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Alcohol rules again loosen as Dubai seeks economic recovery

Dubai again has loosened laws governing alcohol sales and possession of liquor as the sheikhdom tries to claw its way out of an economic depression worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The outbreak of the virus exacerbated the already-gathering economic storm engulfing the emirate, which has seen mass layoffs thin the ranks of its foreign workforce and empty homes even amid slight signs of recovery. Even now, experts warn the sheikhdom’s crucial real-estate market is on track to hit record lows seen in the 2009 Great Recession.

“It’s been a challenging year and there’s no hiding from that for any business — particularly those in the hospitality industry,” Mike Glen, managing director for the United Arab Emirates and Oman for alcohol distributor Maritime and Mercantile International, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement.

Alcohol sales have long served as a major barometer of the economy of Dubai, a top travel destination in the UAE, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates. Ice-cold bottles of beer tempt tourists on hotel beaches, while decadent Champagne-soaked brunches draw well-to-do crowds of expatriate residents.

The sales also serve as a major tax revenue source for Dubai’s Al Maktoum ruling family.

In Dubai, alcohol sales in general reflect the confidence of buyers in their own finances and in turn, the economy. Pre-pandemic, those sales already showed the trouble Dubai faced amid falling global energy prices and a weakening real estate market. Dubai also postponed its Expo 2020, or world’s fair, to next year, another major blow.

Overall sales of alcohol by volume fell sharply in 2019 to 128.79 million liters (34 million gallons), down some 3.5% from 133.42 million liters (35.2 million gallons) sold the year before, according to statistics from Euromonitor. The 2019 sales are down nearly 9% from 2017, which saw 141.51 million liters (37.3 million gallons) sold.

Amid the lockdown, Dubai’s two major alcohol distributors began legal home deliveries of alcohol for the first time in hopes of boosting the sales. Now, the city-state has changed the very system granting permission to residents to legally purchase alcohol.

By law, non-Muslim residents are supposed to carry red plastic cards issued by the Dubai police that permit them to purchase, transport and consume beer, wine, and liquor. Otherwise, they can face fines and arrest — even though the sheikhdom’s vast network of bars, nightclubs and lounges never ask to see the permit.

Those red cards now have been replaced with a black card and a simplified application process only requiring an Emirati national ID card.

An application no longer requires an employer’s permission. Previously, employers could block non-Muslims from obtaining a card even if an employee qualified for it — which happened for some expats working for Emirati companies whose owners had religious objections to alcohol.

Purchase restrictions based on salaries also have been eased. Previously, residents would get around those restrictions by traveling to five of the other seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE. Sharjah, the UAE’s seventh emirate that borders Dubai to the north, outlaws alcohol, as do the nearby nations of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The new card system comes as Dubai also now allows tourists and visitors to buy alcohol from distributors simply by using their passports, closing a loophole that made visiting imbibers unable to get a permit subject to arrest for possessing alcohol.

The UAE as a whole still faces the challenge of the coronavirus — with some 65,000 confirmed cases and 367 deaths as it saw the biggest one-day jump in confirmed cases in over a month. But Dubai has been aggressively advertising itself as reopened to tourism and now appears set to host Indian Premier League cricket, beginning in September.

There have been signs of a tentative and slight recovery starting to take hold. In July, Dubai’s non-oil sector saw its first improvement in five months, according to a monthly survey by IHS Markit and Emirates NBD bank. But that appeared driven by deep cuts in price discounts, particularly in travel and tourism, the report said.

“The recovery in activity has not been sufficient to prevent firms continuing to lay off workers as they seek to reduce costs,” wrote Khatija Haque, the head of research and chief economist at Emirates NBD.

Those layoffs struck Emirates, the flagship of Dubai’s state investment firm, particularly hard with thousands of employees fired. That’s not counting all the other businesses large and small through the city similarly hurt by the virus — particularly in its bubble-or-bust real estate market.

Dubai’s biggest private real estate company, DAMAC, which operates President Donald Trump’s eponymous golf club in the UAE, just reported a net loss of $105 million for the first half of 2020. The company’s chairman, Hussain Sajwani, blamed the pandemic for the poor results.

“Resulting travel restrictions impacted the economy and the real estate sector, and we will see a difficult market for the coming 18 to 24 months,” Sajwani said.

Meanwhile, the mass layoffs have seen a noticeable number of for-rent and sales signs in front of homes and apartments across the city. The Dubai firm Property Monitor said in a report this week that real estate prices likely will set new record lows by the end of the third quarter of this year.

