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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan during the Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF) in Antalya, on March 12

Turkey and Armenia agreed in normalisation talks between special representatives that the neighbours would start direct air cargo trade between each other at the earliest possible date, as they work to mend ties after decades of animosity.

Turkey has been working to normalise relations with Armenia in coordination with Azerbaijan since December. The neighbours held a fourth round of talks in Vienna on Friday, following the first meeting between their foreign ministers in years in March.

In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Ankara and Yerevan had also agreed to allow third-country citizens to cross their shared border at the earliest date possible and decided to initiate the necessary process to that end. The special envoys also discussed other possible steps for “full normalisation”, it said.
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Ukrainian grain store - REUTERS

Ukraine has requested that Turkey detain and arrest the Russian-flagged cargo ship Zhibek Zholy carrying a cargo of Ukrainian grain taken from the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk, according to a Ukrainian official and document seen by Reuters.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry official, citing information received from the country’s maritime administration, said the 7,146 dwt Zhibek Zholy had loaded the first cargo of some 4,500 tonnes of grain from Berdyansk, which the official said belonged to Ukraine.

In a letter dated June 30 to Turkey’s justice ministry, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office separately that the Zhibek Zholy was involved in the “illegal export of Ukrainian grain” from Berdyansk and headed to Karasu, Turkey, with 7,000 tonnes of cargo, which is a larger cargo than cited by the official.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office asked Turkey to “conduct an inspection of this sea vessel, seize samples of grain for forensic examination, demand information on the location of such grain”, the letter said, adding that Ukraine was ready to conduct a joint investigation with Turkish authorities.

A Russian-installed official in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region said on Thursday that after a stoppage of several months the first cargo ship had left Berdyansk port without naming the Zhibek Zholy.

Kremlin officials in Moscow did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from the territories that Russian forces have seized since its invasion began in late February. The Kremlin has previously denied that Russia has stolen any Ukrainian grain.

Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the arrival of the Zhibek Zholy.

Kazakh based KTZ Express confirmed to Reuters the Zhibek Zholy was owned by the company but said it was taken under a bare boat charter – when no crew or supplies are involved in the lease – by Russian company Green-Line, which was not designated under any sanctions.

KTZ Express added that it was consulting the parties involved and would abide by all sanctions and restrictions. Green-Line could not be immediately found to request comment.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry official added that the vessel was heading for the Turkish port of Karasu.

The vessel reported its position at anchor close to Karasu port, Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Friday. The data shows it crossing the Black Sea from near Crimea. It did not list Berdyansk as its destination in the past 48 hours – but tracking data relies on transponders updating their positions.

Earlier this month Russia’s defence minister said the Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, controlled by Russian forces, were ready to resume grain shipments.

Western countries have accused Russia of creating the risk of global famine by stopping Ukraine from exporting grain via its Black Sea ports. Moscow denies responsibility for the international food crisis, blaming Western sanctions.

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Lebanon’s untamed financial crisis is gathering new menace as it heads into a fourth year, with political paralysis dampening hope of reforms that could unlock foreign support and stave off social turmoil, according to analysts, lawmakers and former officials.

The emergency gripping the small country squeezed between Syria and Israel could snowball in the autumn if political rifts deprive the state of an executive authority to enact reforms or agree a deal with the IMF and donor countries, they said.

In April, Lebanon agreed $3 billion in financing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditional on key measures to tackle its financial crunch, which descended into full-blown crisis in October 2019. In May, reform-minded candidates scored significantly in parliamentary elections and the outgoing cabinet passed a new financial recovery plan.

But those developments have since been overshadowed by political gridlock and opposition to the plan from the banking sector, suggesting that one of the world’s worst financial meltdowns could drag on even longer.

“My view is that as long as the political governance doesn’t change, nothing will happen,” said Henri Chaoul, a former member of Lebanon’s IMF negotiations team who resigned in 2020 when the then-government’s plan was undone.

Najib Mikati, the caretaker premier also tasked with forming a new government, faces an uphill battle to cobble together a cabinet that can win the approval of the outgoing president and of a hung parliament.

Cabinet formation is already typically a months-long process in Lebanon but could drag even more as parties try to secure influence in the event that the presidency remains vacant following the end of Michel Aoun’s term in October.

If divisions prevent a cabinet from being formed and a presidential successor being named by then, Lebanon risks floating rudderless into uncharted territory – with no executive authority empowered to push reforms or eventually ink a final deal with the IMF and donors.

The economy is sinking fast: the currency has crashed more than 90 per cent and about 80 per cent of Lebanon’s inhabitants now live below the poverty line.

