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The National Australia Bank (NAB) faced the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics’ review of the performance of Australia’s banking and financial system on Friday, with CEO Andrew Thorburn probed again on the idea of opening up the bank’s application programming interfaces (API) to external parties.

By 2018, banks in the United Kingdom will be required to effectively open up APIs to enable consumer data to be accessed by competing banks, startups, and other financial institutions — providing the consumer consents. It’s a move the Economics Committee is eager to see implemented in Australia.

According to committee chair, Federal Member for Banks David Coleman, opening up access to consumer data will create a more competitive market as it will make it easier for people to switch banks, which will result in Australians getting better offers from other banks.

Coleman posed the question to Thorburn three times of whether it is in NAB’s commercial interests for currently proprietary data assets to become non-proprietary, to which the bank’s CEO finally responded with: “It could be”.

“We need to innovate, we need to improve, and we welcome competition,” Thorburn later elaborated.

“And on this one, we sir, are supportive of it. We’re supporting the thrust of what you’re saying. We’re just saying that the risks of it need to be clearly identified because if others have access to data, that is clients’ data in our bank, and if that got into the wrong hands, the bank is going to be suffer serious reputational damage with that.”

Antony Cahill, NAB chief operating officer, clarified Thorburn’s vagueness, saying there is “absolutely” commercial opportunity for NAB as opening up APIs will provide the bank with the ability to provide credit — for example — in a more appropriate fashion.

Cahill said he was recently in the United Kingdom speaking with a number of financial services providers, but noted that even though their legislation has been in place for a while, providers in the UK are still working through the commercial implications.

“I think at this stage it is not possible to say whether it’s in our interests or not,” he added. “Our view is if it happens then clearly we’ll think about the commercial implications and how we can adapt to that.”

NAB’s submission to the committee previously requested effectively leaving the process to the industry; however, Coleman said he was concerned that an industry-led model — given the big banks would have a large say in it — may not lead to a speedy implementation.

“We’re very supportive of taking this forward. We welcome the initiative, we think it’s good, but it just needs to be carefully managed with the risks identified and mitigated,” Thorburn added on Friday. “Otherwise we’re very concerned for clients’ data.”

When probed by the committee previously, Thorburn said he agreed with the concept of opening up APIs in principle, but cited a whole range of procedural hurdles.

“That is how this bank has survived and competed for 150 years. And now we have new competition — fintechs that are coming at us — and we welcome that, too,” Thorburn said at the time. “We have to lift and get better, and that is good for customers.”

“We’re happy to proceed with the conversations that are happening — the industry discussions — to open that up. And I would say that we have been a bank that has actually been leading in this space with our work on APIs and comprehensive credit reporting.”

Cahill also pointed to the recent announcement ANZ made surrounding opening up some of the bank’s APIs to third-party developers.

“We’ve done a huge amount of work in relation to APIs. We’re working with Xero, a number of other external parties at the moment in terms of data sharing, because we believe if we can provide better products and services to our customers then commercially we can be more successful and we can effectively provide a better proposition to customers,” Cahill added.

“I think when talking to some of the UK banks, their view is where it may not be commercially beneficial is quite simply if we don’t prepare for this, if we don’t start to think about what are the opportunities that would be created, how might we use the data, how may we adapt — I think that’s the key question.”

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), Westpac, and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) are due to face the committee over the coming days, after telling the committee previously they would be in a position to support the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) if it were to be charged with developing a binding framework to facilitate the sharing of data, making use of APIs, and ensuring that appropriate privacy safeguards are in place to allow such a practice.

(via PCMag)

ERBIL, Iraq Rival Kurdish groups clashed in Iraq’s northwestern Sinjar region on Friday, two Kurdish security sources said, causing deaths on both sides.

The fighting erupted when Peshmerga Rojava forces deployed towards the border with Syria, encroaching on territory controlled by a local affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The unrest highlights the risk of conflict and turf wars between the multiple forces arrayed against Islamic State, many of which lean on regional patrons for political support or arms.

“There are martyrs and wounded on both sides,” one security source said.

The Peshmerga Rojava force is made up of Kurds from Syria and was formed and trained in Iraq with the backing of Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region who enjoys good relations with Turkey.

Turkey is at war with the PKK, which established a foothold in Sinjar after aiding Iraq’s Yazidi population when Islamic State overran the area in the summer of 2014, and set up a local franchise known as the YBS.

In a statement on Friday, the YBS said the fighting began when the Peshmerga Rojava tried to seize its positions in the town of Khanasor. The YBS accused Turkey of instigating the violence.

“It is a totally provocative initiative,” the YBS said.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Friday said the PKK posed “a threat against the legitimate regional government in Northern Iraq and they are used by some countries against the current administration there.”

“It’s our duty to destroy these terrorist organizations wherever they are,” the minister told reporters in Ankara.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Robert Birsel and Richard Lough)


ERBIL, Iraq Rival Kurdish groups clashed in

The Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben. Credit: Carl Vivianб University of Leicester

A team from the University of Leicester’s Department of Engineering has, for the first time ever, vibration-mapped the famous London bell Big Ben in order to reveal why it produces its distinct harmonious tone.

The group, from the Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Centre (ASDEC) at the University of Leicester, measured four of Big Ben’s chimes, taking place at 9AM, 10AM, 11AM and 12 noon.

The ASDEC team used a measurement technique called ‘laser Doppler vibrometry’. This involved creating a 3D computer model of Big Ben and then using lasers to map the vibrations in the metal of the bell as it chimed.

ASDEC, working with the BBC, measured the of Big Ben in an unprecedented level of detail after being given exclusive access to the iconic structure.

Using two Scanning Laser Doppler Vibrometers, the team were able to characterise Big Ben without touching it providing high-density vibration measurements without any loss of accuracy or precision.

The findings of the mapping project will be revealed during a BBC documentary entitled ‘Sound Waves: The Symphony of Physics’, which will be broadcast at 9:00PM on Thursday 2 March on BBC4 and is hosted by Dr Helen Czerski.

Martin Cockrill, a Technical Specialist from the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester, who leads ASDEC’s measurement team and appears in the documentary, said: “Aside from the technical aspects one of the most challenging parts of the job was carrying all of our equipment up the 334 steps of the spiral staircase to the belfry. Then to get everything set up before the first chime, we were literally working against the clock.

“Many of the vibrations in the metal of Big Ben are too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. But this is what we were able to map using the lasers and not just one or two points on the surface; we were able to get over 500 measurements across the surface which just wouldn’t have been possible with previous technologies.”

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster.

The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, renamed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012.

According to the University of Leicester research team, Big Ben is thicker than other bells of a similar size, weighing more and as a result having a higher pitch than expected for its diameter.

When a bell is struck, the impact causes a number of different vibrations or modes.

The frequency and intensity of these modes are predominantly affected by the profile of the bell.

“This was such a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Martin Cockrill, “one which was perfectly matched to our skills and resources. You cannot just glue sensors to a national treasure such as Big Ben. Our ability to do the whole thing quickly without touching the bell was key to the whole project.”

Martin Cockrill and Max Chowanietz led the team from a technical point of view undertaking the measurements with two other members of the team, Chris Howe and Amy Stubbs doing the legwork.

Max is a graduate engineer with ASDEC who completed a General Engineering Degree at the University of Leicester in 2014 and has since followed his passion.

Max said: “It was a privilege to be part of such a unique project, especially so early in my career.”

Explore further:
Ding dong measurement on high

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April 3, 2016

Panama Papers leaked; Sharif family under spotlight

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made nearly 11.5 million secret documents public. The documents contained confidential attorney-client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, with the source of these leaks being a Panamanian financial law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Eight offshore companies were reported to have links with the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Opposition parties jumped at the opportunity to register their protests and mobilise supporters to rally against Mr Sharif.

April 5, 2016

Under-pressure PM announces probe

Realising that silence may deepen the crisis, PM Sharif went on PTV to address the nation and clear the air. The prime minister began his speech with a subtle acknowledgment of the fact that he was using state apparatus to address personal matters and excused himself for that. Visibly concerned by the potential unrest the leaks could cause in the given political climate, Mr Sharif said he was open to the formation of a judicial commission to probe his family’s alleged finances in offshore tax havens.

April 10, 2016

Imran wants CJP to head commission

PTI chief Imran Khan asked the government to form an inquiry commission led by the then serving Chief Justice of Pakistan, Anwar Zaheer Jamali. The government was keen on having former Supreme Court judges on the bench.

April 13, 2016

Five ex-SC judges refuse to lead inquiry

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan revealed that the former SC judges contacted by the government to head the inquiry commission had declined to do so. According to the minister, “all of these judges after taking the time to think over the matter refused to lead the commission without giving any reasons”.

Three days later, despite criticism from the press and political parties, Mr Sharif took off for London citing a medical check-up for five days.

April 16, 2016

PML-N proposes ToR

A government team headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar finalised the terms of reference (ToR) for the proposed inquiry commission — which would define the scope within which the investigation would take place. Maryam Nawaz expressed annoyance over PML-N’s response not being “robust” enough. The opposition parties, however, were still unclear on how to go about the investigation. Three days later, the PM returned to Pakistan, eyeing a difficult job ahead of him.

April 22, 2016

‘Will resign if proven guilty’, says Sharif in second state address

In another address to the nation, Mr Sharif announced that his government had decided to formally ask the then CJP to set up a judicial commission for investigations into the Panama Papers leaks.“If charges are proved against me, I will resign immediately,” vowed Mr Sharif.

On April 25, rejecting the inquiry commission proposed by the government, leaders from the PTI, PPP, MQM and PML-Q demanded that the ToR of any such commission be drafted in consultation with the opposition.

