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  1. General view of the new first Saudi cinema at cultural club in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia January 13, 2018. Picture taken January 13, 2018 - Reuters 2 JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia began screening feature-length animated children?s films this weekend in a makeshift theatre, after a 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted. The first permanent theatres could open as early as March, part of a liberalizing reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows and women drivers over the past year. For now, the authorities are sponsoring temporary settings, like the state-run cultural hall in the Red Sea city of Jeddah equipped with a projector, a red carpet and a popcorn machine. ?Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theatres, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form,? said Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organized the week-long screenings. ?We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theatres.? Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s as Saudi society turned towards a particularly conservative form of religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women. But reforms led by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have eased many of those restrictions, as the government tries to broaden the economy and lessen its dependence on oil. More Fun After watching The Emoji Movie with his wife and daughter on Sunday evening, 28-year-old Sultan al-Otaibi said Saudis are happy to see movies in the theatre instead of staying at home. People watch a movie at the first Saudi Arabia cinema ? Reuters ?It?s more comfortable, more fun to have a change of scenery and an activity on the weekend. It is a step that was very late in coming but thank God it?s happening now.? Thousands of Saudis currently travel to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other countries for entertainment. The government wants to retain the money spent on those trips. The authorities expect to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, building an industry it hopes will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create 30,000 permanent jobs. Regional and international cinema chains are also eyeing the Saudi market, keen to tap the spending power of the young people who make up roughly 70 percent of the population. ?I want to see everything because it is something new for Saudi,? said 30-year-old movie-goer Ibtisam Abu Talib. ?I hope everything is available - action, romance, children?s films, comedy. Everything, God willing.?
  2. FILE PHOTO - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the meeting of Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition defence ministers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 26, 2017./ Reuters RIYADH: Saudi Arabia?s public prosecutor has said he will pursue extradition for corruption suspects living abroad as part of a two-month-old crackdown that has already netted princes and tycoons. Evidence is being collected against ?fugitives? in order to issue indictments against them and request that foreign governments return them to the kingdom, Saud al-Muajab told Arrajol magazine in an interview published on Thursday. It was not clear how many people are being targeted, or in which countries. Saudi security forces have rounded up dozens of members of the political and business elite, holding them in Riyadh?s opulent Ritz Carlton hotel on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The move was billed as a war on rampant corruption but also widely seen by analysts as helping Prince Mohammed consolidate his grip on power after ousting his cousin as heir to the throne in the summer. Saudi officials are negotiating settlements with detainees, saying they aim to claw back some $100 billion of funds that rightfully belong to the state. Muajab said last month that most detainees had agreed to settlements in order to avoid prosecution while the rest could be held for several more months. He told Arrajol that those who end up in court will be permitted to hire lawyers to defend them during the investigation and trial phases.
  3. As part of the nationwide campaign, which started on November 15, 65,715 of the detainees have already been deported Saudi Arabia has arrested 337,281 foreigners in its latest crackdown on illegal immigrants, Gulf News reported. Those arrested include 198,231 who did not have valid residence permits and over 99,000 foreigners who did not have valid work permits. As part of the nationwide campaign, which started on November 15, 65,715 of the detainees have already been deported. The deported include Yeminis, Ethiopians and people from other African countries. Saudi Arabia in March last year announced a 90-day amnesty for illegal expatriates to leave the country without having to pay fines or facing legal action. The country had warned illegal expatriates of fines of 15,000 to 100,000 riyals if they failed to regularise their status or leave the country within the 90-day amnesty.
  4. The IPO could be the biggest in history and Saudi officials expect to raise as much as $100 billion-Reuters DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has changed the status of national oil firm Aramco to a joint-stock company as of Jan. 1, the kingdom?s official bulletin said on Friday, in a major step ahead of a planned initial public offering. Aramco has a fully paid capital of 60 billion riyals ($16 billion) divided into 200 billion ordinary shares, the bulletin said. The firm?s board will have 11 members and the power to list the company in domestic and international markets, it said. The sale of around 5 percent of Aramco, expected to go ahead in 2018, is a centerpiece of Vision 2030, a reform plan to reduce the dependence of the Saudi economy on oil. The plan is championed by the Saudi crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Saudi officials have said domestic and international exchanges such as New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong have been looked at for a partial listing of the state-run oil firm. The official bulletin said the government will propose 6 members of Aramco?s board, but shareholders with a more than 0.1 percent stake will have the right to propose a member to the general assembly. The government will remain the major shareholder of Aramco and retain the ultimate decision on national production levels, it said. The IPO could be the biggest in history and Saudi officials expect to raise as much as $100 billion. The official bulletin said Armaco?s IPO will comply with regulation of the Saudi stock exchange and also regulation of the international market where it will be listed. Investors have long debated whether Aramco could be valued anywhere close to $2 trillion, the figure announced by the crown prince, who wants to raise cash through the IPO to finance investment aimed at helping wean Saudi Arabia off its dependency on crude oil exports. A kingpin of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia is also leading members and other oil producers such as Russia to restrict oil supplies under a global oil pact to drain global inventories and boost oil prices. Last November, OPEC and non-OPEC producers agreed to extend oil output cuts until the end of 2018 as they try to finish clearing a global glut of crude while signaling a possible early exit from the deal if the market overheats.