Rental listings have risen by 11% in Dubai as over 45,000 new residential units have entered the already soft market, according to REIDIN Data and Analytics, which tracks the market. Another 120,000 units are expected to come into the market in the next two years, further pushing down prices, REIDIN said.

Both sales and rental prices have dropped about a third since a market high in 2014, when Dubai announced it would be hosting the Expo.

The “current pandemic, coupled with oversupply in the market and reduced occupancy levels, caused and increase in the rate of decline of prices for both apartment and villas especially in the second quarter,” said Ozan Demir, the director of operations and research at REIDIN.

Former Sen. Slade Gorton dies at 92

Slade Gorton, a patrician and cerebral politician from Washington state who served as a U.S. Senate Republican leader before he was ousted by the growing Seattle-area liberal electorate in 2000, has died. He was 92.

Gorton died Wednesday in Seattle, said J. Vander Stoep, who served as his chief of staff in the Senate.

Gorton was the Chicago-born scion of the New England frozen fish family. His 40-year political career began when he won a legislative seat within two years of arriving in Seattle as a freshly minted lawyer.

He went on to serve as state attorney general, a three-term U.S. senator and member of the 9/11 Commission.

Gorton was known for his aggressive consumer-protection battles as attorney general; his defeat in 1980 of the state’s legendary Democratic Sen. Warren Magnuson at the height of his power; and his work on the GOP inner team in the U.S. Senate.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who overlapped with Gorton in the Senate, said they didn’t always agree, but still worked together to strengthen clean-up efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, toughen pipeline safety standards and expand health care for children.

Murray praised how Gorton “anchored his leadership in honesty and honor,” such as when he bucked his party to support the National Endowment for the Arts, voted to acquit President Bill Clinton of one of the charges against him during Clinton’s impeachment trial, and supported the impeachment of President Trump.

“Throughout his career in both Washingtons, Slade defied convenient labels and stood on principle — we need more leaders in our country like Slade,” Murray said in an emailed statement.

Former Republican Gov. Dan Evans called Gorton an intellectual giant who was always the smartest person in the room and a strategic thinker who helped define the GOP in Washington state during a time when the party could still prevail in major, state-wide contests.

Gorton, runner-thin to the point of gaunt, struggled with an image of an icy, aloof Ivy Leaguer. He was sometimes compared to the frozen fish sticks his grandfather once sold, and he squired under the nickname “Slippery Slade.” At the 2000 state Republican convention, he acknowledged that he wasn’t warm and fuzzy, a tough move for a politician in an era that valued personality and charm.

“I’ve always been different — I’m not a good politician like Bill Clinton,” Gorton said. “I’m not very good at feeling your pain. …

“I’m more comfortable reading a book than working a room … and my idea of fun is going to a Mariners game with my grandkids, keeping score and staying to myself.”

Gorton chalked it up to Yankee reserve, not disdain for people.

Once, when he was attempting a Senate comeback after suffering the first defeat of his long career, Gorton’s closest allies said if he didn’t knock off his know-it-all, aloof behavior, they were through campaigning for him.

A chastened Gorton made a point to listen better, set up sounding boards across the state and boned up on his people skills, said former top aide Tony Williams.

Thomas Slade Gorton III was born and grew up in the Chicago area, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth, got a law degree from Columbia and served in the Army and Air Force. He picked Seattle so he could enjoy sailing and skiing nearby — and break into law and Republican politics easier than in clubby, Democratic Boston.

He quickly landed a top law job, married former Seattle Times reporter Sally Clark, and within two years won a seat in the state House.

Seattle, now overwhelmingly Democratic, was then a two-party town. Gorton became friends with a liberal Republican set that included Evans, later the three-term governor and senator.

“Right from the beginning, it was clear he had brains to spare,” recalled Evans, two years his senior.

The young Republicans later took over the state House with help from a few Democrats. Gorton became majority leader.

Evans was elected governor in 1964, and Gorton began his own climb in 1968. First came three terms as attorney general, during which he broke with fellow Republicans in publicly calling for President Nixon’s resignation. In 1980, he won a coveted U.S. Senate seat by knocking off the legendary “Maggie” — Warren G. Magnuson, appropriations committee chairman and Senate president.

Gorton was a youthful 52. Magnuson was mentally and politically agile but shuffled, mumbled, and looked older than his 75 years — a difference that Gorton played up.

