Thursday, 30 June 2011

Egypt: More than a 1000 injured in violent clashes

Over a 1000 people were injured in the most violent clashes between police and demonstrators since the 18 days of protests that led to the fall of the former president Hosni Mubarak on 11th February.

A major rally was being planned for 8th July. But these protests snowballed from a demonstration demanding justice for the martyrs, i.e., the speedy trial of police officers accused of killing more than 800 people in the attempted suppression of protests in those 18 days in January and February. The demonstrations became a focal point for the general frustrations of many at the slow pace of reform.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors who attacked them with stones in Tahrir Square on 28th and 29th June. There had been other clashes at the Balloon Theatre in Agouza. Protestors called for officials accused of serious crimes to be tried without delay. Some also called for Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces currently ruling Egypt, to step down.

These were the first violent clashes in Tahrir Square for some weeks. Protestors were met by riot police with full gear and water cannon. One blogger said the police had invoked one of the protest movement's own slogans when they used a loudhailer to tell the crowd “You say, selmiyya [peaceful], well keep it selmiyya”. It was anything but selmiyya.

The army council said in a statement on its Facebook page that “the regrettable events that have been taking place at Tahrir Square have no justification except to undermine stability and security in Egypt according to a calculated and coordinated plan in which the blood of the revolution's martyrs is used to cause a wedge between the revolutionaries and the security apparatus in Egypt to achieve these goals.

"We urge the great Egyptian people and the young people who launched the revolution not to be carried away by such claims, work on resisting and aborting them to maintain Egypt's security and safety in such difficult circumstances."

Its reaction showed how little it understands the frustration of those who want rapid reform.

The demonstrations in Tahrir Square followed clashes nearby outside the TV building at Maspero after the adjournment of the trial on 26th June of the former interior minister Habib ElAdly. He faces the death penalty if convicted of charges of ordering state security forces under his command to use live fire to crush the protests of January and February. The families of some of those killed hurled stones at police and military vehicles in frustration after the court adjourned the minister's trial.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Libya: Security of foreign personnel and assets

It is apparent that foreign involvement in Libya will be vital once fighting has finished, or the military fronts have been pushed back from the oil field regions. It may be that some attempts may be made to restore the oil fields before any formal arrangement of peace is agreed as both sides, but especially the rebels, require more reliable sources of oil for export. Whether civilian contractors will be used in this work is uncertain, though it is clear that indigenous resources in Libya, and both spare parts and personnel, are inadequate to make a quick and effective turn-round of the situation.

Fighting persists in the northwest which is now virtually a war zone. Otherwise, clashes are in predictable sites such as the Sirte coastal region and some of the isolated oases of eastern Libya. There is now a stronger sense of insecurity than formerly, as the rebels arm themselves and begin limited but very public strikes against the authorities.

The civilian administrations on both sides of the fighting line are weak and, in most cases, have had their security people either driven out or converted to one cause or the other. It would be difficult for Western interest to be engaged on the ground in such uncertain conditions and British FCO advice is apposite.

Visiting the country should only be done with the utmost care and preparation. Signs of peace by way of a negotiated settlement are few. The crumb of comfort is found in indications that Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi would be prepared to leave the country in certain circumstances as a move to an end to the fighting.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Iraq: Local council attempts to oust Meesan Oil Company

The head of the Meesan Oil Company, Ali Maarji, was forced out of his job this month by the local governorate council. The council, which is dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Sadrists, held an exceptional session on 9th June and voted by 17 to eight to force Maarji out of his position on the grounds of mismanagement and of failing to increase production levels.

The council also accused him of violating article 112 of the constitution, which relates to coordination between the governorate council and the heads of productive organisations, suggesting that Maarji had acted independently and not consulted the council about some matter related to the oil sector.

However, the council's decision did not go down well with employees, who staged a sit-in at the company's headquarters on 11th June to protest at Maarji's sacking. The oil workers issued a statement in support of their boss, describing him as well-qualified, technically competent and a good manager. The statement also made it clear that, contrary to the council's accusations, he had in fact achieved major improvements in production. The statement asserted that in 2009 Maarji increased production to 81,000 b/d, in 2010 it reached 89,000 b/d and by 2011 it was at 105,000 b/d.

The employees also protested that it was not within the governorate council's authority to intervene in the oil sector in this way and to sack company heads. They called on the federal government and parliament to stop the Meesan council from interfering in the affairs of sovereign ministries. The council's willingness to take such a bold step is further evidence of local authorities trying to muscle in on the energy sector and to assert themselves against the central authorities.

How Baghdad and the Oil Ministry in particular will react to the sacking has yet to be seen. However, it appears that in defiance of the provincial council's decision Maarji is still acting as head of the company.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Ghana: Ex-president blasts wife's detractors

The office of former president Jerry John Rawlings has released a statement criticising a series of “false, libellous and slanderous” articles in the Ghana press “calculated to tarnish the image and create public disaffection against the former president and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings”. Nana Konadu is planning to contest the leadership of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) ahead of national elections in 2012.

The statement, released on 26th June, points in particular to “a scurrilous article by former British diplomat Craig Murray that accuses the former president and Mrs Rawlings of fraud, bribery and corrupt tendencies,” which it says has been reproduced by several publications since Mrs Rawlings announced her candidacy for NDC party leader.

The statement said: “The allegations by Mr Murray, a discredited diplomat who was compelled to quit the service because of the reckless manner he allowed his personal opinion to blight his judgement, have never been substantiated and are still a subject of potential legal action”.

It continued, “Members of the media are cautioned not to fall victim to the political schemes of unscrupulous persons who are hell-bent on destroying the reputation of Flt Lt Rawlings and Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings in a bid to scupper Nana Konadu's chances at the forthcoming presidential primaries … any libellous and defamatory publications by members of the media will be taken up accordingly.”

Murray wrote on his website: “I have written no articles in the Ghanaian media for years, and have not written anything about the Rawlings for over four years. Possibly someone is reproducing (without my permission, and in breach of copyright) some old material … but I am certainly not interfering in Ghana's election in the way suggested.”

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

South Sudan downplays Al-Bashir's warning

South Sudan has downplayed Sudan President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir's warning to shut-down oil pipelines if the newly succeeded country refuses to pay transit fees. Almost three-quarters of the country's oil, equivalent to about 500,000 b/d, come from the south, but most of the infrastructure and production facilities are based in the north.

Oil is the biggest revenue stream for both sides, currently divvied up at a 50-50 share. The oil sharing agreement expires on 9th July when South Sudan declares independence. Speaking about al-Bashir's statement the South's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said: "We completely regret and are surprised by the decision of the president of the Republic of Sudan that he can close off the pipes that carry the oil from southern Sudan…This is also the oil that also supports 70 per cent of the economy in the north. So we are obliged by the mutual cooperation that we need that oil to flow, so that Sudan can benefit, and the people in south Sudan, who are the owners, also benefit."

Back in January, the South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in favour of separating from the north. The referendum on independence was part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended a two decade-long civil war between the two sides.