 

ROW OVER DISTRIBUTING LOSSES

The summer influx of tourists and Lebanese expatriates bringing in badly-needed hard currency will do little to resolve the core of the crisis, which centres on a $70 billion hole in the financial system – more than three times the country’s entire yearly economic output.

The former parliament did not pass the 2022 state budget, a much-debated capital controls law or a reformed banking secrecy law.

Many had pinned hopes on first-time lawmakers to kickstart a parliamentary push for reforms, but six weeks since the election the body has yet to hold a general session.

Members of the finance committee say they only received a copy of the government’s financial recovery plan – agreed in mid-May – earlier this week. Major blocs say that plan must be revisited altogether.

Critics fear a re-run of a scenario from 2020, when a government rescue plan was torpedoed by Lebanon’s parliament and the powerful commercial banking sector.

The main division over the plan, then and now, remains how to distribute the losses. Lebanon’s government says banks and their shareholders should be first in line to cover losses – a bail-in – while the banks say the state should leverage its assets to pay back depositors in a bail-out.

Lebanon’s banking association says it backs an IMF deal even as it opposes the fundamental way the lender and the government want to attribute losses.

That dispute could derail a final IMF programme, Lebanon’s caretaker economy minister has told Reuters.

The IMF has insisted the zombie banking sector be restructured to allow the economy to recover – but work on that has yet to begin.

INFLATION DANGER

This year’s plan has also faced opposition from powerful Shi’ite armed group Hezbollah, which says it must be revised. Its ally Amal, led by speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, has also called for all deposits to be preserved – an impossible scenario, analysts say, due to the scale of the crisis.

Government critics say the continuing stagnation is intended to push Lebanese citizens needing hard currency to withdraw their dollar deposits from banks in local currency at huge losses in a process known as “lirafication.”

Those withdrawals are slowly shrinking the total amount in dollars that banks would owe to depositors in the event a financial recovery plan is ever implemented.

If that policy carries on and the government tries to appease the population by increasing benefits and salaries for the relatively large public sector, Lebanon could spiral into runaway inflation.

“With no new revenues, increasing salaries and benefits such as transport allowance will take the country into hyperinflation,” Nasser Saidi, an economist and former vice-governor at Lebanon’s central bank, told Reuters.

There is little time and few valuable dollars to waste. Spending on subsidies and cash injections to prop up the Lebanese pound has sapped the country’s FX reserves from more than $30 billion in 2019 to $11 billion today, according to the central bank governor.

Opposition MP Ibrahim Mneimneh, a member of the finance and budget committee and long-time political activist, decried the piecemeal approach.

Given the logjam, he told Reuters, “we might have to ask people to come down into the street.”

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Turkish manufacturing activity contracted for a fourth consecutive month in June as weakening demand prompted companies to curb production, a business survey showed on Friday.

Turkey’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for manufacturing stood at 48.1 in June, down from 49.2 in May, according to the survey by the Istanbul Chamber of Industry and S&P Global, dropping further below the 50-point line that marks a contraction in activity.

The survey points to a challenging demand environment in Turkey, the survey panel said, adding that output and purchasing activity eased, while input cost and output price inflation remained sharp.

The price rises and challenging economic conditions contributed to weaker demand, causing a softening in both new orders and output, the panel said.

Companies continued to expand their workforces, although the rate of job creation was the second lowest in 25 consecutive months of rising workforce numbers, it said.

Input costs and output prices rose more quickly than the series averages, indicating steep inflationary pressures, the panel said. Companies attributed the rising input prices to the higher cost of raw materials, which in turn led to their raising sale prices sharply.

“Turkish manufacturers are facing a challenging market environment at present, with price rises and demand weakness combining to lead to softer new orders and a scaling back of production,” said Andrew Harker, economics director at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

“Increases in employment were again the main positive, although even here the rate of job creation was among the softest in the past two years. The months ahead seem likely to continue to prove challenging for firms,” he said.

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Turkey‘s RTUK media watchdog has blocked access to U.S.-based Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle for not applying for the licenses it requests, a member of the watchdog said on Thursday.

In February, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America (VOA) said they would not apply for licences in Turkey as requested by RTUK under the country’s media regulation law, which critics say aims to increase censorship.

Ilhan Tasci, an RTUK board member from the main opposition CHP, said on Twitter that access to Deutsche Welle’s Turkish-language service, DW Turkce, and VOA had been blocked by a court decision.

“Access to DW Turkce and Voice of America, which did not apply for licenses, has been blocked by the Ankara Criminal Court of Peace, upon the request of the RTUK board,” Tasci said.

“Here is your freedom of press and advanced democracy!” he added.

