Banned from travel, Egyptian activist receives ‘alternative Nobel Prize’ in Cairo

Founder and director of Nazra for Feminism Studies Mozn Hassan has been awarded the Right Livelihood Award – dubbed the alternative Nobel Prize – for her work advocating the equality and rights of women who are subjected to violence, abuse and discrimination and lobbying the Egyptian government for equal rights. Along with other Egyptian human rights defenders Hassan’s assets have been frozen and she has been banned from travelling by the Egyptian authorities due to a 2011 case that accused NGOs of receiving foreign funding. Hassan could not travel to Stockholm, Sweden, to receive the award so instead, The Right Livelihood Foundation held the ceremony in Cairo. During her speech, Hassan said that she believes independent civil society in Egypt […]

US to further support Saudi in Yemen

The Trump administration has pledged to offer further support to the Saudi campaign in Yemen, according to US defence officials. A number of defence officials told Foreign Policy magazine that the Pentagon is discussing offering Riyadh greater support in its two-year-old campaign in Yemen for the purpose of curbing Iranian influence in the region and in its war on terrorism. The Trump administration has been clear from the very beginning that it would not tolerate Iranian expansionism in the Middle East and it has hiked up levels of drone strikes and controversial naval operations in Yemen as a part of its counter-terrorism strategy. Diana Alghoul: Trump continuing Obama’s ruthlessness in Yemen The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, […]

Drought-stricken Somalia battles hunger and cholera

Sun, 2017-03-26

BAIDOA, Somalia: An emaciated woman writhes on her hospital bed, weakly waving her bony hand to create a current of air.
Cholera patient Zeinab Hussein, a 50-year-old farmer, is one of thousands of desperate Somalis who have streamed into Baidoa in southwestern Somalia seeking food and medical care as a result the country’s prolonged drought. The influx has overwhelmed local and international aid agencies.
The hospital ward is filled with the sound of crying, malnourished children, many fed through tubes in their noses.
The new patients, mostly children, show signs of chronic malnourishment when they arrive at therapeutic clinics run by UNICEF, said aid workers.
The cholera epidemic is most prevalent among women and children. Cholera outbreaks often occur in refugee camps due to overcrowding and poor sanitation. Water scarcity also remains a major problem among the new arrivals in the refugee camps. In recent weeks, aid agencies have started a cholera vaccination campaign across Somalia.
Somalia’s drought is threatening 3 million lives, according to the UN In recent months, aid agencies have been scaling up their efforts but they say said more support is urgently needed to prevent the crisis from worsening.
More aid “is very important if we want to prevent the cholera from going out of control and also to prevent famine. We have to get the funding now to prevent it,” Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF’s representative for Somalia, said standing inside a Baidoa hospital ward.
“We are still ahead of the curve of the famine because now is when we can save lives,” he said. “This is not the time to have doubts that funding is not needed.”
Somalia’s emergency is joined by similar hunger crises in South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen, which together make the world’s largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years, according to UN officials.
In Somalia, drought-stricken families have had to move from one place to another in order to reach international aid agencies that cannot distribute food in areas under the control of Al-Shabab, Somali’s homegrown Islamic extremist rebels who are affiliated to Al-Qaeda.
With her newborn baby, just 40 days old, Sangabo Madey walked for two days to reach a camp in Baidoa in search of food and water. Standing beside a hut of sticks and plastic sheeting, constantly blown by the wind, the mother of five said she does not know what to do next.
“We were unable to feed our children. Because of the drought we did not have anything to eat,” Madey said. “We left our hometowns to come here, but there is little aid coming in and we still continue to suffer.”

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Sudan searching for French hostage: foreign minister

Agence France Presse
Mon, 2017-03-27

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security agents have launched a search for an abducted Frenchman after a Chadian minister reported that he was being held in the neighboring country, Khartoum said on Sunday.
Chadian Security Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir said on Friday that a French mining worker who was kidnapped in Chad was now in Sudan.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the military intelligence had launched an operation to find him.
“They all are working to find the French hostage and return him to his homeland,” Ghandour told the official SUNA news agency.
“Khartoum is coordinating with the French intelligence and the government of Chad… We hope to find him soon.”
The man was kidnapped from an area near Goz Beida, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of the Chadian city of Abeche, the Chadian minister said on Friday without offering details.
“We are doing everything possible alongside the Chadian authorities to obtain his release,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told AFP on Friday.
Several French and other Western nationals have been kidnapped by jihadist groups in west and central Africa in recent years.
The last such case in Chad — a former French colony — dates back to 2009, when a Frenchman working for the International Committee of the Red Cross was abducted by a shadowy armed group called the Freedom Eagles of Africa, based in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur province.
He was freed after 89 days.
The only known French hostage currently being held anywhere in the world is Sophie Petronin, head of an NGO who was abducted by armed men in the northern Malian town of Gao late last year.
No group has claimed responsibility for her disappearance.
Chad is one of France’s key African allies in the counter-terror fight, with the capital N’Djamena serving as headquarters for France’s Operation Barkhane anti-jihadist force.
Set up in 2014, the force, which counts 4,000 troops, works in five Sahel countries — Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso — to flush out Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.