South Sudan has subsequently accused Sudan of planning to overthrow the South's government. In March, a senior official with the South's ruling party, Pagan Amum, said that Khartoum is arming rebel groups in preparation to destabilise South Sudan and annihilate the region's leaders before secession in July.

The situation was further complicated when Sudan seized the town of Abyei in May. It said that its army acted after 22 northernes were killed in a southern ambush, and took little heed of UN's calls to withdraw its troops from the region immediately. The dispute was later resolved, when the two sides signed an agreement pledging to end fighting.

Abyei was granted a special status under the CPA, which stipulates that both sides have to keep their troops out until a referendum to determine Abyei's future. This, remains one of the key issues yet to be resolved.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, Khaleej Times

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

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Iran disgruntled with IEA

Iran's Oil Minister Mohammad Aliabadi has accused the International Energy Agency (IEA) of breaching its own code of conduct and "principles" by intervening in what he considers to be a well supplied oil markets. Speaking ahead of an energy summit with the EU, Aliabadi said: “There is no additional need for supply on the market…The market is under normal conditions now--supply and demand are desirable."

Aliabadi's comments were prompted by IEA's decision to release some of its oil stocks to make up for lost Libyan supplies. He said, “…the IEA, have these principles. Why are they not abiding by those principles? Instead they are intervening in the market…We believe that prices have to be set by markets."

The IEA's move has led to a rapid fall in the price of crude oil, however, Aliadabi said it was not the prices that concerned Iran, adding: “We are worried about the principles and how they are being put into implementation."

IEA officials counteracted Aliabadi's comments saying they undertook the emergency release, just the third in the agency's history, in response to a lengthy outage of Libyan crude.

A number of IEA members, including Germany and Japan, released equal amounts of oil and refined products. The US released only crude, while France and Italy, released only refined goods. According to an IEA report, a total of 41.6 million of the 60.6 million in emergency oil will come from crude oil with the rest coming from refined products.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, Dow Jones

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

Egypt scraps plans for IMF loan

Egypt's Finance Minister Samir Radwan has said that the government has scrapped plans to seek loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The news follows revisions of the 2011-12 budget, which have reduced the GDP from 11 per cent to 8.6 per cent.

The unofficial consensus seems to be that the decision was partly a by-product of the "pressure of public opinion" as many of those who took part in the country's uprising criticised the role of the IMF.

In May, Radwan decried the situation in Egypt, saying it needed additional funds to rebuild itself after the revolution. He subsequently agreed a £1.9 billion 12-month stand-by loan with the IMF, alongside other loan deals with the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

It later emerged that many Egyptians were unhappy with the prospect of an IMF loan, feeling it was a betrayal of the revolution. Radwan, however, did not confirm this to be the case but said that the loans were no longer needed as talks with business groups and the military council resulted in the deficit being cut from EGP170 billion to EGP134 billion.

The finance finister also added that Egypt would cover the greater part of the deficit from "local sources", and neighbouring States such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which gifted Egypt $500 million just in the past week.

Sources: BBC News, The Daily Star, Sydney Morning Herald

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

KazMunaiGas expects output shortfall due to a strike

Kazakhstan's State oil and gas company, KazMunaiGas, expects its production and planned output to fall by 4 per cent as a strike in one of the country's major oil fields enters its second month. The strike in Uzen field in western Kazakhstan, which commenced on 26th May, has already caused oil production losses of 150,000 tonnes.

The group's London-traded arm KMG EP released a statement, saying: "The company now believes that annual production from the Uzen field will not reach the target level and will be lower by at least 600,000 tonnes." It added that the other “small offsets” would also contribute to the 4 per cent shortfall in the earlier output forecast.

At the peak of the protests, in the field in the Mangistau region, the numbers of people involved were estimated at 2,500 but have now reportedly fallen to 650. KMG EP said that KazMunaiGas will start negotiations upon "complete cessation of illegal protests".

The strike, over labour a dispute, is the second one to affect KazMunaiGas' operations in the Mangistau region in the past two months.

KMG EP, Kazakhstan's second-largest oil producer, had earlier forecast crude oil production of 13.5 million tonnes in 2011. Last year, the company produced 13.3 million tonnes, equal to 270,000 b/d.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, Upstream Online

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

Monday, 27 June 2011

ICC issues Qadhafi's arrest warrant

After months of political turmoil in Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi. The Court believes that Qadhafi is responsible for ordering attacks on Libyan civilians, thereby committing crimes against humanity. In addition, the ICC also issued warrants for Qadhafi's son Saif Al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Sanussi.

It is estimated that thousands of people have been killed in the on-going conflict. The warrants pertain to the early weeks of the uprising, from 15th February until "at least 28th February".

A statement, relayed by presiding judge Sanji Monageng, said the Court had "reasonable grounds to believe" that the accused were "criminally responsible" for the ordering of deaths of Libyan civilians. Monageng added that as a "recognised and undisputed leader of Libya" Qadhafi has "absolute, ultimate and unquestioned control" over the country. The Court also noted that while Saif al-Islam holds no official position he is “the most influential person" in his father's inner circle. As for Sanussi, the Court deemed that he "indirectly instructed the troops to attack civilians demonstrating" in Benghazi.

The warrant for Qadhafi's arrest was requested by chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in May, who urged the Court do so in order to protect Libyan civilians. News of the arrest warrants, were greeted in parts of Libya with celebrations.

Speaking about the ICC in the past, Libyan authorities said they did not recognise the Court. This statement was further fortified on Sunday 26th June when government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the Court was merely going after African leaders and had "no legitimacy whatsoever".

Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, The Independent

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

Majles' industry concerns

Majles Energy Commission (MEC) members Moayyed Hosseini and Gholamali Meigline­jad, along with other parliamentarians, have recently made several complaints about the management of Iran's oil and gas industry.

Monitoring the funds of the Petroleum Ministry is impossible, they say, without proper legisla­tion and articles of association. These funds can therefore be misused to finance political campaigns. The Guardian Council should have more precise supervisory mechanisms to assess the financial sources of Majles candidates dur­ing campaigns.

The Majles is concerned about the instability and mismanagement of the Petroleum Ministry in the aftermath of having a caretaker appointed. The administration's unstable approach towards the oil industry and constant changes at the mana­gerial level are among the reasons for delays in South Pars projects. As a result of a lack of job security, managers are unable to set long-term plans for the oil and gas industry.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Algeria: 'Le Grand Flop de Bouteflika'

Abdelkader Bensalah's committee, or commission as it is called, has wound up ignominiously after two months of insulting and belittling Algerians. One headline referred to it as 'Le Grand Flop de Bouteflika'; another: 'Bensalah's circus ends in indifference'.

Besides such external powers as the UK and US, and now it seems the EU itself, who are doing all that they can to prop up the Algerian regime, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's attempts at constitutional and political reform have so far achieved nothing other than confirming to the Algerian people that he had no intention of do anything more than 'wasting time', many of Algeria's own media headline writers have described the embarrassingly pitiful exercise.

