x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Birthdays ... and rainy days

29.11.08 to 05.12.08: While tension mixed with mourning in Mumbai, Sheikh Khalifa postponed the implementation of a law to get old cars off the roads. James Langton reviews the week.

Rain disrupts traffic in Dubai and prompts flash flood warnings.
Rain disrupts traffic in Dubai and prompts flash flood warnings.

Owners of cars more than 20 years old were told their vehicles could stay on the road after the intervention of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE. A new law that would have required the vehicles to be scrapped was postponed to give low-income owners a chance to find alternative methods of transport. Many of the older cars had been lovingly maintained and were regarded by their owners as classic vehicles. The National Transport Authority said more than 140,000 vehicles would have been affected by the ban, which was intended to protect the environment. A further provision which prevents cars more than 10 years old from being registered to new owners from January 1 remains in place.

As India buried its dead two senior members of the Indian government offered their resignations over the Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed nearly 200 people. Shivraj Patel, home minister, and MK Narayanan, the national security adviser, stood down amid growing criticism of the government's failure to prevent the killings. Tensions also grew along the border with Pakistan, as New Delhi raised security to "war level" and Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan denied there was any evidence that the surviving terrorist was from Pakistan, calling the gunmen "stateless actors who are holding hostage the whole world. On a visit to Delhi, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, urged both countries to work together investigating the attacks to avoid war.

The remains of 241 soldiers killed in the war between Iran and Iraq have been handed over. Relatives of the dead, who were mostly Iraqi, broke down in tears as the flag-draped coffins were carried across the border at Shalamjah. The ceremony, organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross, was a result of the first direct contact between the two countries over their war dead and the first exchange since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Tens of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian combatants are still missing as a result of the eight-year war 20 years ago, which is estimated to have claimed nearly one million lives.

Hillary Clinton was named the US secretary of state in a political career that has taken her from First Lady and the United States Senate to her country's most senior diplomat. Announcing the appointment, US president-elect Barack Obama pledged the US would "maintain the strongest military on the planet". Commenting on the threat from terrorism, Mr Obama added: "We have to bring the full force of our power, not only military but diplomatic and political, to deal with the threats." Mrs Clinton was picked despite harsh words between the two when they were competing for the democratic nomination for president. In describing the appointment, The Guardian noted that: "A naive and irresponsible politician, prone to distorting the facts, awarded a crucial role in his cabinet yesterday to a deeply flawed has-been who is neither honest nor trustworthy - or so you might have imagined had you relied on the character judgements that each had previously made of the other."

Talks aimed at reducing the world's output of greenhouse gases will have produced around 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide when they end next week. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has begun discussions that will end on Dec 12. The eventual CO2 output could be even higher. Organisers had expected around 8,000 delegates at the talks in Poznan, Poland, but nearly 11,000 registered on the first day. UN officials hope the meeting will be an important stepping stone to a new global treaty on climate change.

A walrus has been taught to play the saxophone by her Russian trainer. Sara, who is kept in the new Istanbul Dolphinarium, which opened last week, can so far only play a single note by gripping the instrument between her flippers. The animal's Russian trainer has also taught Sara to strike a nonchalant pose by leaning on one flipper. Her routine includes dressing up as a train guard and blowing a whistle.

An international fair for millionaires in Moscow saw yachts being offered at two for the price of one. Russia has been badly hit by the global financial crisis with fur-clad women seen fighting over free drinks offered at the event. Exhibitors said there was little interest in luxury products such as helicopters and Bentley cars. Despite the deal, not a single boat was sold in a city that claims to have more billionaires than anywhere else in the world. "These are desperate times," said Irina Ivanova, a manager at Premium Yachts.

The first Fatburger in the Middle East opened at the Dubai Mall. The fast food chain has nearly 100 restaurants in the US and Canada and is part-owned by the former basketball star Magic Johnson and the rapper Kanye West. The company's signature dish is the 500-gram "Kingburger".

For the first time since its creation in 1972, the Federal National Council has been given the right to discuss international agreements and treaties before the Government signs them. Under the changes, FNC members will be able to make suggestions to the President before certain agreements are signed. Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, Speaker of the FNC, described the amendment as a "historic step".

A newspaper run by the Vatican published its first article by a Muslim. Khaled Fouad Allam, will also write a new column for L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican journal. Prof Allam teaches sociology at the University of Trieste and is an expert in the relationship between Islam and the Christian West. His views on interfaith dialogue are said to be similar to those of Pope Benedict. Another article in last week's paper saw a senior Vatican cardinal thanking Muslims for bringing God back into the public arena in Europe. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Catholic Church's department for interfaith contacts, said religion was being discussed more than ever in Europe. "It's thanks to the Muslims."

National Day was marked by a huge firework display in Abu Dhabi and spontaneous celebrations in major cities. Cars decorated with flags, pictures of the ruling sheikhs and the number 37 - the age of the UAE - paraded until the small hours of the morning as Emiratis cast aside their normal reserve to express their national pride by honking horns, revving engines and spraying each other with fake snow. Decorated vehicles jammed the Corniche in Abu Dhabi and were joined by a group on horseback, rollerbladers and a few brave cyclists. Similar scenes were witnessed in all seven emirates. In Ras al Khaimah, Sultan al Shehhi had the name of his tribe emblazoned across the top of his windscreen, surrounded by red, green and white stars and a falcon emblem adorned the bonnet. "I am Emirati, my heritage is Emirati, this is why I love my country so much," he said. In his National Day address to the nation, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, said Emiratis had a "legitimate right" to live in a country in which they were "the mainstream, the pioneers and owners of the common language and integrating identity".

Heavy rain that saw cars aquaplaning on the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai led to a warning to avoid wadis and camping areas because of the danger of flash floods. The unseasonable cool weather, which saw temperatures struggle to reach 24°C in Dubai, was caused by a layer of colder air moving in from Iran. With freezing levels dropping to 3,000 metres, the relatively warmer sea created what one forecaster described as "a pot of water … if you heat it from below, it bubbles and you have quite explosive convection".

International flights resumed from Bangkok after protesters agreed to lift their week-old blockade. It followed a court ruling that deposed Somchai Wongsawat, the prime minister, and banned the three ruling parties on charges of electoral fraud. Around 300,000 people were stranded in Thailand by the closures, with Etihad Airways operating a series of flights to airlift stranded British travellers home to London and Manchester via Abu Dhabi.

jlangton@thenational.ae