  5. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif addressing media in Lahore - Geo News screengrab LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif returned from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and visited the kidney centre. Speaking to media, Shehbaz said Saudi Arabia was among the best friends of Pakistan. ?During every crisis ? storms, earthquakes, diplomatic, Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistan without any conditions.? Shehbaz Sharif emphasised that both countries had blind faith in each other. He also clarified that he went to Saudi Arabia after being invited for Umrah when asked by reporters that there had been increasing criticism by opposition parties on the visit of the Sharif brothers. Opposition parties have questioned the motive behind visits by the Sharif brothers to Saudi Arabia, and have asked if an agreement is being negotiated to save the Sharifs. Prior to his return, Shehbaz along with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman for a 1.5 hour-long meeting on Monday night. Geo News reported, citing sources, that Shehbaz Sharif held a meeting with the crown prince twice in last 24 hours. Matters of mutual interests were discussed by both the leaders. Shehbaz appreciated the role Saudi Arabia played in the ongoing Palestine issue, sources added. Nawaz Sharif is expected to return to Pakistan later on Tuesday.
  6. LAHORE: Punjab government spokesperson Mohammad Ahmed Khan has condemned the allegations levelled against Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif on his visit to Saudi Arabia, saying the statements being spread were baseless. According to the spokesperson, Saudi Arabia is an ally of Pakistan and it was an honour for Shehbaz to be sent an aircraft from there. Mohammad Ahmed added that to criticise the Saudi government or chief minister Punjab on the move was tantamount to being against the national interest. Zardari on Sharifs' Saudi visits: ?No one knows what is cooking? Rumour mill has it that the motive behind the visits could be to negotiate a deal or to save assets, Zardari said The Punjab government spokesperson said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have brotherly ties which no ?negative propaganda? can break. Earlier in the day, Pakistan Peoples Party Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari commented on the Sharif brothers? visit to Saudi Arabia, saying an agreement might be ?cooking? in the country. ?No one knows what is cooking. There are a couple of rumours surrounding their visits to Saudi Arabia,? he said while talking to media. Rumour mill has it that the motive behind the visits could be to negotiate a deal or to save their assets, Zardari added. The former president, however, added ?we respect Saudi Arabia, it is our brotherly state? but added that Pakistan should not take directives from them. People will reject any deal made by Nawaz: PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry raised objection over CM Punjab travelling to Saudi Arabia in an aircraft sent from there Later, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Fawad Chaudhry criticised Shehbaz for flying to Saudi Arabia in an aircraft sent by them, saying a country does not remain sovereign when its rulers take such steps. He added criticisms were hurled at PTI leader Jahangir Tareen purchasing an aircraft, but no one questioned Shehbaz when he flew to Saudi Arabia in an aircraft sent from the kingdom.
  7. Diesel rates for trucks were left unchanged. Photo: Saudi Gazette/File DUBAI: Saudi Arabia raised local gasoline prices on Monday, state news agency SPA reported. The initiative, aimed at more efficient energy use, coincides with an ambitious reform plan to boost sources of revenue and wean the world?s top crude exporter away from oil. It said Octane 91 will sell for 1.37 Riyals a litre, up from 0.75 Riyals, while Octane 95 will sell for 2.04 riyals a litre, up from 0.90 Riyals. Diesel rates for trucks were left unchanged. According to a report in the Saudi Gazette, the prices include Value Added Tax (VAT). The regulatory authorities are monitoring the markets to ensure that prices are not manipulated and supplies are not interrupted, the report stated further. The Kingdom will slow plans to eliminate subsidies for a wide range of energy products, according to a new long-term fiscal plan in the 2018 state budget released last month. King Salman formally announced on December 20 that the target date for eliminating the government?s budget deficit would be pushed back to 2023 from the original target of 2020, in order to reduce pressure on economic growth. The Kingdom announced its broad reform initiative in 2016, saying it aimed to ?enhance the level and quality of services? provided by government and ?achieve a prosperous future and sustainable development.?
  8. LEFT: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/Files; CENTRE: Chief Minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif gestures after appearing before a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/Files; RIGHT: Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique. via Geo News/Files1 RIYADH: Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif arrived here in Saudi Arabia Saturday night, confirming sources' statement earlier in the day that he would be travelling to the Kingdom and would return January 2, 2018, for his next court hearing. Sharif ? who also leads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ? was welcomed at Riyadh airport by Khan Hasham bin Siddique, the country's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The ex-prime minister joined his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique ? both of whom are already in the Kingdom. According to Mussadiq Malik ? the adviser to incumbent Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi ? Shehbaz is on a personal visit to Saudi Arabia and will also perform Umrah. During its visit to Saudi Arabia, the PML-N leadership is expected to meet with notables, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Later, the Sharif brothers are also expected to tour London after concluding their trip to the Kingdom, sources had disclosed. Not 'necessary' that trips are political Nawaz leaves today to join Shehbaz, Saad Rafique in Saudi Arabia During the Saudi visit, the PML-N leadership is expected to meet with important personalities including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman A day prior, Rana Sanaullah ? the Minister for Law in Punjab ? while speaking on Geo News' talk show Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Ke Saath had said the Sharif brothers will discuss the issues the Muslim Ummah and the region face at present during their visit. Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif ?will not be talking about national matters; they will be discussing issues being faced by the Muslim world and the region,? he had said. On the other hand, Sanaullah had, however, rejected the opponents' speculation that the former prime minister was trying to obtain another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). ?If Saudi Arabia is getting an NRO done, then where is the other party?? he had remarked. Separately, in Quetta, Ahsan Iqbal ? the Minister of Interior Affairs ? had downplayed the Sharif duo's trip to the Kingdom, saying Muslims gather there all year round for religious purposes. "It isn't necessary that the trips are political in nature," he said. Similarly, Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan had commented that Saudi Arabia's involvement in Pakistani politics is nothing new.
