• Jailed Saudi blogger wins EU rights prize

    29/Oct/2015 // 117 Viewers

    A Saudi blogger sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Muslim clerics has won the European Union's prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

    EU lawmakers said Thursday that they had chosen to honour Raif Badawi as a symbol of the fight for freedom of speech. The prize was to be announced publicly later at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.



    "2015 #SakharovPrize awarded to @raif_badawi Deserved recognition of his role; also strong message to Saudi regime," The Greens/European Alliance parliamentary group said in a tweeted message shortly before the official announcement.

    Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal bloc, added: "The European Parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities."

    "We urge His Majesty King Salman to release Raif Badawi from prison and in any case to end the barbaric punishment of flogging."

    The Freedom of Thought award is named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. It was set up in 1988 to honour people and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    Badawi was one of three nominees for the prize, along with the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, and assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

    (FRANCE 24 with AP)

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  • Sarkozy to meet Putin as French right looks to Russia

    29/Oct/2015 // 424 Viewers

    Latest update : 2015-10-29

    Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Moscow Wednesday where he is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latest sign the French right is seeking closer ties with the Kremlin in defiance of François Hollande’s government.

    Sarkozy is due to meet with Putin on Thursday accompanied by a cohort of senior members of his Les Républicains party – France’s centre-right main opposition party that was until recently known as the UMP.

    The two men are set to hold an “exchange of views … on bilateral relations”, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, quoted by Russian state media. Top of the bill “is likely to be Syria”, he added.

    The visit comes at a time of tense relations between Russia and the West, not least France, overMoscow’s military intervention in Syria where it has been accused of targeting moderate rebel forces, along with Islamic Stage group militants, in support of Putin’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Sarkozy: Hollande’s Russia policy ‘risks new cold war’

    Hollande’s government has been one of the strongest Western opponents of involving Assad in any solution to the Syria conflict – a position that has put Paris at loggerheads with the Kremlin.

    Russia was conspicuously absent from a meeting on Syria hosted by Paris on Tuesday, that included representatives from Germany, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the US.

    Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine has also been a thorn in the side of relations between Paris and Moscow – one that led Hollande to scrap the sale to Russia of two French-built warships last year, a deal that was signed off by Sarkozy during his 2007–2012 presidency.

    Sarkozy, along with others on the right of French politics, have become increasingly critical of Hollande’s hardline stance with Russia and have repeatedly called for a more conciliatory approach.

    Sarkozy’s Russian trip, according to one party member, is designed to deliver a “particular message” to Putin.

    That message is that “Europe must maintain a dialogue with Russia and that France, within Europe, has an important role to play, one it has not been playing for a long time”, Les Républicains MP Thierry Mariani told France Info radio.

    Sarkozy himself recently accused Hollande of “a serious error of creating conditions for a new cold war with Russia”, a line that has also been used by far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in criticising the French government’s dealings with Moscow.

    French right’s ‘fascination with Putin’

    Others within Les Républicains have called for France to cooperate with Russia over Syria, including working with Assad.

    Russia has been “maligned so stupidly these last few years”, wrote Les Républicains former prime minister François Fillon in a recent blog post. “The time has come for France to revise its diplomatic strategy [in Syria].”

    At the same time, a recent Ifop poll for French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche found that Putin is considerably more popular with right-wing voters. While the survey found negative opinions of the Russian leader were still the norm among the majority, 24 percent of Les Républicains supporters and 37 percent of National Front supporters said they had a “good opinion” of Putin, compared to 19 percent among supporters of Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS).

    “There is a sort of fascination among the French right with Putin’s authoritarian regime, which explains [Sarkozy’s] visit,” Bruno Le Roux, leader of the PS in parliament, told France Info Wednesday.

    However, he admitted there could be a certain “usefulness” to the former president’s meeting with Putin.

    “Everyone has the right to talk,” he later told the AFP news agency. “There is a usefulness in maintaining relationships with all countries.”

    "At the same time, in these sorts of moments, the position of France, the position which is that of Europe, must be kept in mind.

    “I’ll of course be very interested to know what was said.