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China to review murder sentence in loan shark killing case

Mon, 2017-03-27

BEIJING: China’s top prosecutor will review a controversial sentence in which a man was jailed for life after killing a loan shark who had sexually assaulted his mother, in a case that has again ignited public anger over police incompetence.
The government has promised to redress miscarriages of justice after several high profile cases, including wrongful executions of people later proven to be not guilty.
Yu Huan, from Liaocheng in the eastern province of Shandong, was sentenced to life in jail in February after he used a knife to attack four of his mother’s creditors who exposed themselves to his mother while demanding a debt be repaid last April, according to state media. One of the creditors died.
Yu’s mother Su Yinxia borrowed more than 1 million yuan ($145,342.50) in 2014 and 2015 and verbally agreed to 10 percent monthly interest, the state-run Global Times said, citing an initial court verdict.
When four of the loan sharks went to the office to demand repayment, police were called but left without arresting anyone, the report added. After the police left, the dispute escalated leading to the death, it said.
Yu’s attorney, Yin Liqing, filed an appeal last month against the sentence and will also sue police for failing to carry out their duties, which Yin says resulted in the killing, the paper added.
On Sunday, the country’s top prosecutor said it will examine and review the evidence to find out if Yu was acting in self-defense, and investigate possible dereliction of duty by the police. Shandong’s high court also announced on Sunday it has accepted Yu’s appeal.
Liaocheng police declined to comment when reached by telephone.
The case has been widely discussed on Chinese social media, and is the number two trending topic on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, with many people saying a life sentence was not justified and criticizing police inaction.

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Iran imposes sanctions on 15 US companies

Iran has imposed sanctions on 15 US companies for supporting Israel, terrorism and repression in the region. ABC News reported a statement from the Iranian foreign ministry saying: “These companies are not allowed to sign any agreements with Iranian companies, and former and current directors will not get visas to enter the country.” Read: Netanyahu using ‘bigoted’ lies and ‘fake history’ says Iranian FM The list includes ITT Corp., missile-maker Raytheon Co. and United Technologies Corp. Denver’s Re/Max Holdings Inc., a real estate company and Israeli defence contractor Elbit. The measure is seen as a response to US sanctions imposed on dozens of Iranian entities in February after Tehran tested a missile.

Goldman Warns OPEC Production Cut Extension Will Backfire, Result In Lower Prices

As discussed yesterday, while the Joint OPEC/Non-OPEC Ministerial Monitoring Committee meeting on Sunday did not formally recommend an extension to the oil production cuts agreed last year at OPEC’s Vienna summit, several OPEC members announced their support for such a move during this weekend’s meeting in Kuwait. The Committee is now expected to deliberate such an extension at its April meeting at which point OECD inventories are expected to be well short of the targeted “5-year average levels”, or in fact by the May 25 OPEC/Non-OPEC Minister meeting.

While this suggests that an extension could be formalized and be endorsed by OPEC, one bank believes that such a move would not be prudent, as while it may boost near-term prices, oil could hit a “level at which we believe activity levels will ramp up in most regions, making these extended cuts self-defeating.” In other words, should OPEC succumb to pressure to achieve near-term gains, oil would ultimatly suffer a bigger drop over the longer term.

As Goldman’s Damien Courvalin writes overnight, his “assessment of oil fundamentals and the rationale behind the production cuts do not warrant such an extension barring either a sharp deceleration of demand growth or a sharp rebound in Libya/Nigeria production.”

We believe that the rebalancing of the oil market is in fact making progress despite the record high US crude inventories. Further, we forecast that OECD inventories on a days of demand cover will reach their 5-year average level by year-end even with OPEC bringing production back online in 2H17. Ultimately, we believe that the goal of the cuts is to accelerate the draw in OECD inventories but not for inventories to fall too low as this would take prices towards $65/bbl, a level at which we believe activity levels will ramp up in most regions, making these extended cuts self-defeating. While this does not preclude an extension of the cuts from being initially announced in May, such a decision would only exacerbate the backwardation that we project, creating upside risks to our 2H17 $57/bbl Brent forecast but in turn downside risk to our 2018 $58/bbl forecast.

Some more thoughts on why Goldman disagrees with the OPEC/NOPEC committee:

We believe it is beneficial for low cost producers to accelerate the normalization of oil inventories but not target too high a price rebound. Lower inventories imply backwardation – helping low cost producers grow market share by preventing higher cost producers from selling their production forward at a premium. However, oil prices above $60/bbl would prove self defeating in our view given the flattening of the oil cost curve and the unprecedented velocity of the shale supply response. It is useful to understand OPEC’s incentive through the lens of our pricing methodology which compares OECD inventories (as measured vs. OECD demand) to Brent timespreads (Exhibit 5). At the stated 5-year average OECD inventory level target, this relationship would imply a 1-mo to 5-yr backwardation above 20% and, at current 5-year forward Brent prices, spot prices of $65/bbl, a price level where we expect an excessive global drilling response.


