Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Algeria: Terror fears increase security in Hassi Messaoud

Exceptional security measures have been imposed around both Hassi Messaoud and oil installations in the vicinity. Local media reports towards the end of November 2011 said that checkpoints at both entrances to the city had been enforced. Vehicle and person searches were carried out for several days in early November.

Informed sources told the Arabic daily El Khabar that extra vigilance was being applied since Algeria's intelligence service warned that desert smugglers and terrorist groups planned to target energy sites and abduct foreign nationals. Several sources told El Khabar that a member of the Algeria military was arrested in October following a tip-off from a terrorist caught in the northern province of Boumerdes who claimed to have ties in Hassi Messaoud with the arrested military person.

While the southern sites remain secure since the introduction of the new measures, a homemade bomb targeted on 18th November the gas pipeline which links Hassi R'mel with many provinces in the centre and north of the country.

The explosion took place in the town of Djebahia, 30km north of Bouira. The blast was heard several kilometres away and at least nine northern municipalities were cut off from gas supplies for several hours. A local newspaper

reported that the authorities rushed to call on specialist repair teams; however, officials did not comment any further on the incident.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Ghana: Smaller political parties confront allegations

Officials of the opposition Convention Peoples Party (CPP) claim that they have discovered a “grand plot” to “destabilise” and bring down the party's new leader, Yaaba Samia Nkrumah. This is allegedly being done by attempting to organise and obtain petitions to bring forward the party congress and hold an extraordinary session to select new national delegates. Meanwhile a senior party member, who was responsible for grassroots activities overseas, has defected to the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), launching into a speech in London in support of his new party while also savagely criticising the New Patriotic Party (NPP) opposition.

The CPP is not the only small party suffering from internal conflict. According to news reports, leading People's National Convention (PNC) members have filed a writ at Accra's high court against the PNC's current leadership. They claim that voters at the party's 2007 national congress – at which Dr Edward Mahama was elected - included “street thugs” paid by the latter's associates to ensure his victory in the party's elections. The writ also claims that Ghana's Electoral Commission failed to provide adequate supervision at constituency elections.

On the national level, last week's comments by President John Atta Mills that the 2012 elections would be critical, and even a “test case” for African democracy, were followed by an announcement by USAID's director that it would partner local Ghanaian civil society organisations to assist the “participation” and “inclusivity” of the elections.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Kazakhstan: Parliament to dissolve for early elections

A shake-up of Kazakhstan's moribund political landscape looks to be in the offing. On 10th November, 53 of the 107 members of the lower house of parliament, the Mazhilis – in which President Nursultan Nazarbaev's Nur Otan holds all the seats – sent a formal request to the president to dissolve the legislature and hold early elections.

A parliamentary poll was already scheduled for next August, but that date has now been moved forward to January, according to presidential aides. Officials have said that the date has been moved so that Kazakhstan can focus attention on the economic crisis rather than elections – a fairly thin reason given the lack of real campaigning and competition in Kazakh elections.

It is also being presented as a way for Kazakhstan to develop – at least cosmetically – a multi-party democracy and move away from Nur Otan's total monopoly of parliamentary seats. Under last year's revised election law, the party that comes second automatically enters the Mazhilis, even if it fails to pass the 7 per cent threshold. This would almost certainly mean that Ak Zhol, the pro-business party derided by hardcore opponents of the government as a pseudoopposition, would enter the legislature to provide a superficial dose of debate and competition with Nur Otan.

Presidential officials have actively supported this idea. In the summer, key Nazarbaev aide Yermukhamet Yertysbaev said that he hopes Ak Zhol will become “a worthy sparring partner” for Nur Otan. Ak Zhol's newish leader, Azat Peruashev, was a Nur Otan member until the day before he became opposition leader in July.

There is speculation that the shake-up of parliament is also intended to open up a space for Timur Kulibaev, Nazarbaev's son in law and the closest thing to an heir apparent. Kulibaev has been linked with Ak Zhol, partly through his association with Peruashev. This would allow him to keep a firm hand on the 'opposition' party while maintaining a position of dominance in Nur Otan.