The vast majority of Turkey‘s mainstream media outlets are seen as close to the government, with coverage favouring President Tayyip Erdogan and his allies. Turks have increasingly resorted to alternative outlets, some foreign-owned, and social media for news.

RTUK, whose policymaking board is dominated by Erdogan’s AK party and its allies, frequently fines broadcasters that are critical of the government.

The debate on a draft bill on media laws that was dubbed “censorship bill” by critics was postponed until parliament reopens in autumn, an AKP deputy, Mahir Unal, said this week.

Turkey is also among the top jailers of journalists globally and has frequently been criticised by Western allies and rights groups over its human rights record. They have also accused the Erdogan government of using a failed military coup in 2016 as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

The government denies this and says the measures it takes are necessary due to the gravity of the threats Turkey faces.

REUTERS
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New caretaker Prime Minister until the November elections, Yair Lapid

Israeli lawmakers voted on Thursday to dissolve parliament following the collapse of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition, opening the way for a Nov. 1 election that will be Israel‘s fifth in less than four years.

Bennett will stand down at midnight to be replaced by his coalition partner, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will lead the government during what is expected to be a bitter election battle with opposition leader and ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bennett, a former army commando and tech millionaire, will not run in the election. In a statement late on Wednesday, he said his government had left a “thriving, strong and secure country” and had shown that parties from different ends of the political spectrum could work together.

Netanyahu, ousted just over a year ago by Bennett’s unlikely coalition of parties from both the right and left as well as from Israel‘s Arab minority, has vowed a return to power at the head of the right-wing Likud party.

“They promised change, they spoke of healing, they carried out an experiment – and the experiment failed,” he told parliament ahead of the vote. “That’s what happens when you take a fake-right along with a radical left, and mix it up with the Muslim Brotherhood and (Arab-led party) Joint List.”

While opinion polls currently show Likud to be the strongest political party, they show no clear winner from the election, leaving Israel facing months of political uncertainty as economic and regional security problems mount.

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Saudi Arabia’s industry and Mineral Resources minister said on Friday the country would invest $3.4 billion in the vaccine and biomedical drugs sector, according to state news agency SPA.

The Minister Bandar Alkhorayef, who heads the newly-established vaccines and biopharmaceutical industry committee, said the move is part of the kingdom’s push towards achieving pharmaceutical security and making Saudi Arabia a more prominent hub for the sector.

The investments will be implemented in two phases. The first includes techniques for manufacturing basic child vaccines and insulin, while the second aims to localize immunological and cancer drugs industry.

Saudi Arabia is currently importing all its needs of vaccines and biopharmaceutical drugs, the minister said.
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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell

Iran‘s indirect talks with the United States on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact will resume soon, the Iranian foreign minister said on Saturday amid a push by the European Union’s top diplomat to break a months-long impasse in the negotiations.

“We are prepared to resume talks in the coming days. What is important for Iran is to fully receive the economic benefits of the 2015 accord,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said, adding that he had held a “long but positive meeting” with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said he could not speak on the status of the negotiations.

“But there’s nothing changed about our position that a nuclear deal is the best way to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons status,” Kirby told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One. “We want to get them back into compliance.”

The pact appeared close to being revived in March when the EU – which is coordinating negotiations – invited foreign ministers representing the accord’s parties to Vienna to finalise an agreement after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.

But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

“We are expected to resume talks in the coming days and break the impasse. It has been three months and we need to accelerate the work. I am very happy about the decision that has been made in Tehran and Washington,” Borrell told a televised news conference in Tehran.

Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved”, comments that Iran‘s Foreign Ministry has neither confirmed nor denied.

“We agreed on resumption of negotiations between Iran and U.S. in the coming days, facilitated by my team, to solve the last outstanding issues,” Borrell said.

“And the coming days mean coming days. I mean, quickly, immediately.”

In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.

The U.S. withdrawal and its reimposition of crippling sanctions prompted Iran to begin violating its core nuclear limits about a year later.

Western powers fear Iran is getting closer to being able to produce a nuclear bomb if it decided to, though Iran says its intentions are entirely peaceful.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran‘s Supreme National Security Council, which makes the decisions in the nuclear talks, told Borrell that Iran will further develop its nuclear programme until the West changes its “illegal behaviour”. 

“Iran‘s retaliatory actions in the nuclear sector are merely legal and rational responses to U.S. unilateralism and European inaction and will continue as long as the West’s illegal practices are not changed,” Shamkhani said, without elaborating.

And despite the imminent resumption of talks, Borrell appeared to play down the possibility of a quick deal.