The question is: where does it – Bouteflika's reform process – go from here? Bensalah will at some point make some sort of report back to the President who will no doubt make some sort of recommendation. But it will be surprising if many Algerians will be listening to him by then. What he has managed to achieve so far in this exercise is to insult and humiliate the Algerian by treating them with such contempt.

Most members of the opposition, as well as many senior members of the regime itself, are voiced comments to the effect that this has not been one of the President's most intelligent t moves and is one that is likely to come back and bite him – probably when the summer comes to an end.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Government appointments delayed by security screening

Besides the Abuja bomb blast on 16th June, the rumour mill has continued to focus on the subject of ministerial nominees to President Goodluck Jonathan's as-yet unnamed government. With the appointment of government delayed for nearly two weeks already, the bomb blast has not detracted from the on-going lobbying and intense politicking for ministerial positions.

It would appear that the president's nominee list has not been finalised. Sources report that some names have been substituted and, in some cases, have been reinstated on the list following interventions from highly influential people.

Additionally, we understand, several names of ministerial nominees have been sent to the State Security Service (SSS) for security screening, thereby delaying the transmission of the list to Senate president David Mark.

According to sources, former minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (currently a managing director of the World Bank) appeared set to reprise her role at the Finance Ministry. However, she is reportedly among the nominees being screened by the SSS. Iweala is said to have given the president strict conditions for her return to political office, including being given a free hand to determine the country's economic policies, independently of presidential influence.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 24 June 2011

UK will do its duty in Libya for as long as necessary

The news from NATO indicates a failure in the weapons system of a missile targeted on Sorman on 19th June which killed nine. NATO appears to have accepted responsibility for this tragedy which has been attributed to French aircraft. NATO also acknowledged a second missile strike, on the home of Khuweildi al-Hamidi, a close confidant of Colonel Qadhafi, on 20th June, when, it is claimed, 15 died.

This NATO raid on 19th June was one of 137 air sorties taking place, 60 of which were non-combatant, being directed towards identifying targets. The work rate of the NATO aircraft included strikes on a military store and missile guidance radars in the Tripoli region. Two rocket launchers and a number of other military vehicles were destroyed in raids on the city of Misrata.

In all, NATO aircraft have made 11,781 sorties, of which 4,469 were strike air raids. Meanwhile at sea, the NATO flotilla enforced the embargo on arms movements and also took part in attacks on the mainland. NATO reported that it was taking the greatest precautions to minimise civilian casualties. Sorman is a centre of Qadhafi support and it will remain a NATO target.

The British are suffering from an undersupply of military assets, material and backup for the Libya campaign because it is running in tandem with its major role in Afghanistan. On 17th June, Chief of Defence Staff General Sir David Richards rebuked the statement by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope which suggested that the country could not support its Libyan activities beyond the end of September 2011.

Reinforcement of those who argue that the Libya campaign was overstretching resources came from Air Chief Marshall Sir Simon Bryant and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, who stated that activity in Libya is costing tens of millions of pounds and potentially hundreds of millions if fighting continues.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox rubbished this idea, stating the UK would do its duty in Libya for as long as necessary; Prime Minister David Cameron criticised all of them for their interference.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Essam Sharaf says delay in elections a good idea

Essam Sharaf, appointed by the ruling military council as prime minister, has departed from their stated position by suggesting that a delay in the plan to hold elections in September may be a good idea. “Postponing the elections would give the chance for a larger number of political parties to develop,” he said. This was not an off-the-cuff remark at a press conference. Rather, it was a response on an online service, masrawy.com, which would have given him time to reflect on what he was saying.

He also hinted that it might also be a good idea to draft a constitution before rather than after the elections as currently planned.

He emphasised that he was speaking in a personal capacity. He said that the cabinet would do all it could to ensure a fair and secure vote if the election went ahead as scheduled.

But the expression of his view, whether or not co-ordinated with the military high command, appears to support the campaign of the plethora of mainly liberal parties that they need more time to prepare. There is the other concern that the main beneficiaries of elections in September would be the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organised of political movements.

And the Muslim Brotherhood was very critical of the prime minister's comment. A leading figure said that the path laid out had already been accepted by a referendum on 19th March which approved amendments to the constitution by an overwhelming 77 per cent of the vote.

"The people want to transfer power to a civilian administration. This is in the interest of the country," said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood leader. "The Muslim Brotherhood is against postponement and against drafting the constitution before elections."

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Algeria completes discussions on constitutional reforms

Algeria has completed two months of consultations about constitutional reforms. The country's government was propelled to act by the unrest sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East.

Two of Algeria's main opposition parties, the Front for Socialist Forces and the Rally for Culture and Democracy, shunned the process, calling it a sham and saying that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will not adhere to his promises or enforce the reforms. Due to the domestic uprising in Algeria, and various other Arab nations across the globe, on 16th April, Bouteflika promised a new constitution and electoral laws.

Speaking about the trying two months, spokesman for the constitutional commission, Mohammed Ali Boughazi, said: "Our role was to listen to those who came without making comment or judging them…We respect the opinions of one and all, and we render them up to the president of the republic."

It is yet to be announced when Bouteflika will present the new constitution, but some sense of what the new document will contain is expected before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan in August.

A politician who led the country from 1992 to 1995 Ali Kafi dismissed the new reform process, saying it was "trying to give an obsolete system one last breath".

Little of the recommendations have been made public, but certain broad outlines are well known, including limiting the president to two five-year terms, dividing power between a president and a prime minister, ensuring the independence of the judiciary, wresting TV and radio away from State control and accelerating economic growth.

Sources: AP, Forbes, eTaiwan News

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

2011 World Food Prize winners announced

Former Ghanaian president John Agyekum Kufuor, along with former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been given the 2011 World Food Prize award in a ceremony at the US State Department. Kufuor was warded a £155,000 for improving Ghana's cocoa industry and significantly reducing hunger levels in Ghana during his eight years in power.

The World Food Prize Foundation is honouring the two former presidents for creating and implementing government policies that alleviated hunger and poverty in their countries. The winners were commended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Kufuor was also applauded for keeping Ghana on course to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals by cutting in half the proportion of population living in hunger and on less than one dollar per month.

Speaking to Citi News Wednesday June 22nd, Kufuor said: “'I am overjoyed with it because whilst in Government I knew that poverty and hunger went hand in hand and so my Government tried very hard to lift our country out of that bracket. Especially in line with the Millennium Development Goals, the first item was to fight against hunger and poverty. So we did work that passionately hoping to help Ghana. We tried to improve agricultural production because over 60 per cent of our people are rural and they live on agriculture. There is so much unemployment at home so we thought if we improved agriculture, modernised and commercialised it, we will be fighting against unemployment and poverty and along with it hunger, and I think we went some way.”

The two winners will be formally awarded the World Food Prize at the 25th Anniversary Laureate Award Ceremony on 13th October 2011.