It would also give him an opportunity to inherit a (nominally) multi-party system. Combined with his profile as a fairly youthful technocrat, this would help Kulibaev to present a more modern and democratic face of Kazakhstan. The absence of a clear succession plan is concerning investors, and leading to pressure on Nazarbaev for a clear signal. “No one likes surprises – not least the capital markets,” says one oil executive working in the country.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Libya: UN says former rebels hold up to 7,000 prisoners

The UN says former Libyan rebels are holding approximately 7,000 prisoners. It believes the detainees are being held without right to legal process because the police and courts are not functioning, and some may have been tortured. The UN suspects that many of the sub-Saharan Africans were hired by Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi as mercenaries during the war.

It is thought that the new Libyan government has taken heed of the situation and promised to deal with the issue in a responsible way. This is the first UN assessment of Libya since the end of the eight month conflict.

The report issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, suggests that 7,000 captives are presently held in detention centres across the country under guard by revolutionary groups.

Speaking about the situation Ban Ki-moon said: “I believe the leaders of the new Libya are committed to building a society based on the respect for human right…While the (National Transitional Council) has taken some steps toward transferring responsibility for the detainees from brigades to proper state authorities, much remains to be done to regularize detention, prevent abuse and bring about the release of those whose detention should not be prolonged," the report says.”

He continued: “I believe that the leaders of the new Libya are indeed committed to building a society based on the respect for human rights… Achieving this requires the earliest possible action, however difficult the circumstances, to end arbitrary detention and prevent abuses and discrimination, against third country nationals as well as against any group of Libya's own citizens.”

In related news, UN envoy to Libya Ian Martin welcomed last week's appointment of an interim government in Tripoli.

Speaking to the BBC, Martin said: "It is indicative of the difference from the attitudes of past regime that there is no denial that human rights are being violated and in most cases international organisations are granted access to detainees…The new minister of the interior told me he welcomed public criticism as strengthening his hand in tackling the issues.”

Libya's new government was assembled by the newly elected interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib. It now faces many challenges including, drafting of a constitution and holding democratic elections by next June.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Vietnam: Nuclear plans afoot

During a recent state visit by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and an accompanying delegation, the official news agency announced that Kazakhstan would like to supply Vietnam with nuclear fuel for the production of energy and also hopes to cooperate in the development of Vietnam’s oil and gas industry.

Hanoi has already made deals with Russia and Japan to support its nuclear development plans (although the agreement with Japan has yet to be ratified by the Japanese parliament). In November, the government announced that it will invest three trillion dong (around US$143 million) in upgrading its human resource capabilities in the sector.

Using Russian help, Vietnam plans to build its first nuclear power plant in 2020 – it hopes to have 14 operational power plants by 2030 and has pledged the investment to ensure that it is able to build, manage, and maintain the facility when it opens. Training will be offered to 2,400 engineers and 350 academics and industry experts through cooperation between Hanoi’s Ministry of Science and Technology and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Most of the funding for the project will come from Vietnam’s stage budget, with a smaller amount being invested by Electricity of Vietnam, the state’s power supplier.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Monday, 28 November 2011

Libya: Sovereign wealth to finance infrastructure

Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) funds will be used to finance reconstruction inside the country rather than invested abroad. The sovereign wealth fund's acting chief executive, 46-year-old Rafik Nayed, recently told international wire services that he expected the $65 billion fund to contract in the short term because of this decision.

Since August, Nayed has led a team that is reviewing all LIA investments and has put a moratorium on operations until this is complete. 'We aren't interested in new deals,' he told the Wall Street Journal back in September. 'My mandate … is to untangle the inheritance of the regime and stabilise.'

When it was established, the LIA said that it aimed to be transparent and to follow the best international investment practices. This was partly to allay suspicion about the motives that a powerful Qadhafi-controlled fund might have for acquiring assets in Europe and the United States.