“I cannot predict … We are pushing for it. I appreciate the goodwill from the Iranian side. There is also goodwill from the American side,” Borrell said in a news conference on an EU website.

“Talks between Iran, the U.S. and the EU will not take place in Vienna because they will not be in the 4+1 format… they will probably take place somewhere closer to the Persian Gulf and more specifically in a Persian Gulf state,” Iranian media quoted Borrell as saying.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan inspects a wildfire as his helicopter flies over the disaster zone near Marmaris, a town in Mugla province

Turkey will reconsider a 2004 decision to abolish capital punishment, the justice minister said on Saturday, after President Tayyip Erdogan raised the death penalty in connection with the cause of this week’s wildfires.

Capital punishment was struck from the constitution in the early years of Erdogan’s rule. But after a suspected deliberate blaze destroyed 4,500 hectares (11,119 acres) of Aegean coastal forest, Erdogan said tougher justice was needed.

Authorities have said that a suspect detained in connection with the fire has admitted to causing it. The blaze, in woodland near the resort of Marmaris, has been contained, authorities said on Saturday.

After visiting the scene on Friday, Erdogan said the punishment for burning forests should be “intimidating, and if that’s a death sentence, it’s a death sentence”.

Speaking to reporters in the eastern town of Agri on Saturday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the president’s comments “are instructions to us.”

“We have started working on it as the ministry,” Bozdag said, adding that the current punishment for starting wildfires was 10 years in prison, rising to a possible life sentence if part of organised crime.

The country’s first big blaze of the summer began on Tuesday and conjured memories of last year’s fires which ravaged 140,000 hectares of countryside, the worst on record.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Thursday that the detained suspect had admitted to burning down the forest out of frustration due to family issues.

Local officials told Reuters in recent days that authorities lacked the necessary equipment and personnel for another summer of fires.

On Friday, Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said 88% of forest fires in Turkey were started by people.

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Abu Akleh's death has drawn widespread condemnation EPA-EFE/SEDAT SUNA

Information reviewed by the U.N. human rights office suggests Israeli security forces fired the shot that killed Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in May, not indiscriminate firing from Palestinians, a spokesperson said on Friday.

“It is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” Ravina Shamdasani told a briefing in Geneva.

Israeli and Palestinians officials have exchanged recriminations over the shooting that also led to chaotic scenes at Abu Akleh’s funeral when Israeli police officers charged at mourners.

The Israeli Defences Forces (IDF) said on Friday that it was committed to investigating Abu Akleh’s death and called on the Palestinian authorities to share access to the bullet that killed her. The Palestinian Authority has refused to hand over the bullet, saying it does not trust Israel.

“The results of the UN investigation confirm once again what we said from the start, that Israel is responsible for the killing of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and it must be held accountable for this crime,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters.

Shamdasani said the U.N. rights office had conducted its own “monitoring” of the incident – she declined to use the word investigation – and had gone through photo, video and audio material.

It had also visited the scene, consulted experts, reviewed official communications and interviewed witnesses, she said.

“All information we have gathered – including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney-general – is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities,” she said.

The Palestinian Authority has said its investigation showed that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier in a “deliberate murder”. Its findings lent support to several witnesses, including Palestinian journalists, who said she was killed by Israeli fire. Israel denied the accusation.

Abu Akleh was shot dead on May 11 while she was covering an Israeli military raid in the city of Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location,” Shamdasani said.

“At around 06h 30, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with ‘PRESS’ markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces,” she said.

“One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”

In a statement responding to Shamdasani’s briefing, the IDF insisted there had been an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen.

“Ever since the incident, the IDF has been investigating and reviewing the circumstances of Ms Abu Akleh’s death,” the statement said.

“The IDF investigation clearly concludes that Ms Abu Akleh was not intentionally shot by an IDF soldier and that it is not possible to determine whether she was killed by a Palestinian gunman shooting indiscriminately in her area or inadvertently by an IDF soldier.”

In a previous statement, the Israeli military said it identified a soldier’s rifle that may have killed Abu Akleh but that it needed to analyse the fatal bullet to be certain.

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Two high-tech Airbus A350 jets sit idle with their windows taped and engines covered in a floodlit hangar in the Gulf, hobbled by an international legal dispute between European industrial giant Airbus (AIR.PA) and Qatar’s national carrier.

From a distance, the planes might seem like any other long-haul jetliners crowding the busy Doha hub. But a rare on-site visit by Reuters journalists showed what appeared to be evidence of damage to the surface of wingtips, tail and hull.

The two planes, worth around $300 million combined according to analysts, are among 23 grounded A350s at the centre of a $1 billion London court battle over whether the damage represents a potential safety risk, something Airbus strongly denies.