Sources: BBC News, Modern Ghana, International Business Times

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

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

UK operations in Libya cost £250 million

According to government officials, UK's expenditure on military operations in Libya is now in the region on £250 million. Full disclosure of the costs is expected to be announced later today.

The UK has been contributing to NATO's mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians since 19th March. Speaking about it, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said civilian casualties drove up costs but the spending showed the UK held the "higher moral ground".

Back in March, when air strikes on Tripoli began, Chancellor George Osborne estimated that the cost of British involvement would be "in the order of tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions". Last week, however, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said it could run "into the hundreds of millions".

Speaking in the House of Commons, Fox said people would "have to take into account that we have used more expensive precision weaponry so that we minimise civilian casualties in Libya…And if we are going to fight operations in the future based on minimising civilian casualties there is clearly a financial price to pay…I think that shows that we are on the moral high ground and that we place a higher value on human life than the Qadhafi regime does.”

Sources: BBC News, Sky News, The Guardian

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

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Political atmosphere far from stable

Despite the apparent low-key military action, the political atmosphere is far from stable. Apart from the deep cleavages between the rebels and the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's regime, there are also cross currents of dissent and criticism by supporters of both sides in the war.

The next stage to be expected is an attack by the rebels in Tripolitania, with specific battles likely for Sirte, Zliten and Tarhuna. Should these be successful, it is probable that the next hurdle will be the establishment of an acceptable constitution which itself will be a difficult time as there is no agreement on leadership, on the role of the president or the alignment of policies. It is, therefore, a very unsure and unstable situation.

Foreign investors should not underestimate the unreliability of individuals and institutions at this critical stage of the would-be revolution.

In recent months, there has been an absence of law and order, and of clear statements concerning the policies of any incoming government. The strength of the Islamists cannot be underestimated. An Islamic-orientated constitution would put co-operation with foreign interests as a low priority, while the emergence of a radical reforming group could result in a very dynamic, if chaotic, surge in development excluding foreign participation.

The security of individuals travelling in Libya is difficult to guarantee as the regional authorities have only weak control over the police and other arms of government. It will take some time before the financial situation is calmed and thus payments abroad become routine. The British Foreign Office continues to advise no travel to Libya.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Yemen: Al-Qa'ida raids a prison freeing militants

On Wednesday 22nd June, armed Al-Qa'ida fighters raided a prison in southern Yemen, freeing dozens of suspected militants, killing one security guard and wounding two others.

Armed with heavy machine guns the militants fought their way through the guards. The prison in Al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, is said to house more than a 100 Qa'ida members, 58 of whom have been tried in court and have received sentences.

Spokesman for the civil society organisations in Hadramawt, Nasser Bakazzuz, has accused Yemeni authorities of assisting Al-Qa'ida with the raid and subsequent freeing of militants.

Speaking about it Bakazzuz said, “The regime is living its last days and wants to create chaos in Hadramawt province ... there was no attack by Al-Qa'ida on the jail to free prisoners.”

Just days ago Yemeni troops killed 12 suspected Al-Qa'ida militants near the southern town of Zinjibar. The rebels were targeted while planting roadside bombs. It is estimated that at least a 100 soldiers have been killed and 260 injured since the violence in Zinjibar erupted more than three weeks ago.

Despite President Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure for Saudi Arabia, where he recently underwent surgery for injuries sustained during an attack on his compound in Sana'a, Yemen remains split between government loyalists in the south and tribesmen and renegade military units in the north. There a fears that the situation is getting out of control and could potentially lead to a civil war.

Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, AFP

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

ODI highlights Ghana's "star performance"

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which is Britain's leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues, has highlighted Ghana's ' star performance' in a new report due to be launched in Accra on 23rd June. “The Ghana Story” is part of a broader global report called ' Mapping Progress: Evidence for a new development outlook, ' based on research from 24 countries.

It lauds Ghana for showing sustained progress for over two decades in various areas including growth, agriculture, healthcare, education and sanitation and says, “ Ghana is on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 1 – halving rates of poverty and malnutrition by 2015. Having raised food production per capita by more than 80 per cent since the early 1980s, Ghana is largely self-sufficient in staple foods.”

According to ODI Director Alison Evans, “ the performance of Ghana is a reason to be optimistic about the country's future. Despite major challenges confronting Ghana's agricultural sector we believe this report provides evidence that progress in development is not only possible, it is happening.”

The Ghana launch will be held at the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) and will also highlight other success stories on the continent.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sudan leaders agree “full demilitarisation” of Abyei

Leaders from north and south Sudan signed an agreement pledging to end fighting in the disputed border region of Abyei, on Monday 20th June.

The agreement was reached after days of mediation by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, in the Ethopian capital of Addis Ababa.

The deal requires both northern and southern troops to leave Abyei, to be replaced by Ethiopian peacekeepers, in an agreement that Mbeki has said will provide for the "full demilitarisation" of Abyei.

Both north and South Sudan claim the oil-rich border region of Abyei, and northern forces seized the town last month, causing over one hundred thousand people to flee, mostly to the south.

Violence in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan has also led to 60,000 people being displaced.

Some 4,000 Ethiopian troops are expected to be brought in after the Sudanese army has left, although the UN will determine the exact troop numbers and their mandate.

With South Sudan planning to declare independence on 9th July, 2011, Mbeki said in his announcement of the deal, it was crucial that the peacekeepers were brought in as soon as possible. He urged the UN Security Council to authorise their deployment without delay.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and pledged “the full support of the United Nations to the parties in facilitating its implementation.”

Ban also urged the two sides to resolve "all outstanding issues related to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and post-secession arrangement, and to reach an immediate cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan State and provide their full co-operation to humanitarian agencies in meeting the needs of the affected population."

The violence, which started on 5th June, continues in Southern Kordofan state. US permanent representative to the UN, Susan Rice, spoke of reports that alleged that forces aligned with the north had “searched for southern forces and sympathisers, whom they arrested and allegedly executed.”

Mbeki said political leaders from Southern Kordofan would be arriving shortly in Addis Ababa to hold talks on ending the conflict.

Violence broke out after residents in the state's Nuba Mountains, many of whom fought for the south during the country's decades-long civil war, were ordered to disarm by the new Khartoum-allied governor, Ahmed Haroun, who has been indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

South Sudan voted overwhelming in favour of independence in a January referendum, prescribed by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which brought civil war to an end.

Abyei was meant to have its own referendum on whether it would stay in the north or join the south, however the vote was postponed indefinitely over disagreements on voter eligibility, to do with the nomadic, Khartoum-backed Misseriya Arab tribespeople.

Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states are clearly in the north, however many of their residents fought with the south during the civil war, and tension has been high as the South prepares to separate.

Sources: BBC News, the Guardian, RTT News

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

NATO helicopter down in Libya

A NATO spokesman, Commander Mike Bracken, has said that an unnamed alliance helicopter has went-down while on a mission in Libya. Bracken declined to elaborate on whether the helicopter was struck on went down due a technical malfunction.