These resolutions were not kept. By 2010, several original members of the board of trustees had resigned. Documents leaked to activist organisation Global Witness in June 2011 showed that many large investments made by the fund had in fact lost money. Nayed has attempted to introduce greater openness, telling Reuters that cash, equities, and fixed income products accounted for about 77 per cent of the total assets under management. He identified potential problems in many of the asset classes, describing the equities holdings as insufficiently diversified and some of the strategic shareholdings, managed partly through the Libyan African Investment Portfolio,as loss making.

He also said that he planned to examine the alternative and hedge fund investments closely, including deals with Goldman Sachs and Société Générale.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Iran: Award without tender?

Majles Energy Commission spokesperson Emad Hosseini said the Ministry of Petroleum will be authorised under the new Petroleum Act to award oil and gas projects to contractors without tender formalities. Hosseini said the Ministry will have to award the projects based on the capabilities and qualifications of the contractors.

This new policy seems to have been devised as a result of sanctions that have effectively prevented international players from approaching Iranian energy projects.

It is not known whether Iranian contractors have the expertise to handle projects on their own. They may possess the basic knowledge to take care of tasks such as site preparation and the design of platform topsides, but they will need to involve foreign technology partners in some project aspects.

There is also no doubt that the new approach will pave the way for corruption in project awards.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Libya's new Prime Minister to announce government by the end of November

The newly appointed prime minister, Dr Abdel Rahim al-Keib, has not yet officially announced his new cabinet. He has told various press outlets that he is assembling a list of candidates and hopes to announce his government by 23rd November.

His predecessor, Mahmoud Jibril, who resigned following the declaration of Libya's full liberation, has expressed concern at the lengthy transition period. The timeline for elections, not scheduled to take place until a new constitution is drawn up which could take longer than the envisaged eight months, is of particular concern. Jibril also worries about the vacuum that has been left by the absence of a formal governmental structure.

Jibril has also been quoted as criticising Qatar, the National Transitional Council's (NTC) key foreign supporter, and has been repeating the unsubstantiated and ridiculous rumours that Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's death was somehow orchestrated by the foreign governments who had previously supported him. An investigation into how the former Leader died and the circumstances surrounding his capture and death has yet to begin.

Foreign governments and multilateral organisations have continued to support the NTC. The EU is the latest organisation to send representatives to Libya and it has officially opened a new EU delegation in Tripoli.

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, visited Tripoli on 12th November to open the new delegation. She also took part in a women's forum, stressing that the EU was keen to work with Libya in forming a new democracy and civil society, particularly with women and young people.

She also met with NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and Dr al-Keib. This preceded the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 14th November. EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss their relationship with Libya. In a closing statement, the Council of the European Union said that the EU was 'committed to deepening and strengthening its relationship with the Libyan people'. It also stressed the importance of EU-Libya ties through the Mediterranean Union.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Iran played a part in Iraq's decision over US troop withdrawal

Adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Sa'ad Youssef al-Mutalabi, has told the BBC that Iran influenced Baghdad's decision to disallow the US troops to remain in the country beyond the end of this year. Under the present agreement the US is expected to withdraw all its remaining forces from Iraq by 31st December.

Some experts are concerned about Iran's increasing influence on Iraq. The admission does not bode well for the US, who has lobbied for a new agreement that would allow the US to keep a contingent of several thousand soldiers in Iraq.

In October, after months of indecision, the government in Baghdad said no or at least not under conditions acceptable to the Pentagon.

Al-Mutalabi said the decision had been entirely Iraq's, but that Iranian sensitivities did play a part. He noted: "It is taking Iran into consideration. We understand that there is certain sensitivity. And we do not want an excuse for the Iranians to intervene in Iraq on the pretext that you have American troops."

Spokesman for US embassy in Baghdad Michael McClellan said: "We are not being pushed out and I don't think it's at the behest of Iran. Since 2003, our objective here has been to have an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant. They are sovereign because they did make their own decision. We did not just come back at them and say: 'Sorry but we're going to keep our troops here anyway.'"