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  • The old man and the seaborne migrant: two worlds meet in Italy

    29/Oct/2015 // 91 Viewers

    Sant'Egidio volunteers in the port of Catania hold flowers for the many migrants who lost their lives attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean. © Photo courtesy of the Community of Sant'Egidio
    Voluntary schemes to bring migrants into contact with Sicily’s vulnerable communities have helped defuse tensions and revive the island’s age-old role as a bridge between the two shores of the Mediterranean.
    When Caramo and Giuseppe met at a retirement home in the Sicilian city of Catania, the unlikely pair instantly bonded. Caramo, 22, had left his native Gambia to hunt for a better life in Europe. Giuseppe, 92, was wrapping up his own long life at the foot of Mount Etna. Both had lived in Libya's Tripoli: Giuseppe as a youngster during the short-lived Italian empire, Caramo as a penniless migrant in the chaos that followed the fall of Colonel Gaddafi.
    “They would spend entire afternoons chatting away about their time in Libya,” says Emiliano Abramo, a local community worker who helped bring about their encounter. “Caramo was amazed at the tales of imperial Tripoli, and Giuseppe couldn't believe the country was now wrecked by war.”
    When Giuseppe passed away a few months ago, more than 30 migrants showed up for his funeral – easily outnumbering family members. After the service, they proceeded to recount Giuseppe's Libyan adventures to his Sicilian relatives and friends, who were startled to hear stories of his childhood he had always kept to himself.
    Like Caramo, hundreds of Gambians, Nigerians, Syrians and Eritreans have befriended elderly Italians at retirement homes in the Catania area. They are part of a voluntary scheme run by Abramo and other members of the religious Community of Sant'Egidio. Its aim is to bring comfort to the needy while helping migrants connect with the locals and learn Italian.
    Every day, Sant'Egidio members make the one-hour drive between Catania and the vast Mineo complex, a former US Army barracks converted into Europe's largest migrant reception centre. They bring back groups of migrants who take part in voluntary work helping the poor, homeless and elderly.
    “Our aim is to take them away from the sheer boredom and loneliness of life in Mineo, where some have to wait up to two years to have their application processed,” says Abramo, adding that community service helps migrants socialise and connect with Italians of their age, many of whom also take part in voluntary work.
    Once they set foot in Italy, migrants are under immense pressure to find a job and send the promised money back home. “It is hard for them to explain to their families that it's not that easy,” Abramo notes. “By engaging in social work they feel useful again. They sense that they are giving and not just taking.”
    ‘Lessons in generosity’
    While Greece has recently become the main port of entry for migrants desperate to reach Europe, Italy had previously borne the brunt of the crisis, which shows no sign of ending. More than 136,000 new arrivals have been registered so far this year. Almost 100,000 asylum seekers now live in immigration centres run by the state, with many more spread across the country in emergency shelters, squats or sleeping rough in the street.
    Earlier this month, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reacted angrily after EU Council President Donald Tusk bracketed Italy with Hungary as member states that had broken EU rules on asylum seekers. Renzi accused Tusk of showing “little respect for the efforts of the Italian people”, adding that Italy had given “lessons in civilisation and generosity”.
    In 2014, Italy launched a vast search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, dubbed Mare Nostrum, which helped rescue thousands of migrants attempting the perilous crossing. The operation was shelved a year later when wealthier countries in northern Europe refused to help fund it. Mare Nostrum was replaced by Triton, a cheaper EU operation focused on policing – and the deadly shipwrecks spiked again.

    The Italian government is well aware that most migrants don't want to stay in Italy, where job prospects are dire for the locals, let alone newcomers. It has turned a blind eye to the northward flow of migrants hoping to cross the borders into France and Austria. Those who stay behind often scrape a living on the black market, working long hours in return for a pittance in southern Italy’s giant orange groves.

    A year ago, investigators uncovered a corruption scheme centred around the country’s overcrowded and underfunded refugee reception system. Mafia leaders were arrested for embezzling funds intended for migrant services. "Do you have any idea how much I make on these immigrants?" one was caught saying. "Drug trafficking is less profitable."

    The employment of migrants as voluntary workers to clean parks, run soup kitchens and provide care for the elderly has also come under criticism. Earlier this year, a trade union spokesman accused the city of Bari of exploiting refugees as “free labour”, a scheme he described as “institutionalised racism”. Others warned that unpaid migrants constituted unfair competition for local workers.