Libya's State television aireda special news report, saying: “Apache helicopter was downed in the area of Majr in Zliten.” It added that this was the fifth NATO aircraft to to go down since the start of NATO's mission. Bracken counteracted the statement, saying NATO has not lost a single airplane.

In related news, NATO has said that its strike on a government forces compound west of Tripoli was a "legitimate military target". Libya has claimed that the strike killed 15 people, including three infants. The claim cannot be independently verified.

The Sorman compound, which was under attack, belongs to Khweildy Al-Hamidy, a member of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's inner circle. Libyan officials have said that al-Hamidy was not hurt in the raid.

NATO issued a statement saying it “regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens…Although we are still determining the specifics of this event, indications are that a weapons system failure may have caused this incident."

NATO's mission to protect Libyan civilians and enforce the no-fly zone has just been extended for a further 90 days due to the on-going political deadlock within the country. The mission was initially set to end on 27th June, after a 90 day period.

Sources: CNN, BBC News, AFP

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

Iraq: More than 20 killed in latest twin suicide bombings

More than 20 people have been killed in two car bomb explosions in the capital city of Diwaniya in the Al-Qadsiyah province. The bombings transpired outside the provincial governor Salim Hussein Alwan's residence. Dozens of people, including policemen, were reinjured in the blasts.

Diwaniya, 130km south of the capital city of Baghdad, is a predominantly Shi'a region and a hotbed for several of Iraq's militant groups.

Speaking to Xinhua news agency, an unnamed provincial official said: "The latest reports said that 25 people were killed and some 34 others were wounded by the double car bomb blasts outside the house of al-Qadsiyah governor…Most of the victims were security guards who were gathering at the site and some other victims were residents inside the neighbouring houses." The source addeded that, "Alwan himself escaped the attack unharmed".

Last week, armed militants and suicide bombers stormed a provincial council building in the city of Baquba, killing at least eight people. Violence in Iraq has deteriorated significantly in the last couple of years but isolated incidents are frequent and underline the challenges facing Iraq's government.

Sources: BBC News, Los Angeles Times, Xinhua

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

Monday, 20 June 2011

Mubarak diagnosed with stomach cancer

Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak, due to face trial on 3rd August for ordering the killing of protesters, has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. According to Mubarak's lawyer Farid El-Deeb, the former president has “stomach cancer and the tumours are growing”.

The former Egyptian leader is in custody in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. Mubarak was initially hospitalised after suffering from heart problems during official questioning. Following a further inquiry Mubarak has been charged with ordering the deaths of protesters during Egypt's uprising.

Last month, Egyptian officials said Mubarak's health was too fragile to move him to prison while he awaited trial. The ousted leader and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, have been charged with "premeditated murder" of demonstrators. If found guilty, Mubarak could face the death penalty.

News of Mubarak's cancer comes days after Spain's National Court set a record bail figure of £24 million following the detention of one of Mubarak's closest associates, Hussein Salem.

Salem appeared in court twice on Friday 17th June - once in connection with a warrant issued from Egypt, and then on suspicion of money laundering in Spain. The Spanish authorities also froze more than €32.5 million in cash, properties worth €10 million euros and five luxury cars.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, The Daily Telegraph

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

Yemen: Twelve suspected Al-Qai'da militants killed in Zinjibar

Yemeni officials have said that the country's troops have killed 12 suspected Al-Qai'da militants near the southern town of Zinjibar. It is believed that the rebels were targeted while planting roadside bombs.

It has also emerged that two soldiers were killed when armed men attacked a military base close to the town. Yemeni officials have said that the al-Qai'da is exploiting a security vacuum within the country due to the on-going political turmoil.

On Sunday 19th June, more anti-government demonstrations were held in the capital city of Sana'a and the southern city of Taiz. Last month, Islamist militants took over Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, making the government's grip on the country weaker than ever.

Yemen is split between President Ali Abdullah Saleh's loyalist in the south and tribesmen and renegade military units in the north. There a fears that the situation is getting out of control and could potentially lead to a civil war.

The protests against Saleh's rule intensified after the president reneged on a deal brokered by the Gulf Arab states to secure a peaceful end to his time in office. Late on Thursday 2nd May, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose power transition plan Saleh refused to sign three times, said it would continue its efforts towards a "peaceful solution".

Saleh is currently in Saudi Arabia, where he recently underwent surgery for injuries sustained during an attack on his compound in Sana'a. It is yet unclear when and if he will ever return to Yemen.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

NATO regrets any “possible loss of life"

NATO has said that a suspected “weapons systems failure” during an air strike in Tripoli may have led to civilian casualties. The strike, carried out on Sunday 19th June, was intended to hit a missile site but "it appears that one weapon" did not strike the target.

NATO is working to enforce UN's resolution to protect Libyan civilians, but on Sunday evening commander of operation, Unified Protector, Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, said: "NATO regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens…Although we are still determining the specifics of this event, indications are that a weapons system failure may have caused this incident."

A statement released by the alliance noted that more than 11,500 sorties had already been conducted and that "every mission is planned and executed with tremendous care to avoid civilian casualties".

In its own statement released earlier, the Libyan government said that NATO bombed a residential neighbourhood, killing nine people including two infants and injuring 18 others. The number of casualties and those injured has not been verified by an independent body.

Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said NATO's attack on Sunday represented a "deliberate targeting of civilian houses". The alliance counteracted the statement saying, it "regretted any possible loss of life".

NATO's mission to protect Libyan civilians and enforce the no-fly zone has just been extended for a further 90 days due to the on-going political deadlock within the country. The mission was initially set to end on 27th June, after a 90 day period.

The situation in the country seems to fluctuate from day to day, and while at one point it seemed as though the rebels were making considerable headway they are now struggling to keep-up the fight due to a lack of finances.

On Sunday, several senior officials from the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) issued an urgent plea for foreign financial aid. It is estimated that they will need more than £1.9 billion to sustain the campaign against Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's forces for the next six months.

Sources: BBC News, The Independent, The Guardian

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

Foreign officials visit Algeria

The two main and related stories which have dominated this week's news have been the visits to Algeria of France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and the visit of a US 'military-political' delegation led by Mark Adams, a senior adviser with the US State Department's Bureau of Political and Military Affairs. Juppé's visit was the first visit of a French foreign minister to Algeria since Bernard Kouchner visited in May 2008.

Both visits - that of the French and the Americans - are follow-ups designed to further cement the 'package' deal between the three countries (US, France and Algeria) that we explained three weeks ago.

The US visit, designed to work with the Algerians in identifying and confirming the threat posed by the weapons flow from Libya to 'terrorists' (i.e. AQIM) in the Sahel, has already run into trouble.

The Americans' arrival in Algiers on Sunday 12th June coincided, most extraordinarily, with a highly publicised engagement between a convoy carrying Libyan armaments, mostly explosives and detonators, and the Niger army. The incident was portrayed as 'proof' of the al-Qa'ida threat.