It is estimated that there are around 30,000 US soldiers in Iraq. Their withdrawal at the end of December will mark the end of the war that cost the US £630billion.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, Reuters

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

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

Ghana: Prisoners to vote in 2012 elections

The Electoral Commission (EC) is to register prison inmates to enable them to vote in the 2012 general elections. On 9 th November, EC's chairman Dr Afari Gyan, said that the it would put all the necessary measures in place to start the process and would “ register them like any ordinary Ghanaian for the 2012 elections.”

Inaugurating the Ankaful Maximum Security Prison in the Central Region on 8 th November, President John Evans Atta Mills said that prison inmates have the right to vote and that the government and the EC would abide by the Supreme Court ruling.

The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), however, has accused Mills of using prisoners to help secure re-election in 2012. The NPP Central Regional Secretary Kwamena Duncan told reporters “ it is only a failing government, a President that is groping in the dark that would want prisoners to vote only because that is an easier way to garner votes to stay in power.”

The decision has also re-opened the debate on whether Ghanaians living abroad should be allowed to vote in the general elections.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Libya: Clashes between rival factions leave seven dead

According to numerous reports, seven people have been killed in confrontations between rival factions in the coastal city of Zawiya. Rival groups have been fighting for an area previously controlled by Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) has said that the conflict has been resolved, however, many are concerned about the country's stability. Libya is replete with weapons and highly armed groups, who fought in the rebellion against Qadhafi's 40 year rule.

Interim leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said the NTC had brought together the elders from the feuding areas in order to resolve the conflict. Speaking about the issue on Sunday 13th November he said: "I want to assure the Libyan people that everything is under control."

Despite reassurances, witnesses claim that fighting in some areas is still ongoing. According to various reports, trouble flared up on Thursday 10th Novemenr when fighters from Warshefana set up a checkpoint on a highway near Zawiya, challenging other fighters from the city.

Jalil said the trouble had been started by "young men behaving irresponsibly" and that the NTC had established a committee to address the grievances of both sides. NTC leaders have said they cannot quickly disarm the various factions across the country.

Sources: BBC News, WST, AP

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

Former NDP members will be allowed to run in parliamentary elections

Egypt's Higher Administrative Court has ruled that members of the now-dissolved ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will be able to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The elections are expected to take place in November, and will be the first in decades following former president Hosni Mubarak's departure in February.

Many former members of the Mubarak regime have already joined other parties and registered to run as independents. The decision to overturn Friday's ruling by a court in the northern Nile Delta city of Mansoura was anticipated. The second ruling set off a number of lawsuits across Egypt aimed at preventing former NDP members from standing in the elections.

Anti-government groups have been fighting to ensure that those they see as associated with Mubarak's 30 year rule are kept out of politics. Mubarak and many of his cronies are currently on trial or in prison on corruption charges and ordering the shooting of protesters during the uprising.

The vote, commencing on 28th November, is expected to elect an assembly which will appoint a committee to write a new constitution.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC News

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

Monday, 14 November 2011

Libyan oil output to return to normal by next year

Head of Libya's National Oil Corporation Nuri Berouin has said that the country expects to resume crude oil output to pre-war levers of approximately 1.6 million b/d by 2012. Berouin said that output has arisen to 600,000 b/d, and that he expects further increases of about 200,000 a b/d by the end of 2011.

Speaking about the matter during an economic conference in Qatar, he also said that to repair the oil sector's infrastructure will cost "hundreds of millions of dollars". He explained that Libya's production had reached “600,000 bpd of which 140,000 bpd go to (local) refineries," adding that the remaining 460,000 b/d were for export.

The Libyan revolution saw the country's oil industry virtually shut down. Last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said that production in Libya was resuming faster than had been expected after a key pipeline was repaired.

It is estimated that more than 10 per cent of the OPEC member's oil infrastructure was severely damaged during the eight-month rebellion.

Sources: BBC News, WSJ, Business Week

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

Three French hostages kidnapped in Yemen released

The French authorities have confirmed that three French aid workers who were kidnapped in Yemen in May have been freed. They were captured by suspected Al-Qa'ida militants in Seyun, 600km east of Sana'a.

The captives, two women and a man, were working for the French charity Triangle Generation Humanitaire. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked the Sultan of Oman for his help in securing their release.