  9. PML-N leaders (from left) Shehbaz Sharif, Saad Rafique and Nawaz Sharif LAHORE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif leaves for Saudi Arabia today, where he will join his brother, the Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique. Nawaz will depart for Riyadh today afternoon and is expected to return on Jan 2, 2018, in time for his next court hearing, said sources. During the Saudi visit, the PML-N leadership is expected to meet with important personalities including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Earlier on Friday, Saad Rafique left for Saudi Arabia along with his family, after Chief Minister Shehbaz reached Saudi Arabia earlier this week. Sources stated that the Sharif brothers are also expected to visit London after concluding their trip to the kingdom. According to Mussadiq Malik ? the prime minister's adviser ? Shehbaz is on a personal visit to the kingdom and will also perform Umrah. ?Nawaz, Shehbaz to discuss Muslim Ummah issues in Saudi Arabia? Speaking in Geo News talk show ?Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Ke Saath?, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the Sharif brothers will discuss issues being faced by the Muslim Ummah during their visit to Saudi Arabia. ?They [Nawaz and Shehbaz] will not be talking about national matters, they will be discussing issues being faced by the Muslim world,? he said, rejecting speculation by opponents that Nawaz was trying to get another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Nawaz trying for another NRO, claims Imran Imran Khan addressed media in Islamabad ?If Saudi Arabia is getting an NRO done then where is the other party?? Sanaullah remarked. Eluding to PTI chairman Imran Khan, the minister added that if the opponents ?resort to sit-ins again so close to the elections, the opponents will be the ones to bear losses.? Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, during a visit to Quetta earlier, played down the visits to Saudi Arabia saying all year round Muslims gather in Saudi Arabia for religious purposes. "It isn't necessary that the trips are political in nature," he said. Musharraf is a coward: Nawaz During a meeting with party members in Raiwind on Friday, Nawaz Sharif called former dictator Pervez Musharraf a "coward". "If Musharraf has any courage he should come to Pakistan and face the courts," said the former premier, adding that it was "high time those breaking the Constitution were punished."
  10. RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has released two sons of late king Abdullah two months after they were detained in a sweeping anti-corruption purge, a source close to the government said Friday. "They have been released," the source said a day after a family member posted photos of Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, a former head of the Saudi Red Crescent, and Prince Mashal bin Abdullah, a previous governor of Mecca, on Twitter. Prince Turki bin Abdullah was the only brother left in detention, the source said, without adding if his brothers had reached a cash settlement to be released. Another brother, influential Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, was freed in late November after three weeks in detention following a "settlement" with authorities reportedly exceeding $1 billion. At the time, the former National Guard chief was seen as the most high-ranking royal to be released. The four brothers were among more than 200 princes, ministers and businessmen rounded up earlier that month, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tightened his grip on power. Most of those detained have struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom, the attorney general said this month. Other high-profile targets of the crackdown include billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia. Many of the detainees have been held at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel, which has been turned into a luxury prison. Saudi authorities insist the purge was meant solely to target endemic corruption as the kingdom seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy. The attorney general has previously said he estimates at least $100 billion has been lost in embezzlement or corruption over several decades.
  11. [embed_video1 url= style=center] ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, while responding to Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah?s statements on Shehbaz Sharif?s visit to Saudi Arabia, said on Friday that the Sharifs have old with the kingdom and no one should have reservations over it. The foreign minister was speaking to Geo News and said that the Sharif brothers have spent eight years in exile in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that due to religious reasons one person or another visits the kingdom from time to time. ?Not necessary that politics is brewing over there,? said the interior minister. 'Moving towards NRO' Earlier in the day, Khursheed Shah was asked about Shebaz Sharif's visit to Saudi Arabia. Shah said that it would be worrisome if this visit was aimed at resolving internal matters of the country. ?Pakistan is a nuclear country and should have its own policies and rule of rule. We do not need to knock on anyone else?s door.? Saad Rafique?s statement did not require such a response from ISPR: Shah Opposition leader said he did not find anything objectionable in railways minister's Dec 24 remarks The PPP leader added that the reason for the visit might be to get a new National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). When asked was the difference between this NRO and the one issued during the Musharraf government, Shah responded ?there is a huge difference. Democracy came in the country, an army general removed his uniform, Nawaz Sharif returned from exile. Parliament completed its tenure and there was a historic transfer of power. In this NRO it seems there are ongoing corruption cases. It is a problem of ladlas (dear ones)." Shah was referring to the departure of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saad Rafique to Saudi Arabia. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is also expected to leave for the Kingdom over the weekend.