We have now received highly reliable information from Niger of the identity of the main trafficker involved. He is an individual who is not only well known to us, but even better known to the DRS, with whom he is well associated. In short, this latest piece of 'evidence' of the al-Qa'ida threat, like so much else in the region, is, in fact, nothing more than evidence of the continued exaggeration and duplicity over the security and counter-terrorism situation in the entire north-west African region.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 17 June 2011

Increased trucking charges lead to fuel shortages in Abuja

Long fuel queues have returned to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and neighbouring Kaduna State, following the apparent scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) fuel in these cities.

The fuel scarcity has been attributed to a stand-off over payment of the recent 45 per cent increase in the freight rate approved for transporters of petroleum products by the Federal Government.

The Federal Government increased the transport claims paid to fuel truck owners from N2.75 per litre to N3.99 per litre. The Federal Government, whose obligation it is to pay these claims for long-distance transportation of fuel, directed petroleum marketers to pay these claims in its stead, promising that the marketers would be reimbursed through the Ministry of Finance.

The marketers have refused, however, insisting that the Federal Government either pays the claims itself or allows them to effect an increase in the pump-price to enable them to recover their costs. This led to a stand-off, resulting in the unavailability of fuel at most filling stations in the FCT and Kaduna.

Recently, however, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency invited all stakeholders, including the management of the Petroleum Equalisation Fund, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria, National Association of Road Transport Owners and the representatives of the Ministry of Finance to resolve the issue and bring an end to the impasse.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Dragon Oil's Caspian well tests at 3,038 b/d

Dragon Oil has completed initial testing on a well in the Cheleken contract area, in the Caspian Sea offshore Turkmenistan. The Dzheitune (Lam) 28/156 well reached a depth of 2,000 metres and was completed as a single producer. The initial test result from the well was 3,038 b/d.

The company's oil Chief executive Abdul Jaleel Al Khalifa said: "I am pleased to report the successful completion and initial testing of the Dzheitune (Lam) 28/156 development well, the fifth well to have been completed within the 2011 drilling programme. We continue to optimize well locations to ensure good potential while accessing different areas of the reservoir."

In April, Dragon announced it had a strong first quarter to end-March 2011 with a solid production performance. It now plans to complete 11 wells within the 2011 drilling campaign. Production from the Cheleken contract area averaged approximately 57,800 b/d, up from 47,600 b/d in the first quarter last year.

Sources: Proactive Investors, Dragon Oil

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

Boko Haram bombs Abuja police headquarters

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram have taken responsibility for bombing Nigerian police headquarters in Abuja on Thursday 16th June. Nigerian officials have said that the attack left at least two people dead, one of them reportedly a suicide bomber.

The bombing follows a visit by Nigeria's police Chief Hafeez Ringim to the north-eastern town of Maiduguri, where the group is based. Boko Haram is striving to overthrow the State and implement Islamic law across Nigeria. The group, responsible for killing dozens of police officers, politicians and critics, has recently reformed after the group's leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed in 2009.

Boko Haram has also taken responsibility for several explosions in Abuja, and other States, following President Goodluck Jonathan's inauguration last month. In a statement, about the latest attacks, the group said: “We are responsible for the bomb attack on the police headquarters in Abuja which was to prove a point to all those who doubt our capability.”

Ringim, who visited Maiduguri earlier this week, said that the Boko Haram problem would be solved within months. The group counteracted the statement with a car bomb outside the police headquarters, which exploded minutes after Ringim arrived for work.

A bus commuter who saw the explosion told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme: "All of a sudden there was this loud explosion. Everybody was scared and people began to run around."

Boko haram has killed dozens of people across the country but mainly in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, where it is located.

Sources: BBC News, ABC Online, AFP, Reuters

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

Thursday, 16 June 2011

NATO continues airstrike campaign on Tripoli


NATO is continuing its airstrike campaign in Tripoli, near the fortified Bab Al-Aziziya compound belonging to Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi. The compound has been a key target for months.

It is yet unclear if Qadhafi 's compound has been hit, or wether there have been casualties.

NATO began its air campaign nearly three months ago under a UN resolution to protect Libyan civilians. The country has been in turmoil for months. In March, the alliance imposed a no-fly zone over Libya when Qadhafi's forces threatened to overrun rebel held parts of the country.

A Russian envoy is currently in Tripoli for talks on ending the civil war. Mikhail Margelov, who met with rebel representatives in Benghazi last week, said NATO airstrikes are not a solution to Libya's violent deadlock.

According to the ITAR-Tass news agency, Margelov has already met with Libya's Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati Al-Obeidi and is planning a session with Prime Minister Mahmoud Al-Baghdadi.

Qadhafi's representatives have said the Leader would accept a ceasefire and political talks on the future of the country on the condition that he is allowed to keep his position.

Speaking about the situation, UK's Prime Minister David Cameron said the mission could be sustained as long as was needed, adding: "Time is on our side."

Sources: BBC News, Fox News, Bloomberg

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

More armed attacks in southern Yemen

Groups of gunmen have attacked government buildings in the southern town of Houta, inciting violent clashes that have killed one policeman. The latest attacks follows similar raids, last month, which lead to the capture of two southern cities, Zinjibar and Jaar.

Yemeni officials say the Al-Qai'da is taking advantage of the security vacuum in the country due to the on-going political turmoil. Southern Yemen is a hotbed for Islamic militants, and a branch of Yemeni terrorist network, Al Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

According to several witnesses, the militants, took over the central bank and a police station, along with other key buildings in the city of Houta, the capital of Lahij province.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is currently undergoing treatment in Saudi Arabia for injuries sustained in a rocket attack on his compound in Sana'a earlier this month. It is yet unclear whether or not Saleh will return to Yemen – a country plagued by massive anti-regime protests since February. It is estimated that more than 200 people have been killed during the fighting.

Two weeks ago, the rebels took over parts of the capital of Abyan, the province to the southeast of Lahij. In the city of Zinjibar, security forces continue to battle militants, forcing hundreds of civilians to flee to the port city of Aden.

Sources: BBC News, Boston, Seattle Post Intelligencer

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

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Libya: Security of foreign personnel and assets

There is a measure of safety that is inherent in the current stalemate in the fighting. This is, however, a period of uncertainty and instability, with both sides supplied with money and armaments that are adequate to sustain a military campaign throughout the summer. Foreign investors and suppliers will need to have large resources and support services within one or both of the governments contending for power if they are to have success in this field. The destruction of plants and buildings is continuing, with worst areas being around Misrata, Zintan and Zawiya.

The imminent prospect of foreign involvement in Libyan investment will be either in the form of aid such as the grants made by Kuwait and Qatar towards the costs incurred in the rebel held areas or in specific projects which are key to health such as water provision, hospital facilities and other civil works. It is advised that foreign contractors and suppliers would be wise to keep away from any project which is in the area of challenge between the warring factions unless it can be provisioned by a direct external link and has NATO assent.

