x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Tears and cheers in the region

Iran mourns after a deadly aeroplane crash while Iraq celebrates the return of international football.

A relative carries roses for victims as she visits the scene of the crash of an Iranian passenger plane near Qazvin, north-west of Tehran, that claimed 168 lives.
A relative carries roses for victims as she visits the scene of the crash of an Iranian passenger plane near Qazvin, north-west of Tehran, that claimed 168 lives.

A joint resolution to approve the civilian nuclear energy accord between the United States and the UAE was introduced in both chambers of the US Congress, bringing the UAE closer to becoming the first Arab country to harness atomic energy. The action comes as Congress is reviewing the pact, which was negotiated by the Bush administration and approved by the Obama administration, and as some legislators expressed concerns about the possibility of nuclear materials and technology ending up in Iran. The UAE's civilian nuclear programme is not dependent on the US-UAE deal. It has signed similar agreements with other countries, including South Korea, France and the United Kingdom.

Eight Ethiopian maids were found dead in Sharjah under mysterious circumstances in their Al Butaina weekend apartment, a police source said. The matter was reported to the police on July 8 and later referred to forensics. Arrests were made while investigations continued. Ethiopian consulate sources said that the eight illegal housemaids were poisoned by a compatriot maid, who has been held in Sharjah Central Jail. The Sharjah Police denied the deaths were the result of poisoning by a woman.

A British chef at a restaurant based in the Emirates Palace hotel appealed against a Dh92,000 (US$27,000) fine for storing a container of expired yoghurt. Inspectors from Abu Dhabi Municipality found the yoghurt during a routine visit to the kitchen of the Etoiles restaurant and lounge about a month ago. The head chef was convicted and ordered to pay Dh70,000 for not educating his staff on the emirate's food expiration laws and Dh20,000 for storing expired food. He also must pay an additional Dh2,000 for the municipality's fees. The Emirates Palace has said that the restaurant is a separately run concern and that the hotel is not responsible for its running or management.

The CIA withheld information about a secret counter-terrorism programme from the US Congress for eight years on the direct order of Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, the CIA director reportedly told Congress. The allegation that the deputy to the former president, George W Bush, had ordered such a concealment raised fresh questions about that administration's culture of secrecy on intelligence matters. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said in a television news programme that the CIA director, Leon Panetta, testified that "he was told that the vice president had ordered that the programme not be briefed to the Congress."

Cows guided by Israeli shepherds were crossing the border in an act that some in southern Lebanon condemned as a violation of the country's sovereignty, especially as the cattle, it was claimed, were being protected by the Israeli army. The bovine "incursions" have even provoked Lebanese dogs, which have now made it their mission to make the cows return where they came from. Lebanese farmers were concerned with falling water levels in the area as a result of the straying Israeli livestock.

A public inquiry into the death of an Iraqi civilian in British military custody six years ago opened in the UK. Baha Mousa, 26, died in 2003 while being held by soldiers from the former Queen's Lancashire Regiment after his arrest at a Basra hotel with nine other Iraqis. In 2007, a UK soldier was jailed for inhumane treatment and the Ministry of Defence has paid £2.8m (Dh16.8m) in compensation. The inquiry heard allegations that one Iraqi was forced to dance like Michael Jackson and another was urinated on. Testimony by one Iraqi included details of men forced to lie face down over a hole in the ground filled with excrement and of detainees being "continually beaten" for hours on end.

A Saudi justice official announced that 41 foreigners were among more than 300 people brought before judges in the first known trials of al Qa'eda suspects in the kingdom. The defendants were accused of belonging to the terrorist network, supporting and financing terrorism, going to areas of conflict to fight and co-ordinating with groups outside Saudi Arabia seeking to harm the country. The Saudi court sentenced the suspected militants to jail terms of up to 30 years in the first publicly reported trials since al Qa'eda-linked militants began a campaign in 2003 to destabilise the world's top oil exporter.

A sometimes tearful, often angry Charles Taylor denounced his trial for war crimes as a concoction of "deception, deceit and lies" at court proceedings in The Hague. The former president of Liberia is the first African head of state to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecution claims that he remotely controlled the insurgents of the RUF rebel group in Sierra Leone from across the border in Liberia, where he was president between 1997 and 2003. The aim, said the prosecution, was personal enrichment and that Taylor accepted the use of criminal methods, indeed of butchery, in pursuit of diamond wealth.

A member of the Yemeni parliament for the ruling General People Congress party demanded the closure of Al Jazeera's office in Sana'a, claiming the TV station threatened Yemeni national unity and security. The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate condemned authoritarian threats against Al Jazeera and local independent newspapers over covering anti-government events. Correspondents of Al Jazeera and the Yemen Post newspaper also received threats warning them to stop covering events in southern Yemen following outbreaks of insurgent violence last week.

Leaders of the developing world met in Egypt for the summit of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) to discuss the effect of the global financial crisis on their countries. The issue of terrorism figured prominently in the 15th NAM Declaration, which pushed for early finalisation of the draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism mooted by India at the United Nations. Meanwhile, a civil servant in Egypt was jailed for three years for insulting President Hosni Mubarak in a poem, according to newspaper reports. Moneer Said Hanna's family said he wrote satirical poetry for fun, to entertain his work colleagues and never meant to hurt anyone. The Arab Network for Human Rights said it would appeal against the sentence.

The Ministry of Labour in Abu Dhabi said it was working to help scores of workers find new jobs after they were stranded for six months without pay in their camp when their employer went out of business.

Humaid bin Deemas, the ministry's acting director general, said it would help the men find alternative work and waive the Dh10,000 (US$2,700) fee for transferring their sponsorship. They would instead be charged Dh1,000 for new work permits. Some of the workers, who claim they are owed more than Dh50,000 in retirement benefits and back pay, are refusing to move and instead have taken the insolvent company to court.

All 168 people on board an Iranian passenger plane bound for Armenia were killed when the Russian-built aircraft crashed north-west of Tehran. Local television broadcast harrowing footage from the crash site including pristine identity papers of those who died, who included two children and eight members of Iran's national junior judo team. This was the third fatal crash of a Tupolev 154 in Iran since 2002 and the deadliest air disaster in the country since 2003, when a Russian-built Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed in south-eastern Iran, killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard forces and crew aboard.

The cause of the crash, which happened soon after take-off, was not known. However, two black boxes from the plane were recovered. Witnesses said the aeroplane had dropped from the sky. A day of mourning was declared in Armenia while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered his country's roads and transportation ministry to launch an investigation into the disaster.

Iraq thrashed the Palestinian team 3-0 in a football match that will be remembered less for its score line and more for celebrations better suited to the lifting of a siege. Forced by violence at home to play all its games abroad, the Iraqi national side ended its six-year exile on Friday in the northern city of Irbil. Traditionally one of the strongest sides in the Middle East, in 2007 they were crowned Asian champions after defeating Saudi Arabia.

* The National