Friday, 30 September 2016

French Sources Warn of ‘Legal Chaos’ over JASTA

Paris-French authorities have reiterated their rejection to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which the Foreign Ministry said violates international law.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Romain Nadal said in his weekly press briefing on Friday that France and European countries believe that JASTA contravenes international law.

Paris, which is fighting the war on terror along with its partners, mainly the United States, considers that this battle “should be waged through the respect of national and international laws,” Nadal told reporters.

According to French authorities, the new U.S. law, which was adopted by the Senate and Congress despite President Barack Obama’s veto on it, “violates the concept of sovereign immunity of countries.”

French judicial sources believe that laws such as JASTA would lead to a “legal chaos” at the international level.

JASTA allows attack survivors and relatives of terrorism victims to pursue cases against foreign governments in U.S. federal court and to demand compensation if such governments are proven to bear some responsibility for attacks on U.S. soil.

According to the sources, the U.S. would be the first to suffer as a result of the law because it could open the door for other countries to make similar moves.

The U.S. would be the worst sufferer for having the most impact in world affairs, they said.

The sources warned that the law could be used against it for its role in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Nicaragua. The states that would take advantage of JASTA would claim that the U.S. interference in these countries was an act of terror and drag it to trial or demand some of its nationals or agencies to appear in court.

In opposing the law, Obama said it would harm U.S. interests by undermining the principle of sovereign immunity, opening up the U.S. to private lawsuits over its military missions abroad.

French authorities believe that the law’s adoption is linked to the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in the U.S.

Several lawmakers have admitted that they haven’t even read the document before voting on it.

French Sources Warn of ‘Legal Chaos’ over JASTA

Last Premier before Iran’s Revolution Passes Away

London-“Dour faced”, “inflexible” and’ stingy”. These are some of the labels attached to Iranian politician Jamshid Amuzegar who has just passed away in exile in Maryland, United States, aged 93.

Amuzegar was the Prime Minister of Iran from August 1977 to August 1978 at a time that Iran, then led by the Shah, was heading for the most dramatic event in its contemporary history, later baptized as “the Islamic Revolution.”

The unflattering soubriquets cited above did contain a grain of truth about Amuzegar. But they also concealed a great deal. Amuzegar was certainly unsmiling, a fact that was to his disadvantage in a society that cherished tactile cuddliness, even if only a pose. He was also an adept of frontal attacks on positions and ideas he didn’t deem proper and right.

In a society in which hiding one’s true opinion is a polished art, that, too, was a minus for a politician. The label “stingy’ isn’t off the mark either. The brown envelopes filled with crisp bank-notes, the shining gold coins, the expensive watches bearing his name and other baubles with which men of power in the “Orient” demonstrate their power and wealth were not for him.

What is remarkable is that, though he came from a middle class provincial family and never mastered the science of Persian flattery, Amuzegar managed to build an exceptional career. Married to an Austrian lady, Amuzegar could not play the traditional card of family networks to pave his way to the top. In fact he is the only politician in contemporary Iranian history to have served in five different ministerial positions, Health, Labor, Agriculture, Finance, and the Interior, before being appointed Prime Minister. To add an even more curious layer of color, two of Amuzegar’s brothers also served as cabinet ministers.

Jamshid was born in 1923 in Estahbanat, a small town in the southern province of Fars, the son of a Habiballah Amuzegar, one of the first judges in the modern European-style judiciary created by Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty. Interested in Persian literature and having had a stint as a journalist in the daily Ettelaat, Habiballh wanted all his sons to obtain higher education.

Thus Jamshid enrolled in Tehran University’s Faculty of Law, only to find out that he had a more scientific bend of mind. Soon after World War II, he became one of the first generation of Iranians to be sent to the United States for higher education where he obtained a degree in civil engineering from the Cornell University before obtaining a doctorate in hydraulics from Washington University.

However, it was thanks to special courses organized by the US-sponsored Point IV aid project that Amuzegar became one of the first generation of Iranian bureaucrats and technocrats to get trained in modern management techniques.

Amuzegar and his generation did a great deal for modernizing the Iranian civil service which, dating back to the 16th century had remained atrophied in its old ways. He also played a pioneering role in shaping Iran’s first modern Labor Code with the help of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

In the 1960s, Amuzegar also managed Prime Minister Amir-Abbas Hoveyda’s reform movement aimed at streamlining the civil service, decentralization and greater public participation in local decision-making.

However, Amuzegar earned international fame as Iran’s point-man in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Set up by Iran and Venezuela in 1960, OPEC’s task was to defend producing nations against international oil cartels that dictated off-take levels and prices.

In the 1970s, thanks to close cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, then the two giants of the global oil industry, crude prices rose from under $4 to $11 per barrel. With Ahmad Zaki Yamani, the Saudi Oil Minister, Amuzegar formed a duo that was the bogey of the oil cartel and the darling of Iranians and Arabs fed up with the shenanigans of the Seven Sisters.

In 1975, Amuzegar won international fame with an incident that he would rather have avoided. He, Yamani and other OPEC ministers were seized as hostages during an OPEC conference in Vienna by a six-man Palestinian commando led by the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos Sanchez, alias “The Jackal” and taken to Libya where Colonel Muammar Kaddhafi unrolled the red carpet for them.

In those dramatic days, the joke in Tehran was that Amuzegar’s cool nerves and absence of emotions may actually finish off Carlos. In the end, however, the ministers were released in exchange for a ransom of $25 million negotiated by Kaddhafi for Carlos.

Back in Tehran, the Shah rewarded Amuzegar with the Crown Medal number one, the highest decoration the monarch could give. Amuzegar became the first and only person to get that distinction without having served as prime minister. However, the post pf prime minister was not far away, and only two years later Amuzegar was asked to form a Cabinet.

Sadly, Amuzegar’s premiership ran into trouble almost from the first day as his abrasive manner antagonized some of his ministers and several senior civil servants while the Iranian economy was heading for a slowdown. His response to the looming economic crisis was austerity in the shape of massive cuts in public expenditure, a measure that intensified the slowdown. A technocrat, Amuzegar was unable to fully gauge what was going on, something that required political acumen which he lacked. Unwilling to deploy the iron fist while also refusing to splash money around to buy support, Amuzegar’s government became more fragile daily as protest demonstrations spread to more and more cities.

By August 1978 when he tendered his resignation, Amuzegar’s premiership had become untenable as Iran plunged deeper into turmoil. He was a misunderstood man whose serious demeanor hid his sense of humor and his almost fanatical love of Iran remained masked by his no-nonsense attitude.

Last Premier before Iran’s Revolution Passes Away

Oil up Second Straight Month on OPEC-Fueled Rally

Oil prices settled mixed on Friday while posting their second straight monthly gain on OPEC’s planned output cuts, even as skepticism about the cartel’s pledge grew after data suggested another record high in its production.

Brent crude settled up 4 percent for September and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 8 percent, helped by Wednesday’s announcement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Algeria that it aimed to remove some 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the market.

Analysts estimate the global oversupply in crude at 1.0-1.5 million bpd.

Brent for November delivery settled down 18 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $49.06 a barrel, before expiring as the front-month contract. For both the week and month, it rose about 4 percent. For the quarter it fell around 1 percent.

WTI’s front-month, also November, closed up 41 cents, or nearly 1 percent, at $48.24 per barrel. It gained 8 percent on the week and month, and was almost flat on the quarter.

“Yes, it’s a second straight monthly gain for oil but the question is whether we can continue punching higher from here,” said David Thompson, executive vice-president at Powerhouse, a commodity-focused broker in Chicago.

“If we look at OPEC’s latest production figure, it gives them an even larger amount to cut. None of the actors involved are flushed with cash. They’re all petro states suffering from low oil prices. It’s very difficult to see them cut production in a meaningful way when they need the money.”

OPEC said on Wednesday it had achieved agreement in principle to cut output to between 32.5 million bpd and 33.0 million bpd from about 33.5 million bpd, estimated by Reuters to be August’s production level. Details will be finalized at OPEC’s policy meeting in November, group officials said.

The cuts were forced by a persistent glut that has more than halved prices from mid-2014 highs above $100.

Russia, not an OPEC member but a large producer pumping crude at record highs, said it would find a way to freeze production if it reaches a deal with OPEC.

The United States, also a non-OPEC member and now the biggest oil producer, said on Thursday it had little faith in the OPEC plan. U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein told Reuters that any price gains from the cuts would trigger higher U.S. production, which would ultimately defeat the deal.

A weekly reading on the U.S. oil rig count showed local drillers added 95 rigs for the third quarter, the most in any quarter since 2014.

Source: Reuters

Oil up Second Straight Month on OPEC-Fueled Rally

Russia Says Ready to Consider More Ways to Normalize Situation in Syria's Aleppo

Russia’s acting Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told counterpart U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday that Moscow was ready to consider additional ways to “normalize” the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the ministry reported.

“The Russian side reaffirmed its readiness to continue looking into additional possibilities, together with the American partners, on normalizing the situation in Aleppo,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs once again blamed Washington for allegedly failing to separate terrorists groups from the moderate opposition in Syria. Backing pro-regime forces and Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria, Russia collectively profiles armed opposition as terrorist groups and not as revolution forces aiming for a democratic and constitutional reform for the war-torn country.