May 3, 2016

Opposition presents ToR

After a joint meeting between opposition parties, a set of ToR was presented to the government and the media. The ToR emphasised on initiating the inquiry into offshore holdings, starting with the Sharif family. Two days later, the government rejected the opposition’s draft of the ToR for an inquiry commission.

May 13, 2016

SC rejects inquiry commission

The Panamagate controversy took a new turn when the SC returned the federal government’s request to appoint an inquiry commission to investigate the leaked documents’ connection with the Sharif family.

Three days later, PM Sharif attempted to explain the ownership of his London flats. The money used to purchase the flats in Park Lane, he said, was linked to properties the Sharif family sold off in Pakistan decades ago. However, the PTI claimed that the PM had misled the National Assembly.

May 18, 2016

Consensus to form ToR committee

After much back and forth, the government and the opposition agreed to form a 12-member committee in order to draft joint ToR for the inquiry commission. After a meeting with opposition members, the then information minister, Pervaiz Rasheed, said the government and the opposition would name six legislators each to form the parliamentary committee.

Four days later, Nawaz flew to London for heart surgery scheduled to be performed on May 31.

June 4, 2016

The ToR stalemate

The 12-member bipartisan parliamentary committee seemed to have hit a dead end as both sides were not only refusing to budge from their positions on the issue of offshore companies but were also accusing each other of toughening their stance. Later that month, opposition parties said they would take to the streets if the government did not review its position on the ToR.

June 24, 2016

PTI files petition with ECP against Sharif

The PTI filed a reference with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seeking disqualification of PM Sharif for allegedly concealing his assets. Three days later, the PPP also petitioned the ECP to disqualify the prime minister and his family members.

July 9, 2016

Nawaz returns to Pakistan after 48 days

Mr Sharif returned from London, kicking off discussions among analysts about what he should now do to secure his future as the chief executive of the country. As he returned to work and was updated on the economic, security and political situation, PM Sharif was also determined to devise a plan to counter the PTI chief’s ‘propaganda’.

Aug 29, 2016

Seeking PM’s disqualification, PTI files petition with SC

The PTI filed a petition with the SC seeking disqualification of PM Sharif from his office as well as from the NA. The petition was filed by PTI’s counsel Naeem Bukhari on behalf of party’s chairman Imran Khan. It was filed against 10 respondents, including Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, sons and government institutions.

Oct 7, 2016

PTI’s next plan: Islamabad lockdown

The PTI chairman called on party workers to lay siege to Islamabad on Oct 30, telling them to paralyse the capital until PM Sharif resigned or presented himself for accountability.

In a bid to increase pressure on the government, on Oct 10, the PTI asked the SC to hold an early hearing of its petition seeking disqualification of the PM, his son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar and Senator Ishaq Dar for their alleged involvement in the Panamagate scandal.

Oct 20, 2016

SC accepts petitions

The SC started accepting petitions filed by the PTI, JWP, JI and others to begin the proceedings. “I welcome the judicial proceedings in connection with Panama Papers,” said the prime minister in a reply.

Almost a week later, the SC formed a five-judge larger bench to hear petitions regarding Panamagate. Earlier, a three-member bench accepted petitions filed by the PTI and Sheikh Rashid asking for the prime minister’s disqualification.

Oct 31, 2016

Imran’s lockdown threat gets serious

The PTI chief called on supporters to gather in the capital, but the numbers weren’t impressive. The government placed shipping containers to block off routes from Punjab and KP into Islamabad.

Later on Nov 1, it was a win-win for all sides when the SC asked the government and the PTI to present their respective ToR, in case the court decided to constitute an inquiry commission. The order allowed Imran Khan to call off his plan to lock down the capital, while the PM accepted the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the Panama Papers scam, which had been a bone of contention between the two parties since the scandal broke in April.

Nov 7, 2016

Sharif children submit replies to SC

The counsel for PM Sharif, Salman Aslam Butt, informed the SC bench that Hassan Nawaz had been running a business lawfully for 22 years and Hussain for 16 years. He added that Maryam Nawaz was not dependent on her father. Denying allegations levelled in the petitions, Maryam said she was not the beneficial owner of Nielsen and Nescoll, but only a trustee.

Nov 14, 2016

PTI submits evidence, PML-N lawyer presents Qatari letter

The SC questioned the quality of the evidence presented by the PTI and deplored that their 680-page submission had almost nothing to do with the Sharif family’s London properties. The Sharif children’s newly engaged counsel, Mohammad Akram Sheikh, presented the court with an attested letter from a former Qatari prime minister, Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, with yet another explanation for the London flats. The SC was not pleased to hear another explanation for how the Sharif family paid for its London properties and said that both sides were doing their best to ensure that the court would eventually have to form a commission to decide the Panamagate case.

Dec 9, 2016

CJ Jamali’s retirement halts proceedings

Proceedings in the case ended on Dec 9, 2016, as CJ Zaheer Jamali was scheduled to retire. The SC said that arguments from both sides would start afresh when hearings resumed in January. A five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Khosa had been constituted by the SC to resume the hearing from Jan 4.

On Dec 31, 2016, PM Sharif and his children submitted to the SC documents notifying a change of counsel. According to the documents, advocate Makhdoom Ali Khan would represent the PM and Salman Akram Raja would appear on behalf of his children.

Jan 4, 2017

New bench resumes hearing

The case hearing resumed when the five-judge bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, was informed about details of the offices held by PM Sharif during his political career. PTI’s counsel Naeem Bukhari sought the court’s permission to refer to a number of interviews of the PM, his spouse and children to highlight that every one took a different stand regarding ownership of the London properties.

Jan 6, 2017

Burden of proof becomes a sticking point

Members of the SC bench hearing the Panamagate case expressed divergent opinions over which side shouldered the burden of proof. While Justice Asif Khosa — who heads the bench — placed the burden of proof on Prime Minister Sharif’s family, Justice Azmat and Justice Ejaz differed

On Jan 12, 2017, the prime minister’s counsel was quizzed about a money trail for the London flats.

Jan 13, 2017

Sharif family’s flats purchased in 1990s, BBC report reveals

Properties owned by the Sharif family in London’s upscale Park Lane neighbourhood were purchased in the 1990s and there has been no change of ownership since then, BBC Urdu reported.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on Jan 23 tweeted documents to ‘help’ Pakistanis form their own opinion on the role of Prime Minister Sharif’s daughter in the Panamagate case.

On Jan 26, a second letter was floated by Hussain Nawaz’s counsel, ‘clarifying’ Sharif’s investment in Gulf Steel Mills.

Feb 15, 2017

PTI presents ‘new evidence’

The bench postponed day-to-day proceedings after Justice Saeed had to be rushed to the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology following chest pains on Jan 31. The prime minister’s counsel argued that the petitioners had failed to link Mr Sharif to any wrongdoing. Since no serious charge could be established against the prime minister except general allegations, there was no possibility of holding his children accountable for the allegations levelled by petitioners.

Feb 18, 2017

Consider Qatari letters void, Imran asks SC

Imran Khan submitted an affidavit to the SC, asking it to ignore the two Qatari letters produced by the Sharif family as evidence of their stance in the case.

On Feb 22, the Attorney General of Pakistan told the bench that the case record in the Hudaibiya reference had been examined and that the company had obtained loans through foreign currency accounts. At this, Justice Saeed expressed the bench’s frustration by saying that the lawyers were issuing different statements each time which was confusing the bench.

Feb 23, 2017

Panamagate hearings conclude; judgement awaited

After both the defence and prosecution completed their arguments, the apex court said it would reserve its verdict on the Panamagate case and issue a detailed judgment. “We will decide this case only by the law…such that people will say 20 years down the line that this judgment was made by the book,” said Justice Khosa.

Reporting by Hasham Cheema, Nasir Iqbal, Irfan Raza, Amir Wasim, Naveed Siddiqui and Haseeb Bhatti. Illustration by Fahad Naveed. Creative Department: Xpert Services. Layout by Salman Khan. To read more, visit

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2017

(via Google News)

April 3, 2016Panama Papers leaked; Sharif family

03 March 2017

Kuwait City, Kuwait: Ooredoo, Kuwait’s fastest network, attended a number of important meetings during the company delegation’s visit to the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona earlier this week. The company’s delegation, headed by CEO Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Thani, included a number of the company’s senior managers and chief officers.

During the visit, Ooredoo CEO and delegation visited Huawei’s pavilion, which displayed a number of the company’s latest information and communication technology solutions and products such as smartphones, routers, and innovation city solutions.

Ongoing Partnership

Ooredoo CEO met with a number of important high-ranking officials in Huawei to discuss ways for further enhancing cooperation between the two companies. Commenting on this, Ooredoo Kuwait’s General Manager and CEO Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Thani said: “We have great confidence in Huawei as a partner who will support us in reaching our goals, and we look forward for reaching bigger milestones in the future together.”

On his part, Huawei board member Steven Yi reiterated Huawei’s commitment to support its partners in their mission, noting that the company is working extensively with Ooredoo on projects for advanced network modernization. “We are proud of our partnership with Ooredoo, and look forward for more achievements in the future together. Our partnership with Ooredoo extends beyond upgrading the network infrastructure, and we aspire to achieve our mutual goals.”


Ooredoo’s delegation visited a number of pavilions in the exhibition, and were introduced to the latest technologies from different service providers in the telecom industry.

Leading the Industry

Ooredoo’s delegation attended the CMO Council Meeting, which included a number of global leaders in marketing. The meeting aims to discuss how brands can enhance Omni-channel management with carrier-driven insight. The meeting included presentations by industry leaders from some of the world’s leading companies.

