Speaking about the expansion plans Chevron Chairman and CEO John Watson said, "This important achievement was made possible by the leadership and support of the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan." He also commended the company's partners saying,"Chevron appreciates the valuable contributions of our partners, Transneft and KazMunaiGaz, toward sanctioning of the CPC expansion project."

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Qadhafi says African nations should form a one-million-strong army


Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi has said that African nations should join forces and form a one-million-strong army to protect the continent from the likes of NATO and China.

Qadhafi has great influence on the continent, but his ambition to build a united states of Africa is not shared by other countries in the region. Speaking to the press in Senegal Qadhafi said, "National militaries alone cannot save countries. Africa should have one army with one million soldiers." According to the Libyan Leader joining forces would “guard the borders and seas, protect Africa's independence and confront NATO, China, France and Britain and other countries.”

Speaking at the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, in Dakar, Qadhafi accosted opponents to his proposal for a more unified African government. He suggested that those who disagree, “should leave home, abandon their countries and go and live in the capitals of the capitalist, imperialist countries which once occupied Africa."

Qadhafi has been pushing for a more united Africa for years, saying it would allow the continent to develop without Western interference. While his ideas have gained sympathies with certain African countries and leaders, others have been more reluctant to agree to cede sovereignty.

Source: Reuters

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

CEO of Ghana Grid Company commends workers


At an award ceremony celebrating the achievements of longstanding employees, the CEO of the Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCo), Charles Darku, reiterated that he and his management team are committed to strengthening professional standards.

Darku commended the workers by saying, “We see you all as very valuable assets of the company. We want you to feel motivated to continue staying with us, and be driven with the passion and dedication to work to enabled GRIDCo to meet its mandate.”

He encouraged employees who are nearing retirement to translate their skills into developing their local communities. He also commended workers who he felt proved their worth by staying with the company instead of chasing higher salaries and perks elsewhere.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The quality of Iran's gasoline below global standards


The quality of Iranian gasoline is said to be below global standards, an assessment that has been rejected by the Iranian government. It is believed to be the main cause of pollution in Tehran, which recently saw the government shut down schools, offices and other public organizations for several days.

Aftab newspaper quoted lawmaker Mohammad Reza Rezaee as saying that the major part of “Tehran's air pollution is due to the lack of standard in production of fuel in the country." While another lawmaker, Qolamali Meygolinejad, said the reason for poor quality gasoline is that Iran's "refineries have been designed to produce petrochemical products not gasoline."

In September, Iran announced that it was going to increase gasoline production in a bid to achieve self-sufficiency, and sidestep the EU and the US imposed sanctions targeting its energy needs. The Islamic Republic used to import 40 per cent of its gasoline before it began producing its own.

"The standard defined by the Iranian Standard Organization for gasoline is Euro 4, but the gasoline produced inside the country does not comply with this standard. Experts have sampled the domestically produced gasoline and the results show that this gasoline is based on the Euro 2 standard with a 87 per cent octane rating," said head of Fardanews agency, Nezameddin Barzegari.

The Iranian government's official web site rejected Barzegari's comments, while Iran's Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi denied the poor quality of the country's gasoline saying it was "comparable with world standards."

Source: Reuters

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

Oil production in Ghana will not compromise the WAGP project


Managing Director of the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) Saidu Mohammed has said that the commencement of oil production in Ghana will not compromise the West Africa Gas Pipeline Project (WAGP).

The WAGP project was set up by Chevron, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other investors to pipe Nigerian gas from Niger Delta to Ghana through Benin and Togo.

The $600 million deal was initiated before Ghana's oil reserves were discovered. Speaking to the media in Warri, Mohammed told journalists that Ghana's impending oil production would not constitute a threat to the WAGP project.

“Yes, gas may come in from Ghana, but it wouldn't be a threat to the WAGP project. Indeed, I believe it will open another window of opportunities for Nigerians. I think Nigerians will even be involved in the oil and gas business in Ghana,” he said.

Mohammed also said that the debt to NGC by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), has been “substantially offset.” NGC is a subsidiary of the NNPC, responsible for the supply and distribution of gas in Nigeria. PHCN's gas purchase accounts for around 70 per cent.

Speaking about the ongoing divestment by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Mohammed said, “NNPC is deliberately making sure the divestment does not impact the gas system in the country”, adding that the gas project in places like Sapele was conceived in this respect.

He added that the local gas pipeline system would be extended to the northern part of the country under the WAGP agreement.