We therefore believe that OPEC should be wary of extending its production cuts unless (1) fundamentals weaken sharply driven by transient headwinds such as a ramp up in Libya or a weakening of global demand, or (2) long term oil prices decline further, limiting the rally in spot prices and the incentive to ramp up activity. Absent such conditions, the larger-than-expected ramp up in US activity and the sooner than expected shift by the oil majors to refocus on growth observed so far this year should ultimately be the incentive for an only short duration cut. While this does not preclude an extension of the cuts from being initially announced in May, such a decision would only exacerbate the backwardation that we project, creating upside risks to our 2H17 $57/bbl Brent forecast but in turn downside risk to our 2018 $58/bbl forecast.

In other words, a golidlocks oil price: not too high to stimulate even more shale production, not too low to once again cripple OPEC’s own output. Whether Saudi Arabia will agree will be revealed in a few weeks.

Below are the requisite charts from Goldman, laying out the bank’s case for a slow, steady renormalization in supply and demand.

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South Sudan rebels blame government for killings of aid workers

Mon, 2017-03-27

JUBA: Rebels said on Monday the South Sudan government should be held responsible for the killing of six aid workers, the deadliest single assault on humanitarian staff in a three-year-old civil war.
The government said it was too early to say who was behind Saturday’s ambush. A UN official said on Monday it could amount to a war crime.
The six were ambushed as they were traveling from the capital Juba toward the town of Pibor, the United Nations said, through remote territory largely under government control but fought over by both sides and plagued by militias and other armed groups.
The United Nations did not say which organization the aid workers belonged to but called on all those in positions of power in South Sudan to stop the violence.
“It will be counterproductive at this stage for anybody to rush for judgment without first allowing the truth to be established,” Akol Paul Kordit, the deputy minister of information, told Reuters in Juba.
Rebel fighters loyal to former vice president Riek Machar said the government should be held accountable as the killings took place on its territory.
“We don’t have forces in that area. Instead it’s the government forces and militias who control that area,” said the spokesman for the rebel SPLM-IO forces, Lam Paul Gabriel.
UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said in Geneva the killings could constitute a war crime and must be investigated and prosecuted.
“They are not traveling with escorts, or things like that, they are aid workers, they come unarmed themselves, essentially they have only their humanitarian principles to hold up as a shield,” Laerke told Reuters TV.
“All these parties to this conflict must understand that they are providing aid in a neutral, impartial, independent manner, regardless of the areas that are under control of the various parties to the factions.
“They have only one goal, and that is to provide life-saving relief to people who are in desperate need.”
Pibor is the main town in Boma state, a vast underdeveloped territory bordering Ethiopia rocked by violence between competing clans this month.
At least 79 aid workers have been killed since President Salva Kiir’s government forces clashed with Machar’s men in December 2013 — the product of a long-running rivalry between the two men that has split the country along ethnic lines.
UN monitors have found Kiir’s government mainly to blame for the catastrophe in a country which, in less than six years of independence, has collapsed into a chaotic ethnic war, an epidemic of rape and famine.

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Myanmar army chief defends military campaign in Rakhine

Agence France Presse
Mon, 2017-03-27

Yangon: Myanmar’s army chief defended a military crackdown in Rakhine State on Monday after the UN pledged to probe claims security forces carried out a campaign of killing and torture against Rohingya Muslims there.
Almost 75,000 people from the persecuted minority have escaped to Bangladesh after the military launched operations in the north of the restive state to find Rohingya militants who raided police border posts in October.
UN investigators believe security forces may have committed crimes against humanity. Last week the UN Human Rights Council agreed to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission, with a view to “ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”
Myanmar has long faced criticism for its treatment of the more than one million Rohingya who live in Rakhine State, who are rejected as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh or “Bengalis” despite many living there for generations.
Speaking to crowds assembled in the capital for armed forces day, army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Monday defended the military campaign.
“The Bengalis in Rakhine State are not the Myanmar nationalities but the immigrants,” he said, according to an official translation.
“The terrorist attacks which took place in October 2016 resulted in the political interferences.”
Myanmar’s civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has meanwhile rebuffed the UN probe, saying any international fact-finding mission “would do more to inflame, rather than resolve, the issues at this time.”
The country’s powerful military until recently ruled Myanmar with an iron fist and built up a notorious reputation for rights abuses, especially when conducting operations against restive ethnic insurgents.
Almost all Rohingya are denied citizenship and forced to live in apartheid-like conditions, while tens of thousands of them have been confined to dire camps since violence drove them from their homes in 2012.
This month a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan to resolve issues in Rakhine recommended the camps be closed and said restrictions on freedom of movement should be lifted.

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