The planes were grounded by Qatar’s regulator after premature paint erosion exposed damage to a metallic sub-layer that provides protection to the fuselage from lightning strikes.

Other airlines continue to fly the A350 after European regulators declared the aircraft safe.

Reuters journalists were granted rare first-hand access after requesting the visit on the sidelines of an airline industry meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha, this week.

Sporadic surface flaws on the A350s viewed by Reuters included an elongated stretch of blistered and cracked or missing paint along the roof or crown of the jets.

In some areas, the protective lightning mesh that sits between the hull and the paint appeared exposed and corroded.

In other parts it appeared to be missing, leaving areas of the composite hull of the aircraft exposed to the environments.

The paint on the tail of one of the A350s emblazoned with Qatar Airways’ maroon Arabian Oryx emblem was pockmarked by cracked and missing paint that exposed the layer beneath.

Airbus and Qatar Airways had no immediate comment on Reuters’ findings.

EROSION

Airbus acknowledges quality flaws to the A350s, but denies they pose any safety risk because of the amount of backup systems and tolerance built into design.

Qatar Airways has argued this can’t be known until further analysis, and is refusing to take more of the planes.

Airbus has argued that some paint erosion is a feature of the carbon-composite technology used to build all modern long-haul jets – a necessary trade-off for weight savings.

It says the cracks are caused by the way paint, anti-lightning material called ECF and the composite structure interact. The tail does not all contain the ECF foil, prompting a technical debate over whether the damage there is caused by the same problem.

Amid hundreds of pages of conflicting technical court filings presented by both sides, Reuters has not been able to verify independently the cause of the damage.

Qatar Airways’ Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker and Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury had the opportunity to mingle during the three-day industry gathering in Qatar this week.

Asked whether the relationship had improved after the event, which included the two men seated next to each other over dinner, Al Baker suggested the two sides remain far apart.

“On a personal level I am friends with everyone but when it comes to an issue with my company, then it’s a different story. If things were settled, we would not be still waiting for a trial to happen next year,” he told a news conference.

Faury said this week he was in discussion with the airline and reported “progress in the sense that we are communicating”.

One of the airline industry’s most senior officials voiced concerns after the Doha meeting that the dispute could have a toxic effect on contractual ties across the industry.

“It would be much better if we were dealing with friends that than dealing in the courts,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Amman, Jordan June 21, 2022. Jordanian Royal Palace

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Turkey for the first time in years on Wednesday for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan aimed at fully normalising ties that were ruptured after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In April, Erdogan went to Saudi Arabia after a months-long drive to mend relations between the regional powers, including dropping the trial over Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in Istanbul.

He held one-on-one talks with Prince Mohammed while there, raising the possibility of Saudi investments that could help relieve Turkey‘s beleaguered economy.

Erdogan said last week he and Prince Mohammed, Riyadh’s de facto leader, would discuss “to what much higher level” they can take ties during talks in Ankara.

The visit is expected to bring “a full normalisation and a restoration of the pre-crisis period,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “A new era will begin.”

The official said negotiations on a possible currency swap line – which could help restore Turkey‘s diminished foreign reserves – were not moving “as fast as desired” and will be discussed privately between Erdogan and Prince Mohammed.

Agreements on energy, economy and security would be signed during Prince Mohammed’s visit, while a plan was also in the works for Saudi funds to enter capital markets in Turkey, the person added.

Prince Mohammed is on his first tour outside the Gulf region in over three years including a visit to Jordan.

Ties between Ankara and Riyadh cratered after a Saudi hit squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi in 2018 at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan at the time blamed it on the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Ankara has since stopped all criticism and halted its murder trial in April, transferring the case to Riyadh in a move condemned by human rights groups and criticised by opposition parties for trading honour for monetary support.

The visit comes as Turkey‘s economy is badly strained by a slumping lira and inflation soaring beyond 70%. Saudi funds and foreign currency could help Erdogan shore up support ahead of tight elections by June 2023, analysts say.

The Turkish official said Saudi Arabia may be interested in companies within the Turkish Wealth Fund or elsewhere, or in making investments similar to those by the United Arab Emirates in recent months.

The leaders will also discuss the possible sale of Turkish armed drones to Riyadh, the person added.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Tuesday that Erdogan “will embrace the man who ordered the killing” of Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed denies any involvement in the murder.

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Sadio Mane had "no doubts" when deciding to leave Liverpool for Bayern Munich in a reported £35million deal.

The Senegalese forward enjoyed a successful campaign last season, winning the FA Cup and Carabao Cup while also triumphing with his homeland in the Africa Cup of Nations.