  12. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Saad Rafique. Photo: File LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Saad Rafique left for Saudi Arabia along with his family on early Friday morning. The federal minister for railways took the Pakistan International Airlines? flight, PK-759, for Jeddah from Allama Iqbal International Airport (Lahore). Meanwhile, the PML-N party leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is also expected to reach Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Lately, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor in a press briefing said that a recenet statement by Rafique ?doesn?t appear to be unintended?. ?The statement is very irresponsible and unwarranted as you are targeting the chain of command and the subordination system of Pakistan Army,? said the military spokesperson. Shehbaz Sharif meets Turkish PM during Saudi Arabia visit The Punjab chief minister left for the Kingdom in a special plane from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday Rafique, while addressing a ceremony marking his father's anniversary earlier, had praised the army chief for briefing the Senate and had said it was a confidence-boosting move for everyone. The minister had said that there was no difference in the narrative and added that the army chief had talked in favour of democratic norms and continuity. However, the minister had said others should also support the army chief's stance on whom "his command is applied to". "They should also follow that order," said Rafique and added that those who do mischief should also support the army chief. Statement presented out of context by media channels: Saad Rafique Play a role for cohesiveness among state institutions, says minister Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif is already in Saudi Arabia right now. On Thursday, he met briefly with Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim during his ongoing visit. Shehbaz Sharif is expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, among other senior Saudi officials, during his visit to the Kingdom. Shehbaz, the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, arrived in Medina after leaving Pakistan on Wednesday in a special plane sent by Riyadh. However, according to prime minister's adviser Mussadiq Malik, Shehbaz is on a personal visit to the Kingdom and will also perform Umrah. Earlier, Geo News reported that the visit takes place after Shehbaz's meeting with the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan on Saturday in Lahore.
  13. Dubai at night Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates plan to impose a 5 percent tax next year on most goods and services to boost revenue after oil prices collapsed three years ago. The value-added tax (VAT) will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and petrol, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations, according to an Associated Press report. Some exemptions will apply for big-ticket costs like rent, real estate sales, certain medications, airline tickets and school tuition. Higher education will be taxed in the UAE. Extra costs such as uniforms, books, school bus fees and lunch will also be taxed, as well as real estate brokerage costs for renters and buyers. According to Abu Dhabi-based The National newspaper, the cost of living in the UAE is expected to rise about 2.5 percent next year because of the VAT. Salaries, meanwhile, remain the same. Other Gulf countries are also expected to roll out their own VAT scheme in the coming years. The decision could affect the countries? reputation with foreign workers, many of whom have been lured by a tax-free lifestyle. Foreigners make up about a third of Saudi Arabia?s population and far outnumber locals in the UAE.
  14. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Photo: File LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif is expected to leave for Saudi Arabia today, sources informed Geo News. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader is expected to hold important meetings with the Saudi government officials. The visit of Shehbaz is taking place after his meeting with the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan three days back in Lahore. Seprately, Shehbaz, while speaking in Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath said that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Panama Papers case and Imran Khan's disqualification case are similar but the judgement differed in both the cases. He added that space for a review petition does exist in the verdict passed by the Supreme Court in Imran Khan's case. "The Supreme Court gave its judgment, look at the Panama case and this [Imran Khan's] case, both cases have a lot of similarities," said Shehbaz. The chief minister also said that it is their legal right to expose the loopholes and file a review petition. Shehbaz's remarks come after the Supreme Court disqualified Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Secretary General Jahangir Tareen but ruled in favour of PTI Chairperson Imran Khan in its judgment on the disqualification case against the two party leaders. Further criticising Imran, Shehbaz said the PTI leader is surrounded by those who are "corrupt from head to toe". He also said that Jahangir Tareen benefited from the offshore company and PTI's president in Lahore, Aleem Khan, is ?a master in taking over lands illegally?. "He [Imran] has benefitted from thieves," said the younger Sharif brother.
  15. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman/File photo RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has released 23 of the 200-or-so powerful individuals detained since November on corruption charges after they reached deals with the government, Okaz newspaper reported on Tuesday. The report did not name those involved in what appeared to be the first large-scale release since the royals, business people and government officials were detained in a crackdown spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The suspects have been held at Riyadh?s luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel since early November and told to hand over assets and cash in exchange for their freedom. Okaz said more detainees would be released in the coming days and trial proceedings would begin soon for those who continue to deny the charges against them. Saudi authorities see the settlements not as blackmail but as an obligation to reimburse money taken illegally from the world?s top oil producer over several decades. Video posted on social media showed a smiling Saoud al-Daweesh, the former chief executive of Saudi Telecom, telling well-wishers he had been treated decently. ?Private Affairs (a unit of the Royal Court) brought us a full lamb dish day and night. They treated us well and did a good job,? he said. Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.