As part of the visit to the Mobile World Congress, Ooredoo CEO met with the Open ROADS community president Dr. Liang, to discuss ways to enhance digital transformation awareness in the telecom industry. Ooredoo CEO is a permanent board member in the Open ROADS community. Founded by Huawei, a pioneer in the field of telecommunications technology, the Open ROADS community stands for “real-time on-demand all-online do-it-yourself and social,” an invitation to the digital world to all companies in the telecom and related industries. It brings together leading voices from across the information and communication technology industry to answer the questions posed by the transformation to digital business.

Ooredoo Kuwait announced earlier its intention to participate in the World Mobile Congress with Ooredoo Group, which displayed their next-generation solutions and services in their pavilion, demonstrating the incredible progress the group’s companies have made in recent years.


About Ooredoo Kuwait
Ooredoo’s operations in Kuwait date back to December 1999 when it launched wireless services as the second operator.  The company today provides mobile, broadband internet and corporate managed services tailored to the needs of customers and businesses. Ooredoo is guided by its vision of enriching people’s lives and its belief that it can stimulate human growth by leveraging communications to help people achieve their full potential.

Twitter: @OoredooKuwait  
Instagram: OoredooKuwait  
YouTube: /OoredooinKuwait  

About Ooredoo  
Ooredoo is a leading international communications company delivering mobile, fixed, broadband internet and corporate managed services tailored to the needs of consumers and businesses across markets in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. As a community-focused company, Ooredoo is guided by its vision of enriching people’s lives and its belief that it can stimulate human growth by leveraging communications to help people achieve their full potential. Ooredoo has a presence in markets such as Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Palestine, the Maldives, Myanmar and Indonesia. The company was named “Most Innovative Company of the Year – MEA Region” at the 2015 International Business Awards.

The company reported revenues of US$ 9.1 billion in 2014 and had a consolidated global customer base of 114.9 million customers as of 30 September 2015. Ooredoo’s shares are listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

Twitter: @Ooredoo                                              

© Press Release 2017

© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.

Via Zawya

DHAKA Bangladeshi police have arrested the head of an Islamist militant group accused of inspiring followers to kill foreigners, the chief of the counter-terrorism unit said on Friday.

Shaikh Mohammad Abul Kashem, who founded an offshoot of the larger Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) group, was picked up on Thursday night in the Senpara Parbata area of the capital, Dhaka.

Kashem worked alongside Canadian citizen Tamim Chowdhury and Nurul Islam Marjan, two men police accused of masterminding an attack on an upscale Dhaka cafe in July in which 22 people were killed, most of them foreigners, Monirul Islam, the counter- terrorism chief, said.

“On the basis of a tip-off from a secret source, our force arrested him from the area when he was going to receive money that came through a mobile banking system,” Islam said.

According to police, Kashem, who wrote several jihadi books and headed a religious school in northern Bangladesh, taught followers of his group, called Neo JMB, that killing foreigners would ease their path to heaven.

“His followers preferred to kill foreigners,” Islam said.

“We have been trying to catch him on the basis of previously arrested militants, but every time he could escape.”

Bangladesh has been battling a rise in Islamist-linked violence in the past four years, and since July has arrested or killed several men accused of involvement in the cafe siege.

Since 2013, 48 people have been killed or seriously wounded by Islamist militants in Bangladesh, including at least six online critics of religious militancy who were hacked to death, among them a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Tommy Wilkes, Robert Birsel)


DHAKA Bangladeshi police have arrested the head

Total Islamic banking assets in the UAE have increased to about AED520 billion ($141.5 billion), about 7 percent of the global total, it has been revealed.

Saif Hadef Al Shamsi, assistant governor for Monetary Policy and Financial Stability at the UAE Central Bank, said that Islamic banking’ assets account for around 20 percent of AED2.6 trillion of the total assets of the state’s banks.

He added in comments published by state news agency WAM that there are seven Islamic banking and financial institutions operating in the country.

The assistant governor said Islamic banking deposits increased by 42 percent over the past three years, compared to an 18 percent growth rate in conventional banking institutions, and that lending by Islamic banks increased by 54 percent in the same period.

His comments comes as Dubai launched an updated strategy for 2017-2021 to establish the emirate as the capital of the Islamic economy in January.

The Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC) said the refreshed strategy focuses on ensuring long-term impact, with its main objective to lead the growth of the Islamic economy sectors on a local, regional and international scale, and to set a benchmark for the Islamic ecosystem worldwide.

At the heart of the strategy are three key pillars – Islamic finance, Halal sector, and Islamic lifestyle that includes culture, art, fashion and family tourism, a statement said.

Knowledge, standards and digital Islamic economy serve as cornerstones in supporting the pillars while playing a pivotal role in shaping an enabling environment for sustainable investments and real development, it added.

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Total Islamic banking assets in the UAE

HARARE Zimbabwe has appealed for international help for victims of floods that have left 246 people dead and displaced hundreds since December when torrential rains started pounding a country emerging from severe drought.

An El Nino-induced drought last year scorched crops in the southern African country, leaving more than 4 million in need of food aid, but Zimbabweans are now having to contend with floods after receiving above-normal rains.

Minister for local government Saviour Kasukuwere said floods had swept through villages in the southern and southwestern parts of Zimbabwe, destroying roads, crops and livestock and forcing people into temporary government shelter.

Kasukuwere said nearly 2,000 people were homeless, 74 schools were damaged and 70 dams had burst.

President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government has struggled to manage the inundation, whose effects were most severe in the areas hit hardest by last year’s drought. Urban areas have not been spared, with many roads badly damaged.

“I am therefore appealing to the development partners, private sector and general public, inclusive of those in the diaspora, to rally with the government to support the emergency relieve programs,” Kasukuwere said in a statement.

The government is seeking tents, drugs and food for those displaced by the floods, he added.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley)


HARARE Zimbabwe has appealed for international help

SoleNet and Sure Telecom are prohibited from carrying on as a business or providing any telecommunications services for a period of two years, the Australian Federal Court ordered on Friday.

In addition, the companies and their director James Harrison have been ordered to pay AU$250,000 in penalties.

As of April 1, 2017, Harrison is also disqualified from managing corporations for three years.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched Federal Court proceedings against the Harrison Communications, the parent company of SoleNet and Sure Telecom, in April 2016 for breach of Australian Consumer Law.

In December 2016, the companies were found guilty of engaging in unconscionable conduct and undue harassment of customers between 2013 and 2015.

The court said SoleNet and Sure Telecom restructured the businesses to avoid regulatory sanctions and unpaid debts to regulators during the time in question.

Customers were transferred from one company to the other without their knowledge or informed consent, where they were met with unjustified demands for payment of early termination or cancellation fees amounting, in some cases, to harassment.

In delivering his judgment on Friday, Justice Moshinsky said “the contravening conduct was serious, deliberate, and extended over a period of about two to three years” and “was not ad hoc, but systemic and planned”.

“Mr Harrison, the sole director of the companies, was ‘hands-on’ in managing their day-to-day operations and was intimately involved in their conduct,” Moshinsky J added.

The judge also ordered SoleNet/Sure Telecom and Harrison to take reasonable steps to refund customers whose contracts were transferred from one SoleNet/Sure Telecom company to another within 60 days from Friday. ACCC’s costs are to be paid as well.

“The disqualification of Mr Harrison as a director sends a clear message that directors have responsibility to ensure their businesses comply with the Australian Consumer Law,” said Delia Rickard, ACCC deputy chair.

(via PCMag)

SYDNEY The dollar clung to broad gains on Friday as the risk of an imminent U.S. interest rate hike slugged sovereign bonds and commodities, even managing to sour Wall Street’s party as the reality of rising borrowing costs began to sink in.

Spread betters pointed to opening losses for European stocks and E-mini futures for the S&P 500 were off 0.3 percent.

Asian markets were mostly lower, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down 0.9 percent in the biggest daily drop so far this year.

Australia fell 0.8 percent and Shanghai 0.4 percent. Japan’s Nikkei eased 0.7 percent as a weaker yen only helped limit some of the losses.

South Korean shares dropped to a two-week low early as reports came in that China had ordered tour operators to stop selling trips to the country, amid rising tensions over the deployment of a U.S. missile-defense system.

A chorus line of Fed officials singing of the need for higher rates has seen the implied probability of a move this month shoot to 74 percent, from just 30 percent at the start of the week.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer are both due to speak later on Friday and are expected to stick to the same tune.

“The U.S. dollar has been snapped up across the board as a March Fed hike is heavily priced in,” said Sean Callow, a senior currency strategist at Westpac.

“All it took was about a hundred comments from Fed officials, but markets have finally decided that “fairly soon” means less than two weeks and that perhaps 3 hikes this year means 3 hikes this year.”

That was enough to make even Wall Street pause, and the Dow fell 0.53 percent, while the S&P 500 lost 0.59 percent and the Nasdaq 0.73 percent.

Caterpillar was among the biggest casualties, shedding 4.2 percent on news that federal law enforcement officials searched its Illinois facilities.

The prospect of a Fed hike on March 15 saw yields on two-year Treasury notes shatter their recent range to reach ground last trod in mid-2009.

With the European Central Bank still acting to suppress short-term euro rates, the spread between U.S. and German two-year yields yawned out to 214 basis points, the widest since early 2000 and up from a low of 183 in January.

That shoved the euro down to $1.0515 and set up a test of major support at the February low of $1.0492. The dollar likewise held at 114.18 yen and eyed the recent peak of 114.95. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar eased a fraction to 102.010 after touching its highest since Jan. 11.