    Shaping perceptions of immigration

    The notion that migrant volunteers might be taking jobs away from Italians is rejected by Sant’Egidio’s spokesman in Rome, Roberto Zuccolini. He says the arrival of refugees has merely compensated for a decline in economic migrants. Besides, studies have shown that migrants tend to perform jobs that are shunned by most Italians.

    Zuccolini points out that voluntary work is often the only activity available to asylum seekers given the dearth of jobs – it is also the only alternative to sitting idly in overcrowded shelters rife with tension. “Voluntary work is a different concept. It is about choosing to help others and feeling part of a collective enterprise,” he says. “And crucially, it helps build bridges between communities and defuse conflict.”

    Initiatives such as Sant’Egidio’s – which have been reproduced across Italy and in other European countries where the group is present – play a decisive role in “shaping public opinion and perceptions of migrants”, says Zuccolini. This is particularly the case in a country like Italy that is more accustomed to emigration than immigration.

    “There is a lot of generosity on display in Italy today, far more than antagonism towards refugees – even though the latter invariably gets more press,” he says, noting that by engaging in voluntary work migrants can partake in a proud Italian tradition of community service.

    Roberto Zuccolini of the Community of Sant'Egidio says voluntary work helps shape perceptions of migrants in Italy. © Photo courtesy of the Community of Sant'Egidio
    It is a view shared by Oliviero Forti, who is in charge of the Immigration Office at Italy’s Caritas, another Catholic institution with an extensive network of charities that work with migrants across the country.

    “Community initiatives, like ours, play a crucial role in complementing the state’s welfare programmes – and substituting them where necessary,” he says, hailing the so-called “third sector” of associations and charities as an Italian specificity.

    Forti believes Italy has reacted positively to the enormous challenge posed by the refugee crisis, despite the stigmatisation attempted by a handful of vocal extremist groups with a political agenda. He says: “Our country is gradually adopting a mature view of immigration, but it is a slippery slope and we have to remain vigilant.”

    Rebuilding Sicily’s melting pot

    Back in Catania, there are growing signs that integration is making huge strides in a region once seen as conservative and parochial. Sant’Egidio’s Abramo says more and more migrants are signing up for voluntary work, “and a growing number have found friends and partners among Italian fellow workers”.

    Not all the migrants are itching to reach Europe’s richer north. Some choose to stay behind, reviving businesses and breathing new life into aging communities.

    Catania is now home to southern Italy’s largest mosque. Last year, the local imam teamed up with the region’s food bank to distribute meals at the mosque. The idea proved a success and more than 80 percent of beneficiaries are now non-Muslim Italians. It mirrors similar initiatives across the country, where “pasta and couscous” events are increasingly popular.

    Slowly, migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are helping restore the multicultural fabric that once defined regions like Sicily, harking back to a time when the Mediterranean united civilisations rather than divide them.

    As Abramo puts it, “We Sicilians are culturally predisposed to these population flows. Arabs settled here centuries ago. It is time we rebuild our melting pot.”


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  • US, Iran to meet before multilateral Syria talks

    29/Oct/2015 // 126 Viewers

    © Pool/AFP | US Secretary of State John Kerry steps off his plane after arriving at Vienna International Airport on October 29, 2015 in Austria


    VIENNA (AFP) - 

    US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Iranian counterpart in Vienna on Thursday afternoon, ahead of multilateral talks over the Syrian conflict later in the day, a senior State Department official said.

    Tehran will take part for the first time in international negotiations aimed at resolving the war, as key nations backing Syria's warring sides seek to thrash out differences.

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  • French court upholds acquittal of Femen topless protest at Notre Dame inShare

    29/Oct/2015 // 267 Viewers

    Latest update : 2015-10-29

    The acquittal of eight women from the activist group Femen over a topless protest they held in Paris's Notre Dame cathedral two years ago was upheld by a French court of appeals on Thursday.

    The feminist activists mixed with hordes of queuing visitors to enter the 12th century church unspotted in 2013 - one day after Pope Benedict resigned - before bearing torsos painted with slogans such as "Pope No More" and "Get lost, homophobe".

    The case against the Femen women, some of whom were smacked in the face by angry Catholics before security staff bundled them out of the church, had been pursued on the grounds that they degraded a place of worship, in a protest during which they tapped on the cathedral's bells with wooden sticks.

    "In this affair, the real victims were the activists who were assaulted by Notre Dame security staff," one of the women, Elvire Charles, told reporters. "We were just exercising our right to free speech."