The trend appears to be in the strengthening of the rebel forces while the Qadhafi military machine is gradually running down. The immediate end of the war is not expected despite the many forecasts that the Qadhafi clan and its supporting entourage is about to disintegrate.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Ghana: Foreign relations news

Representatives from the government, the Ghana Telecom University College (GTUC) and the Ghana Employers Association, who are currently attending the 100th Session of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, have been elected to serve on the organisation's governing board. Ghana will be represented by Minister for Employment and Social Welfare E. T. Mensah, GTUC Secretary Kofi Asamoah and president of the Ghana Employers Association Terry Darko.

It is unusual for three parties from any single country to be elected simultaneously to the board. Commentators attributed Ghana's performance to efforts made towards improving working conditions for Ghanaians in recent years, including efforts to abolish child labour.

E. T. Mensah told the conference “social justice cannot be achieved if the world continues to develop in a manner that consciously leaves the developing world behind”. While commending the ILO for its commitment to the developing world, he urged the international body to step up its advocacy role to promote fair and balanced international trade and support Africa's efforts to develop and transform its vulnerable economies.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Suspected Mossad spy is a US-Israeli student

A US-Israeli student, Ilan Grapel, suspected to be a Mossad spy is being questioned in Cairo after his arrest on Sunday 12th June. Grapel, 27, is accused of attempting to sabotage Egypt's uprising by inciting sedition.

Speaking about Grapel, Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio: "He has no connection to any intelligence apparatus, not in Israel, not in the US and not on Mars…This is a mistake or strange behaviour by the Egyptians…They have received all the clarifications and I hope the whole story will end quickly.”

On Monday 13th June, Egypt's State Prosecutor issued a statement saying that Grapel had posed as a foreign correspondent covering anti-government protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, with the intention to foment Muslim-Christian tension and turn the people against the army following president Hosni Mubarak's resignation.

Israel insists that despite Grapel's reported "identification" by an allegedly "Israeli organisation," the Egyptian reports of a Mossad agent's arrest are unreliable. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor told the BBC on Monday: "There is no such thing, no Israeli agent has been arrested in Egypt… These reports are false. So far we did not receive any information from the Egyptian authorities on an Israeli citizen who has been arrested."

Sources: BBC News, Bikya Masr, Ynetnews

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

Iraq: Eight killed in Baquba

At least eight people have been killed and dozens more injured when a group of gunmen stormed an Iraqi provincial council building in the central city of Baquba. The attack, in which hostages are believed to have been taken, in Diyala province's capital is the latest test for Iraqi forces as they prepare for the withdrawal of US troops at the end of the year.

Iraqi officials say that the death toll is likely to rise as the gunmen are still inside the building. The eight casualties were victims of a suicide bomber who detonated a car bomb before the gunmen took to the building.

The attack in Baquba, north-east of Baghdad, mirrored a similar attack by suspected Al-Qa'ida insurgents on the Salaheddin government offices in Tikrit on 29th March, leaving more than 50 people dead.

Violence in Iraq has eased since the peak of sectarian fighting in 2006-2007, but Sunni and Shi'a militias still carry out almost daily bombings and killings, which some fear might escalate with the withdrawal of US troops.

Sources: BBC News, The Daily Telegraph, Reuters

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

Sudan to pull troops out of Abyei

Reports have emerged that Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir and the South's Leader Salva Kiir have agreed to withdraw troops from the oil-rich region of Abyei. Last month, Sudan's army seized the disputed town in what the South called an “act of war,” subsequently killing southern soldiers and civilians.

South Sudan is set to become independent in July, after the majority of South Sudanese people voted in favour of secession in January. The status of Abyei is yet to be resolved after a referendum on its future was shelved.

It is estimated that around 140,000 people have fled Abyei and the neighbouring region of South Kordofan because of the violence.

Neither Al-Bashir nor Kiir have confirmed the deal, but experts say the discussions, which took place in Addis Ababa, are a significant step forward. Before heading for the Ethiopian capital, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged both sides to accept the offer of Ethiopian troops to be deployed to the region, which is set to become a demilitarised zone.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi helped mediate the deal.

Abyei was granted a special status under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the two decade civil war between the North and the South. Terms under the agreement stipulate that both sides have to keep their troops out until a referendum to determine Abyei's future.

Sources: BBC News, Sudan Tribune, Voice of America

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

Monday, 13 June 2011

Nigerian economy grappling with cash flow

The Nigerian economy is grappling with growing cash flow issues. It has been reported that almost all available funds are being ploughed into financing the country's huge recurrent expenditure bill, with very little left for capital expenditure projects. Domestic borrowing is also on the rise.

The Pipeline Petroleum Marketing Co, which is Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation's (NNPC) refined products import and export subsidiary, is now indebted to the tune of US$6 billion and virtually cut off from bank credit lines. With the funding debt on modified carry arrangements standing at US$6 billion and arrears on other payments to the oil industry in the region of US$10 billion, NNPC is now effectively insolvent. The country remains supplied with products through offshore processing deals in which crude is exchanged for refined products including gasoline and diesel.

The excess crude account, which is the Federal Government's reserve, is currently only holding about US$6 billion.

The future of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) 2011, which failed to clear before the end of the legislative term on 7th June, now depends on the stance of the Committee of the Whole in the House of Representatives and the Committee of the Whole in the Senate. The committees, which represent all the members, will be formed after the new legislative session which begins on 28th June. They are usually chaired by the deputy speaker or the Senate's deputy president but can be chaired by the speaker or the Senate.

Momentum behind the PIB was lost following the unsuccessful attempt of the immediate past session of the House of Representatives to pass the PIB before the end of its just concluded tenure. Both the Presidency and the Senate have not made any attempts towards seeing through the conclusion of the consideration and passage of the bill and much will depends on ministerial policy.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Algeria starts freeze of Qadhafi's assets

The Algerian media has given widespread coverage this week to the government's announcement that it is freezing Libyan assets in compliance with international sanctions against the Qadhafi regime. This announcement, and its prominence in the media, is an immediate and direct response to the US 'deal', which, as we reported last week, firmly directed Algeria to cease its support for the Qadhafi regime.

Finance Minister Karim Djoudi is reported to have sent a 'secret' instruction to the banks, insurance companies and all local and foreign accredited institutions to freeze assets belonging to members of the Libyan government. It is also reported to order all Libyan assets, including real estate, funds and investments in Algeria to be tracked down and frozen.

According to the daily Arab-language newspaper Echourouk last Sunday (5th June) and subsequently widely reported elsewhere, Djoudi's order, in the form of a letter to the banks and other financial institutions was dated 12th May.

According to our sources, however, no such letter was actually sent on 12th May. Djoudi's reference to such a letter is apparently 'untrue' and merely an attempt to divert any attention away from the US 'deal' and to help further its public denial of support for the Qadhafi regime. According to the Echourouk report, the alleged letter of 12th May reminded the banks of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on 26th February.