  16. Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal. Photo: Geo News RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian authorities are demanding $6 billion from Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, in return for his release after he was arrested in an anti-corruption purge last month in Riyadh, according to a foreign media report. The prince is the 57th richest man in the world, and was one of dozens of businessmen, detained last month in the capital?s Ritz Carlton hotel in a move led by the country?s crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman. The fee demanded for Prince Al-Waleed is believed to be one of the highest. Extortion, bribery and money laundering are allegations leveled against Prince Al-Waleed. However, reportedly the prince has refused to pay any fee for his release, as he claim that paying the fee would amount to an admission of guilt. A source close to the prince told The Wall Street Journal ?He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give [Prince Bin Salman] a hard time,? In an interview with the New York Times last month, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman claimed that as many as 10 per cent of government funds had been lost to corruption each year since 1980. He added that 95 per cent of those caught up in the corruption probe had agreed to such settlements, but said: ?About 1 per cent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About four percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court.?
  17. ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Wednesday condemned the ballistic missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia, said a statement released. The rebels on Tuesday had fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh and had claimed the target was the official residence of the Saudi king. Pakistan also reaffirmed its support for the kingdom and reiterated that in case of any violation of its territorial integrity or any threat to the Holy Cities, Pakistan will stand shoulder to shoulder with the government and people of Saudi Arabia. The FO in its statement said the increasing frequency and ferocity of the missile attacks, targeted at innocent civilians by Houthi rebels, pose a threat to regional peace and security and is therefore, highly condemnable. Saudi says it intercepted Yemen rebel missile over Riyadh Houthi rebels claim the target was the official residence of King Salman The statement further added that to ensure stability and peace in the region, a political solution for the Yemen crisis needs to be sought. "Pakistan stands firmly with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in confronting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations." "Missile force announces the launch of a Burkan (Volcano) H-2 missile against the Yamamah Palace in Riyadh," the Houthis's official news outlet Al-Masirah tweeted on Tuesday. The attacks, which could further escalate a military campaign by a Saudi-led coalition against the rebels, underscore how the raging Yemen conflict is increasingly spilling across the border. The first attack targeted Riyadh international airport on November 4, and triggered the tightening of a long-standing Saudi-led blockade of Yemen -- already on the verge of famine.
  18. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman attends a cabinet meeting during the approval of the 2018 budget/Reuters RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday its economy contracted for the first time in eight years due to painful austerity measures as it announced record spending to stimulate growth. The OPEC kingpin said gross domestic product for 2017 shrank by 0.5 percent due to a drop in crude production in line with an agreement with major oil producers aimed at boosting prices. Oil sector GDP fell 2.0 percent in 2017, the ministry said The last time the Saudi economy contracted was in 2009, when GDP fell 2.1 percent after the global financial crisis sent oil prices crashing. Riyadh also posted a higher-than-expected budget deficit in 2017 and forecast another shortfall next year for the fifth year in a row due to the drop in oil revenues. It unveiled plans to spend more than ever in 2018 in a bid to stimulate the sluggish economic, saying it expects GDP to grow by 2.7 percent. The kingdom has set aside 978 billion riyals ($260.8 billion) for expenditure, up 10 percent on this year, said the finance ministry. "The 2018 expansionary budget includes a number of new development projects," said powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees economic affairs. "About 50 percent of the new budget will be financed from non-oil sources," he said, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency. The contraction comes as the world´s top oil exporter tries to cope with persistent budget deficits that began in 2014 when crude prices plummeted. In the past four years, Riyadh posted a total of $258 billion of budget deficits, drew on $240 billion of its reserves and borrowed around $100 billion. King Salman said the Gulf country would "continue to decrease its dependence on oil to reach just 50 percent" of total revenues. The finance ministry estimated a deficit of $52 billion for 2018. It said the deficit for 2017 came in at $61.3 billion, or 9.2 percent of GDP, and higher than the expected $53 billion. The shortfall is still 25 percent lower than the $82 billion posted in the previous year. Loosening the purse strings King Salman told the cabinet that Saudi Arabia expects to continue posting deficits through to 2023. Revenues in 2018 were estimated to be 783 billion riyals ($208.8 billion), up 13 percent on the previous year´s projections. Actual revenues for the current fiscal year rose by a healthy 34 percent compared with 2016 to $185.6 billion due a sharp increase in both oil and non-oil revenues. Capital Economics said Saudi Arabia had loosened up its purse strings. "After the harsh austerity of 2015-16, the government appears to have loosened fiscal policy in 2017," said the London-based think-tank. It was expected to continue doing so next year, it added. Actual non-oil revenues collected in 2017 reached 256 billion riyals ($68.3 billion), a 38 percent rise on the previous year, reflecting the impact of hiking prices and imposing fees. Riyadh has resorted to a string of austerity measures to contain spending and imposed a variety of subsidy cuts and rises in prices of services. Prince Mohammed, the architect of the "Vision 2030" programme of reforms for a post-oil era, has announced a host of mega projects, including a futuristic megacity with robots and driverless cars, which require about $500 billion in investments. The cornerstone of the reforms is an initial public offering of nearly five percent of national oil giant Aramco planned for next year. Prince Mohammed has also been behind stunning decisions to allow women to drive and to lift a 35-year-old ban on cinemas. Last month, the heir to the throne launched a wide-ranging crackdown on dozens of elites, ostensibly to tackle corruption, but experts say it was also a way of consolidating his grip on power. Since 2015, the ultra-conservative kingdom has introduced a series of price hikes on fuel and electricity. It has also imposed fees on expats and is preparing to introduce value-added tax in the new year. The finance ministry said unemployment among Saudis rose to 12.8 percent in June, up slightly on last year. The government has allocated $13.9 billion for the cash transfer programme called the Citizen Account to compensate the needy for hiking prices.