But the electric attacker was ready to take the next step in his trophy-laden career.

On joining the Bundesliga giants, Mane said: "I'm really happy to finally be at Bayern.

"We spoke a lot and I felt big interest from this great club right from the beginning, so for me there were no doubts.

"It's the right time for this challenge. I want to achieve a lot with this club, in Europe too. During my time in Salzburg I watched a lot of Bayern games — I really like this club!"

And on saying goodbye to the Merseysiders, Mane added: "I will watch Liverpool, for sure, because I am going to be Liverpool’s No1 fan forever.

"I just want to say good luck to them and I have an eye on them.

"And for sure they will be even better because I know the boys — great players, great talent, great maturity and attitude, so of course, Liverpool will always stay even better."

Mane excelled after moving to the Reds from Southampton in 2016, bagging 120 goals in 269 apperances.

Picking up six trophies during his six-year spell at Anfield, the 30-year-old was instrumental in Jurgen Klopp’s quest for titles.

Entering the final year of his contract, the Premier League runners-up have allowed their No10 to exit with attackers Fabio Carvalho and Darwin Nunez already brought in to compensate for the loss of their star man this summer.

Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern will be hoping that his addition will help them return to winning ways on Europe’s elite stage and secure a sensational 11th consecutive domestic title.

Club CEO Oliver Kahn said: "We are delighted that we've been able to recruit Sadio Mane for Bayern.

"With his outstanding performances and his great successes at the highest international level over many years, there are very few players like him in the world.

"We're sure that Sadio will delight our fans in the coming years with his spectacular style of play.

"He's ambitious and eager to win more titles. This package is very strong. With players like him at Bayern, all the biggest goals are possible."

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Lebanese banks said the country’s draft agreement with the International Monetary Fund was “unlawful” and “unconstitutional” in a letter sent to the IMF by an adviser of the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) and seen by Reuters.

The staff-level agreement (SLA) between the IMF and Lebanon pledged $3 billion in financing over four years to help the small Mediterranean nation recover from a financial meltdown that has seen the currency lose more than 90 per cent of its value and has left most people poor.

A final agreement is conditional on the implementation of a number of measures, including the passage of a banking restructuring strategy that “recognizes and addresses upfront the large losses in the sector, while protecting small depositors and limiting recourse to public resources,” according to the Fund.

The draft agreement also called on Lebanon’s parliament to approve an emergency bank resolution law and audits of the 14 biggest banks, representing the bulk of the sector.

Lebanese banks have long called for financial sector losses, estimated to be in excess of $70 billion, to be borne mostly by the Lebanese state, blaming the losses on decades of unsustainable financial policies, waste and corruption.

The ABL “holds very serious reservations on the recent SLA and believes that the delivery of some prior actions as well as some program milestones are likely to further harm Lebanon’s economy, probably in an irreparable manner,” the letter dated June 21 said.

It says the agreement is not based on an economic vision for Lebanon, relies on “misguided Lebanese ‘civil society’ talking points,” and could “unfairly disenfranchise ABL.”

“Implementation of the SLA would be unlawful or, in the alternative, unconstitutional,” says the letter, signed by ABL adviser Carlos Abadi, managing director at New York-based financial advisory firm DecisionBoundaries.

Reuters could not reach the ABL outside Beirut office hours. The IMF did not respond to a request for comment. Lebanon’s deputy prime minister, the architect of the plan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Lebanese government’s financial recovery plan, adopted May 20, calls on commercial banks to be first in line to bear losses, followed by the central bank and then public assets.

The letter says sharing out the losses in such a way would be unfair because it would shift the burden onto commercial banks despite the vast majority of the losses being incurred at the central bank.

To plug the financial hole, the letter calls instead for pooling state assets such as buildings and land in an investment corporation, turning up to $30 billion in deposits into Lebanese pounds to be repaid over a decade, and reversing foreign exchange transactions that occurred after the onset of the crisis in 2019 from pounds to dollars.

“The unwind of these book-entry FX transactions would relieve (the central bank) of $10 – 15 billion in liabilities,” it says.

It also calls for use of the central bank’s roughly $15 billion in gold reserves.

“Reserves are just that: a buffer kept in reserve for a rainy day and the storm in Lebanon is of biblical proportions,” it says.

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The United Arab Emirates will build a new Red Sea port in Sudan as part of a $6 billion investment package, DAL group chairman Osama Daoud Abdellatif, a partner in the deal, told Reuters.

Abdellatif said the package includes a free trade zone, a large agricultural project and an imminent $300 million deposit to Sudan’s central bank, which would be the first such deposit since an October military takeover.