A statement released by Sarkozy's office, said: "The president warmly thanks the Sultan of Oman and the Omanese authorities for their crucial help, as well as all those who contributed to this happy resolution."

The French authorities are yet to reveal more details about the circumstance of the release. The captives appeared in video footage in September, saying the demands of their abductors had not been met.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Petrobras workers expected to strike

Petrobras workers are expected to meet with the company's management on 10th November to discuss wage increases and better working conditions. The union, Federação Única dos Petroleiros (FUP), will review whether or not to take strike action.

According to the head of FUP Joao Antonio de Moraes, who spoke to Bloomberg, there has been work stoppage since 6th November. The workers are demanding a 10 per cent increase above inflation and better safety. The FUP said that Petrobras had made an offer to compromise on 31st October but the union rejected it.

Recently, Brazilian automotive, construction and bank workers have gone on strike to demand raises in excess of 10 per cent after annual inflation reached a six-year high of 7.3 per cent in September. Petrobras, which produces about 90 per cent of Brazil's oil, granted union workers a 9.4 per cent raise in 2010.

Sources: Bloomberg, Business Week, Wall Street Journal

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

Libya: Treatment of foreigners' personnel and assets should remain benign

The treatment of foreigners' personnel and assets should remain benign, and none of the political parties has made any strong declarations against the presence of foreigners. This is, however, provided that they are in the country to help develop the economy and thereby help bring down local unemployment levels and increase productivity to satisfy the expectations for improved living standards harboured by the majority of Libyans.

It should be noted, however, that this benign attitude is not universal and there is considerable hostility towards Sub-Saharan economic migrants for two reasons. Firstly, because they allegedly take jobs from working class Libyans – although how many Libyans would be prepared to do hard manual labour is debatable – but also because so many of the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi fighters were black African mercenaries. It is, therefore, likely that the majority of Third Country Nationals who work on the major infrastructure projects will be Asians rather than Africans.

The war did not produce any well-defined areas of difference with respect to the use of foreign technical expertise and management training. The current assumption must be that most Libyans expect that there will be a continuing and sensible input into national economic development.

Certainly, the oil and gas industries will need a thorough overhaul which, as shown by Kuwait's experience of damage to oil fields in the 1990-91 Gulf War, could be a slow and expensive process. There can be little doubt that the argument made by the various returning IOCs is correct and that Libya's oil sector will recover best and earliest if the financial terms are realistic. If not, then the herd will likely move on elsewhere, to countries with a better combination of geological prospects, security and financial returns.

There are some Islamist radicals in the National Transitional Council (NTC) whose policies will appear to be aggressive and who will use the oil sector, as it was always used in the past, as a political lever. No political leader has yet taken the energy sector into the public domain for debate. It is, therefore, very likely that ideology will dominate the short term political jousting but then fade in importance providing that the oil revenue harvest is sustained using foreign expertise.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ghana: Regional zoning planned for biometric voter registration

Ghana's biometric voter registration exercise, expected to begin in the first quarter of 2012, will be completed by dividing the country into different zones, according to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC).

“It is obvious that we cannot carry out registration at all the projected 23,000 polling stations at the same time. So some zoning would be inevitable. In this regard the Commission is currently considering various zoning options and would engage the political parties on the form of zoning,” Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan told an Institute of Economic Affairs forum in Accra on 1st November.

He told assembled delegates, “If done well, biometric voter registration can ensure a verifiable voters register, in the sense that a person's name can occur only once in the register and at a specific polling station, thereby ensuring that that person can vote only once under his or her name.”

Former Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Justice Emile Short, who chaired the forum, stressed the need for adequate consultation to ensure that the exercise runs smoothly. He urged the government to ensure the timely release of the necessary funds.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Vietnam to strengthen co-operation with South Korea

On Tuesday 8th November, Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-Bak agreed to strengthen bilateral ties and co-operation on a number of projects to build atomic power plants in Vietnam.