  19. RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Monday lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas, part of a series of social reforms by the powerful crown prince. "Commercial cinemas will be allowed to operate in the kingdom as of early 2018, for the first time in more than 35 years," the culture and information ministry said in a statement, adding that the government will begin licensing cinemas immediately. Reviving cinemas would represent a paradigm shift in the kingdom, which is promoting entertainment as part of a sweeping reform plan dubbed "Vision 2030". "This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom," information minister Awwad Alawwad said in the statement. Hardliners, who see cinemas as a threat to cultural and religious identity, were instrumental in shutting them down in the 1980s. Saudi Arabia's highest-ranking cleric warned in January of the "depravity" of cinemas, saying they would corrupt morals. But authorities appear to be shrugging off the threat. Saudi filmmakers have long argued that a ban on cinemas does not make sense in the age of YouTube. Saudi films have been making waves abroad, using the internet to circumvent distribution channels and sometimes the stern gaze of state censors.
  20. UNITED NATIONS: United Nations officials have found that missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by Yemen?s Houthi rebels appear to have a ?common origin,? but they are still investigating US and Saudi claims that Iran supplied them, according to a confidential report. The officials travelled to Saudi Arabia to examine the debris of missiles fired on July 22 and Nov. 4, wrote UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the fourth biannual report on the implementation of UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran. They found ?that the missiles had similar structural and manufacturing features which suggest a common origin,? said Guterres in the Friday report to the UN Security Council, seen by Reuters on Saturday. The report comes amid calls by the United States for Iran to be held accountable for violating UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen and Iran by supplying weapons to the Houthis. Saudi-led forces, which back the Yemeni government, have fought the Iran-allied Houthis in Yemen?s more than two-year-long civil war. Saudi Arabia?s crown prince has described Iran?s supply of rockets to the Houthis as ?direct military aggression? that could be an act of war. Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons, saying the US and Saudi allegations are ?baseless and unfounded.? Guterre?s report said the UN officials saw three components, which Saudi authorities said came from the missile fired on Nov. 4. The components ?bore the castings of a logo similar to that of the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group? - a UN-blacklisted company. The officials are ?still analysing the information collected and will report back to the Security Council,? wrote Guterres. NUCLEAR DEAL The Saudi-led coalition used the Nov. 4 missile attack to justify a blockade of Yemen for several weeks, saying it was needed to stem the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. Although the blockade later eased, Yemen?s situation has remained dire. About 8 million people are on the brink of famine, with outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria. A separate report to the Security Council last month by a panel of independent experts monitoring sanctions imposed in Yemen found that four missiles fired this year into Saudi Arabia appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran. However, the panel said it ?as yet has no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier? of the missiles, which were likely shipped to the Houthis in violation of a targeted UN arms embargo imposed on Houthi leaders in April 2015. Most UN sanctions on Iran were lifted in January last year when the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran fulfilled commitments under a nuclear deal with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But Iran is still subject to a UN arms embargo and other restrictions. US President Donald Trump dealt a blow to the nuclear deal in October by refusing to certify that Tehran was complying with the accord and warning that he might ultimately terminate it. International inspectors have said Iran is in compliance. ?I encourage the United States to maintain its commitments to the plan and to consider the broader implications for the region and beyond before taking any further steps,? Guterres wrote. ?Similarly, I encourage the Islamic Republic of Iran to carefully consider the concerns raised by other participants in the plan,? he said.