That strength was not good news for commodities priced in dollars with everything from gold to copper taking a hit.

Gold was stuck at $1,233.50 an ounce, after suffering its biggest one-day decline since December on Thursday.

Oil prices took an extra blow after Russian crude production remained unchanged in February, showing weak compliance with a global deal to curb supply to tighten the oversupplied market.

Early Friday, U.S. crude was up 6 cents at $52.67, having shed more than 2 percent on Thursday, while Brent edged up 7 cents to $55.15 per barrel.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Shri Navaratnam)


SYDNEY The dollar clung to broad gains

Good news to fossil fuel companies. Bad news to advocates of the environment.

The agency tasked to provide regulation and environmental protection on Thursday scrapped the order that requires oil and gas operators to report on their equipment and level of methane emissions.

The order, issued in May 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency, was one of the major actions of the Obama administration to combat climate change and protect public health in line with its goal to cut methane emissions to as high as 40 to 45 percent by 2025 from 2012 levels.

“Today, we are underscoring the [Obama] administration’s commitment to finding commonsense ways to cut methane,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said when the order was issued last year. Methane, a known pollutant, is a greenhouse gas 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The new EPA administrator, however, has a different take.

First Action In Office

Scott Pruitt, the newly sworn-in administrator, in scrapping the rule, said the agency is “signalling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states.”

Pruitt was referring to a letter from the attorneys-general of 11 states dated March 1 when he talked of “concerns” and “partnership with the states.”

The letter asked the EPA chief to “suspend and withdraw” the reporting rule.

“Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry,” he announced.

The decision to scrap the order once again highlights Pruitt’s deep ties with fossil fuel industry leaders when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. It was his first order since his ascent to office.

The move also happened just days after the White House proposed to reduce by at least 20 percent EPA’s budget. With decreased funding, the agency is set to trim down the number of employees by a quarter.

First Step To Undo Obama’s EPA

The decision was not received well by environment advocates who maintained that the decision is a message for “oil and gas companies to go ahead and withhold vital pollution data from the American public.”

With the withdrawal of the order, Mark Brownstein, vice president of climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, lamented, “it’s a complete lack of transparency”.

The Thursday decision is perceived as the first step to undo the Obama administration’s actions to regulate pollutants from fossil fuel companies. In Congress, a move is underway through the Congressional Review Act to do away with some regulations that will restrict methane emissions among oil and gas companies.

Welcomed By The Industry Officials But

Oil and gas sector officials have applauded the action, saying the order resulted in “added unnecessary burdens.”

“The exercise imposed significant costs on companies,” Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said.

The recent EPA decision, however, could result in more greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere in the absence of environmental tracking.

© 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

(Via TechTimes)

Good news to fossil fuel companies. Bad

Behavioral studies of elephant sleep in zoos record that they sleep around four hours per day and can sleep standing up or lying down — but how much do they sleep and how do they sleep in their natural environment? Researchers have made use of small activity data loggers, scientific versions of the well-known consumer fitness and wellness tracker, Fitbit, to study the sleeping patterns of elephants in the wild.

(via WSJ)

Behavioral studies of elephant sleep in zoos

By Praveen Menon and Angie Teo

KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia condemned the use of VX, the super toxic nerve agent that killed the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a Kuala Lumpur airport last month, as authorities on Friday prepared to deport a North Korean suspect.

Kim Jong Nam was murdered on Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he was assaulted by two women who allegedly smeared his face with VX, a chemical classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

“The Ministry strongly condemns the use of such a chemical weapon by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances. Its use at a public place could have endangered the general public,” the Malaysian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it was in close contact with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an inter-governmental organisation based in the Netherlands, regarding the incident.

“Malaysia does not produce, stockpile, import, export or use any Schedule 1 toxic chemicals including VX, and has made annual declarations to that effect to the OPCW,” the statement said.

Relations between Malaysia and North Korea, who have maintained friendly ties for decades, have soured since the killing of Kim Jong Nam at the airport two weeks ago.

North Korea’s envoy to Malaysia has said earlier that police investigations in the case cannot be trusted. North Korea has not accepted that the dead man is Kim Jong Nam, and said on Thursday that its citizen may have died of a heart attack.

South Korean intelligence and U.S. officials say the murder was an assassination organised by North Korean agents, though the only suspects charged in the case so far are an Indonesian woman and a Vietnamese woman.


Kim Jong Nam was waiting at the departure hall of the airport when he was assaulted by two women, a Vietnamese and an Indonesian, who wiped his face with a liquid, identified by an autopsy as VX. He died within 20 minutes of the attack.

Both women were charged with murder earlier this week. They have told diplomats from their home countries that they thought they were participating in a prank for reality television.

Another North Korean suspect, who was arrested on Feb 18 over the killing was released from a detention centre on Friday, and driven away in a police convoy, a Reuters witness said.

Ri Jong Chol, who had been detained a few days after the killing was taken to the immigration office wearing a bullet proof vest to prepare his deportation to North Korea.

Malaysia’s attorney-general told Reuters on Thursday that he would be released due to insufficient evidence.

Police have identified seven other North Koreans wanted in connection with the killing, including a senior embassy official in Kuala Lumpur. Four of them have left the country and are believed to be in Pyongyang.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL; writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)


For Friday’s sermon, the imam will discuss the rights of elderly people in society.

Islam attributes a special status to the elderly and orders its followers to treat them with respect and show compassion to them in their old age. Honouring the old is even associated with exalting Allah, worshippers will hear.

In Islam, serving older people, treating them mercifully, providing for their needs and comfort and taking care of their health and well-being are duties incumbent on each Muslim.

The imam will tell the faithful that it is right for the elderly, man or woman, to have priority in all aspects of daily life.

“The youth must give precedence to the old-aged at government service departments by offering them their seats or allowing them to take their turn in the queue,” the imam will say.

“They should also give them the preference to enter first and to cross the road. Indeed, they are successful those who embrace such gracious conducts and will, by Allah’s favour, attain great rewards.”

Another aspect of the Prophet’s respect and mercy towards the elderly is that he instructed Muslims not to prolong prayers when they lead worshippers, lest it becomes a burden for the elders amongst them.

He said: “If anyone of you leads the people in the prayer, he should shorten it for amongst them are the weak, the sick and the old.”

The imam will explain that showing the utmost care and dutifulness to the elderly is among the noblest deeds.

“This is because our past, which is a source of pride to us, and the bounties of the present that we are cherishing are all the produce of our grey-haired ones. It is our duty, therefore, to show gratitude to them for all the good they did to us. This is in line with the teachings of the Quran in which Allah, the Almighty says: ‘is the reward for good [anything] but good?’ (Ar-Rahman: 60)

“It is such a gracious attitude that one sit with the elderly and check on their well-being, share their memories with them, benefit from their experiences and listen to their words of mouth. We should also raise their spirits by receiving them well, showing hospitality to make them feel our happiness for meeting them, in addition to filling their spare times by engaging them with activities that may benefit them in this life and the next.”

It is the duty of Muslims to teach their children the etiquette of dealing with the elderly and how to show respect to them, the imam will tell worshippers.

“Such traditions are deeply rooted in our society and should be inherited from one generation to the next. This way, we can pay back to our elderly people part of their rights on us and foster the good bonds between generations.”

[email protected]

The National

For Friday’s sermon, the imam will discuss

Your daily guide to community and cultural activities across the Emirates for March 3, 2017, including performances, festivals, art exhibitions, film screenings, health and fitness events, talks, classes, workshops and family fun. Ellen Fortini rounds up 10 things to do today in the UAE.

Want to see your event listed here? Email us with the details and contact information at [email protected]


Abu Dhabi

Yoga class

Start off your weekend with the Friday pop-up yoga at Bodytree Studio. Heather Bonker leads the Roll, Release & Renew class that will help you unwind from stress with targeted isolation using specialised balls and props to release trigger points in a mind-body centred practise that creates lasting change and is open to all levels.

Today, 9am to 10.30am, Dh95 includes a juice from Nectar, Bodytree Studio, Abu Dhabi, 02 443 4448, [email protected]


Abu Dhabi

Cultural event

Attend Weekends at the Oasis as part of the Visit Al Ain series and enjoy workshops and nostalgic activities such as film screenings and performances, plus a communal market with traditional crafts and artisanal products, as well as food trucks.

Today and tomorrow, 2pm to 10pm, West Plaza and West Gate, Al Ain Oasis, Al Ain,


Abu Dhabi

Family event

Visit the Family Day at the newly opened Masdar Park and experience all the fun, including a bike cinema, xylophone wall, bike and fitness trail and five cafes and restaurants housed in re-purposed shipping containers powered by solar panels. Plus enjoy activities including a parade, live music, T-shirt decorating, face-painting and a caricaturist.

Today, 1pm to 10pm, free, Masdar Park, Masdar City, Abu Dhabi,


Abu Dhabi

Street festival

Make plans to attend tomorrow’s Festival @ Ideas Forum, and explore important ideas and innovations through a family-friendly programme of talks, workshops, exhibitions, games, movies, art, food and more at NYU Abu Dhabi. The campus, which will be hosting the Aspen Abu Dhabi Ideas Forum, will be transformed into a street festival with outdoor stalls and stages.

Tomorrow, 11am to 10pm, free entry, NYU Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi,


Abu Dhabi


Go to Yas Island to watch the ITU Triathlon, the first leg of the series that takes place in eight countries and features the 120 of the world’s best triathletes as well as 3,500 amateur triathletes from 52 countries competing in the swim, bike and running events.