“The Nigerian gas master plan will ensure the extension of gas pipeline beyond Ajaokuta (in Kwara State ) while on the other hand, Ajaokuta could link the eastern parts as far as Akwa Ibom State. The pipelines are not being viewed as Ajaokuta-Kaduana-Kano lines; but rather as backbone of the (proposed) trans-Saharan gas pipeline project,” he said.

Source: World Stage

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

Egypt signs gas deal with Israel


Egypt's East Mediterranean Gas (EMG) company has signed a multi-billion dollar agreement with an Israeli company to buy Egyptian natural gas for the next 20 years.

The contract stipulates that EMG will provide Leisrael with 1.4 billion cubic metres of gas per year for the next 20 years. The gas delivery is expected to begin in the first or second quarter of 2011. The $4.2 billion contract is estimated to reach $10 billion over time.

The new deal is part of an agreement EMG signed with US-Israeli consortium Yam Thetis in 2008. The deal stipulated that Egypt would sell 2 billion cubic metres of natural gas and fertiliser to Israel until 2015.

EMG is a joint company owned by Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem, Egypt Natural Gas Company, Thailand's PTT, Israel's Merhav Group, Ampal-American Israel Corp and American businessman Sam Zell.

Source: PressTV

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

Iraq's crude exports on the rise


The Head of the State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) Falah Al-Amri has said that Iraq's crude oil exports rose to 1.912 million b/d in November compared with 1.900 million b/d in the previous month.

Al-Amari estimated that the country's crude oil production will increase further this month due to the rapid development of the oil fields in southern Iraq. He said that the Rumaila oil field, being developed by a consortium led by BP, has already began producing 1.100 million b/d from the previous production rate of 1.066 million b/d.

Over the last year, Iraq has signed several deals with international oil companies in a bid to boost crude oil production rates to 12 million b/d by 2017, from the current production rate of 2.35 million b/d.

Source: Dow Jones

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

Iran: Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sacked


The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fired foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, for undisclosed reasons. Mottaki, currently on an official visit to Senegal, was appointed as the country's foreign minister in 2005.

It has been said that there has not been any sign of discord between Ahmadinejad and Mottaki to indicate that the foreign minister might loose his job. Mottaki was the key negotiator in Iran's nuclear dealings with the West. Ahmadinejad has appointed Iran's top nuclear official Ali Akbar Salehi as an interim replacement for Mottaki.

There has been speculation that Mottaki's dismissal may be a strategic move among the ruling conservatives in Iran. It has also been said that Ahmadinejad did not entirely trust Mottaki who was the campaign manager for one of Ahmadinejad's election rivals, Ali Larijani.

Mattaki's firing may anger Ahmadinejad's conservative opponents in parliament, but the sacking is highly likely to have been supported by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. It may also be another indication that the supreme leader continues to back Ahmadinejad.

Source: BBC News

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

Nigeria: James Ibori awaits extradition to the UK


Dubai's Court of Cassation has ruled that former Nigerian state governor James Ibori can be extradited to the UK to face corruption charges. Nigeria's anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has accused Ibori of stealing in excess of $290 million from state funds while working as the governor of Delta State. The British authorities believe Ibori deposited most of the funds within UK banks.

Ibori, who was detained in May by the global police agency Interpol, denies the charges. The Dubai court ruled that there were no grounds to block the extradition. In 2007, a London court froze UK assets worth in the region of $35 million, believed to have belonged to Ibori but by that point he had already left the country. Ibori, a senior political figure in Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), was first apprehended in Nigeria in December 2007.

In 2009, Ibori was cleared of 170 charges of corruption, by a court in Asaba, who had found no clear evidence to convict him.

Source: BBC News

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

Libya to cut back anti migrant efforts unless EU pays €5 billion


A Libyan government minister has said that Libya will cut back its efforts to curtail the flow of illegal migrants from Africa into Europe, unless the EU pays €5 billion per year. Libya intercepts thousands of Sub-Saharan migrants trying to cross its territory into Europe, but feels that the financial burden of trying to protect EU's borders should be shared.

While on a visit to Italy in August, Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi demanded that the EU make the annual payment of €5 billion to cover its costs. The demand was seconded by Libya's Public Security Minister Abdalfatah Yunes Elabedi who told reporters, "If there is no money, there will be no security; there will be no guards [on the borders]."

Speaking to the press after a meeting of North African and southern European interior ministers Elabedi said, "We thought the situation would not reach this point because it would be a disaster for the Europeans. Either they do what they have to do, in which case we will be grateful to them, or they will bear responsibility for their decision."