The call, on Washington’s initiative, came a day after Kerry said there was no point pursuing further negotiations with Russia over Syria “in the context of the kind of bombing taking place”.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the two leaders condemned what they called barbarous Russian and Syrian government air strikes on eastern Aleppo.

A Russian newspaper reported on Friday that Russia was sending more warplanes to Syria to ramp up its air strikes and fighting intensified in Aleppo, a week into the Russian-backed government offensive to capture the city and crush the last remaining urban stronghold of the opposition.

“Lavrov emphasized that Russia remains open to a dialogue with the United States on all key issues of the Syrian settlement,” the ministry said.

Source: Reuters

Russia Says Ready to Consider More Ways to Normalize Situation in Syria's Aleppo

Trump Deepens Attack on Former Miss Universe, Clinton Calls Him "Unhinged"

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had gone deeper with his attacks on a former beauty queen Alicia Machado on Friday, calling her “disgusting” as he refused to back away from an issue that threatens to damage his already weak standing among women and Hispanics.

Trump was quickly and sharply rebuked by his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and by Machado, a Venezuelan-born former Miss Universe who was criticized by Trump for gaining weight after she won the crown in 1996. Clinton called the Republican candidate “unhinged.”

Clinton had raised Trump’s treatment of Machado during the two candidates’ first debate on Monday night as an example of how he views women. Clinton said Trump, the former owner of the Miss Universe pageants, had called Machado “Miss Piggy” and also “Miss Housekeeping” because she was a Latina.

Trump did not apologize then and in a television interview the following day he strongly criticized Machado over her post-pageant weight gain. With less than six weeks to go until the Nov. 8 election, Trump has refused to let the issue fade and he went on a pre-dawn tirade on Twitter on Friday.

“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” Trump said.

Offering no proof of his claims, he said the Clinton campaign was unaware of the beauty queen’s past and was “duped” by her. His attack came as he struggled to rebound from what was widely viewed as a loss to Clinton in Monday’s debate.

Machado denounced the accusations as “cheap lies” from a man intent on defaming her, posting her response in Spanish on Instagram next to a photo of herself draped in the U.S. flag.

“By way of his hate campaign, the Republican candidate insists on discrediting and demoralizing a woman, which is clearly one of his most frightening characteristics,” she wrote.

Clinton rebuked Trump in her own Twitter posts, saying “This is…unhinged, even for Trump.”

“What kind of man stays up all night to smear a woman with lies and conspiracy theories?” Clinton wrote, praising Machado for standing up to Trump.

Machado, who is now a U.S. citizen, has appeared on major television and cable networks and has given numerous interviews this week in which she said she was humiliated by Trump.

Source: Reuters

Trump Deepens Attack on Former Miss Universe, Clinton Calls Him "Unhinged"

2 Van Gogh Paintings Stolen from Amsterdam Recovered in Italy

Italian police have recovered two paintings of the greatest Dutch artist Van Gogh that were stolen from an Amsterdam museum in 2002, investigators said Friday.

The works were found in a farmhouse near an organized crime syndicate’s Naples-area stronghold, they said.

The paintings, discovered without their frames, are in “relatively good condition,” the Van Gogh Museum said in a statement on its website. It said the two paintings are the 1882 work “Seascape at Scheveningen” and a later work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.”

The earlier painting contains grains of sand that were stirred up from the beach as Van Gogh worked. The other depicts a church in the south of the Netherlands where the artist’s father was the pastor.

The recovered masterpieces were among assets worth millions of euros seized from a Camorra organized crime group linked to cocaine trafficking, Italian reports said.

The works were unveiled for reporters at a news conference in Naples. Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and asked it to send an expert to examine the paintings. Art experts determined they are authentic.

“Needless to say it’s a great day for us today,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they are soon back where they belong.”

That might take some time. Authorities noted the paintings, found covered in cotton cloth in the farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia, are part of an investigation of whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the theft or if they got involved later.

Financial Police. Col. Giovanni Salerno said investigators looking into the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations got a tip that the Camorra might have had the artworks.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them is usually suspected, since it would be virtually impossible to sell them in the legitimate art market.

With “enormous profits” from drug trafficking, the Camorra are looking for new ways to invest their ill-gained wealth, which might include stolen artworks, Salerno said.

Salerno said a person at the farmhouse when the paintings were found “didn’t say a word” about how they wound up there. He declined to elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.

Investigators seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) worth of assets, including farmland, villas and apartments, which they say are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice said in a statement.

The organized crime investigative unit of the Financial Guard, a branch of the Italian police, often sequesters assets of suspected mobsters.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, do show “some damage.” It added that it is not known where the paintings were kept in the 14 years since they were stolen. The thieves broke into the museum through the roof during the night of 6-7 December 2002 and used sledgehammers to break a first-floor window.

They took the paintings off the walls of the main exhibition hall. Experts were baffled at the time of the theft because guards had been on patrol and infra-red security systems were in place.

The seascape work had some paint in the bottom left corner broken away, with the other had “a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas,” the museum statement said. Rueger said the museum owes a debt of gratitude to Italian authorities.

“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” he said.

2 Van Gogh Paintings Stolen from Amsterdam Recovered in Italy

Iraqi, Arab Tribes Rebuff Iran’s Involvement in Mosul’s Anticipated Liberation

Erbil- Arab tribes domiciled in Iraq’s Nineveh have stressed a collective and undisputable refusal for any intervention by Iran or Shi’ite-based Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in the fight for Mosul’s retake from the ISIS ultra-hardline group.

As the battle to take back ISIS’ de facto capital in Iraq nears, communities across Iraq, namely Nineveh, fear that Tehran’s continued incitation of sectarianism might fail any initiative to recapture the ISIS stronghold.

Speaking on behalf of tribes in Nineveh, Sheikh Muzahim Ahmen Alhuwait explains the local rejection of Iran-backed PMF militants partaking in the Mosul liberation offensive.

Alhuwait says that Iran’s influence has been conjuring sectarian-spurred street support in Mosul backing former Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

All Arab tries in Mosul and Nineveh will not tolerate any presence for either Iranian or Maliki dominance in the region, added Alhuwait.

On the other hand, Shiekh Mohammad Albujari, head of Albujari tribe, says that all Arab tribes in the region are fully prepared to liberate Iraq’s Mosul.

He explained that the people of Mosul will also be playing a great part in freeing themselves from ISIS hold, given that the locals had showcased maximum resilience and noncompliance with ISIS’ ideology or ruling.

“Mosul will free itself at the hands of its own people, yet it still awaits a much needed assurance of not being stabbed from the back like what had happened in June 10, 2014,” said Abujari.

In late May, 2014, Iraqi security forces arrested seven members of ISIS militants in Mosul and learned the group had planned an offensive against the city in early June. Gharawi, the operational commander of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, asked Maliki’s most trusted commanders for reinforcements. Maliki was still in office at the time.

Senior officers scoffed at the request. Diplomats in Baghdad also passed along intelligence of an attack, only to be told that Iraqi Special Forces were in Mosul and could handle any scenario

With missing reinforcement, Mosul fell into the hands of the ultra-hardline terror group, becoming its de facto capital in Iraq early June.

Arab tribes in Iraq voiced loud concerns on the extent of Iranian infiltration into their homeland, and called upon all Iraqis to forsake Iranian involvement and stand in solidarity with other Iraqi tribes located in each of mid and north Iraq to overcome the current dilemma.

Iraqi, Arab Tribes Rebuff Iran’s Involvement in Mosul’s Anticipated Liberation

Turkey pulls plug on 20 radio, TV channels in post-coup emergency decree

Turkey has ordered the closure of 20 television and radio stations on charges they spread “terrorist propaganda”, adding to fears that emergency rule is being used to stifle the media.

An official at the Radio and Television Supreme Council, the state watchdog, confirmed 20 stations were being closed.

Among the shuttered television channels are Govend TV, which plays folk music, and Zarok TV, the first Kurdish children’s channel. The channels stopped broadcasting on Wednesday night and they have been removed from the TURKSAT satellite, an official in the Kurdish-majority southeastern city of Diyarbakir told AFP.

The decision also shut 11 radio stations for harming national security, Aktan said.

The banned channels are owned or operated by Kurds or the Alevi religious minority, according to Hamza Aktan, news editor at IMC TV, a news broadcaster slated for closure. He cited a copy of the decision obtained by his channel, which was based on powers given the government in a decree issued in July.

“This has nothing to do with the coup. It is an effort to silence the last independent media covering the Kurdish issue and violations committed by the state,” Aktan told Reuters.

IMC has aired reports looking at security forces’ conduct during 14 months of military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has killed thousands.

“Turkey is targeting a wide swath of cultural and political expression by shuttering minority broadcasters,” Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists said. “When the government sees even children’s programming as a threat to national security, it is clearly abusing its emergency powers.”

Aktan and other IMC staff continued airing segments on Friday while waiting for police to arrive at their offices. Other stations on the closure list were raided and sealed off on Thursday, newspapers and CPJ said.

President Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants a three-month state of emergency, imposed after a failed coup attempt in July, to be prolonged past October so authorities can eradicate the threat posed by a religious movement blamed for the attempt, as well as Kurdish militants who have waged a 32-year insurgency.

Erdogan argues the state of emergency is helping authorities swiftly root out supporters of the military uprising by bypassing parliament to enact laws and suspend rights.

Turkey holds U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen responsible for orchestrating the coup in which 240 soldiers, police and civilians were killed trying to stop rogue troops who had commandeered fighter jets and tanks to bomb parliament and shoot protesters. Another 100 people behind the putsch were killed.

Turkish authorities have suspended 1,500 prison personnel and guards over links with Gulen, justice minister Bekir Bozdag said.

Speaking at an event in the Turkish capital, Bozdag said the prison personnel and guards were temporarily suspended to remove individuals linked to the cleric in Turkish prisons, but could be sacked if concrete links were found.

Some 100,000 state employees suspected of links with the Gulen movement have been purged, and 32,000 people are in jail for their alleged role in the coup. Gulen denies involvement.

Turkey pulls plug on 20 radio, TV channels in post-coup emergency decree

CIA Director: Baghdadi’s Time Is Limited

Washington- (CNN) — CIA Director John Brennan said in two television interviews on Wednesday that the time of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is limited.

Brennan stated during an interview with CNN that the “U.S. is now more secure than it was 15 years ago (9/11 attacks).” He continued, “We learnt a lot” noting that the cooperation and intelligence information exchange have increased among the various U.S. security agencies and ministries. CIA Director affirmed that conducting an attack similar to 9/11 is now difficult. “ISIS was sacked from several regions in Iraq and Syria… ISIS no longer has the same control over the territories as it used to before,” he added.

“Brennan added that Russia is “an adversary in a number of areas,” and that the Intelligence officials have indicated that Russia was behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee.

“Mr. Putin has been very aggressive in his foreign policy,” Brennan said. “But also very aggressive in the cyber realm…So I think while we have to be very wary of what the Russians may be doing, I think we have to be very careful about believing some of the things that they say publicly.”

Brennan considers it a tough mission to reunite Syria and Iraq and he seems uncertain of the possibility to form a central government capable of managing both countries in a fair way.

“The U.S. does not want dictatorial central governments in Syria and Iraq; such governments were the reason behind the ongoing problems in the region,” said Brennan. “We thought the democracy will flourish after the Arab Spring and the toppling of dictators but this did not happen,” he added.

CIA Director: Baghdadi’s Time Is Limited

Association of Football Agents Admits System is open to Abuse amid Allardyce Fallout

London – The Association of Football Agents has said that “the global move to deregulation has not worked” and has “allowed the system to be more open to manipulation and abuse” amid the fallout from Sam Allardyce’s resignation. In a statement issued on Wednesday it also stressed the need for tighter regulation of its industry, featuring input from Uefa and Fifa.

The board of the body that represents more than 300 agents gathered in London and expressed a willingness to bring greater light to bear on financial transactions in football.

The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday cited undercover interviews with agents in which they claimed to have given bungs to Premier League and Championship managers to help seal transfer deals.

In a statement, the AFA said: “We recognise that while recent reports involving possible misconduct in relation to player transfers remain unproven, they do raise important questions and serve to highlight the need for greater transparency and a new regulatory framework in this area of the football industry.

“We are totally committed to helping any investigation in the various allegations,” the AFA continued, “and to continue to work with the relevant football authorities, led by the FA, to further explore what steps can be taken in English football to put in place an effective system of licensing and code of conduct for agents.”

The AFA called for a system that is “enforceable globally” and criticised the deregulation of agent licensing and conduct by Fifa in April of last year.

It gathered ostensibly to welcome a new chairman, the former chief executive of the International Rugby Board Mike Miller, to replace Mel Stein. It is understood that Miller sees it as part of his responsibilities to lift some of the shadows that have hung over football agents and to aim not only for greater accountability for the industry but transparency too.

Quite how far such transparency will go remains to be seen however, with commercial sensitivities making it unlikley that full disclosure of the fees involved in transfer deals will occur.

The Guardian

Association of Football Agents Admits System is open to Abuse amid Allardyce Fallout

Saudi-Turkish Cooperation Council Revived during Crown Prince’s Visit to Ankara

Ankara – The visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz to Ankara saw the revival of the Saudi-Turkish Strategic Cooperation Council, which was established in April with the aim to boost economic relations and commercial exchange between the two countries.

The Cooperation Council was established on April 14, during an official visit conducted by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Turkey, where a number of cooperation agreements were signed under the supervision of the Saudi King and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Council specializes in bilateral cooperation in the different political, diplomatic and economic fields, as well as issues related to trade and finance, industry, energy and agriculture, in addition to culture, education, security and technology.

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approved the creation of the Saudi-Turkish Strategic Cooperation Council on April 11, and assigned the minister of foreign affairs with completing the official arrangements with the Turkish side.

In comments to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Zuhal Mansfield, Deputy President of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Council, said that the establishment of the Strategic Cooperation Council was an important step towards the promotion of bilateral relations.

She added that around 800 Saudi companies were currently investing in Turkey, against 200 Turkish companies operating in the Kingdom.

Mansfield said Saudi investors were assuming an important role in the Turkish economic life with investments amounting to around $6 billion.

Saudi-Turkish Cooperation Council Revived during Crown Prince’s Visit to Ankara

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ould Cheikh in Riyadh Carrying the File of Reviving Talks, Kerry’s Ceasefire

Jeddah, Aden – As part of his new regional tour, U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to arrive to Riyadh today before heading in two days to the Omani capital, Muscat, where he will sit with a Houthi delegation.

U.N. spokesman Charbel Raji said that during his stop in Saudi Arabia, Ould Cheikh would carry in his pocket the file of the political negotiations and the cessation of fighting.

Informed Yemeni sources said Ould Sheikh would be mainly discussing the issue related to a 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen, which has been suggested earlier by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his trip to Riyadh last August.

Yemeni diplomatic sources spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about a dispute between the U.N. special envoy and the U.S. Department of State concerning the priorities of the peace initiative in Yemen.

Ould Sheikh believes there is a need first to secure a ceasefire to deliver aid and a necessity that rebels withdraw from Yemeni cities. However, the U.S. considers a peace initiative should start by the formation of a national unity government, the sources said.

Yemeni sources asserted to Asharq Al-Awsat that any solution carried by Ould Cheikh or any other side would not be accepted if it does not clearly state, before any political solution, a request from Houthis to hand over their weapons and withdraw from the cities, particularly from Sana’a, Taiz and Hadidiyah.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Yemeni government was currently preparing a file, supported with proofs and detailed information, concerning the war crimes that were committed by the Houthi-Saleh militias. The file will be sent to the International Criminal Court.

The foreign minister said the Yemeni government would use this file to show the international community what crimes the rebels have been committing since they seized the capital, Sana’a, in 2014.

“The criminals would not go unpunished, because the crimes committed by the rebels against the Yemeni people had escalated and expanded,” Al-Mekhlafi said, adding that Yemenis want to judicially punish those criminals through the civil organizations.

The already frozen negotiations to end 18 months of fighting in Yemen collapsed last month in Kuwait and Houthi militias there resumed shelling attacks into Saudi Arabia.

Concerning Yemen’s decision to present a claim against Iran to the U.N. Security Council, the foreign minister said Yemeni legal experts were currently studying the file, which would be presented to the council soon.

“The government is currently documenting all illegal activities conducted by Tehran, particularly Iran’s current efforts to change the Yemeni demographic structure,” he said.

Last week, Yemen President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed at the U.N. to “extract Yemen from the claws of Iran” as he accused Tehran of impeding peace by intervening in the country.

Ould Cheikh in Riyadh Carrying the File of Reviving Talks, Kerry’s Ceasefire

Moscow Vows to Press on with Syria Offensive

Disregarding all international callings for reinforcing the political process in war-torn Syria , Russia’s Kremlin vowed on Thursday to press on with its military campaign backing the Syrian regime’s side of the conflict.

EU foreign affairs Chief Federica Mogherini called the air strikes in Aleppo a “massacre” and said European governments were considering their response.

U.S. officials searched for a tougher response to Russia’s decision to ignore the peace process and seek military victory on behalf of regime head Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow and pro-Assad forces launched an offensive to retake the Syrian opposition-held sector of Aleppo this month, abandoning a new ceasefire a week after it took effect to embark on what could be the biggest battle of a nearly six-year war.

The United States and European Union accuse Russia of torpedoing diplomacy to pursue military victory in Aleppo, and say Moscow and Damascus are guilty of war crimes for targeting civilians, hospitals and aid workers to break the will of 250,000 people living under siege inside Syria’s largest city.

Rebel fighters have launched an advance of their own in countryside near the central city of Hama, where they said they made gains on Thursday.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told U.S. lawmakers that President Barack Obama had asked staff to look at how Washington might respond.

“The president has asked all of the agencies to put forward options, some familiar, some new, that we are very actively reviewing,” Blinken said. “When we are able to work through these in the days ahead we’ll have an opportunity to come back and talk about them in detail.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who personally negotiated the failed truce in talks with Russia despite skepticism from other senior U.S. officials, has said Washington could walk away from diplomacy unless the fighting stops.