    The Paris court also confirmed suspended fines imposed on two members of the Notre Dame security staff and acquitted another one.

    Nine Femen women taking part in the protest were acquitted by a French court in September 2014. One of them has died since the first court decision.

    Notre Dame, standing on an island in the middle of the Seine river in the heart of Paris, is visited by millions of tourists and religious devotees every year. It was being fitted with new giant bells at the time to celebrate its 850th anniversary.


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  • Germany’s Deutsche Bank to slash 15,000 jobs

    29/Oct/2015 // 222 Viewers

    Deutsche Bank said Thursday it was reducing its workforce by 15,000 as new Chief Executive John Cryan seeks to improve returns at Germany's biggest bank.

    The lender said it would axe 9,000 full-time jobs and 6,000 external contractor positions.

    The bank will also shed businesses employing some 20,000 staff. Three quarters of the 20,000 jobs to go are at German retail unit Postbank, which Deutsche Bank is spinning off.

    The job cuts come after the bank, Germany's largest lender, earlier on Thursday posted a 6 billion euro ($6.6 billion) loss for the third quarter, in line with its recent profit warning.

    Cryan, who took charge in July, is under pressure to overhaul Deutsche, which is struggling to end costly litigation from past scandals and adapt to tighter banking regulations.

    "I do not think that 2016 and 2017 will be strong years," Cryan warned at a press conference on Thursday.

    Salaries down

    Deutsche Bank shares, which had risen last week to a two-month high, slid 6.6 percent to 25.66 euros by 1231 GMT.

    The news was taken negatively by many in the market. "Shareholders are wondering why they should stay invested," warned a Frankfurt-based trader.

    Deutsche Bank's staff will also feel the pain in their pay packets, with remuneration linked more to profits and less to revenue. "I have said that it would not be all sweetness and light," Cryan said, adding it would be unacceptable not to share some of the cost of the settlement of interest-rate rigging and consequences of poor past behaviour.

    The bank is exiting 10 countries, including most of its Latin American operations, and moving its Brazil trading activities to other hubs.

    (FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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  • Finally, Nigerian Government admits own failures, says World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business remains static, halting a falling

    29/Oct/2016 // 277 Viewers


    The Presidency says the World Bank’s Doing Business R2017 Report, released on Tuesday is an indication that the government’s reform initiatives are yielding positive results.

    “The Buhari administration is gratified that the various reform initiatives put in place towards instituting a positive business environment is slowly but gradually yielding some dividends. 
    “Nigeria’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business remains static, halting a falling trend in the past several years,” the Vice Presidential spokesman, Mr Laolu Akande, said, via a release issued on Thursday in Abuja.

     Akande recalled that the latest report had ranked Nigeria 169 out of 189 countries in the overall Ease of Doing Business rank.

    He described the ranking as “a positive indication that the focus and tenacity of President Muhammadu Buhari to reposition the nation’s business and economic environment is working and on course.

    “While Nigeria’s position remains the same as at last year on the index ranking, it is encouraging that Nigeria has recorded some positive outlooks in four critical areas of the ranking.”

    Akande listed the areas as: Starting a Business; Dealing with Construction Permits; Registering Property and Access to Credit.

    He noted that the objectivity and reliability of the report coming from an international development institution, lent weight to the milestone recorded in particular on the distance to frontier (DTF) metric, according to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

    Akande observed that on the metric, the country’s score improved slightly from 44.02 in Doing Business 2016 to 44.63 in Doing Business 2017.

    According to the World Bank report, the improvements noted mean that last year, Nigeria’s business regulatory environment as captured by the Doing Business indicators improved slightly in absolute terms.

    According to the report “the country is decreasing the gap with the global regulatory frontier.

    “This is a morale booster for stakeholders involved in the efforts aimed at removing existing bottlenecks in the business environment.”

    Akande declared that the observation by the World Bank was recognition of the bold initiatives and untiring work of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

    He said it was particularly achieved through the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

    He said Buhari in August had set-up PEBEC, which had an active collaboration with the private sector, “to remove the bottlenecks that stifle businesses and create the right enabling environment and investment climate.”

    PEBEC has nine ministers, the Head of the Service and the CBN governor as members and is mandated to give progress reports to the Federal Executive Council every month.