Today and tomorrow, from 8am on Friday; from 7am on Saturday, Yas Marina and Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island,



Choir performances

Attend the Choir of the Year Competition as part of the ChoirFest Middle East. Hear choirs from Iran, Jordan, Morocco and Afghanistan join locally based choirs in a rare opportunity to hear Arabic choral music in an outdoor, festival-style setting.

Today, 4pm, Dh100, Els Club, Dubai Sports City, 04 347 7793,



Tennis championships

Attend the final two days of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. The men’s semi-finals today and the final tomorrow see the world’s top tennis stars competing for the championship title at this popular event on the Dubai sporting calendar. Participating in this year’s tournament are stars including world No 1 Andy Murray (pictured) and Stan Wawrinka.

Today and tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7pm today, from Dh500; 5pm and 7pm tomorrow, from Dh700 tomorrow, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Al Garhoud, Dubai, tickets available at the stadium box office



Film screening

See the film Taste of Cherry as part of the Work in Progress series presented by Cinema Akil and Alserkal Avenue. The award-winning 1997 Iranian film directed by Abbas Kiarostami is about Mr Badii, a middle-aged man who plans to commit suicide and seeks out someone to help him, being refused by people from all walks of life for various personal reasons.

Tonight, 7pm, free on a first-come, first-seated basis, The Yard, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai,



Outdoor movies

Attend a film screening at Dubai Marina Mall’s outdoor cinema. Today’s line-up of free, family-friendly films is Paper Planes (pictured), at 5.30pm, in which Dylan’s passion for flight leads him to the World Paper Plane Championships in Tokyo, and, at 8pm, Space Dogs, an out-of-this-world animated adventure featuring two Soviet space dogs. Come early and get your choice of bean bags as well as treats from the food trucks. Tomorrow see Capture the Flag and Mamma Mia.

Today, 5.30pm and 8pm, free, Dubai Marina Mall, Dubai Marina, 04 436 1020,



Literature festival

Attend the opening day of the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. The Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word hosts regional and international 160 writers, poets, thinkers and speakers conducting 250 sessions, including a murder mystery dinner, author talks, children’s events and a residential creative writing course. Featured speakers include authors Jeffrey Archer, Kathy Reichs, Hamad Al Hammady, poet Mourid Barghouti and journalist Christina Lamb.

Daily until March 11, various venues in Dubai, including InterContinental at Dubai Festival City, Dubai International Writers’ Centre, Al Mamzar Scientific & Cultural Association and Novo Cinemas at Dubai Festival City, register at

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Your daily guide to community and cultural

Core inflation has returned to Japan for the first time since 2015, with consumer prices excluding fresh food rising by 0.1 per cent in January over the same month a year earlier.

The return to positive territory was driven by energy — petrol prices jumped 9.2 per cent year-on-year after big drops in 2016 — but the rise will be welcome news for the Bank of Japan.

The data suggest price pressures in Japan are picking up again with the recovery of global commodity prices and a slide in the yen since the election of US president Donald Trump, giving the BoJ renewed hope of hitting its 2 per cent inflation target.

It will also boost Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Japan heads into spring wage negotiations that are expected to produce disappointing pay rises.

Headline consumer prices were up by 0.4 per cent on a year ago, compared with 0.3 per cent the previous month. The so-called “core-core” CPI, a narrower measure excluding all volatile food and energy prices, was up 0.2 per cent on year earlier.

Japan has struggled to escape from two decades of on-and-off deflation since Mr Abe’s rise to power in 2012. Initial momentum was set back by a consumption tax rise in 2014 and the emerging market slowdown of 2015-16.

That has made it hard to convince consumers that prices will rise enough to meet the BoJ’s 2 per cent inflation goal, although there are clear signs of a strengthening economy, with growth above its long-run trend and a tightening labour market.

“We expect core inflation will pick up to around 1 per cent this autumn, driven by the post-US election yen depreciation,” said Kiichi Murashima, an economist at Citi in Tokyo.

Unemployment fell from 3.1 per cent to 3 per cent in January, as labour shortages started to bite. The ratio of job openings to applicants held steady at 1.43, only a little short of its bubble-era high.

“If ongoing tightening in the labour markets continues, wage growth may pick up in a more meaningful manner at some point in the future and this may start exerting upward pressure on prices, especially service prices for which the share of labour costs is high,” said Mr Murashima.

However, he noted that the effects of a hot jobs market on wages had not been as strong as expected during the past few years.

Robust figures on corporate investment mean analysts expect an upward revision to Japan’s growth data for the fourth quarter when the numbers are published next week.

Takeshi Yamaguchi, an economist at Morgan Stanley MUFG in Tokyo, forecast the figure would be revised up from annualised growth of 1 per cent to 1.6 per cent.

Most estimates of Japan’s long-run potential growth rate are about 0.5 per cent, given the country’s shrinking population. Growth faster than 0.5 per cent implies companies are hiring unemployed workers or those who were previously out of the labour force.

Via FT

Core inflation has returned to Japan for

Palmyra, the storied ancient city that was among prewar Syria’s leading tourist attractions, swung back under government control on Thursday, state media reported, as soldiers and their allies evicted Islamic State militants who had made a sport out of pilfering the city’s antiquities.

This was the fourth time in the past two years that control of Palmyra, a Unesco World Heritage Site, changed hands between government forces and Islamic State fighters, who vandalized the city’s historic sites and used its famed Roman stone amphitheater for public executions.

The group’s fighters first seized Palmyra in May 2015, routing Iraqi security forces who fled in a chaotic retreat. The fighters were expelled by Syrian forces and their Russian allies a year ago, in what was seen as an important victory by President Bashar al-Assad. But they recaptured Palmyra nine months later when the Syrians and Russians were preoccupied with retaking the northern city of Aleppo, another front in the war.

Continue reading the main story


By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON With his administration on the defensive over investigations into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election, U.S. President Donald Trump is no longer tweeting praise for his Kremlin counterpart.

Less than five weeks after he took office, the chances of a spring thaw in relations between Washington and Moscow – once buoyed by an apparent “bromance” between Trump and President Vladimir Putin during the U.S. political campaign – are looking much dimmer, U.S. officials say.

His top foreign policy advisers have started talking tougher on Russia, and the apparent cooling of Trump’s approach follows the resignation last month of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a vocal advocate of warmer ties with Moscow. He was replaced by Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who is more hawkish on Russia and allied with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general.

In one other sign of a stiffening attitude, two officials said the administration had offered the job of top Russia adviser at the National Security Council to Russia scholar Fiona Hill, a leading Putin critic. Her books include “Mr. Putin, Operative in the Kremlin”, an allusion to the Russian leader’s past as a KGB officer. It was not immediately known whether she had accepted the post.

Pressure also has come to bear from Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress, long wary of his campaign overtures to Putin, and from European allies anxious over any sign that the president might prematurely ease sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.

Posing fresh obstacles to rapprochement with Russia, analysts say, is mounting evidence that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and other members of Trump’s team communicated with Russian officials during and after the presidential campaign.

The mushrooming inquiry – which is now focused on Sessions and his contacts with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington – has fueled calls for expanded investigations into allegations that Moscow sought to sway the election’s outcome.

“There is so much panic in the U.S. political establishment over Russia right now that Trump will be boxed in on what he can do,” said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

White House officials say there were no improper contacts, and Russia denies any meddling.


While Trump has yet to lay down his Russia policy, most signs suggest no swift changes in the relationship, which sank to a post-Cold War low under his predecessor Barack Obama, mostly due to bitter differences over Syria and Ukraine.

Mattis sought to reassure NATO allies during a visit to Europe last month, telling them there would be no military cooperation between the United States and Russia in the near future.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley this week denounced Russia for casting a veto to protect the Syrian government from Security Council action over accusations of chemical weapons use, and also recently insisted the United States would not recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

Trump’s openness to closer ties to Russia and his emphasis, particularly during the campaign, on fighting terrorism sparked concerns among current and former U.S. officials that he might trade away U.S. interests in other areas in exchange for military and intelligence cooperation against groups such as Islamic State.

Trump’s language on Russia now has shifted somewhat from campaign days, when he tweeted his admiration for Putin as a strong leader, and the Russian president paid him compliments.

Trump told a news conference in mid-February that, “I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” but added that, “It’s possible I won’t be able to get along with Putin.”

Two senior European officials this week told reporters in Washington they discerned an evolution in the Trump administration’s stance toward Russia, saying there appeared to be no desire to engage in such a “grand bargain” in which, for example, Ukraine-related sanctions might be eased in return for Russian action on other issues.

    “What we consider reassuring is that, at least during our meetings, nobody came with this idea of a grand bargain, with the idea of a big deal,” said one senior European official on condition of anonymity.

    Said a second senior European official: “Vis-a-vis Russia, to be frank I have the impression that the analysis and the positions of this administration are probably now closer to our position than (they) may have been two or three months ago.”

Recent Russian actions have created new complications, including a stepped-up offensive by pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine and what the Pentagon described as the bombing this week by Russian and Syrian aircraft of U.S.-backed Syrian rebels – something Moscow denied had happened.

For its part, the Kremlin said on Wednesday it was patiently waiting for “some kind of actions” from the Trump administration so that it could understand what the future holds for relations.

“We have heard different statements from President Trump,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee and former 2016 presidential candidate, had words of caution for Trump about future dealings with Putin.

“We have had two presidents – a Republican and a Democrat – previous to the current president who thought they could do such a deal with Vladimir Putin,” he said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

“Both of them fell on their face because they did not understand what they were dealing with. It is my sincerest hope that our current President doesn’t make the same mistakes,” Rubio said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Aleksandar Vasovic and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Hay)


Last month, The Intercept published a massive investigation into alleged war crimes committed by members of Seal Team Six, the elite naval special operations unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden.