U.S. officials say they are considering tougher responses to the Russian-backed Syrian government assault, including military options, although they have described the range of possible responses as limited and say risky measures like air strikes on Syrian targets or sending U.S. jets to escort aid are unlikely.

Source: Reuters

Moscow Vows to Press on with Syria Offensive

Members of a European Terror Cell Are Arrested in an International Security Operation

Authorities in Spain, Germany and Belgium arrested five people suspected of belonging to a propaganda cell affiliated to ISIS yesterday in a security operation carried out by international police.

At the same time, it was announced in Brussels yesterday that Belgian prosecutors have started investigations into dangers that the Belgian army may be exposed to and that are described as “serious”. This comes after an ISIS leader published a number of photos of Belgian soldiers and their names via the Telegram message application in a letter that he said is addressed to “the brothers in Belgium”.

Belgian media said yesterday that the actions of the leader seem like an invitation to carry out terrorist attacks on Belgian soldiers and that security and judicial authorities are dealing with these threats very seriously. The threats are related to Rashid Qasim Al-Faransi who is an ISIS leader and whose name has recently been appearing frequently after the discovery of terrorist plots in France and Belgium. The authorities in both countries have arrested 15 people in the past few weeks in connection with Qasim, and authorities in Brussels and Paris succeeded in thwarting several terrorist plots.

Belgian media said that Rashid obtained pictures and the names of a number of soldiers through Facebook and that he published this information on his website via Telegram which is frequented by 300 followers last Monday. According to media sources in Brussels, there is a chance that these images and names will be seen by more supporters of ISIS and other people as well.

The sources said that Qasim encourages terrorist movements in Europe daily, and noted that he succeeded in doing so twice in France, the first time when a policeman and his wife were killed and the second when 86 people were killed by a person who was driving a truck in Nice.

Members of a European Terror Cell Are Arrested in an International Security Operation

India Launches Strikes on Militants in Pakistan

India said on Thursday it had conducted “surgical strikes” on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, marking an escalation in tensions between the uneasy and nuclear-armed neighbors.

Pakistan said two of its soldiers had been killed in in an “unprovoked” attack and in repulsing an Indian “raid”, but denied India had made any targeted strikes across the de facto frontier that runs through the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, the director-general of military operations, announced news of the strikes in New Delhi — which sent shares on the Indian stock market sliding nearly two percent.

The announcement followed through on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning that those India held responsible “would not go unpunished” for a Sept. 18 attack on an Indian army base at Uri, near the Line of Control, that killed 18 soldiers.

“Some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control,” Singh told reporters, describing the intelligence information as “very specific and credible”.

“The Indian army conducted surgical strikes last night at these launchpads. Significant casualties have been caused to these terrorists and those who are trying to support them.

“The operations aimed at neutralizing the terrorists have since ceased.”

Singh said the decision to launch the strikes had been taken after the military determined the launchpads had been set up with “an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and various other metros in our country.”

A senior government source said commandos flown in by helicopter carried out the strikes some way across the unofficial border known as the Line of Control (LoC).

The strikes raise the possibility of a military escalation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan that would wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire.

India’s disclosure of such strikes was unprecedented, said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, and sent a message not only to his own people but to the international community.

“India expects global support to launch more focused action against Pakistan,” Sahni told Reuters. “There was tremendous pressure on the Indian prime minister to prove that he is ready to take serious action.”

India Launches Strikes on Militants in Pakistan

Haftar Set on Opposing Sarraj Government

Cairo- Libyan General Khalifa Haftar said, in a statement, that his country needs a leader possessing a wide military experience, and expressed again rejection of the U.N.-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA).

France, for its part, announced that it will host a meeting on Libya next week. Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that the upcoming meeting on Libya would bring together countries including Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

“The Libyan National Army does not recognize any authority other than that of the parliament which is headquartered in Tobruk,” Haftar told the Associated Press.

When asked if he aims to take over the power in Libya, Haftar said he refuses to answer this question until social, security and political stability is settled in the country.

“Unfortunately, we are now facing a political impasse,” the U.N. envoy to the North African country Martin Kobler stated during a meeting of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Switzerland.

“At the same time, Libya is witnessing the unfolding of dangerous military developments,” Kobler said. “The risk of increased tensions in the capital should not be underestimated,” he added.

He said that in Libya’s second city Benghazi in the east, “more than 100 families are currently trapped in areas of fighting, facing constant bombing and shortages of food, medical care and electricity.”

“The government is spending 93% of its total budget on subsidies and salaries, including those of members of armed groups,” Kobler continued.

The U.N. envoy also highlighted “the horrific plight of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers” trying to reach Europe from Libya.

Haftar Set on Opposing Sarraj Government

Yemen’s Central Bank Governor: ‘Even in Aden…We will be Independent’

Riyadh- Governor of Yemeni central bank Munser al-Quaiti said he will head directly to the central Bank’s headquarters the moment he arrives to Aden.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “It was necessary to be aware. I was handed an empty bank with a missing database. However, despite that Houthis are keeping the database, we will solve the salaries’ issue through the data recorded in the central bank’s branches distributed among several provinces.”

He confirmed his plan to activate the federal system in the bank after liberating it, just like U.S.A.

One week after assigning him as the governor of the central bank, al-Quaiti said it needs up till the end of this year so that the bank can initially achieve its goals.

He continued: “We do not want any performance; instead, we want the right performance for the central bank’s duties stipulated in law.”

The new Governor of the Central Bank Munser al-Quaiti is the former minister of finance.

In Mövenpick Hotel Riyadh on Tuesday, the governor pledged that the bank will be independent in Aden, and he said: “We represent the Yemeni Republic, and we are responsible for all Yemenis.”

Al-Quaiti, 61, talked about the future, consequences of this war and his reform plans to reconstruct the country based on his experience and on the 40 years of economic recession.

He said he is facing two problems. The first lies in the fact that there is no cash in the central bank treasuries, “we were able to fund economy with necessary liquidity, and this is the first mission for the central bank.”

The second problem is that there is a disabled monetary cycle since the communication channels in the monetary cycle lost confidence in the central bank.

Notably, the cycle used to operate in the following way: “The bank issues money, which is circulated within the bank’s system and among people and the surplus returns to the bank system , which will re-issue it to the market as no need to use the money saved unless in case of a gap. Sometimes, even the surplus is added to the new money issued, and this whole process has been disabled.”

The governor asked why this decision was issued late and he answered saying: “The president did not follow this procedure because he was abiding by the rules and respecting them.”

“How?” he added, and then he clarified: “In that period the board of directors were still effective and any intervention, back then, was considered encroachment on independence of the central bank.”

He added: “President Hadi preferred leaving the bank until the last moments of its legal period were it was unable to perform its duties completely; then he took his decision.”

During the legal period and its continuity, no decision was taken by the president regarding the governor and his deputy, even the partial disability in the liberated areas were not decided upon by him, al-Quaiti said.

“He waited for the legal maturation, as part of his strategic consideration for this institution and the bank’s independency, and he took his decisions when it was time for the legal independence period,” he added.

“The legal maturation obliged the president to act the moment the board of directors loses its rights in the central bank,” he said.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the government coordinated with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which supported this operation and proposed moving the quartet group.

Yemen’s Central Bank Governor: ‘Even in Aden…We will be Independent’

Saudi Navy to Hold Gulf Shield 1 Exercises

Dammam – Royal Saudi Navy is preparing to hold exercises “Gulf Shield 1” in the Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Oman Sea as of next week.

Royal Saudi Navy Commander Abdullah al-Sultan said that “Gulf Shield 1” will include ships, planes, marines and other personnel taking part.

Sultan said that “Gulf Shield 1” is part of a series of exercises the fleet has carried out in the area aiming to raise combat readiness, gain the necessary skills, and improve ability to perform the essential leadership services.

The maneuvers aim to improve skills for defending the country’s borders, protecting sea lanes “and to deter any aggression or potential terrorist operations,” added the navy commander.

He also pointed out that the maneuvers reflect the exceptional performance of the Royal Navy that was possible because of the guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Retired Navy Commander Amer al-Ameri said that Saudi Arabia owns the best navy in the area. He stated that through “Gulf Shield 1”, Saudi Arabia is sending political, military and security messages.

Ameri pointed out that the maneuvers will be executed in the international waters of the Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Oman Sea stressing that it is the right of Saudi Arabia to defend its territories.

He added that Saudi Arabia has the ability to be present in the waters if needed.

Saudi Navy to Hold Gulf Shield 1 Exercises

U.S. Congress Overrides Obama's Veto on JASTA bill

Washington- The members of the House and Senate voted against the veto of the U.S. President Barack Obama on JASTA bill, (Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act).

The Senate approved the override on a 97-1 vote, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid the lone Senator voting to sustain the president’s veto. Hours later, the vote in the House was 348-76.

“I’ve read President Obama’s veto message and it’s not persuasive,” Senator John Cornyn said, adding “Achieving justice can’t occur when the government is immune against individuals prosecuting it. The purpose of this bill is to respect the rights and voices of American victims more than these of other governments.”