Sang is on a three day visit to South Korea. The two officials released a joint statement saying the countries were going to strengthen co-operation for peaceful use of atomic power. The statement went on: “The two sides took a special note of South Korea's proposals on developing Vietnam's nuclear power plant based on South Korean technologies, nurturing human resources, transferring technologies and cooperation in other related areas.”

South Korea operates 20 nuclear plants, which generate about 35 per cent of its electricity needs, and plans to build 12 more over the next 14 years. It decided to carry out its nuclear programme as planned despite concerns following the earthquake in Japan on 11th March.

Vietnam continues to face energy shortages and foreign investment companies have expressed concern about the country's instability. As a result, Hanoi has recently intensified its drive to co-operate with nuclear capable countries to help meet its needs.

South Korea and Vietnam have boosted economic and diplomatic relations since they normalised ties in 1992. Last year, the two-way trade totalled $12.9. The two countries have agreed to boost trade to $20 billion before 2015 and further to $30 billion.

Sources: Yonhap, AFP, Korea Times

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

UN says Iran's studying nuclear weapons

According to a report by UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Iran has carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device". The report also suggests that Iran has conducted research on computer models that could only be used to develop a nuclear bomb trigger. IAEA's latest report on Iran is thought to be its toughest yet.

The Islamic Republic has said the findings were politically motivated. Speaking about the issue, Iran's envoy to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh said: "This report is unbalanced, unprofessional and prepared with political motivation and under political pressure by mostly the United States.”

Iran continues to maintain that its nuclear programme is designed solely for the purpose of civilian power generation. The report, however, suggests that Iran has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" but it does not specify whether or not Iran is building one.

The report comprises Iran's secret activities including conducting computer modelling, developing a detonator and testing high explosives. It suggest that some of its activities are only applicable to nuclear weapons research.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has continually dismissed the IAEA as a mouthpiece for the US, and his government was quick to condemn the report as baseless.

The report also states: "The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the above activities took place under a structured programme. There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing."

IAEA says the report is “credible” and the information is gathered from reliable sources. It also encourages Iran "to engage substantively with the agency without delay for the purpose of providing clarifications."

It is thought that Iran is at least one year away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb and if need be do so on short notice.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Baghdad bomb blasts kill eight

According to Iraqi officials, at least eight people have been killed in bomb blasts in a market in Baghdad. Three explosions went off in the commercial district of Shurja, as people were buying food for the major Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. It is thought that at least 21 people were injured in the attacks.

Violence in Iraq has declined since 2006-7, but isolated attacks on civilians and security personnel are still prevalent. The latest explosions come amid increased security across Iraq for the Eid holiday.

The bombs are thought to have been planted throughout the market in order to cause maximum damage, and parts of it were on fire after the explosions. One witness told Reuters news agency: "I can see fire and black smoke mounting and a large number of fire engines, ambulances and police patrols rushing to the market.”

There has been a spurge of violence in the country as the last of the US troops prepare to leave for good. Official figures says 258 people were killed in violence nationwide in October. The increase has raised concerns that the violence might increase even more once the US military hands over security responsibilities to the Iraqis.

Sources: BBC News, WSJ, AFP

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

Russia says military action against Iran would be a serious problem

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that military action against Iran would be a "very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences". Lavrov said diplomacy was the only way to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem.

His comments follow the news that Israel's President Shimon Peres' announced that an attack on the Islamic Republic was inevitable. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to reveal whether or not Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The IAEA report due out this week is expected to provide compelling evidence of Iran's nuclear activities that the country will reportedly find impossible to dismiss.

Iran has continually insisted that its nuclear programme was designed for civilian purposes only. The country's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said the alleged evidence is a fabrication and part of a multi-pronged US smear campaign against his country.

Asked to comment on Peres' views, Lavrov said: "Our position on this issue is well-known: this would be a very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences."

For his part Peres told the press that the “only path for removing concerns is to create every possible condition" to resume the talks between Iran and six world powers - including Russia, which broke down in December last year. He noted: "I don't think that any decision has already been made, but there is an impression that Iran is getting closer to nuclear weapons."

It is thought that the evidence in the report includes intelligence that Iran made computer models of a nuclear warhead, as well as satellite images of what the IAEA believes is a large steel container used for high-explosives tests related to nuclear arms.