The investigation, which spans five parts and thousands of words, was written by Matthew Cole, a longtime national security reporter whose resumé includes stints at ESPN the Magazine, ABC News and NBC News. In his capacity as an investigative producer for NBC News, Cole researched and reported on the story, which took years to complete.

The intricacies of the story and the highly secretive nature of Seal Team Six complicated the reporting process, Cole said in an interview Wednesday with Evan Ratliff of the Longform Podcast. But it was also disrupted by another war story — the fibs told by former “NBC Nightly News” host Brian Williams.

Cole’s superiors told him the story wasn’t ready to air in part because he didn’t have a source on the record, Cole said. Then, in early 2015, Williams was suspended for fabricating stories about his reporting in Iraq. The fallout promoted by Williams’ falsehoods created an image problem for NBC News that would have made running the story about misconduct from (actual) war heroes difficult, Cole told Ratliff.

As has been documented extensively, NBC News turned its investigative reporters loose on Williams’ record shortly thereafter. The affair was an “oh shit” moment for the network and required the investigative team to temporarily become an “internal affairs” division, Cole said.

Fed up with TV, Cole left NBC News and continued working on the story for The Intercept, which he joined in June 2015. It’s unclear whether NBC would have ultimately aired the completed story because Cole was still years from finishing when he left.

Here’s the relevant exchange, which you can hear from 20:40 to 23:24 (my emphasis in bold):

Cole: …We had a lot. We were competing with The (New York) Times. There was a lot of pressure to get it out in late 2014, very early 2015, and I was told that I didn’t have enough. We didn’t have anyone on the record. That was a really big stumbling block, which I found…very, very frustrating because there simply wasn’t ever going to be anyone on the record talking about this stuff in a way that I thought would be useful.

And then Brian Williams decided to tell his own story of valor about Iraq, and I was in the investigative unit at NBC, and two things happened there. One was there was no way in hell NBC was going to be running a story about America’s heroes doing bad things after their $10 million hero had told a tall tale…and two, I was on the investigative team looking into Brian Williams.

Ratliff: So you had been reporting stories — not just this one, a lot of stories — which were then presented on TV by Brian Williams — and then when that happened, they turned around and said, ‘You now investigate Brian Williams?’

Cole: Yeah. There was a huge, huge ‘oh shit’ moment at the network, which went sort of like this: If he told this story, what other stories has he told that aren’t true? And we have to scrub everything he’s ever said, everything he’s ever reported, to include appearances outside of the news programs. Which, by and large, by the way, that’s where he got into the most trouble. So we became internal affairs, essentially, which is never a fun — which is an interesting thing to see and experience, but it is not a fun experience, and it definitely will sour you on the job.

So it was clear to both myself and my editor at the time, Richard Esposito, who is a very fine editor, a great reporter, and who had encouraged me and let me run for a long time to go travel around the country and track this down. I really am very grateful to him for allowing me to do that at NBC. But very early on in the Brian Williams saga, we looked at each other and realized, this story ain’t ever gonna happen here.

So I made a decision, personally, at some point — I never really loved TV, and certainly didn’t want to — I couldn’t let this story go, is the best way to say it. I wanted this story to live. And to answer your question, you get to a level of detail in the reporting that basically becomes indisputable.

NBC News declined to comment on Cole’s remarks.

Esposito, the former head of NBC News’ investigative unit who led the probe into Williams’ misconduct, left the network last year. In an email to Poynter, he referred questions about Williams to NBC News but said that Cole’s story was “simply not ready for publication or airing.”

We had numerous sourcing and attribution questions at the time, as Matt acknowledges. He’s a great reporter, and after a year of reporting while at NBC and around an additional year after his departure from NBC, he nailed it. His report for the Intercept on Seal Team Six is worth reading.

Esposito, who emphasized that he does not speak for NBC News, told Poynter that the network’s investigative team was well-equipped to tell investigative stories during Cole’s time there and since.

“NBC News’ Investigative Unit had more than 25 journalists attached to it,” Esposito told Poynter. “It was and is quite capable of handling numerous complex projects at any given time.”

(via Poynter)

Last month, The Intercept published a massive

Dubai Police have launched a new radar to target drivers who avoid long queues by cutting in on other motorists.

The General Directorate of Traffic at Dubai Police announced the launch of the new device which will monitor violators who jump in on queues in the emirate.

The radar will be located at exits and intersections where drivers attempt to bypass long queues by cutting in closer to the exit or turn. It’s capable of catching a queue jumper from over 1,000 metres, according to Dubai Police.

The radar operated on a trial basis at Rabat Street earlier this month, and during the course of one week, it detected 3,000 drivers cutting the queues.

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Dubai Police have launched a new radar

Eleven U.S. states have agreed to drop a lawsuit against an Obama administration order for transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice after the measure was revoked by President Donald Trump, a court filing showed on Thursday.

In a filing in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Justice Department said the states, led by Texas, had agreed to drop the lawsuit, and it was dropping its appeal against a federal judge’s August stay on the Obama directive.

In their suit in May, the states said Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration overstepped its authority by ordering public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms matching their gender identity, rather than their birth gender, or risk losing federal funding.

Obama officials had said that barring students from such bathrooms violated Title IX, the federal law that forbids sex discrimination in education.

But the directive enraged conservatives who say federal civil rights protections cover biological sex, not gender identity. Obama was succeeded by Trump, a Republican, when he left office in January.

Texas was joined in the lawsuit by Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Arizona Department of Education, Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage and two school districts also were parties to the suit.

A federal judge in August barred adoption of the order during the hearing of the case. The Justice Department appealed the stay, saying it should only apply to the states challenging the order.

Last week, the Trump administration rescinded the order, leaving states and school boards to decide how to accommodate transgender students.

Other lawsuits about the rights of transgender students are being heard in the courts.

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on March 28 addressing the question of whether the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia can block a female-born transgender student from using the boys’ bathroom.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


Eleven U.S. states have agreed to drop

There was no mistaking the arrival of King Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and his entourage in Malaysia on Sunday morning. Traffic stood still for 30 minutes as we waited for the 600-strong royal party to make their way from the airport to the centre of Kuala Lumpur — a near-endless stream of limos, lorries, outliers and ambulances, sirens screaming.

This is King Salman’s first trip to Southeast Asia and the region since ascending the throne in 2015. As the destination for umrah and the haj, his country has a very special place in the hearts of the Muslim-majority countries he will be visiting, which include Indonesia, Brunei and the Maldives. But the king’s actual presence is something different — something rare, momentous and significant in a number of ways.

On a practical and quantifiable level, the Asian tour is about trade. In Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, Malaysia’s Petronas signed a deal for Saudi Aramco to invest US$7 billion (RM31 billion) in an oil and petrochemical refinery in the southern state of Johor. Other agreements and opportunities for businesses in both countries will also be announced, and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has already used this to hit back at critics who accused him of “selling” the country by securing massive investments from China during his visit to Beijing in November.

The Saudi deals show the level of confidence other countries such as the kingdom have in Malaysia, he has said. Indonesian President Joko Widodo will make a similar claim if, as expected, US$25 billion worth of Saudi investments in his country is unveiled when the touring party moves on to Jakarta.

The king’s visit and the huge amount of new trade being generated around it are also very public votes of confidence in the economic reform programmes in the two Southeast Asian nations.

Both have undertaken measures to improve long-term resilience and competitiveness, such as the rationalisation or removal of subsidies. Malaysia has also introduced a Goods and Services Tax (GST) to widen the tax base. But, neither of these moves have been popular — who likes paying more for anything? — and opponents have been quick to try to exploit discontent at their impact.

The arrival of King Salman draws attention to the fact that his government has been undertaking almost the exact same reforms, removing or cutting key subsidies last year, and agreeing in January to impose a new five per cent value added tax — in essence, the same as GST. If Saudi Arabia now deems it wise to emulate the reforms of the Malaysian and Indonesian governments, that is an even greater vindication than the plaudits of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials who have already commended the moves.

It is also an acknowledgement that the “new normal” of lower growth and a need to broaden sources of revenue affect a wide range of countries, Saudi Arabia as well as Malaysia, Indonesia and China, which King Salman is also to visit.

At a time when the United States has been sending mixed — and sometimes distinctly unfriendly — signals to many countries, including allies, the Saudi King’s tour also suggests that links in Asia need to be strengthened and may prove more reliable than with the “America First” of Donald Trump.

Militarily, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim counterterrorism coalition may well receive a boost, with several countries likely to offer more concrete participation than thus far. All states on the tour have vested interests in sharing domestic and international counterradicalisation and deradicalisation programmes, in which Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have particular expertise.

Moreover, there are political gains to be reaped by all involved. In some quarters, there may be some disquiet about the conservative nature of Islam in Saudi Arabia and its exportation to other countries. But, there is a growing consensus, among populations for whom religion is increasingly a marker of identity, about Saudi leadership in the Muslim world. King Salman’s tour underlines that, for he is being greeted with the respect and accorded the pomp and ceremony appropriate to a key power.

That very same leadership role in the Muslim world then reflects back on his hosts; on President Xi Jinping and China, who surely must be just and fair governors of their Muslim minority in Xinjiang and elsewhere if King Salman is happy to visit. On Jokowi, who does not push an overtly Islamic agenda, but, who nevertheless found it expedient to make a quick pilgrimage to Mecca before the 2014 presidential election to counter insinuations that he was a Christian. King Salman’s visit will boost his credentials as a Muslim leader, as they will those of Najib.