The U.S. President warned of the bill complications, noting that JASTA will not protect the Americans from terrorist attacks and will not even improve the U.S. reaction to these attacks.

Obama said in a letter to Senate leaders on Tuesday that JASTA will harm the U.S. national interests on a wide range and for this reason he returned the bill to the congress without an approval.

CIA Director John Brennan said on Wednesday that legislation to allow lawsuits against the government of Saudi Arabia over the Sept. 11 attacks has “grave implications” for U.S. national security.

“The most damaging consequence would be for those U.S. Government officials who dutifully work overseas on behalf of our country. The principle of sovereign immunity protects U.S. officials every day, and is rooted in reciprocity,” Brennan said. “If we fail to uphold this standard for other countries, we place our own nation’s officials in danger.”

White House Spokesman Josh Earnest called the vote the “single most embarrassing thing” the Senate has done since 1983. He accused members of the Senate Judiciary Committee of not understanding the legislation and its impact on the military.

Along the past weeks, the White House held intensive negotiations with the Congress members to shed light on the complications of passing this law.

U.S. Congress Overrides Obama's Veto on JASTA bill

International Arab Film Festival Kicks Off in Gabès, Tunisia

Tunisia – The International Arab Film Festival held in Gabès, Tunisia, has witnessed the competition of 53 movies over awards that will be introduced during its second edition. The festival organizes two contests: the first is a contest of long films which will include 12 movies and the second for short movies and will include 10 movies, in addition to a number of workshops and conferences.

The second edition of this promising festival witnesses participation from 18 Arab and foreign countries that include Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France and the Republic of Congo.

The festival taking place on 24-30 September is attended by a remarkable number of artists from Tunisia and the Arab world; the Egypt-based Tunisian actress Hend Sabry has been selected as the honorary president of the festival, supported by the Syrian Actress Kinda Alloush and Tunisian actor Dhaffer L’Abidine.

Director of the festival Mahmoud El-Jemni said that this event is a growing dream that will bring back the excitement of watching and thinking.

Jemni considered that this festival is a celebration for the Arab world that reveals the souvenirs of the Arab memory on the art of cinema from the seventies. It is worth mentioning that Gabès Film Festival will honor the late iconic Egyptian director Mohamed Khan. A short film directed by Ahmed Rashwan on the life of Khan will be screened, as well as a published book by critics and Khan friends in the cinema field.

International Arab Film Festival Kicks Off in Gabès, Tunisia

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Politics, Economy on the Agenda of Crown Prince’s Visit to Turkey

Riyadh – Ankara – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz is expected to arrive in Ankara on Thursday afternoon on a two-day official visit, during which he will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

Discussions will tackle bilateral cooperation, regional issues, including the situation in Syria and Yemen, the deteriorating relations with Iran and the fight against ISIS.

Well-informed Turkish sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Erdogan and Yildirim would personally welcome the Saudi crown prince at his arrival at the airport.

Turkish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yunus Demirer said that Prince Mohammed bin Naif will discuss with Turkish officials political and economic issues, mainly the ongoing fight against the terrorist group ISIS and the Saudi-Turkish cooperation in this matter.

The sources added that the officials will also explore means to promote bilateral relations, noting that a number of agreements will be signed in the economic and cultural fields.

The crown prince’s visit to Ankara comes following a successful trip to New York, where he participated in the 71st United Nations General Assembly session and met with a number of world leaders.

Prince Mohammed bin Naif is also expected to meet in Ankara with leaders of top Turkish companies to promote trade between the two countries and present investment opportunities in the Kingdom.

In earlier remarks to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Dr. Mustafa Goksu, senior advisor at the Investment Support and Promotion Agency at the Turkish prime ministry, said that the Saudi crown prince will meet during his visit with owners and directors of the country’s top business companies.

Goksu noted that Saudi Arabia was a business hub for the entire Gulf region. He added that more than 700 Saudi companies were currently investing in Turkey, with investments amounting to more than $2 billion.

He added that the Turkish government would also discuss with the Saudi crown prince the signing of a free trade agreement between Turkey and GCC States.

Goksu said that the Turkish government would announce by the end of this year new incentives and facilities to encourage Saudi and Gulf businessmen to invest in the country.

He added that the investment environment in Turkey was much better than the previous years, thanks to the facilities offered by the government and the stable political situation.

Earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir visited Ankara where he held talks with his Turkish counterpart.

In a joint press conference with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Jubeir said that Riyadh has “similar stance” with Turkey regarding Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

He said stances of Turkey and Saudi “fully coincide with each other regarding Syria, Iraq or Yemen, including terrorism.”

Politics, Economy on the Agenda of Crown Prince’s Visit to Turkey

General Supervisor of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Relief meets Canada’s Speaker of House of Commons

Saudi Arabia’s General Supervisor of King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah met with Canada’s Speaker of House of Commons Geoff Regan on Wednesday.

Dr. Al-Rabiah briefed Regan on the center’s exertions and missions aimed at alleviating the suffering of people across the world, namely war-torn Yemen.

The two discussed aspects of joint cooperation which would serve international humanitarian relief.

The meeting was attended by Saudi Ambassador to Canada Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi and a number of officials interested in relief and humanitarian works.

In a key address by Yemen’s Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, deep gratitude to the center’s efforts in Yemen was expressed .

According to the Saudi state news agency SPA, Daghr stressed that the military operation “Decisive Storm” launched by King Salman, has held back untold damage that would have taken down regional security.

Daghr urged insurgency forces in Yemen, such as Houthi militias and forces loyal to deposed president Ali Saleh, to refer to reason and set national interest and that of the people far and foremost.

PM Daghr reiterated the necessity of stopping bloodshed in Yemen, and implementing the UN Security Council resolution No. 2216.

Pro-legitimacy forces in Yemen have long demanded that paramilitary weapons and artillery in the hands of coup militias be handed to authorities as a token of good intentions towards peace in Yemen. Houthi militias have yet accepted to turn in illegal weapons in their pursuit of taking over the countries.

Daghr also highlighted that if a peace processes were to be put in effect, coup militias will need to withdraw from cities and regions as to pave the way for a political solution based on the GCC initiative, its executive mechanism and outcomes of national dialogue.

He explained that urgent and crucial duties lie before the Yemeni government, citing the restoration of security and stability across liberated territory.

Daghr announced that the government would dedicate the rehabilitation project in the coming days.

General Supervisor of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Relief meets Canada’s Speaker of House of Commons

Forbes Places Trump's Wealth at $800 Million Less Than Last Year’s Figure

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s estimated net worth is $3.7 billion, $800 million less than a year ago, Forbes magazine reported on Wednesday.

The magazine probed 28 assets or asset classes owned by the New York businessman and found 18 had declined in value, including Trump Tower in Manhattan and his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. Most of trump’s losses were largely attributed to New York’s softening real estate market.

The value of his 40 Wall Street property in downtown New York had also declined, according to Forbes, which said it has been tracking Trump’s wealth for 34 years. Representatives for the Trump presidential campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

Trump, seeking elected office for the first time, has hyped his business expertise in pressing for change in Washington. He has vowed to rip up trade deals, negotiate with allies to make them pay more for their U.S. defense protection, and have Mexico pay for a wall he has proposed along the southern U.S. border. If elected, he would be the first billionaire to serve as president, according to Forbes.

Details of Trump’s wealth are not publicly known because, bucking a decades-old tradition of U.S. presidential candidates, he has refused to release his tax returns. His Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, earned $10.75 million in 2015 alongside her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, their tax filing showed.

Clinton and others, including some prominent Republicans, have pressed Trump to release his returns. They have also raised questions about his net worth as well as his charitable contributions and business ties.

Forbes said its analysis did not place any value on Trump’s brand. It also disputed Trump’s assertion in Monday night’s presidential debate that he reported $694 million in income from last year to the Federal Election Commission. Forbes said Trump mixed revenue and income in the document.

Trump has so far given $54 million to his presidential campaign. His campaign has also paid his companies for office space in Trump Tower and use of his private airline, among other expenses, federal election filings have shown. Politico reported separately on Wednesday that Trump is considering giving more money to his campaign to fund an advertising blitz, citing three sources close to him.

Amid the campaign, Trump made just one real estate deal in the past year: purchasing a Charleston, South Carolina, warehouse that was in foreclosure, Forbes said.

Forbes Places Trump's Wealth at $800 Million Less Than Last Year’s Figure

Airstrikes Knock Out Bakery, Hospitals in Aleppo

Two hospitals were damaged and a bakery hit in bombardments of rebel-held eastern Aleppo early on Wednesday, residents said, as Syrian regime forces pressed their Russian-backed campaign to retake the whole city.

At least six people were killed by artillery shelling in the al-Maadi neighborhood while they queued for bread at the bakery, residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The airstrikes early Wednesday hit the M1 and M10 hospitals, knocking out the hospital’s oxygen and power generators and cutting off water supplies, putting them temporarily out of service. Medical officials said the strikes led to the death of two seriously ill patients.

Mohammed Abu Rajab, head of M10 hospital, the largest of eight hospitals in eastern Aleppo, says two patients died because they could not be kept alive. He says the intensive care unit was severely damaged.