Aided by President Ronald Reagan’s landslide, Gorton pulled off his upset. Within three years, he was writing the federal budget, working on Social Security and budget reforms, and winning a reputation as one the best of the new crop.

But a funny thing happened on his way to fame and glory: He lost the next election. Brock Adams, former congressman, and Jimmy Carter’s transportation secretary edged him by 26,000 votes.

Gorton retreated home, assuming he was washed up in politics. But within a year, Evans decided to vacate the other Senate seat, and Gorton launched his comeback, narrowly defeating liberal Democratic Rep. Mike Lowry in 1988.

Gorton easily won a third term in 1994. He rose in Senate seniority and was appointed to the leadership circle by then-Majority Leader Trent Lott, who praised Gorton’s “wise counsel.”

By 2000, Gorton was 72 and looking over his shoulder at a challenger 30 years his junior.

Democrat Maria Cantwell borrowed a page from Gorton’s playbook. She said, “It’s not about age,” but what she called “a 19th-century view of where we need to be.”

Cantwell, a dot-com millionaire, plowed $10 million into her campaign. It was a Democratic year, and Gorton, who had been in public life since 1958, the year Cantwell was born, lost.

He later served on the 9/11 Commission and on the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, as well as numerous civic boards and campaigns.

He was also a self-described baseball nut who twice went to bat to successfully keep the Mariners in Seattle.

Gorton and his wife had a son, Tod, and daughters Sara and Becky and their children.

Goods barometer confirms steep drop in trade but hints at nascent recovery

World merchandise trade likely registered a historic fall in the second quarter of 2020, according to the latest reading of the WTO’s Goods Trade Barometer, a real-time gauge of trends in global trade. Additional indicators point to partial upticks in world trade and output in the third quarter, but the strength of any such recovery remains highly uncertain: an L-shaped, rather than V-shaped, trajectory cannot be ruled out.

Released on 19 August, the current barometer reading of 84.5 is 15.5 points below the baseline value of 100 for the index and 18.6 points down from the same period last year. This reading – the lowest on record in data going back to 2007, and on par with the nadir of the 2008-09 financial crisis – is broadly consistent with WTO statistics issued in June, which estimated an 18.5% decline in merchandise trade in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the same period last year. The exact extent of the fall in trade will only be confirmed later this year when official trade volume data for the period from April to June becomes available.

All of the barometer’s component indices remain well below trend, with many registering historic lows, although some have begun to stabilize. Indices for automotive products (71.8) and air freight (76.5) are by far the worst on record since 2007. Container shipping (86.9) also remains deeply depressed. (1) Export orders (88.4) show signs of recovery as this index has turned upward. Meanwhile, indices for electronic components (92.8) and agricultural raw materials (92.5) have held up relatively well, showing only modest declines.

The WTO’s June statistics implied a 14% drop in global merchandise trade volume between the first and second quarters of this year. This estimate, together with the new Goods Trade Barometer reading, suggest that world trade in 2020 is evolving in line with the less pessimistic of the two scenarios outlined in the WTO’s April forecast, which projected that the volume of merchandise trade this year would contract by 13% compared to 2019. However, as WTO economists warned in June, the heavy economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that the projections for a strong, V-shaped trade rebound in 2021 may prove overly optimistic. As uncertainty remains elevated, in terms of economic and trade policy as well as how the medical crisis will evolve, an L-shaped recovery is a real prospect. This would leave global trade well below its pre-pandemic trajectory.

The Goods Trade Barometer is designed to gauge momentum and identify turning points in world trade growth. Readings of 100 indicate growth in line with medium-term trends; readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth, while those below 100 indicate below-trend growth.

In normal times, the Goods Trade Barometer anticipates changes in the trajectory of world trade by a few months. However, the sudden, unexpected nature of the COVID-19 crisis may have profoundly altered economic behavior and patterns, reducing the predictive value of the standard set of indicators. In this fast-changing environment, high-frequency (i.e. daily or weekly) statistics, made possible by advances in data processing and collection, may provide analysts with early signals of recovery in economic activity and trade. Other statistics may capture shifts in consumer and business sentiment. Modest increases have already been recorded for several of these indicators related to trade, such as those tracking commercial flights and port calls by container ships. The same is true for indicators such as copper futures as well as a measure of sentiment in news reports about economic expectations (see below).

The WTO will continue to monitor trade developments during the crisis, including unconventional and high-frequency economic indicators.