Whether Algeria will actually impose these sanctions is another matter altogether.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Egypt's former finance minister sentenced in absentia

The former finance minister Youssef Boutros Ghali has been sentenced in absentia to 30 years in jail on corruption charges and fined LE70 million — around US$11 million. In recent months he has been dividing his time between London and Lebanon, his wife's country of birth, and is on Interpol's wanted list.

He was convicted of squandering US$6 million in public funds and abuse of other funds that he had access to. He was also found guilty of using six luxury limousines for personal use which he took from the customs pound.

It is an extraordinary fall from grace for the man the foreign business and international financial community knew as YBG. They held him in the highest regard as a truly world class minister. He was happy to answer journalists' questions by SMS. He came from the most prominent Coptic political family in Egypt — his great grandfather had been prime minister under the British and his uncle a foreign minister of Egypt and UN secretary general. He was also chair of the IMF's policy advisory committee.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Yemen: Twelve killed by suspected Al-Qai'da militants

Yemen's Defence Ministry has said that at least 12 security troops have been killed by suspected Al-Qai'da militants in the southern province of Abyan. An unnamed official in the region said government troops were making their way to Anyan's capital Zinjibar, and were captured by militants.

The Ministry's statement said the troops were killed in gun-battle in the province's Doves and Kod areas, but gave no further details.

In related news, at least 100 have been injured after supporters of Yemen's embattled leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, fired into the air to celebrate the reportedly successful surgery he underwent in Saudi Arabia.

Security officials have said that at least 40 private cars were damaged by gunfire early on Thursday 09th June. Among the injured were 20 people from Sana'a's square, the epicentre of anti-government demonstrations.

Saleh underwent surgery on Monday 06th June to remove shards of wood from his chest and treat burns on his face from an attack on his Sana'a compound. There is still uncertainty about the seriousness of his injuries. They are not life-threatening but some reports say it will take him weeks to recover. It is, however, far from certain that he will ever return to Yemen.

Sources: Seattle PI, The Associated Press, Atlanta Journal Constitution, AP

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

Italy threatens to take Brazil to international court

Brazil's Supreme Court has ruled that it would not extradite an Italian fugitive Cesare Battisti. Upon hearing the announcement, Italy said it will go to the international court in The Hague to have Brazil's decision overturned.

The decision, made last year by Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was upheld by the court, who ordered Battisti's immediate release from prison in Brasilia. Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed "great regret" over Brazil's decision, adding that it "denies justice to the Italian people and in particular to Battisti's victims".

Battisti, a former left-wing rebel escaped from an Italian jail in 1981, while awaiting trial for four murders in the 1970s. He has always denied the charges, but was convicted of murder in absentia in 1990.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the country “plans to activate immediately every possible judicial mechanism... in particular through The Hague international court." He added that Italy would, "seek to overturn the decision that it holds is not in accordance with...the requirements of international law".

Nine of Brazil's Supreme Court judges voted 6-3 to uphold Lula's decision and deny the extradition. The ruling complies with a bilateral treaty therefore it is thought that Italy does not have legal footing to challenge the decision.

Speaking about it, however, Frattini said the verdict "appears to breach international agreements between the two countries, as well as the profound and age-old blood and friendship ties".

Sources: BBC NEWS, Reuters, CBN News

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

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ghana: Oil and gas industry plans training programme

The management of New Alpha Refinery-Ghana plans to establish a training programme for the oil and gas industry. The South Africa-based company is currently undertaking feasibility studies to establish a tank farm and second refinery in Ghana, to be located in the Western Region.

Executive Chairman Merlyn Julie told the Ghana News Agency in Accra that the training should lead to “jobs for about 4,800 to 5,000 people.” He said the company is in discussions with the Ministry of Energy and other stakeholders to use the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) as a training base.

The New Alpha project will more than quadruple the 45,000 b/d output of TOR and will supply neighbouring countries with refined products including gasoline and jet-fuel. “Ghana's ability to export refined products to neighbouring countries will be a strategic economic venture,” he said.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Obama to inform Congress of Libyan US mission cost

The US House of Representatives voted by 268 to 145 votes in favour of a resolution sponsored by the Republican House Speaker John Boehner which called for Obama to inform Congress within the next two weeks of the scope, duration and costs of the US mission in Libya. The House did, however, reject a resolution calling for an end to US participation in Libya in 15 days.

While American lawmakers and military strategists argue over the importance of US participation in NATO operations in Libya, Washington is continuing to engage with the international community on the issue. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed that she will be travelling to the UAE for the 9th June meeting of the Libyan Contact Group.

It is also understood that the US has involved itself in the well-publicised case of Eman al-Obeidi who, in March this year, in front of international journalists, accused pro-Qadhafi forces of rape. According to her family, the US has assisted the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in her travel from Benghazi to the US. The US State Department has confirmed that it has been monitoring the case, particularly after Al-Obeidi was reportedly expelled from Qatar and returned to Libya.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Brazil: President Rousseff's chief of staff resigns

President Dilma Rousseff's Chief of Staff Antonio Palocci has resigned over corruption allegations and the controversy surrounding his massive personal fortune. Palocci's resignation followed reports in the Brazilian media, saying his personal wealth had increased twentyfold over the course of the last four years. The former chief of staff has denied all allegations.

The scandal - which commenced almost three weeks ago when the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported Palocci's net worth - is a big blow to Rousseff, who took-up office only six months ago.

Before resigning from his post Palocci said the attorney general had confirmed "the legality and rectitude" of his conduct, but that the continuing "thrashing" the government was receiving over this issue could harm Rousseff and her administration.

Upon news of Palocci's resignation, Rousseff thanked Palocci for his “valuable” work and said she regretted his departure. This is the second time Palocci has resigned from public office. In 2006, he stepped down from his post as finance minister over similar corruption allegations. He was later cleared.

Sources: BBC News, Bernama, Reuters

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

Boko Haram suspected to be behind bomb blasts

Reports have emerged that at least 10 people have been killed in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri when a number of police stations were attacked by suspected Boko Haram militants.

Police Commissioner Mohammed Abubakar said Boko Haram members detonated bombs at two police stations, Gwange Police Divisional Headquaters and that of Dandal, and St. Patrick's Church. He said 10 people died in the explosions, including three suspected members of the group and a soldier.

The attacks come just a day after a prominent Muslim cleric, Ibrahim Birkuti, was shot dead by a suspected Boko Haram gunman on a motorcycle. Birkuti had previously openly criticised the Islamic group for killing dozens of security agents and politicians in recent months near the city of Maiduguri.

It is believed that the explosions occurred shortly after Governor Hashim Shettima addressed the House of Assembly and visited the Musa Usman state secretariat, near St Patrick's Church.

Last week, Boko Haram told the BBC it had carried out a series of bombings after President Goodluck Jonathan's inauguration. The group's spokesman said Boko Haram was also responsible for killing the brother of one of Nigeria's most important Islamic leaders.

Sources: BBC News, The National Newspaper, Daily Independent

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