Adham Sahloul, of the Syrian American Medical Society, based in Gaziantep, Turkey, confirmed the strikes and described them as deliberate. He says regime forces know the location of both facilities.

The closures leave eastern Aleppo with six functioning hospitals, only three of which are capable of dealing with emergencies.

Over 250,000 civilians are thought to be besieged in the rebel-held sector of Aleppo, where intensive bombing by regime forces and their allies has killed hundreds of people since a ceasefire collapsed last week.

Pope Francis Wednesday decried the assault on the Syrian city of Aleppo, saying those responsible for the bombing would face God’s judgment.

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, Francis called Aleppo “this already martyred city, where everybody is dying – children, old people, sick people, young people.”

Francis said he’s “united in suffering through prayer and spiritual closeness” to Aleppo’s people.

He called for utmost efforts to protect civilians in Syria’s civil war, raging since 2011.

“I renew to all an appeal to commit themselves with all their strength to protect civilians,” Francis told the crowd during his weekly address.

“This is an imperative and urgent obligation. I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombings, who will one day will have to account to God,” he said.

Airstrikes Knock Out Bakery, Hospitals in Aleppo

Bulgaria Announces New Candidate for U.N.’s Top Job

The Bulgarian government on Wednesday switched its candidate for the post of the United Nations Secretary General, shaking up the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon when he steps down on December 31.

Sofia said it was withdrawing support for candidate Irina Bokova, instead throwing its weight behind European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva.

Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, came a lowly sixth among nine contenders in the latest round of informal voting in New York.

Sofia had warned it would reconsider its support for Bokova if she did come first or second in the last ballot, which showed former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres is still leading the race to replace Ban.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced the nomination of Georgieva during a meeting with the cabinet attended by reporters.

“We consider that this will be a more successful nomination,” Borisov told his ministers.

Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said Bulgaria needed to support a candidate who has a bigger chance to become the first Eastern European to lead the global organization.

“This was a difficult decision, but it was necessary, so that we give a chance to the (U.N.) Eastern European group to have its secretary-general,” Mitov told reporters.

Mitov said U.N. procedure did not allow for a country to withdraw the nominations and that Bokova, 64, would have to decide how to proceed.

Bokova would need to file a letter announcing her withdrawal. She says she sees no reason to do that.

“None of the other candidates, even those with worse results, is doing it because the real race is still ahead,” she said in an interview for the daily 24 chasa on Wednesday.

Bulgaria’s switch to Georgieva, a 63-year-old economist, came a day after Borisov spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone.

Veto-wielding Russia wants the next U.N. chief to come from eastern Europe, the only region yet to be represented in the top post.

Rumors had been swirling for days that Bulgaria would drop its support for Bokova, a Harvard graduate and fluent Russian speaker backed by Moscow.

Monday’s secret ballot was the fifth held by the Security Council in this leadership race, and these polls will continue until a consensus is reached.

The council will then formally recommend the candidate to the 193-member General Assembly for election.

The next ballot is scheduled for Oct. 5.

Ban steps down at the end of 2016 after serving two five-year terms.

Bulgaria Announces New Candidate for U.N.’s Top Job

Turkish Minister: 32,000 Suspects Arrested since Failed Coup

Turkey’s justice minister said Wednesday courts have placed 32,000 suspects under arrest ahead of trial on alleged links to a group run by Fethullah Gulen who is blamed for the July 15 coup, adding the country may have to build new courthouses to cope with thousands of prosecutions.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told NTV television that 70,000 people had been investigated after the coup and of them 32,000 remanded in custody.

“This process is continuing,” he said. The numbers of those arrested marks an increase of more than 10,000 from those previously given by the government.

“There may be new arrests or releases according to the evidence and information gathered in the investigation,” Bozdag said.

Some two-and-a-half months after the coup attempt aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there is still no indication as to when trials might start.

The trials of tens of thousands will be the biggest legal process in Turkey’s history and are set to put the system under unprecedented pressure.

“It is not entirely clear how the trials will be carried out,” Bozdag acknowledged.

He said trials would take place in cities across the country and not in one single venue.

“We will build new courthouses as needed,” Bozdag told NTV.

Bozdag said there was no need to create a special trial venue in Istanbul as capacity was sufficient. But he said one was needed in Ankara and work is taking place for a trial venue at Sincan outside the capital.

“People are not going to be put on trial in just one place but trials will take place in all of Turkey,” he said.

U.S.-based preacher Gulen has denied that he was linked to the coup in any way.

U.S. officials have promised to respond to the extradition request for Gulen in a couple of days, the minister said.

Washington has said it is cooperating with Ankara and asked its NATO ally for patience as it processes the extradition request for the 75-year-old preacher.

On Tuesday, state media said that Turkey has dismissed 87 staff from its spy agency over alleged links to the failed coup, in the first purge of one of the country’s most powerful institutions.

The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has suspended 141 personnel in an internal probe over links to Gulen, who has lived in self-exile in the United States since 1999.

Of these, 87 have now been expelled, the Anadolu news agency said. Criminal complaints have been lodged against 52 of them.

In a separate development, Turkish police detained 41 suspects from a charity organization called Kimse Yok Mu? (Is There Anyone There?) for alleged links to Gulen, Anadolu reported.

Turkish Minister: 32,000 Suspects Arrested since Failed Coup

Saudi National Day Celebrated in Erbil

Erbil –Saudi National Day was, for the first time, celebrated in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan region.

The Consulate General of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia held on Monday a reception ceremony marking the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The ceremony was attended by the Consul General Abdel Menen Abdel Rahman al-Mahmoud, President of Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani, ministers of the region, representatives of Kurdish parties, diplomatic missions and consulates in the region, military leaders and politicians.

In his speech, Consul Mahmoud shed a light on the history of Saudi Arabia since its formation in 1932 until today. He elaborated on the transition witnessed by the kingdom reaching the international and regional status it enjoys today.

“The celebration of the National Day this year happens after the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz launched Saudi Vision 2030. Saudi 2030 is a roadmap to achieve the development and reform goals of the kingdom,” said the consul.

Minister and Head of Foreign Relations Department- Kurdistan Regional Government Falah Mustafa delivered a speech at the ceremony and considered the Saudi National Day an important day for bilateral relations that link Saudi Arabia and Kurdistan region.

Mustafa said that Kurdistan is honored to celebrate the Saudi National day in Erbil for the first time.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Consul Mahmoud said that the National Day is an occasion for people to remember the bravery and heroic actions of the late King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud. He added that King Abdulaziz united the tribes thus placing Saudi Arabia among the advanced countries.

Spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government, Sven Dzia said that the Saudi-Kurdish ties are strong and have reached a diplomatic representation today.

Minister Mustafa said that Kurdistan is happy with the level of relations attained especially after the opening of the consulate in Erbil.

“We are looking forward for further cooperation between both countries,” added Mustafa.

Hayman Hawrami, head of the external relations department in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), stated that Saudi Arabia is one of the most important countries for the Middle East and for Kurdistan as well. Hawrami said that they hoped relations would develop into direct diplomatic relations.

Saudi National Day Celebrated in Erbil

Iran Rejects Saudi Proposal to Freeze Oil Input

Algiers-The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will convene on Wednesday on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum, which gathers oil producers and consumers.

Many countries are hoping that this consultative meeting would result in an international agreement on the need to reduce oil production in order to ease the global excess in crude.

However, these hopes were met by disappointment after Iran announced on Tuesday its rejection of an offer put forward by Saudi Arabia to limit Iranian oil input in exchange for the Kingdom cutting supply.

Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh told reporters on Tuesday that his country was not seeking to forge any deal or agreement in Algeria. He added that he attended the meetings only to exchange views and hold negotiations.

In earlier remarks, the Iranian minister said: “It is not the time for decision-making.”

He added: “We will try to reach an agreement for November,” referring to the next formal OPEC meeting in Vienna on Nov. 30.

For his part, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih expressed optimism regarding OPEC meetings, stressing that the Kingdom has expressed its readiness to cut its oil production, provided that Iran limits its oil input.

The Saudi minister said that the meeting was consultative, noting that the members would exchange views and would listen to the opinion of non-OPEC countries.

“The gap (in views) between OPEC countries is narrowing. I don’t expect that an agreement will come out of the consultations tomorrow,” the Saudi energy minister told reporters.

OPEC will hold informal talks at 1400 GMT on Wednesday. Its members are also meeting non-OPEC producers on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum.

Since early 2016, oil producers have been trying to agree to freeze output levels.

Reuters quoted sources as saying that Saudi Arabia had offered to reduce its output if Iran agreed to freeze production – a proposal that was rejected by the Persian State.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak met on Tuesday with Falih and Zangeneh.

In remarks afterwards, Novak said: “There is a move forward, but they (OPEC) haven’t got to the finish.”

Both Novak and Falih said a deal was still possible later this year, referring to the November meeting.

Meanwhile, well-informed sources quoted by Reuters said that Iran, whose production has stagnated at 3.6 million barrels per day, insisted on having the right to ramp up to around 4.1-4.2 million bpd, while OPEC Gulf members wanted its output to be frozen below 4 million.