    The council’s secretariat with a team comprising staff from both public and private sector, is supported by knowledge experts and collaborates across ministries, departments and agencies as well as private sector stakeholders to achieve reform objectives.

    According to Akande, Buhari is absolutely committed to boosting reform activities so as to continue to arrest the past decline, where the country fell from number 94 in 2006 to number 169 in 2016.

    He said the reforms would positively project the business climate to an enviable position in the international business community.

    “With the reform efforts being put in place now, indications are that in subsequent years, Nigeria will scale up significantly in the ranking,” he declared.

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  • Tragedy: Disaster hits Italy after bridge collapses over busy road in Lecco, 1 dead, 5 injured (Photos!)

    29/Oct/2016 // 904 Viewers


    One person has been killed and five others injured after a bridge collapsed over a busy road in Italy.
    The bridge, in Lecco, fell when a heavy goods vehicle, weighing 108 tonnes, crossed over it around 3.20pm this afternoon.

    A car lies beneath an overpass after it collapsed when a heavy truck was traveling on it, between Milan and Lecco, northern Italy, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. An overpass north of Milan has collapsed under the weight of a truck carrying an over-size load just hours after highway authorities say they requested the roadís immediate closure. (Fabrizio Cusa/ANSA via AP)

    At least four cars were involved in the crash and one was completely crushed underneath the collapsed bridge.

    A truck lies on a road after an overpass it was traveling on collapsed, between Milan and Lecco, northern Italy, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. An overpass north of Milan has collapsed under the weight of a truck carrying an over-size load just hours after highway authorities say they requested the roadís immediate closure. (Fabrizio Cusa/ANSA via AP)

    Anas, the company which runs Italy’s main roads, has accused local authorities of not acting fast enough after it had asked for the bridge to be closed at about 2pm when its workers spotted problems.

    epa05607519 Italian emergency workers at the scene where one person was killed and four injured including three children when an overpass collapsed onto State Highway 36 between Milan and Lecco, Italy on 28 October 2016 sending an articulated lorry crashing down onto cars below. EPA/FABRIZIO CUSA

    It reportedly said Lecco province officials had demanded the information in writing and said they needed a formal inspection of the site.

    A truck lies on a road after an overpass it was traveling on collapsed, between Milan and Lecco, northern Italy, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. An overpass north of Milan has collapsed under the weight of a truck carrying an over-size load just hours after highway authorities say they requested the roadís immediate closure. (Fabrizio Cusa/ANSA via AP)

    The company which runs Italy’s main roads has blame local authorities for not closing the bridge in time (Picture: AP)

    A car is stopped just where an overpass collapsed when a heavy truck was traveling on it, between Milan and Lecco, northern Italy, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. An overpass north of Milan has collapsed under the weight of a truck carrying an over-size load just hours after highway authorities say they requested the roadís immediate closure. (Fabrizio Cusa/ANSA via AP)

    But the bridge had collapsed before an inspector could get to it.

    Lecco officials have denied Anas’s version of events.

    A preliminary criminal investigation has now been opened.

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  • Again, Nigeria's hope out of recession dashed as Oil price rally slows on doubts over OPEC output deal

    29/Sep/2016 // 395 Viewers


    London (AFP) - An oil price rally fuelled by OPEC's deal to cut crude output ran out of steam Thursday with analysts doubting the cartel's ability to seriously tackle a supply glut.

    Following a meeting that included Russia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries stunned markets Wednesday by saying it planned to trim total production by some 750,000 barrels per day.

    This followed talks in Algiers as world oil producers seek ways to prop up prices that have plunged from $100 in 2014 to near 13-year lows below $30 at the start of 2016, mainly owing to excess supplies.

    "We are confident that OPEC countries will not stick to the agreement," commented Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

    But even if they do, exemptions from cuts granted to Iran, Nigeria and Libya mean that "the problem of surplus will not be solved if these countries take full advantage of their capacities again", Fritsch said.

    Exact details of the deal remain to be agreed and analysts said markets will now wait to see whether non-OPEC producers such as Russia, the United States and Canada will make cuts of their own.

    In a reaction Thursday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that his country intends to keep oil production at current levels.

    Wednesday's deal came after OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia allowed bitter rival Iran to be exempted from the cutbacks, as the Islamic republic recovers from years of sanctions on its oil exports.