Mali coup: UN peacekeeping mission ‘must and will continue’ operations

The United Nations continues to monitor the ongoing situation in Mali, where soldiers arrested the President and several members of his cabinet in a military coup on Tuesday.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres continues to follow the developments “very closely and with deep concern”, his Spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, told journalists on Wednesday.

The UN chief had earlier condemned the mutiny, while calling for constitutional order and the rule of law to be immediately restored.

The Security Council will also hold a closed session on Wednesday where the head of UN Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will brief the 15 ambassadors.

Like the UN chief, members have strongly condemned the mutiny and underlined “the urgent need to restore rule of law and to move towards the return to constitutional order,” according to a statement issued on Wednesday.

President Keïta has led Mali for the past seven years.  

In recent weeks, protests have been held calling for him to step down due to alleged corruption and an inability on the part of authorities to handle rising insecurity in the north and central regions.

International media reported on Wednesday that the President had announced his resignation on Tuesday night. The leaders of the coup reportedly announced that they plan to set up a transitional civilian administration, and fresh elections. 

Meanwhile, operations continue at the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which supports political processes and reconciliation in the country.  

Peacekeepers also carry out several security-related tasks to ensure stability and protection of civilians.

“Our colleagues on the ground are emphasizing that the work of the UN peacekeeping mission must and will continue in support of the people of Mali, and in close liaison with the Malians, including with the Malian security and defense forces in the north and center, where the situation is still very worrying,” said Mr. Dujarric. 

MINUSMA is the most dangerous UN operation in the world. Nearly 130 peacekeepers serving there have been killed in malicious acts, the UN chief told the Security Council in June. 

The mission was established in 2013 following a military coup and the occupation of northern Mali by radical Islamists the year before.

The government and representatives of two armed group coalitions, signed a peace deal in 2015.

Why no ISIS member has been charged with genocide or sexual violence for crimes against Yazidis


In August 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS operatives swarmed Yazidi-majority villages in and around Sinjar Mountain.

Thousands of men were slaughtered on the spot and thousands of girls and women were carted off into sexual slavery.

Yet more than six years on – and in spite of a U.S. formal designation of Yazidi genocide – no ISIS members have been prosecuted or tried for a crime.

So, what has gone wrong?

“The Iraqi court system basically prosecutes suspected ISIS members based on their association with the group and on membership to a terrorist organization and gives long and death sentences as a result,” Anne Speckhard, adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University and director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), told Fox News.

“The Iraqi justice system is overwhelmed with these cases and does not see a need to also prosecute for rape, which would require investigative work, calling witnesses and showing evidence when they have a good terrorism conviction easily obtained.

“The Yazidi have suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of ISIS but there has been no specific justice meted out to them in response to the mass genocide and mass rapes.”

The ancient Yazidi community, falsely portrayed by the Islamic extremists as being “devil worshippers,” is regarded as one of the most brutally impacted by ISIS’ reign of terror in Iraq and Syria – with girls as young as 8 bought and sold multiple times to ISIS men from all pockets of the planet.

For survivors, the lack of accountability only compounds the pain and confusion.

“I was only 14 when Da’esh jihadists attacked my village and destroyed my home,” recalled Iman Elias, who is living in limbo in a camp in the Kurdish region. “I was kidnapped with my mother, 12-year old sister and my baby brother. I have been enslaved, sold in public markets three times, spent 12 months in captivity, was beaten, forced to convert to Islam, and reduced to a sex slave.

“I’m overwhelmed by constant fear; fear of being attacked again, of being kidnapped, tortured, enslaved, flooded in winter and burnt in summer. I’m still woken up regularly by nightmares screaming and calling for help.”

Human rights attorney Amal Clooney, who represents Yazidi victims, also lamented that “no progress” has been made in efforts to create or empower an international court to put ISIS members on trial for their grave crimes.

“None of the pathways to a court have been studied, pursued or seriously discussed at the United Nations, or by the Security Council,” Clooney said in a taped address earlier this month. “No conference of foreign ministers has been convened. No government proposals, or counterproposals, have been put forward and analyzed. No state has offered to host international trials.”

In remarks commemorating the somber six-year anniversary of the Yazidi genocide this month, Pramila Patten – the United Nations’ special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict – pointed out that the Security Council has enacted two important resolutions that directly bear on the issue of recovery, but without concrete action.

“In Resolution 2331, the Security Council acknowledged that sexual violence and trafficking in persons was used by ISIS as a serious international crime. Last year, in April, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2467, in which it spells out the importance for all member states and the United Nations to adopt a survivor-centered approach to addressing sexual violence in conflict,” Patten said. “These resolutions cannot and are not intended to be mere words on paper.”