  21. Saudi comedian Abdulrahman al-Soumali performs on stage during the Stand-up Comedy Festival at the Riyadh´s King Fahd Cultural Centre on November 29, 2017-AFP RIYADH: Saudis took the stage one by one to poke fun at the world -- and themselves -- introducing a hissing, cackling audience to an art form widely unknown in the kingdom: stand-up comedy. Chuckles and squeals ran through the crowd at a rare amateur comedy festival last week in the capital Riyadh, organised by the official General Entertainment Authority, the main engine of social reforms sweeping the kingdom. The authority is boosting entertainment options like never before, from a Comic-Con festival to concerts by female musicians, helping shed the kingdom´s austere reputation and introducing many Saudis to a novel concept -- having fun in public. "I am a jobless dentist," 26-year-old Battar al-Battar said in a slow, deadpan delivery on stage to a smiling audience. "My prayers have been answered. I see lots of braces in this crowd." Next up was a short, corpulent man, equally deadpan as he took on the skewed power relations between the sexes in the patriarchal kingdom. "I called my fiancee to say: ´Listen, I am the man. If I eat dust, you eat dust´. "She hung up. A week passed by. I heard nothing. "In a panic I texted her: ´I am not the man! Take me back!´" Men in the audience -- as well as women sitting across the aisle -- erupted in laughter. The festival would hardly be unusual if it weren´t in Saudi Arabia, typically stereotyped as a nation of stern, unsmiling hardliners. "The common perception is that Saudis don´t have a funny bone," Yaser Bakr, a festival jury member and founder of the kingdom´s first comedy club, told AFP. "Saudis love to laugh. Numbers don´t lie," he said, scrolling through a list of Saudi comedy videos on his mobile´s YouTube app, each with hundreds of thousands of views. ´Comedy cleanses the soul´ The venue for the five-day festival, Riyadh´s King Fahd Cultural Centre, was like a bubble of laughing gas over the course of the performances. The festival, a talent-hunt of sorts for Saudi Arabia´s own version of "Seinfeld", was a rare attempt to introduce stand-up comedy to the masses. Aside from a handful of Saudi YouTube comedy stars, performers are largely struggling without theatres and entertainment companies, as well as a lack of mass awareness of the art form. "Many people think comedy is only *** jokes. We are trying to change that," festival director Jubran al-Jubran told AFP. "Saudi Arabia needs to cultivate this art. Comedy has a purifying effect, it cleanses the soul. It´s a relief to laugh about our own problems." But the audience was only mildly amused by cringe-worthy jokes and low-brow humour from some performers. None of the participants breached what are typically considered red lines in the conservative kingdom -- ***, religion and politics. But some deftly pulverised a few old stereotypes associated with Saudis, including perceived links to extremists, while others dared to mock the once-untouchable elites. "When I first came to Riyadh I was afraid they would lock me up in the Ritz," quipped Rakain al-Zafer, one of the performers, prompting sniggers and groans from the audience. Riyadh´s opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel has become a gilded prison for dozens of princes, ministers and tycoons swept up in an anti-corruption purge. The joke resonates with most Saudis -- except perhaps those locked inside -- reflecting a strong public revulsion for the elite. ´Destroy extremism through comedy´ The performing comedians were all men, but the festival organisers said women were expected to participate next year despite the risk of riling conservatives. The festival highlights a broader reform push by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful heir to the throne who has curbed the influence of the religious police, once notorious for disrupting such mixed-gender events. The prince appears to be balancing unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more social freedoms and entertainment. Saudis themselves appear quietly astounded by the torrid pace of change -- including the historic decision allowing women to drive from next June and plans to reopen cinemas after a decades-long ban. Legendary Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed to a packed mixed-gender audience in Riyadh last week, accompanied by female vocalists. The change chimes with Prince Mohammed´s recent pledge to return Saudi Arabia to an "open, moderate Islam" and destroy extremist ideologies. Expanding on the prince´s comment, Jubran said: "We aim to destroy extremism through comedy, by making people laugh."
  22. A view of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, Yemen, November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/Files WASHINGTON: The White House said Thursday it believed that Saudi Arabia would allow a blocked port in Yemen to open after US President Donald Trump urged Riyadh to lift a blockade to let humanitarian aid reach the Yemeni people. The Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned armed Houthi movement in Yemen?s civil war started blockading ports a month ago after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward its capital Riyadh from Yemen. Although the blockade later eased, Yemen?s situation remains dire. About 8 million people are on the brink of famine with outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria. Yemen?s population of 27 million is almost entirely reliant on imports for food, fuel and medicine. ?I believe there are actions that are taking place for a port to open and we?ll keep you posted as those details become more available,? White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. Trump called for Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to ?completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people?, suggesting Washington had run out patience with the blockade that has been condemned by relief organizations. ?Progress has not been seen yet, but we hope that advocacy and those strong messages will open up the port from being a partially open port to being a fully open port,? Jamie McGoldrick ? the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen ? told reporters in New York. McGoldrick said there were 15 ships ? carrying mainly food and fuel ? waiting to enter the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and Salif. Around 80 percent of Yemen?s food imports arrive through Hodeidah. ?They need to come onshore now,? said McGoldrick, speaking via telephone from Sanaa. ?There are some boats which are offshore which have been cleared by Riyadh already... We see no reason why they should not be able to come onshore now.? A Reuters analysis of port and ship tracking data has shown that no fuel shipments have reached Yemen?s largest port for a month. ?What we have got right now is food trickling into Yemen through the various ports, but we can?t get it to the people without the fuel,? McGoldrick said. ?Yemen?s humanitarian response needs millions of litres of fuel a month to keep hospital generators running, transport food and to pump water.?