    The cartel's announcement of a first official reduction in eight years at first sent crude prices surging six percent Wednesday, while energy firms across the globe have seen their share prices soar.

    But early Thursday the oil price slipped lower again, before showing slight gains by the late European afternoon.

    The US benchmark oil contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in November, was up 27 cents at $47.32 a barrel.

    Brent North Sea crude for November rose 19 cents to $48.88 a barrel compared with Wednesday's close.

    - Saudi 'blinks first' -

    "OPEC's commitment to cut output by between one-half and three-quarters of a million barrels a day has done more for oil-sensitive stocks and currencies, as well as overnight risk sentiment, than for oil prices themselves," Societe Generale said in a note to clients.

    "Time will tell whether oil prices will trend higher (after a knee-jerk rally), and the market will first wait to see how the cuts are divvied up between members, which will be decided at the November OPEC meeting."

    At the end of six hours of negotiations and weeks of horse trading, OPEC said it would cut production to 32.5-33 million barrels per day from around 33.5 million in August.

    "It is Saudi Arabia who has clearly blinked first, allowing Iran, its main rival, to ramp up production," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda trading group.

    "We shouldn't underestimate the major shift by Saudi Arabia," he told AFP. "These two don't see eye to eye on anything so this is a huge concession by Saudi Arabia to 'lubricate' the process."

    Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Middle East's foremost Shiite and Sunni Muslim powers, are at odds over an array of issues including the wars in Syria and Yemen.

    The Paris-based International Energy Agency called the agreement "an important development for the oil market", but it also cautioned that it was too early to tell how it would actually affect market balances.

    "The IEA continues to believe that oil prices should be determined by market fundamentals," it said.

    - 'Tipping point' -

    The cartel's richer members, particularly the Gulf states, have preferred to battle it out with non-OPEC producers such as the United States for global market share by keeping production high.

    "Saudi Arabia has perhaps reassessed their dumping oil strategy to put US shale out of business as the pressure on their budgets has clearly reached a tipping point as well," Halley added.

    The plunge in oil revenues has left Saudi Arabia with a record deficit last year, prompting the country to cut the salaries of cabinet ministers and freeze the wages of lower-ranking civil servants.

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  • Breaking: Russia plans retaliation and ‘serious discomfort’ over U.S. hacking sanctions

    30/Dec/2016 // 408 Viewers


    MOSCOW — Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday suggested that President Vladimir Putin expel 35 U.S. diplomats and close two properties used by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as part of the growing diplomatic slugfest over Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

    The tit-for-tat measures were suggested one day after President Obama announced he would expel 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and order the closure of Russian-owned facilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island in New York believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.

    “It is regrettable that the Obama administration, which started out by restoring our ties, is ending its term in an anti-Russia agony. RIP,” Russian Prime Minister DmitryMedvedev wrote Friday on Twitter.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a statement carried by the Interfax news service, called for 31 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg to be declared “persona non grata” and forced to leave the country.

    [Obama announces measures to punish Russia for election interference]

    Further, he suggested the Russian government ban the use of a vacation cottage, or dacha, on the outskirts of Moscow often used for holiday receptions and a warehouse in the Russian capital used by diplomatic staff.

    “We hope that these proposals will be considered as quickly as possible,” Lavrov said, portraying the response as symmetrical to the U.S. measures. “Of course, we cannot leave such acts unanswered; reciprocity is a diplomatic law in international relations.” 

    Lavrov also denied accusations made by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian state-backed hackers had leaked information about former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in order to sway the election in favor of her opponent, President-elect Donald Trump.

    Russian politicians and officials have been sounding off for the last day on how to respond to the Obama administration’s sweeping measures against Russia, the largest mass expulsion of diplomats since the United States expelled 51 Russian diplomats in 2001 for spying. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, promised Friday that Russia’s response would “cause serious discomfort to the American side.” 

    But other Russian officials have suggested hedging the response, so as not to antagonize the incoming Trump administration, which Moscow has hoped will be more amenable to its interests. They, like Medvedev, have sought to focus blame for the new sanctions on the Obama administration, which is in its final month.

    "Countermeasures, which are typically mandatory, should be weighted in this case, considering the known circumstances of the transitional period and the possible response of the U.S. president-elect," said Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament. 

    A final decision on a Russian response will be made by Putin and is expected Friday.  - The Washington Post

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