Other sources said that Iran effectively rejected the offer despite last-minute attempts by Russia, Algeria and Qatar to rescue a deal.

Falih said he saw no need for significant output cuts as the market was rebalancing itself. He added that Saudi Arabia was investing in additional spare capacity and could withstand the current trend in oil prices.

The IEF Ministerial meeting, which brings oil and gas producers and consumers together to discuss challenges facing the global energy markets, will run until September 28. It is being attended by well over 400 delegates from 54 countries. In total, around 900 participants have gathered at the Convention Centre for the event.

The conference, which is attended by OPEC’s Oil and Energy ministers, was officially opened by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal with whom the OPEC Secretary General, Mohammed Barkindo, met after the opening.

Iran Rejects Saudi Proposal to Freeze Oil Input

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Official: ‘Sana’a Central Bank’ Financed Fictional Imports

Riyadh, Aden-A Yemeni bank official uncovered that the rebel-controlled Central Bank in the capital Sana’a was financing fictional import operations that have contributed to supporting what Houthis call “war efforts.”

Member of the Yemeni Central Bank Board of Directors Shakib Hubaishi told Asharq Al-Awsat that at least 50 percent of cash withdrawn from the central bank was still in the possession of rebels, who knew that the bank would not remain under their control for long.

However, the bank official said neither the money nor the weapons would be able to protect the insurgents.

Asked whether the rebels were still capable of running the affairs of the central bank, even after it was moved to Aden, Hubaishi said: “They cannot. And if rebels decided to separate the Central Bank in Sana’a from the bank’s main administration in Aden, the insurgents would be committing a big mistake by isolating themselves.”

“If the rebels refused to hand over the bank’s list of data, we will be able to establish it by our own,” he warned.

The member of the Central Bank Board of Directors denied plans to change the Yemeni currency, saying the bank only seeks to print more cash.

“The (amount of) cash available inside Yemen is not normal. The currency printing is not politically motivated, but it rather aims at covering the financial liquidity problem,” he said, adding that the introduction of more money would come in several stages.

Hubaishi said the decision to move the Central Bank from Sana’a to Aden was not an easy task, but was essential.

This month, Yemen’s exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi decided to move the headquarters of the country’s central bank from Sana’a to Aden.

Separately, Major General Ahmed Seif, the commander of the Fourth Military Region, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the National Army had prevented during the past few days, four military brigades established by rebel militias, from advancing to the coastal cities located on the “Bab al-Mandeb” straight, controlled by the legitimate government.

Seif added that the rebels had benefited from the ceasefire period to mobilize and equip those military brigades.

Official: ‘Sana’a Central Bank’ Financed Fictional Imports

Death Toll in Migrant Shipwreck off Egypt Rises to 202

Thirty-three bodies were found on Tuesday as a wreck of boat that sank off Egypt last week with hundreds of migrants aboard was recovered from the depths, raising the confirmed death toll to 202, a local official said.

The boat sank off the Mediterranean coast on Sept. 21. Rescue workers and fishermen said they had rescued at least 169 people, but uncertainty remains over how many might still be missing.

Regional governor Mohamed Sultan said the number of bodies recovered was “almost final” but rescue workers were still looking for human remains at sea.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday it believed at least 450 people were aboard the vessel and that about 300 perished in all.

“It is one of the worst tragedies of this year, but not the worst,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a briefing in Geneva.

“We are concerned about what this says for the rest of the season as the weather turns cold and seas get more difficult.”

Egyptian security sources initially said there had been almost 600 migrants aboard.

Officials said the boat was carrying Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants, and that they believed it was heading for Italy. Four members of the crew were arrested.

More and more migrants have been trying to cross to Italy from the African coast over the summer months, particularly from Libya, where people-traffickers operate with relative impunity. But boats have increasingly departed from Egypt of late as Libya has slipped deeper into lawlessness.

The IOM says that more than 3,200 migrants have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, while more than 300,000 have reached European shores. More than 1 million Middle Eastern, African and Asian migrants entered Europe in 2015.

The IOM said the number of migrants to arrive in Europe this year likely would not reach last year’s level though the number of fatalities was virtually certain to exceed the 2015 total.

Source: Reuters

Death Toll in Migrant Shipwreck off Egypt Rises to 202

TV Audience for Trump-Clinton Debate to Approach 80-Million Record

The television audience for the first U.S. presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump looks set to approach 80-million viewer record for such events set in 1980, early Nielsen data cited by U.S. media suggested on Tuesday.

But initial data from the four main broadcast networks suggested that Monday evening’s 90-minute debate, which was carried on multiple U.S. broadcast and cable networks, would not surpass 100 million viewers, as some analysts had predicted ahead of the face-off.

The Hollywood Reporter said preliminary Nielsen data showed that some 45.8 million Americans watched the debate on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC– that was a 23 percent increase on the initial audience from the same networks for the first 2012 match-up between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney that translated to a total overall audience of 67.2 million viewers.

“This puts the debate on track to smash that 2012 total and very likely approach an all-time high,” The Hollywood Reporter said.

The most watched U.S. presidential debate was between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980 and attracted a TV audience of 80.6 million viewers.

Media website said the preliminary data suggested the audience for Trump-Clinton on Monday could be about 81 million TV viewers. But it said the numbers would not be as big as the annual football Super Bowl, which attracts more than 100 million viewers and is the biggest TV event in the United States.

Initial figures did not include millions who watched the debate in restaurants and online through Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Source: Reuters

TV Audience for Trump-Clinton Debate to Approach 80-Million Record

Colombia: Fate of Peace Deal Depends on October's Polls

Colombia – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the left-wing FARC rebel Leader Timoleon Jimenez (Timochenko) signed on Monday an agreement ending a half-century war that killed a quarter of a million people and made their nation a byword for violence, after more than four years of grueling negotiations in Cuba.

The agreement to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict will turn the FARC guerrillas into a political party fighting at the ballot box instead of the battlefield they have occupied since 1964.

The Guests included United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Cuban President Raul Castro, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and victims of the conflict.

“The U.N. will assist in the implementation of the accord and offer Colombians our complete support at a time that sees a new destiny for the nation,” Ban Ki-moon said before flying to Colombia.

Colombians will vote on 2 October on whether to ratify the agreement, but polls indicate it will pass easily. In Cartagena on Monday, huge billboards urged a “yes” vote.

The FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began as a peasant revolt, became a big player in the cocaine trade and at its strongest had 20,000 fighters. Now it must hand over weapons to the United Nations within 180 days.

The Farc declared a unilateral ceasefire over a year ago, but Santos refused to grant a formal truce until talks were concluded, though he ended aerial bombardments of guerrilla camps.

Colombians are nervous over how the remaining 7,000 rebels will integrate into society, but most are optimistic peace will bring more benefits than problems.

The five-decade conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and driven more than 5 million from their homes.

The accord commits Colombia’s government to carrying out aggressive land reform, overhauling its anti-narcotics strategy and greatly expanding the state’s presence in long-neglected areas.

Colombia: Fate of Peace Deal Depends on October's Polls

Opinion: Syria and the US Elections

Despite the US elections beginning on the eighth of November, i.e. just six weeks from now, the president-elect will not set foot in the White House until January 20 next year when he will be sworn in.

During this relatively long period, the US administration will not manage its work as usual and the current president will be described as a “lame duck”. There are those who believe that the international vacuum is a suitable climate to act in without being confronted by anyone, and they will become daring during this time.

It is expected that the Syrian regime that is fully backed by the Russians and the Iranians intends to seize the opportunity and move quickly to create a new reality on the ground in Syria so that it becomes difficult for the next US president to change it. Attacks on relief convoys and the horrific devastation that the Russians, Iranians and Assad’s forces have caused without fear of possible regional or international reactions are a result of the vacuum that came about early. Washington’s protests were not enough to be taken seriously by the Kremlin and Tehran.

Therefore, countries sympathetic to the Syrian people have a serious challenge ahead of them during the next three months and must not leave the regime and the Iranians to gain a metre on the ground without making them pay for it dearly. They must do so by supporting the rebels. The Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Iranians are working to impose their agenda on the next US president from now, thus avoiding the possibility that the president will take a strong stand against them.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump become president, we do not yet know what the new president’s choices regarding world issues will be, particularly with regards to Syria which is a major regional conflict. Leaving the military aggression that we see in the city of Aleppo to continue will force the next president to accept the new reality. Aleppo is one of the largest cities in Syria, and is the closest to Turkey geographically. In the case that the city falls, the province will fall. This will make it easier for the regime to destroy what is left of the country, and we’ll see at least another one million displaced Syrians marching towards Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

We hope that the next US president will be less committed to the Iranians than the current one, and more courageous in the face of Iranian and Russian advances; not necessarily through a direct US military presence, but by allowing other countries to arm the opposition and help it with information and diplomatic support.

The weeks ahead are important as Washington will be preoccupied until a new president is elected and a new government is formed. Whatever happens in the world, the US government will only act in the event that serious incidents that directly affect its security and its higher interests take place. Iran and Russia know that there is no US deterrence policy toward Syria, and the American preoccupation with the elections will encourage them to commit more massacres and violate international laws in order to break the remaining resistance of the Syrian people, subjugate it by force and change the map of power in the region.