He added that Libya has already suspended some of its security efforts as part of the funding disagreement. Migrants travelling through Libyan territory, cross the desert to reach the Mediterranean and try to flag-down a boat for the journey to Europe, namely to Italy or Malta.

In the last few years, Libya has improved its efforts to intercept migrants on their way to Europe under and agreement with Italy, it has also taken back migrants who have been removed from Italian soil.

Amnesty International has condemned Libya for mistreating detainees, an allegation Libya has denied. The human rights group, however, says that Libya keeps migrants it detains in inhuman condition, subjecting them to torture, racial abuse and sometimes rape.

Amnesty International went further, saying that the EU is ignoring Libya's dire human rights record and urged the it, as well as Libya and Malta, to take steps to respect the rights of the African migrants. Under a recently signed deal, the EU is paying Libya €50 million for its co-operation, but Libya says it is not enough.

Speaking about the issue, Elabedi added "We have about 4,000 policemen on the Libyan land and sea borders and they have. Vehicles, they have equipment, supplies, expenses and salaries. These are all burdens on Libya.The EU, except for Italy, has until now not offered anything tangible. We are asking them for a specific amount of money as a [compensation for the] cost.”

Source: Reuters, BBC News

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

Monday, 13 December 2010

Iranian officials call for UK ambassador to be expelled


Iranian officials have called for Britain's Ambassador to Tehran to be expelled from the Islamic Republic after his comments about the country's human rights record. Ambassador Smion Gass made a point of saying he was concerned about the risks posed to journalists, lawyers and activists working in Iran.

Iranian lawmakers have also expressed outrage about Gass' comments, and subsequently said that the political ties between Iran and the UK should be downgraded. They said Gass' comments had breached diplomatic protocol.

"Gass is a clear example of a persona non grata that must be expelled from Iran," said Hossein Sobhaninia.

Iran's anger at Gass was propelled by a statement on his personal web site, released on International Human Rights Day, stating the threats to civil society activists around the world. Part of the statements said, "Nowhere are they under greater threat than in Iran." The ambassador highlighted his point by citing the case of human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was arrested in September and is accused of acting against national security.

One Iranian politician said the British Ambassador needed to learn "ambassadorial ethics". Meanwhile, dozens of Iranian government supporters held a demonstration outside the British Embassy to protest against the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists. Iran has accused Britain, the US and Israel for the attacks.

Source: BBC News

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

Nigerian army kills kidnap group leader Obioma Nwankwo


The suspected leader of several kidnapping groups in Nigeria's Abia state has been killed, according to a statement released by Abia's state army. A security spokesman, Sagir Musa, has said that the military task force shot dead Obioma Nwankwo, known as Osisikankwu, in a forest shoot-out.

Nwankwo has been wanted for some time in connection to kidnappings and robberies in the area. Hostage taking for ransom has become so prevalent within Abia state that many middle class Nigerians feel the need to travel with armed security guards.

A joint military task force was deployed to Abia in September, to safeguard the locals and restore peace during a particularly turbulent time when businesses were forced to close and children were being kidnapped from their school bus.

Last moth, in an interview with Vanguard newspaper, Nwankwo said that he turned to militancy to protest against police abuse and extortion.

"We became militants because of the failure of government to live up to its responsibilities towards us. Many of us are graduates. Some are university drop-outs, who could not continue for want of fund or sponsors. There are secondary school leavers without a future in school or jobs," he said.

Source: BBC News

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

Brazil: A new royalties scheme


On 2nd December, the Brazilian Congress approved the fourth and last bill of the normative framework for pre-salt. The bill defines the production-sharing scheme and allocates royalties to all the states and municipalities, even those that are not producers of oil and gas from pre-salt.

The latter was the more controversial aspect of the legislation, and, by political agreement with the interested governors, it was acknowledged that President Lula would exercise his presidential prerogative of a partial veto of the legislation and proposes a new system of allocation of royalties, by gradually reducing the portion reserved for hydrocarbon-producing states over a period of ten years.

This reduction in royalties would be compensated, over time, by the increase in the volume of oil and gas produced, and hence by an enhancement of royalties accruing to producing states. The principal of these so far is Rio de Janeiro. The new scheme will be defined by Dilma Rousseff in 2011.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal drew attention to the fact that eight out of twelve of the world's largest deep-sea petroleum deposits discovered over the last 30 years are in Brazil. All of them are being explored by Petrobras, and they are equivalent to 15 billion barrels of oil, more than Brazil's current conventional reserves and nearly two-thirds of those of the US.

There is no doubt that the new frontier of pre-salt is the key to the economic redemption of Brazil. It could spell an end to the country's staggering social iniquities.

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