The visit — during which the king has described relations with Malaysia as being at “an all-time high”— revalidates Najib’s status as a Muslim leader, reinforces his doctrine of wasatiyyah or moderation, and also backs up his claim that the US$700 million received into his bank account before the last election was a donation from the Saudi royal family, as the Saudi foreign minister has confirmed.

The tour, in short, should be a win-win for all involved. But, it is also a chance for friends separated by the Indian subcontinent to get to know each other better. They should visit more often. Who knows how much more they could achieve working even closer together?

Sholto Byrnes is a senior fellow at
the Institute of Strategic and
International Studies, Malaysia

This article appeared yesterday in TheNational in the Opinion section. TheNational is the leading English-language voice in the Middle East;

(via Google News)

There was no mistaking the arrival

Branden Spikes says he has led a charmed life. Boasting an IT career that started in Silicon Valley when the web was born, Spikes was in the midst of the “awesome craziness” that occurred as a result of the dotcom boom — not to mention “the craziness” that he said followed.

“The invention of the web was happening right in my backyard at a time when I was really into computers and teaching myself networking and learning about how all of the stuff worked,” Spikes said. “In those early years I met Elon Musk and that was quite a great, I guess lucky, encounter.”

At the time, Spikes had no idea Musk would be sending people to the moon.

“Certainly I didn’t know he was going to go off and do such great things, but I did know that he was really smart and I was inspired by working with him. So as he continued to go off and do other things I reached out and said: ‘Hey I’d like to get involved again’. So I did that when he started PayPal and I did that again when he started SpaceX — which I’m glad I did,” he explained.

Spikes was SpaceX’s fourth hire and he served as its CIO for over nine years.

Spikes told ZDNet that security has always been something he has simply enjoyed, having hacked unprofessionally through his teenage years. He said having the viewpoint of both the hacker and the systems architect has allowed him to successfully defend against cybercrime.

“Cybersecurity for me has always been a passion and a necessity but my career working in the enterprise environment has always been one that was about all of the information systems and not only making them secure but also making them resilient and fast,” he said.

After almost two decades of working as an employee of startups and seeing the fruits of their labour — not to mention his friends from the PayPal Mafia — Spikes said he had the experience and a lot of good role models to help him start up a startup.

While in Sydney to talk with startups at big bank-backed fintech hub Stone and Chalk, Spikes offered advice for those just starting out.

“When I started thinking about ideas to launch my first entrepreneurial adventure I went down a list of a bunch of ideas I had and looked for things that combined all of my requirements — almost like a Venn diagram — first and foremost was something that would be useful to the world, but then looking for things that would be also enjoyable to do,” he explained.

“I found one idea was the confluence of all of those things and even better it involved my passion in cybersecurity.”

Spikes set out to go after what he labelled the number one most pressing engineering challenge in cybersecurity, which he explained was the consistent and continuous attacks against web browsers.

“The first time I really measured that with statistical data — in 2008 — I found that about 80 percent of successful attacks I saw were from web browsers,” he said. “I spoke with a man at a successful bank today who is in charge of cybersecurity in their network security operations centre and he said that it’s still the case. So it’s been nine years and it hasn’t changed.”

He said the thing that is truly important for all entrepreneurs is to do something they enjoy.

“I think startups are under the gun in so many ways that the things that are the most important to them are conserving cash, getting product out on time, getting customers, and getting revenue, and preventing security breaches is not even in the back of their mind — just not even thought of,” he said.

“And I don’t fault them for that. I think startups need to think that way. It’s very difficult — unless you’re a cybersecurity startup — to think about security first, but jeez is it useful if you think about it during product design.”

Spikes is now the chief architect and technology evangelist of Cyberinc, the result of a merger between Aurionpro’s Security division and Spikes Security, which Spikes himself founded in 2012.

Cyberinc’s flagship product, the Isla Web Malware Isolation platform, was born out of a set of requirements Spikes said he had to come up with in the environment at SpaceX.

“I wanted to provide complete and total access to all of the web,” he explained. “I didn’t like the idea of content filtering or preventing people from going places — I wanted to give everyone access to everything but find a way to make them 100 percent secure.”

“So that’s what Isla is,” he concluded.

(via PCMag)

Doha, Qatar; March 2, 2017

The third edition of Qumra, the industry initiative by the Doha Film Institute that aims to mentor and nurture next generation filmmakers, has received tremendous support from Qatar’s government entities, industry leaders, educational & cultural organisations and a wide spectrum of global film bodies.

To be held from March 3 to 8 at Souq Al Waqif and the Museum of Islamic Art, Qumra 2017 brings together over 100 industry delegates from across the world including leading film producers, distributors, film festival organisers, financing agencies, marketing experts and more.

Fatma Al Remaihi, Chief Executive Officer of the Doha Film Institute, said: “We are thankful to all our partners for their unwavering support to Qumra 2017. Their continued support plays an integral role in hosting this inspiring event and helping establish Qumra as a platform for discovering new voices and compelling stories. This show of solidarity by local and international entities highlights the tremendous value that Qumra offers in strengthening Qatar’s reputation as a creative hub, and contributes to the development of a strong culture of filmmaking in Qatar and the region.

Underlining their commitment to promoting the unique industry-focused event, Qatar Museums, Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif return as Cultural Partners of Qumra 2017.

Qumra 2017 is supported by prominent educational entities Northwestern University in Qatar and the Translation & Interpreting Institute at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Culture Pass and FNAC. SONY is the Official Electronics Partners and Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels are the Official Hotel Partner.


This year, Qumra 2017 introduces Qumra Talks in Partnership with Northwestern University in Qatar, which features a series of panel-style talks that highlight the digital transformation of film industry and media.

Extending support as ‘Friends of Qumra’ are: Sarajevo Film Festival, the French Embassy in Qatar, L’Institut Français du Qatar, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany – Doha and Goethe-Institut Gulf Region. Screen International is back on board as the Media Partner.

The Qumra Masters this year are contemporary Iranian master Asghar Farhadi; French auteur Bruno Dumont; Cambodian creative documentarian, Argentina’s eminent filmmaker Rithy Panh Lucrecia Martel and internationally acclaimed producer Paulo Branco.

New to Qumra this year is the Accredited Delegates Programme, developed for professionals from diverse backgrounds which will allow 100 local and regional delegates to access more opportunities and be a part of the platform for discovery, networking, and inspiration. Members of the local and regional film and creative industries, the educational community and the general public can now apply to be an Accredited Delegate, that is aimed at advancing knowledge about, and promoting discussion around media and filmmaking.

Qumra 2017 programming will continue to include industry meetings designed to assist in propelling selected projects to the next stages of development, through master classes, work-in-progress screenings, bespoke matchmaking sessions and tailored workshops with industry experts. This creative exchange will take place alongside a programme of public screenings of a highly engaging selection of movies by the Qumra Masters and New Voices in Cinema strand, that includes compelling works by emerging Qatari and international talents.


About Qumra
Directors and Producers attached to thirty-four projects in development and post-production are selected to participate in the event. They will include a number of emerging filmmakers from Qatar, as well as recipients of funding from the Institute’s Grants Programme. The robust programme will feature industry meetings designed to assist with propelling projects to their next stages of development, including master classes, work-in-progress screenings, bespoke matchmaking sessions and tailored workshops with industry experts. This creative exchange will take place alongside a programme of public screenings curated with input from the Qumra Masters.

The event is organised in three main sections: The Qumra Master Classes are daily sessions; each led by one of the Masters. The participating filmmakers have full access to these sessions, which are also open to accredited industry guests to attend in an observational capacity.

The Qumra Meetings are a series of one-on-one meetings, workshops and tailored mentoring sessions between representatives from the selected projects and seasoned industry experts.

The Qumra Screenings are open to the public and feature projects funded by the Institute through its grants and co-financing initiatives, as well as a series of films chosen by the Qumra Masters accompanied by Q&A sessions. 

The Arabic term ‘qumra’ is popularly said to be the origin of the word ‘camera’, and to have been used by the scientist, astronomer and mathematician Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham, 965-c.1040 CE), whose work in optics laid out the principles of the camera obscura.

About Doha Film Institute:
Doha Film Institute is an independent, not-for-profit cultural organisation. It supports the growth of the local film community through cultivating film appreciation, enhancing industry knowledge and contributing to the development of sustainable creative industries in Qatar. The Institute’s platforms include funding and production of local, regional and international films; skills-sharing and mentorship programmes; film screenings; the Ajyal Youth Film Festival; and Qumra. With culture, community, learning and entertainment at its foundation, the Institute is committed to supporting Qatar’s 2030 vision for the development of a knowledge-based economy.

Doha Film Institute

Twitter: @DohaFilm; Instagram: @DohaFilm; Facebook:

© Press Release 2017

© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.

Via Zawya

Via Michael Snyder of The End of The American Dream blog,

If current trends continue, Islam is on track to become the largest religion in the entire world by the end of this century according a stunning new report that was just released by the Pew Research Center.

While it is true that Christianity is still growing on a global basis, it is not growing nearly as rapidly as Islam. So unless something changes, Christianity will only be the second largest faith in the world by the year 2070. According to this newly released report, Islam is the only major religion that is growing faster than the global population overall, and it is being projected that the number of Muslims on the planet will rise by a staggering 73 percent between 2010 and 2050

Islam is the only religion growing faster than the world’s population, and it will be the largest in the world by 2070, research has found.


US-based Pew Research Center analyzed demographic change among the world’s major religions and found that the world’s population of Muslims will grow by 73 percent between 2010 and 2050, compared to 35 percent for Christians, the next fastest-growing faith.