  23. US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before departing the White House for New York in Washington, US, December 2, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/Files WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump called for Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to immediately allow humanitarian aid to reach the Yemeni people, suggesting Washington had run out of patience with a Saudi-led blockade that has been condemned by relief organizations. The Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned armed Houthi movement in Yemen?s civil war started a blockade of ports a month ago after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward its capital Riyadh from Yemen. Although the blockade later eased and showed signs of breaking on Wednesday, Yemen?s situation remained dire. About 8 million people are on the brink of famine with outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria. ?I have directed officials in my administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it,? Trump said in a statement, without elaborating. ?This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately,? Trump said. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said the first food and fuel had arrived in Hodeidah and Saleef ports, but supplies were at a trickle compared to what was needed, since Yemen?s population of 27 million was almost entirely reliant on imports for food, fuel and medicine. Oxfam International applauded Trump?s statement, calling it ?long overdue but hugely important.? Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who has called for restrictions on US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said he expected the Kingdom to heed Trump?s call. Trump?s brief, one-paragraph statement is one of the clearest signs of US concern over aspects of Saudi Arabia?s foreign policy. Saudi Arabia has also split with Trump over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Warmer ties Publicly, Trump, his top aides and senior Saudi officials have hailed what they say is a major improvement in US-Saudi ties compared with relations under former President Barack Obama, who upset the Saudis by sealing a nuclear deal with their arch-foe Iran. Even as ties improve, however, US diplomats and intelligence analysts privately express anxiety over some of the more hawkish actions by Saudi Arabia?s crown prince, especially toward Yemen and Lebanon, as Saudi Arabia seeks to contain Iranian influence. In turn, Saudi Arabia has been unusually public about its concerns over US policy on Jerusalem. King Salman told Trump ahead of his Jerusalem announcement on Wednesday that any decision on the status of Jerusalem before a permanent peace settlement was reached would ?harm peace talks and increase tensions in the area,? according to Saudi state-owned media. A White House official said Trump?s statement on aid to Yemen did not represent retaliation for the Saudi position on Jerusalem. ?It has to do with the fact that there is a serious humanitarian issue in Yemen and the Saudis should and can do more,? the official said. The fuel shortages caused by the blockade have meant that areas hardest hit by war, malnutrition and cholera lack functioning hospital generators, cooking fuel and water pumps. It also makes it harder to move food and medical aid around the country. The Saudi-led military coalition stepped up air strikes on Yemen?s Houthis on Wednesday as the armed movement tightened its grip on Sanaa a day after the son of slain former president Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed revenge for his father?s death. Saleh, who was killed in an attack on his convoy, plunged Yemen deeper into turmoil last week by switching allegiance after years helping the Houthis win control of much of northern Yemen, including the capital. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that the killing of Saleh would likely worsen an already dire humanitarian situation in the country in the short term. ?This is where we?ve all got to roll up our sleeves and figure out what you?re going to do about medicine and food and clean water, cholera,? Mattis said.
  24. Huthi rebel fighters inspect the damage after a reported air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition targeted the presidential palace in the capital Sanaa on December 5, 2017. Photo: AFP RIYADH: Saudi Arabia called on Tuesday for a Yemen free of "militias supported by Iran", in its first official statement since rebels killed their erstwhile ally former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. "The Saudi Arabian cabinet expresses the hope that the uprising of the Yemeni people against the terrorist Huthi militias supported by Iran will free Yemen of abuse, death threats and the appropriation of public and private property," it said in a statement published on the official SPA news agency. The statement made no mention of Saleh, who was killed by Yemen's Huthi rebels on Monday. Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, was for decades an ally of Saudi Arabia before joining ranks with the Huthis in 2014. Saleh's ties to the rebels, strained for months, were dealt a major blow on Saturday when he announced he was again open to talks with Saudi Arabia and its allies, who had been fighting the Saleh-Huthi camp for nearly three years. Iran ? which Riyadh accuses of arming the Huthis ? on Tuesday also said Yemen would fight back against "aggressors", a jab at Saudi Arabia. Iran denies it arms the Huthis.
  25. ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Friday expressed concern at the reported ballistic missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia, said a statement released. "It strongly condemns the attack and commends the timely action by Saudi forces to destroy the missile preventing any loss of lives," said the FO. Pakistan reiterated its full support and solidarity with the government and the people of the kingdom. The statement further added that it condemns any threats aimed Saudi Arabia and demanded the "anti-Government forces in Yemen to desist from attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia". On Thursday, Yemen's Houthi rebels said they fired a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia and hit a military target, in the second such attack this month, after threatening to retaliate over a crippling blockade. "We confirm the success of our ballistic missile trial, which hit its military target inside Saudi Arabia," the Houthi-run Al-Masira television channel said. Hours earlier in a speech broadcast on Al-Masira, rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Houthi had warned against "prolonging the blockade" imposed on Yemen following a November 4 rebel missile attack that was intercepted near Riyadh international airport. "Should the blockade continue, we know what (targets) would cause great pain and how to reach them," he said. Saudi Arabia and its allies tightened the longstanding blockade on Yemen's ports and the main international airport in Sanaa in the wake of the November missile attack. The move prompted the Houthis to warn that they considered "airports, ports, border crossings, and areas of any importance" in Saudi Arabia, as well as its ally the United Arab Emirates, legitimate targets. The conflict has claimed more than 8,600 lives since the Saudi-led coalition joined the government's war against the rebel alliance. More than 2,000 people have also died of cholera this year. The United Nations (UN) has warned Yemen faces mass famine unless the Saudi-led coalition allows more food aid into the country, long the poorest in the region. The coalition allowed limited supplies into select areas in Yemen last weekend. Yemen's conflict ? which has enabled Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Daesh to flourish in the chaos of war ? shows no sign of waning. The Houthi-Saleh rebel alliance has also begun to unravel, with clashes between the Houthis and fighters loyal to the former president leaving at least 14 dead on Wednesday. Violence between the two ? whose alliance first began to show cracks in August ? flared again Thursday night, localised in southern Sanaa and around the residence of two of Saleh's nephews.