The matter has continued to fall through the cracks even though two years ago, the United Nations established an Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by ISIS, known by the acronym UNITAD. Team members have commended a draft law introduced in Baghdad last November that would allow Iraq to prosecute acts committed by ISIS as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, which includes sexual violence.

Hussein Kassim Hasoon, an adviser to Nechirvan Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, explained that the Iraqi penal code does not currently recognize such crimes, but that Barzani’s office is working closely with UNITAD – and that UNITAD has put the investigation of sexual offenses at the core of its operations – on the quest for change.

He pointed out that the investigative team has compiled a considerable amount of evidence, but they are unable to share it with Baghdad because the death penalty is still in use in Iraq, which runs counter to U.N. mandates.

Further complicating the issue is a provision of Iraqi law related to rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault. Mariana Katzarova, founder and chair of the London-based human rights group RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War), said criminal actions against such men are null and void, and any sentence already passed is quashed, if the perpetrator has lawfully married the victim.

“In many cases, ISIS members married Yazidi women and girls to avoid having to purchase them, and many survivors of ISIS abductions referred to rape as ‘marriage,’” she explained. “Yazidi women were also raped when they refused to marry ISIS fighters or were forced to marry them and were subsequently raped. This exception in the law allows Iraqi courts to potentially exonerate ISIS members from the thousands of rapes they committed, including in the context of forced marriages. This also violates international law, which does not permit a marital exception from prosecution for rape.”

Statistics provided to Fox News this week from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Office of Kidnapped Affairs, which was established by then Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to help facilitate funding and rescue missions for Yazidis, showed that the total number of kidnapped stands at 6,417, among them 3,548 females and 2,869 males. Since then, 3,530 – 1,199 women, 339 men, 1,041 girls and 951 boys – have been returned to a decimated life.

“While tens of thousands of ISIS militants are in custody in Iraq, only a handful of them have been put on trial, and all under the anti-terrorism law,” echoed Talal Haskany, a Yazidi activist and internally-displaced person living in a camp near Dohuk. “In short, there has been no justice when it comes to sexual violence. The systemic rape of Yazidi girls and women, probably one of the largest cases of collective rape since WWII, has gone unpunished, and I am afraid, will go unpunished.”

With respect to Syria, he noted, more than 22,000 ISIS militants are in the custody of the Syria Democratic Forces, and currently, there is no path to bring them to justice at all.

“Our people are concerned they may never face justice,” Haskany asserted. “For these reasons, Yazidis are demanding a tribunal court in Iraq to process cases from both Iraq and Northeast Syria. The world cannot risk thousands of ISIS members being freed. We need to move quickly before they become the seed for ISIS 2.0.”

But the mourning that comes from having so many missing loved ones – unable to let go, yet unable to move on – is only one of many pains the Yazidis continue to face, some three years after ISIS was officially declared defeated in Iraq. Most still cannot return to their ancestral homeland of Sinjar, which remains contested terrain between the Erbil and Baghdad governments.

The dusty tracks are still littered with ISIS-implanted mines and strewn with reminders of the ISIS invasion. There is limited medical care for the estimated 100,000 living in tattered tents in camps – an existence made all the more brutal by the wave of coronavirus infections further depleting the survivors. Basic services such as water and electricity are luxuries and piles of rubble still rot in the searing heat. Education is something of a distant memory, with most schools having been destroyed and Yazidi students continuing to fear for their safety amid ongoing persecution.

Signs of reconstruction are few and far between among the deteriorating camps scattered across the country’s north. The overwhelming majority of the beleaguered religious and ethnic community exist in an enduring state of displacement, with no sign of it being stable enough to go home anytime soon.

Several armed outfits maintain a strong presence in the region, including Turkey, which is waging its own visceral battle against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas throughout the area. While the PKK played an active role in rescuing Yazidis and pushing back against ISIS when it overran Sinjar, it has long been considered a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington.

A report released by Amnesty International last month illuminated the extent to which Yazidi survivors are battling severe psychological scars and an unpredictable future, prompting a sharp rise in suicides.

“I dream of going back home, of living in a proper house, having a room to myself, being able to take a shower in the morning, being able to see a doctor when I’m ill, of going to school in a proper building and reaching university to study international law,” Elias added. “I might be a powerless teenage girl in a refugee camp, but I decided to share my story with the hope of establishing truth and justice.”

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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