Sources: Press TV, BBC News, The Guardian

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

Nigeria's opposition rejects government's plans to scrap petroleum subsidy

Nigeria's main opposition party Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has rejected the government's plans to scrap the petroleum subsidy, saying it would destabilise the country. ACN described the proposed subsidy removal as the handiwork of those propelled by the philosophy of the “Washington Consensus of rolling back the frontiers of the state.”

The party's secretary Alhaji Lai Mohammed released a statement condemning the removal as a fiscal issue, and said the government did not take into account its responsibility to the nation and the improvement of living standards.

In a way of a compromise the ACN proposed the establishment of modular refineries with a total of 280,000 b/d refining capacity in nine cities including, Gusau, Enugu, Ibadan, Kano, Makurdi, Maiduguri, Lagos, Auchi and Gombe;in addition to reviving the existing ones.

The statement went on to say: "The basic objective of any fiscal policy is to improve the living conditions of the people through poverty reduction and the provision of welfare services. The removal of subsidy must therefore go beyond the cheap argument of improving the solvency of the government. To reduce the responsibility of government to its citizen to Naira and Kobo tokenism is tantamount to abdicating responsibility, and this has far reaching consequences not only on sustaining our democracy but the continued existence of the nation as a unified entity.''

ACN added that the only reason the issue has continued to recur was because Nigeria imports petroleum products for domestic consumption, warning that so long as importation continues, the problem would be ongoing.

Sources: Vanguard, All Africa, Afrique en Ligue

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

Monday, 7 November 2011

Saudi policy unlikely to change following death of Prince Sultan

The death of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and the appointment of his brother Prince Nayef as crown prince of Saudi Arabia are unlikely to have much impact on Saudi policy towards Yemen. The days are long gone when Prince Sultan ran Saudi policy on Yemen. In recent years, the Yemeni file has been handled by Prince Nayef (and on a day-to-day basis by his son, Prince Muhammad) in his counter-terrorism role.

The Ministry of Defence was brought back into the centre of the issue as a result of the fighting in late 2009 and early 2010 between Saudi forces and Al-Huthi infiltrators. The Saudis did not perform well but have since spent a lot of money on strengthening their positions on the border and retaining their soldiers in counterinsurgency fighting.

The kingdom has not appointed a new minister of defence and it is not clear who will become responsible for controlling the inflow of subsidies to government, political and tribal figures. What is clear is that this money is continuing to flow, probably in order to prevent economic collapse and possibly to ensure that the key Yemeni players are to some extent dependent on Saudi largesse.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 4 November 2011

Nigeria: Government bond sale

The Debt Management Office (DMO) revealed that the federal government would be offering up between N156 and N215 billion in 3, 5, and 10-year sovereign bonds this fourth quarter of the year. The DMO said it would sell N6 to N10 billion of the 3-year bonds, N15 to N20 billion of the 5-year bonds, and about N25 to N35 billion in the 10-year papers in October.

In November and December, the debt office will discontinue the issuance of 3- and 5-year papers and concentrate on the 10-year instruments. The DMO said it would sell about N30 to N40 billion in the 10-year paper, with a term-to-maturity of 6.5 years and between N25 and N35 billion in the 10-year bonds with term to maturity of 7 years and 11 months in each of November and December.

The DMO explained that the discontinuation of the 3- and 5-year papers came as a result of advice from investors and bond dealers to reduce competition between the primary market and secondary trading of the papers. According to an unnamed official, the DMO was also dissuaded from issuing 20-year bonds, in order to encourage active transition in the secondary markets. All the bonds on offer are re-openings of previous issues.

Nigeria issues sovereign bonds monthly to support the local bond market, create a benchmark for corporate issuance, and fund its budget deficit.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Iran: LNG still a priority

Several Iranian officials recently emphasised that the country still considers LNG a priority for its gas sector projects. This may indicate a shift in strategy as Iran's liquefaction projects have been shelved for a while, mainly as the result of sanctions that have banned investments in the sector. National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) managing director Hossein Bidarmaqz said Iran still has the development of Pars LNG and Persian LNG projects on the agenda. Bidarmaqz emphasised that Iran's foreign partners have not withdrawn from these projects but that they were shelved due to financial problems. The newly appointed NIGEC chief emphasised that abandoning the projects 'would generate losses for foreign partners.'