Western donors suspended billions in aid and investment to Sudan after the coup, plunging an economy that was already struggling into further turmoil and depriving the government of much needed foreign currency.

Ibrahim told Reuters on Wednesday that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with the UAE for a port and agricultural project, but the details have not previously been reported.

The finance ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on details of the deal.

The $4 billion port, a joint project between DAL group and Abu Dhabi Ports, owned by Abu Dhabi’s holding company ADQ, would be able to handle all kinds of commodities and compete with the country’s main national port, Port Sudan, Abdellatif said.

Located about 200 km (124 miles) north of Port Sudan, it would also include a free trade and industrial zone modelled after Dubai’s Jebel Ali, as well as a small international airport, he said. The project is in “advanced stages,” with studies and designs complete, he said.

Rumours of Gulf investments in Port Sudan, and in agricultural projects elsewhere in the country, have in the past stirred opposition and sometimes protests.

Port Sudan has long been plagued with infrastructure challenges and was shut by a political blockade for six weeks late last year, losing business from major international shippers.

The UAE deal also includes the $1.6 billion expansion and development of an agricultural project by Abu Dhabi conglomerate IHC and DAL Agriculture in the town of Abu Hamad in northern Sudan, Abdellatif said.

Alfalfa, wheat, cotton, sesame, and other crops would be grown and processed on the 400,000 acres of leased land, he said. A $450 million, 500 km (310 mile) toll road connecting the project to the port would be built as well, financed by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

Under the agreement, the Fund would also make a deposit of $300 million to the Central Bank of Sudan, Abdellatif said.

Abdellatif said the agreement was reached initially in July 2021, under a civilian-led transitional government.

Two sources from the former cabinet, who asked not to be named, said a different version of the deal had been reviewed last year but ultimately did not move to a vote due to reservations.

Two high-level current Sudanese officials told Reuters the outlines of the new deal had been agreed between Sudanese leader General Abdelfattah al-Burhan and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed during a recent visit to the Gulf state.

A representative for Abu Dhabi Ports said the company had no comment, while representatives for ADQ, the Abu Dhabi Fund, IHC, and the Abu Dhabi and UAE governments did not immediately respond to requests.

“Ourselves and our partners in the UAE, we have already invested in a bank, a hotel, mining,” said Abdellatif, whose conglomerate has also bid for control of one of Sudan’s largest telecom companies, Zain Sudan.

“The UAE wants a stable Sudan so they can do more and more of these investments, but we are not waiting for everything to be perfect,” he added.

After the military ousted Omar al-Bashir in 2019 following popular protests, the UAE and Saudi Arabia pledged a combined $3 billion in grants and in-kind aid to Sudan, which military and civilian leaders say was not delivered in full.

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Goldman Sachs said on Friday it expects annual inflation in Turkey to reach almost 80 per cent before easing to 60 per cent by the end of 2022, thanks to so-called favourable base effects.

Inflation in Turkey hit 73.5 per cent in May, stoked by a currency crisis last year and soaring energy costs due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The lira lost 44 per cent against the dollar in 2021 in addition to another 24 per cent so far this year. It remains under pressure as real yields in Turkey are deeply negative amid a global tightening cycle.
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A protester holds a Yemeni flag-themed placard in Parliament Square in London on July 5, 2020, as she demonstrates against the continued conflict in Yemen. – Yemen has been locked in conflict since the Huthis took control of Sanaa in 2014 and went on to seize much of the north.  disaster. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

A renewed two-month truce in war-torn Yemen that has given the population a sense of normalisation is the first step toward a broader peace settlement, the United Nations special envoy said Friday.

The truce “has delivered some humanitarian respite to the population that is unprecedented in terms of the history of the conflict, and from that point of view, it also provides us with scope and breathing space for engaging on a political settlement”, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg told AFP in an interview.

“The truce is the first step towards a broader settlement,” he said on the sidelines of the Yemen International Forum in Stockholm, a conference attended by Yemeni political actors, experts and representatives of a host of civil society organisations.

The Yemeni government and Huthi rebels agreed earlier this month to extend the truce which went into effect in April and significantly reduced the intensity of fighting in a conflict the UN says has triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine.

The country has been gripped by conflict since the Iran-backed Huthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering a Saudi-led military intervention in support of the beleaguered government the following year.

Under the truce, commercial flights have resumed from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo and oil tankers have been able to dock in the lifeline port of Hodeida, which is in rebel hands, in an attempt to ease fuel shortages.

“The truce provides us with steps that normalise life in certain small areas for the Yemeni population, and that I think is both important, but also symbolic,” Grundberg said.