The world’s population will grow by 37 percent over the same period. If those rates of growth continue past 2050, Muslims will outnumber Christians by 2070, the report found.

Of course there are religious groups that are growing even faster than Islam, but they were not part of this study.

For example, I have previously written about how witchcraft is the fastest growing faith in America, and yesterday I wrote about how membership in the Satanic Temple in the United States has been absolutely exploding since Donald Trump was elected.

So it isn’t just Islam that is gaining ground.

But without a doubt, Islam is now the dominant worldview on much of the planet. Many in the western world tend to think of it as a Middle Eastern religion, but the truth is that most Muslims actually live in the Asia-Pacific region

Some 62 percent of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region with large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey, Pew researchers said.


In 2050, India is set to take over from Indonesia as the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, according to the study.

In India, there truly is a battle going on for the spiritual future of that nation right now. Christianity and Islam are both making a tremendous amount of progress, and this has greatly upset a lot of traditional Hindu groups.

Islam is making a lot of progress in Europe as well. A tremendous amount of immigration has caused the number of European Muslims to surge in recent years, and this new report is projecting that 10 percent of all Europeans will belong to Islam by the year 2050.

Here in the United States, Muslims still only make up a very small percentage of the population, but that percentage is growing too. The following comes directly out of the new Pew Research Center report

In 2015, according to our best estimate, there were 3.3 million Muslims of all ages in the U.S., or about 1% of the U.S. population. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study (conducted in English and Spanish) found that 0.9% of U.S. adults identify as Muslims. A 2011 survey of Muslim Americans, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, estimated that there were 1.8 million Muslim adults (and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages) in the country. That survey also found that a majority of U.S. Muslims (63%) are immigrants.


Our demographic projections estimate that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion).

Once the number of Muslims in the United States surpasses the number of Jewish people, what impact will that have on U.S. politics?

That is something to think about.

The report indicated that there are a couple of primary reasons why Islam is growing so rapidly around the world.

First of all, Muslims tend to have larger families than everyone else. The report said that the average Muslim woman has 3.1 children during her lifetime, while all other groups only have 2.3 children per woman.

So in the end, Islam could end up dominating the world just by simply making more babies than everyone else.

Muslims are also younger on average than other religious groups. According to the report, on a global basis Muslims are “seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims”.

Unfortunately, when Muslims become dominant in a society they often want to impose their systems of government, law, economics, etc. on everyone else. That is why “sharia law” is such a sensitive issue, and the report found that in some Islamic countries an overwhelming majority of Muslims want to impose sharia law on everyone else

For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely. Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of sharia law.

Nobody can deny that Islam is one of the most dominant forces on the entire planet in 2017, and it looks like it is going to become even more dominant in the years ahead.

And that is troubling news for Christians and those of other faiths, because all you have to do is to look at countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran to see what happens to other faiths once Islam takes total control of a nation.

In a truly Islamic state, there is no room for religious freedom, and so the growth of Islam is likely to be one of the greatest global threats to the free exercise of religion for the foreseeable future.

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Via Michael Snyder of The End of

BEIJING A new Chinese cruise ship has embarked on its maiden voyage to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, the latest effort by Beijing to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway.

The Changle Princess sailed from Sanya on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan on Thursday afternoon with 308 passengers on a four-day voyage, Xinhua said.

The new ship can carry 499 people and has 82 guest rooms with dining, entertainment, shopping, medical and postal services on board, it added.

Tourists will be able to visit the three islands in the Crescent group of the Paracels, Xinhua said.

China has previously said it plans to build hotels, villas and shops on the Crescent group and has also said it wants to build Maldives-style resorts around the South China Sea, though it is unclear if foreigners will ever be allowed to visit.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5 trillion of trade a year.

Countries competing to cement their rival claims have encouraged a growing civilian presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea. The first cruises from China to the Paracel islands were launched by Hainan Strait Shipping Co in 2013.

The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast)


BEIJING A new Chinese cruise ship has

People take part in a protest against corruption in Lima, Peru after a scandal involving bribes Brazil's Odebrecht distributed in Peru, February 16, 2017 (Guadalupe Pardo/Reuters).
People take part in a protest against corruption in Lima, Peru after a scandal involving bribes Brazil’s Odebrecht distributed in Peru, February 16, 2017 (Guadalupe Pardo/Reuters).

A wave of corruption scandals has roiled Latin America in recent years, from Chile’s campaign finance affairs, through Mexico’s Casa Blanca revelations. Most recently, the information divulged in the December Odebrecht settlement has sent a shudder of fear across regional politics after the Brazilian construction firm admitted to paying nearly $800 million in bribes in twelve countries. The tide of corruption revelations has contributed to massive protests, slumping incumbent polls, and political uncertainty throughout the region.

Obviously, the scandals of recent years differ greatly from each other. The Odebrecht scandal was driven by a Brazilian context very distinct from the Guatemalan environment that led to President Pérez Molina’s downfall, or from the Mexican and Chilean cases. Empirical evidence about corruption trends in the region is also quite mixed, with polls showing contradictory findings about the direction of public experiences with corruption victimization and public perceptions of corruption more broadly.

For all these differences, there is a common silver lining to the region-wide wave of scandal. As a perceptive study released this week by the Inter-American Dialogue argues, the region has seen declining public tolerance of corruption and a rising normative edifice that makes it easier to tackle abuses.

On the public side, authors Kevin Casas-Zamora and Miguel Carter catalogue a variety of factors that are changing the accountability equation. Citizens are angry: three-quarters of the population in Latin America view their society as unjust, and fewer than two in five express satisfaction with their democracies. An economic downturn has driven down incumbents’ average approval ratings across the region. Meanwhile, citizens are not only more motivated to mobilize, they are better able to do so: the revelations come against a backdrop of improving information transparency, changing access to public information through the widespread adoption of social media, and growth of a politically active middle class.

Simultaneously, a “new normative edifice” of international agreements and standards, alongside improved national laws and policies, has given teeth to previously weak anticorruption bodies (see figure below). Laws have been introduced or rewritten in ways that constrain money laundering, reduce campaign finance violations, increase fiscal transparency, and facilitate prosecution. The investigative capacities of police and prosecutors have increased. New bodies, such as governmental auditing agencies and civil society anticorruption organizations, have been created in many countries over the past two decades.

Anticorruption measures adopted by Latin American countries, 1990-2015

Source: Kevin Casas-Zamora and Miguel Carter, “Beyond the Scandals: The Changing Context of Corruption in Latin America,” Inter-American Dialogue, February 2017.

The authors are quick to remind us that there is a big gap between laws on the books and “their effective implementation and enforcement.” But the cautiously optimistic conclusion I draw from their analysis is that the pincer movement of greater public mobilization for effective accountability, on the one hand, and institutional changes, on the other, is having tangible effects in fighting longstanding patterns of impunity for corruption across countries as diverse as Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Panama.

This two-pronged process may continue to cause political instability for the foreseeable future. And the list of reforms that are still needed is enormous, from structural changes, such as addressing the economic and political disparities that diminish the equality of citizens before the law, to more “technical fixes” such as improving judicial performance and enhancing political finance oversight. But overall, the trend is a largely positive one, with declining public and institutional tolerance fueling corruption revelations. These in turn often generate the political pressure for legal and institutional reforms that have the potential to create less corrupt and more accountable political systems. Whether one agrees with this hopeful conclusion or not, the report is well worth a read, marshalling substantial cross-national evidence on the evolution of corruption and accountability processes across the region.

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR’s guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

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BEIJING, Activity in China’s services sector expanded at the slowest pace in four months in February, with new business still growing at a solid rate but increasing competition making it harder for companies to raise prices, a private survey showed.

The findings echoed a similar softening in growth in China’s official services activity survey released on Wednesday, and contrasted with an unexpected pick-up in growth in its manufacturing sector as export orders rebounded.

The February services PMI dipped to 52.6 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, from 53.1 in January, the Markit/Caixin services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) showed.

While it remained well above the 50-mark that separates expansion in activity from contraction on a monthly basis, it was the slowest rate of expansion since October.

Any signs of flat-lining in services sector growth, which is more dependent on domestic demand, could indicate a slowdown in momentum for the economy overall. Some analysts say domestic demand growth already may have plateaued.

That could put policymakers in a dilemma on how to meet ambitious growth targets while also containing financial risks created by years of debt-fueled stimulus.

The central bank has gradually moved to a tightening bias in recent months, as a string of data showed the world’s second-largest economy was on steadier footing.

The Chinese government will hold annual parliamentary meetings starting this weekend, where leaders will announce an economic growth target and other policy priorities, including potentially a slightly lower target for economic and money supply growth and an emphasis on managing debt risks.

Though inflation in January rose to multi-year highs, the Caixin survey found that prices Chinese firms were able to charge their customers were little changed.

Survey respondents said increased competition had restricted their pricing power, even as their input prices continued to rise, albeit at a slower pace.

“Inflationary pressures seemed to have started to ease as price increases in both manufacturing and services continued to weaken,” said Zhengsheng Zhong, Director of Macroeconomic Analysis at CEBM Group, in a note with the data.

Service companies continued to add job at a solid pace, and remained optimistic about growth in the next 12 months.

Caixin’s composite PMI covering both the manufacturing and services sectors rose to 52.6 in February from the previous month’s 52.2 as growth in the manufacturing sector accelerated.

“The Chinese economy is expected to maintain the growth momentum in the first quarter of this year. But signs of weakening may emerge from the second quarter,” said Zhong.

(Reporting by Elias Glenn; Editing by Kim Coghill)


BEIJING, Activity in China's services sector expanded