Opinion: Syria and the US Elections

Syria Regime Mobilizes for New Aleppo Ground Offensive

Pro-Syrian regime forces were mobilizing on Tuesday for a ground offensive in Aleppo after attacking on four fronts in their largest assault since launching a bloody campaign to retake the whole city last week, a senior rebel official said.

Separately, an Iraqi militia commander fighting in support of the regime told Reuters a large force, spearheaded by an elite unit known as the Nimr, or Tiger Forces, had started to move in armored vehicles and tanks for an attack on rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo.

Pro-regime forces attacked at the same time around the Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat north of Aleppo, at the nearby Kindi Hospital area, in the Rashidin district in the center of the city and at the 1070 Apartments in the southwest.

Regime forces briefly captured Handarat from rebels on Saturday, only to lose it in a counter-attack hours later.

The senior rebel official said the simultaneous attacks had been repelled, but pro-regime forces were also mobilizing in two other areas near the rebel-held Sheikh Saeed district on the city’s southern outskirts.

“They are working to expand on any opening they create,” said the official from an Aleppo-based rebel faction, citing reports from his fighters.

“Today, the other noticeable thing is the heavy use of helicopters and barrel bombs.”

Syrian state TV said troops are now advancing toward the central rebel-held neighborhood of Farafra in Aleppo’s old quarter.

The Syrian regime forces, helped by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and the Russian air force, launched a major campaign to take rebel-held eastern Aleppo last Thursday, leaving scores of people dead and a number of buildings demolished.

Syrian and Russian air strikes on Aleppo have prompted accusations of war crimes over claims they involve sophisticated weaponry that can have a devastating effect in residential areas.

It is not clear exactly what armaments have been deployed but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited reports of incendiary weapons and bunker buster bombs, while barrel bombs and cluster munitions have also been used previously in Syria.

Syria Regime Mobilizes for New Aleppo Ground Offensive

John le Carré’s Memoir about his Journey from Spy to Novelist

New York-Successful men are often driven by a need to come to terms with their fathers. We can see that in the openings of their memoirs. “Someone once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady as well as anything else,” Barack Obama wrote. Richard Nixon put it more succinctly: “I was born in a house my father built.”

The spy novelist John le Carré opens his charming new book, “The Pigeon Tunnel,” by recalling the time he tagged along on one of his father’s gambling sprees in Monte Carlo. Beneath the lawn of the sporting club were small tunnels from which trapped pigeons were ejected over the sea as targets for the sportsmen. The ones that survived “returned to the place of their birth on the casino roof, where the same traps awaited them,” le Carré writes. “Quite why this image has haunted me for so long is something the reader is perhaps better able to judge than I am.”

Like a wounded pigeon, le Carré proceeds to circle through his life back toward the injuries of his childhood. He saves the chapter on his father — an irredeemable grifter and con man — until near the end, leading up to it with a hodgepodge of other tales, some related and others a bit random. The result is not so much a memoir as a collection of memories, many of them containing tantalizing intimations of a powerful autobiography that still yearns to be written.

The story of le Carré’s tortured relationship with his Falstaffian father provided grist last year for Adam Sisman’s 652-page biography, “John le Carré,” which also delved into other corners of its subject’s personal life.

Le Carré fully cooperated with Sisman, but was apparently unhappy with having his life so revealed. A few days after the biography came out, le Carré announced he would write his own memoir, which may account for why parts of “The Pigeon Tunnel” seem hastily assembled. As le Carré explains in his introduction, “A recently published account of my life offers thumbnail versions of one or two of the stories, so it naturally pleases me to reclaim them as my own, tell them in my own voice and invest them as best I can with my own feelings.”

Le Carré’s childhood and dealings with his father prepared him well for joining the British intelligence services, which he did just out of college. “Evasion and deception were the necessary weapons of my childhood,” he writes in the first of his many circles back toward his youth. “When the secret world came to claim me, it felt like a coming home.”

Likewise, living with a pseudonym came naturally. His real name is David Cornwell, but while serving as a British agent in Germany, he began publishing under the name John le Carré. “Spying and novel writing are made for each other,” he notes. “Both call for a ready eye for human transgression and the many routes to betrayal.”

His success in 1963 with “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” allowed le Carré to quit intelligence work and become the master spy novelist of our era. He assiduously reported his 23 novels on trips from Bremen to Beirut to Bangkok, learning two great lessons. The first was that moral clarity is diminished by increased understanding: “The harder you looked for absolutes, the less likely you were to find them.” The second was that intelligence agencies are a window into a society’s soul: “If you are a novelist struggling to explore a nation’s psyche, its Secret Service is not an unreasonable place to look.”

John le Carré’s Memoir about his Journey from Spy to Novelist

Arsène Wenger’s Gift Arrives Wrapped in a Majestic Arsenal First Half

Close your eyes, Arsène. Now … Open them. Happy 20th anniversary! Yes, that’s right. It’s exactly what you’ve always wanted. For one perfect half at the Emirates Arsenal produced something sublime, 45 minutes that contained pretty much the full set of Wenger-isms entwined in a relentless performance of sinuous passing football.

This was Wengerball in excelsis on a muggy, grey north London late afternoon, the footballing equivalent of one of those Evening-With-Ronnie-Corbett-style affairs, where some garlanded old ham gets to stand centre-stage and beam munificently while his favourite anecdotes, his most wonderful personal qualities are paraded beneath the studio lights.

The Premier League doesn’t do anniversary gifts. But if it did, if everyone concerned could have got together and designed a perfect commemoration …

Well, this would have probably been it. There was a supremely assertive performance from Wenger’s own record signing Mesut Özil. A goal from Theo, the dear but slightly wayward nephew. Not to mention a performance of real craft and confidence from the academy kid Alex Iwobi, a Wenger youth since the age of eight. All this, just to be clear, against Chelsea, opponents who in Wenger’s previous big day, his 1,000th game as a manager, had pulverised his best XI at Stamford Bridge.

Everywhere you looked Wenger’s small, prudently selected glass of red wine ranneth over. Diego Costa was shut down and dead-ended by the summer singing Shkodran Mustafi. Alexis Sánchez justified the shuffle to centre-forward. At half-time the crowd, tetchy at times, rose as one beneath the white lights of this Wenger-built steel and glass spaceship. Fittingly, victory even left Arsenal in third place. Really, really, really you shouldn’t have.

The third goal in particular was an absolute sensation, the Full Wenger, a move that brought the manager up on to his feet with huge, sheepish, guilty smile on his face. As the crowd leapt and hugged you half-expected Wenger to start tapping the rim of his champagne flute and making a fond, grateful, dad-ish speech. This was supposed to be another taut London derby, a shaking of the lapels at the hands of Antonio Conte’s high-tempo hustlers. With 40 minutes gone it had turned into a procession.

A quick word here on Chelsea. Ugh. A last word on Chelsea. Meh. Conte will work on his defence. They will be better than this. Otherwise this was simply a Wenger day right from the start. Diego Costa has been at his most incorrigible in games between these two, a jousting, hustling, kidney-jabbing force of destruction. Mustafi handled him well here. He is an aggressive, forceful defender who likes to attack and intercept, intruding into space in front of Costa as he looked to take the ball with his back to goal.

Arsenal’s first goal came from a wretched Gary Cahill back pass, leaving Sánchez to streak away and produce a sublime dinked finish. The second was a peach, a moment of pure, fast-twitch Arsenalism. Özil and Iwobi switched passes with a zippy swagger in front of the Chelsea defence. Iwobi fed the ball out to Héctor Bellerín – another Wenger page boy – who crossed into the space teased out of a ball-watching defence. Theo Walcott prodded it home.

That crowning third was a Mesut Özil Joint from the start. With five minutes until half-time the world’s most ethereal high-spec playmaker outmuscled N’Golo Kanté (yes, really) in his own half, scooted away at real pace, exchanged passes with Sánchez and then bounced a slightly scuffed volley down into the ground and over Thibaut Courtois. It was a brilliant Özil moment, and a pointed one too as he did what some have been demanding, driving right through the heart of an opponent in the most cinematic style and then finishing his own move.

It was Iwobi who stood out as Arsenal began to pass and move Chelsea out of this game. Upright and sure in possession with a lovely weight of pass, he grows in confidence as his best qualities seem more pronounced. Clearly Iwobi adores Özil, with whom, like an eager, hulking kid brother, he always looks to switch passes, staying close to him whenever Arsenal break. There are worse places for an apprentice 20-year-old attacking midfielder to be.

As the second half unspooled there were further anniversary gifts. Cesc Fàbregas, who many insisted Wenger should have brought back, left the field to jeering applause. Arsenal made some celebratory efforts to quite literally pass the ball into the net. “We’ve got to not make too much of it,” Wenger said at the end, still grinning, a little puppyish, japing with the dictaphones. The season rumbles on from here, although Arsenal do have eight winnable games before the north London derby in November. The real world will surely intrude along the way. For now this was a simply a wonderful homage.

The Guardian

Arsène Wenger’s Gift Arrives Wrapped in a Majestic Arsenal First Half