“The obvious wish that I have is that this normalisation, not only on the airport but on all other issues that we’re engaging on, continues”.

A provision in the truce agreement for the rebels to ease their siege of Yemen’s third-biggest city Taez has yet to be implemented, and the government has demanded roads to the city be opened.

“We have been engaging in direct negotiations for the last two weeks in Yemen on this issue,” Grundberg said.

He said there had been “steps forward” but provided no time frame for a possible resolution to the issue.

“We have seen both sides coming with proposals to us, wanting to see a solution on the matter”, but “we haven’t reached a solution on the matter yet”.

“Right now we have a proposal on the table that I do hope can deliver.”
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File photo: The US Army helicopter CH-47 Chinook EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI

The U.S.-led coalition carried out an early-morning helicopter landing operation in a part of northern Syria held by Turkish-backed rebels, a spokesperson for the rebel group told Reuters in what he said was the first raid of its kind in the area.

The U.S.-led coalition, formed to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Till now the circumstances are unclear,” a spokesman for the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) Major Youssef Hamoud told Reuters.

He said the operation, which has since ended, took place near the village of Al-Humaira, just a few kilometres from the Turkish border, and that U.S.-made Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters were involved.

“This is the first (U.S.) helicopter landing operation to happen” in areas under the SNA’s control, he said.

The SNA includes groups that fought against Syrian government forces during the country’s 11-year civil war. It is a rival of other armed groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda-backed jihadists.

A source in touch with rebels in the area said clashes erupted during the operation.

U.S.-led forces have in the past carried out helicopter landing operations and drone strikes in areas of northern Syria controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and to the west in Idlib where jihadist rebels formerly linked to Al Qaeda hold sway.

United States special forces in February undertook a helicopter landing operation to the west in Syria’s Idlib province controlled by jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Quraishi.

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FILE PHOTO: Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters in Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib's southern countryside

Russia considers Turkey’s possible military operation in Syria unwise as it could escalate and destabilise the situation, the RIA news agency cited Russia’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentyev as saying on Wednesday.

Lavrentyev also said Moscow no longer considered Geneva a suitable venue for talks between Syrians, according to the TASS agency.

The Russian envoy was in Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on Wednesday for talks with Turkey, Iran, and the Syrian government and rebels.

Ankara says it must act in Syria because Washington and Moscow broke promises to push the predominantly Kurdish group YPG 30 km (18 miles) from the border after a 2019 Turkish offensive, and says attacks from YPG-controlled areas have increased.
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Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca, on July 17, 2021 during the annual hajj pilgrimage. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

Saudi Arabia has required would-be hajj pilgrims from many Western countries to apply for visas via a government portal online, a move intended to crack down on “fake” travel agencies, officials told AFP on Monday. 

The new system was put in place as the kingdom prepares to welcome 850,000 Muslims from abroad for the annual hajj after two years during which pilgrims not already in Saudi Arabia were barred because of Covid pandemic restrictions.

It applies to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Previously, pilgrims could register via travel agencies that organised hajj trips, a system that sometimes led to scams, with “fake agencies” making off with victims’ money, a second official said.

Saudi Arabia announced in April it would permit one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year’s hajj.

State media announced the online portal a week ago, and the registration period ended Monday, the hajj ministry said on Twitter.

Those who registered will be included in a lottery for hajj visas.

One official who spoke to AFP acknowledged that some Muslims in the affected countries may have already tried to register via travel agencies, before the online portal was announced.

He said they would also be included in the lottery — which has not been scheduled — provided they had booked via an agency accredited by the hajj ministry.

One of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj must be undertaken by all Muslims who have the means at least once in their lives.

It consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

It is due to begin in early July, and the first batch of foreign pilgrims since before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived from Indonesia just over a week ago.

Mask rules

The pandemic has hugely disrupted Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for Saudi Arabia, bringing in some $12 billion annually.

Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige and a powerful source of legitimacy for Saudi rulers.

In 2021, the coronavirus outbreak forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the hajj for a second year, and just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom took part.

This year’s pilgrimage will be limited to vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65, the hajj ministry has said.

Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia are required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.

Saudi Arabia said Monday it would no longer require masks in most enclosed spaces, citing progress in fighting the pandemic.

However, masks will still be required in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which surrounds the Kaaba, towards which Muslims pray, and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, where Prophet Mohammed is buried, according to a report published Monday by the official Saudi Press Agency, citing an interior ministry source.

Owners of establishments can also insist masks be worn if they wish, the report said, though mask-wearing has been sparsely enforced in recent months.

Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has registered more than 778,000 coronavirus cases, more than 9,100 of them fatal, in a population of some 34 million.

AFP