Although Total and Shell withdrew their LNG plans in Pars and Persian LNG schemes as the result of sanctions, the possibility exists that the two companies are still trying to keep the door open. Tehran seems to prefer a wait-and see approach until it can re-open talks with the companies to pursue previous plans. Considering the intense international climate against Iran and recent Western pressure to increase sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and the oil and gas industry, however, it is fairly certain that the two majors won't return to the LNG projects as long as sanctions are in place.

Lavan LNG plan scrapped

On a related note, IOOC managing director Mahmoud Zirakchianzadeh said plans to develop an LNG plant at Lavan Island in the Persian Gulf have been scrapped. He noted that it had been decided to turn the project into a petrochemical plant. The feed for the project will be provided from the Lavan gas field, which is expected to yield 85 mcm/d.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

NTC appoints a new prime minister

A necessary period of adjustment is taking place in Libya. With the death of Mu'ammar Qadhafi and the declaration of liberation, this period of transition was inevitable. What remains unclear is how the National Transitional Council (NTC) will respond to the challenge of re-establishing Libya both domestically and within the international arena.

On 31st October, the NTC announced the appointment of Dr Abdel-Rahim al-Keib to the post of prime minister. He will face the task of forming a government and a new cabinet to oversee the country until elections are held. Currently, it is planned that elections will take place within eight months.

Al-Keib is well regarded as an even-tempered and pleasant academic who has worked as a professor of electrical engineering internationally for some years. Although he has served in several short-term academic programmes in Libya, most of his teaching has been overseas, which means he has had little to do with Libyan politics and Qadhafi's regime. He has also served as an adviser on Libya and has acted as a private sector entrepreneur. Al-Keib thus has a broad grounding in the applied technical field.

His contribution is expected to come from his mediation efforts, which he will be required to put to use if his government is to move along the constitutional settlement process. His family originates from Tripoli but he has roots in Sabrata. He is, therefore, not without knowledge of the tribal difficulties, and should be able to play a positive part in this area of change.

One of the major hurdles that his cabinet will have to overcome in establishing security and stability is the armed militia groups who had been united in their drive to oust Qadhafi. With scant central command, there has been little direction of revolutionary fighters returning from battle or protecting their liberated cities. Despite reported efforts to arrange a military chain of command, it would appear that none such has yet been established.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Lula's illness brings uncertainty into Brazilian politics

On 28th October, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and immediately underwent chemotherapy treatment at the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital in São Paulo. According to his doctors, Lula has a 90 per cent chance of making a full recovery. All of Lula's official commitments including a loaded speaking agenda were cancelled through to the end of January 2012.

Lula's illness has a series of political implications. He has lately been travelling around the country, giving speeches and trying to build local alliances for his Workers' Party (PT) with a view to the municipal elections, which are to take place in October 2012. But for now his political campaigning has to cease, which will give other campaigners a chance to redouble their efforts. The importance of these elections is that the mayors of large cities usually have a great deal of influence over the process of nominations of candidates for presidential and legislative elections, and could therefore have an impact on those of 2014.

While it is still an open question whether Lula or President Dilma Rousseff will be PT's candidate for the presidency in 2014, and Dilma is quietly asserting her own credentials, the emotional factor raised by Lula's illness cannot be discounted. The Brazilian voter characteristically has sympathy for the underdog, and Lula has become one by virtue of his cancer. He is also a legent in the minds of the poor and the downtrodden, and they constitute the majority of the electorate, especially in the populous northeast, while the ascending middle class elsewhere in the country also ascribe their economic and social progress to Lula's policies. Should he therefore decide to run in 2014, and be physically able to do so, he would most likely win the election by a landslide. And so somewhat rather unexpectedly, an element of uncertainty has been introduced into Brazilian politics.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates