Exclusive: Saudi Arabia to halt flights, trade with Iran

admin   •   January 5, 2016   •   2479

An Iranian cleric holds a picture of prominent Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration against the execution of al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, at Imam Hussein square in Tehran January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA

An Iranian cleric holds a picture of prominent Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration against the execution of al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, at Imam Hussein square in Tehran January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA

Saudi Arabia widened its rift with Iran on Monday, saying it would end air traffic and trade links with the Islamic republic and demanding that Tehran must “act like a normal country” before it would restore severed diplomatic relations.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters in an interview that Tehran was responsible for rising tensions after the kingdom executed Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, describing him as a terrorist.

Insisting Riyadh would react to “Iranian aggression”, he accused Tehran of dispatching fighters to Arab countries and plotting attacks inside the kingdom and its Gulf neighbors.

“There is no escalation on the part of Saudi Arabia. Our moves are all reactive. It is the Iranians who went into Lebanon. It is the Iranians who sent their Qods Force and their Revolutionary Guards into Syria,” Jubeir said.

Tehran says it has sent only military advisers to Syria and Iraq at their governments’ requests, and denies plots in Gulf states.

The execution of Nimr provoked protests among Shi’ites across the region and Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, setting fires and causing damage, prompting Riyadh to cut ties and inflaming an already heated rivalry.

“We will also be cutting off all air traffic to and from Iran. We will be cutting off all commercial relations with Iran. And we will have a travel ban against people traveling to Iran,” Jubeir said.

Iranian pilgrims would still be welcome to visit Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina in western Saudi Arabia, either for the annual haj or at other times of year on the umrah pilgrimage, he said.

However, Jubeir said Saudi Arabia had been right to execute Nimr, whom he accused of “agitating, organizing cells, providing them with weapons and money” – allegations that the cleric’s family have denied.

After listing the crimes of 43 al Qaeda members also put to death on Saturday alongside four Shi’ites, Jubeir said of the executions: “We should be applauded for this, not criticized.”

‘AGGRESSIVE POLICIES’

Jubeir, a former ambassador to Washington where the FBI in 2011 said he had been the target of an Iranian assassination plot, said the break in ties was a response to older problems as well as the embassy storming.

“[It] is a reaction to Iran’s aggressive policies over the years, and in particular over the past few months. The Iranian regime has been a sponsor of terrorism, they have set up terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries,” he said.

Tehran has consistently denied those charges and itself has accused Riyadh of supporting militancy through its backing of Islamist rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Jubeir also accused Iran’s authorities of complicity in the attack on the embassy at the weekend, saying Saudi diplomats had seen security forces enter the building and take part in looting and that the police did not respond to more than one request for help.

Iran has defended its measures to protect the Saudi embassy, saying it is investigating the matter and has made arrests.

Asked what steps Iran needed to take before Riyadh would consider restoring diplomatic ties, Jubeir said Tehran must “respect international norms and treaties and conventions” and “act like a normal country [that] respects the territorial integrity of its neighbors”.

(Editing by William Maclean, David Stamp and Pravin Char)

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Saudi Arabia opens to tourists with new visa, no abaya rule

Robie de Guzman   •   September 28, 2019

Saudi Arabia threw open its doors to tourists on Friday (September 27), launching a new visa program for 49 countries and appealing to foreign companies to invest in a sector it hopes will contribute 10% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Visas will be available online for about $80 (£65), with no restrictions for unaccompanied women as in the past.

Access to the Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina is restricted. Until now, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia have been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who receive special visas to visit holy sites.

The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom has in recent years relaxed strict social codes, like segregating men and women in public places and requiring women to wear all-covering black robes, or abayas.

Tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb told Reuters in an interview ahead of the official announcement that abayas will not be mandatory for women tourists but modest dress is, including at public beaches.

Khateeb said China, Japan, Europe and the United States were among the top outbound targets.

The move is part of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plans to develop new industries to wean the world’s top oil exporter off crude and open up society.

Many of his reforms received international praise, but his image has been tarnished by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the arrest of critics including prominent women activists, and a nearly five-year war in Yemen where tens of thousands of people have been killed.

More details, including which countries are eligible, were expected later on Friday. (Reuters)

(Production: Nael Shyouki)

DFA says Filipino crew member of seized oil tanker now released

Robie de Guzman   •   September 27, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday reported that a Filipino sailor was among the crew members of a British-flagged and Swedish-owned tanker released by the government of Iran after weeks of captivity.

The DFA cited a report from the Philippine Embassy in Tehran about the Filipino sailor who works as the vessel’s Second Officer.

“Ambassador to Iran Wilfredo Santos conveyed to Iranian authorities the appreciation of the Philippine Government for releasing the said Filipino crew member, who is the Second Officer of the Stena Impero, and ensuring the safety and well-being of all crew members of the Stena Impero,” the department said in a statement.

The Stena Impero was captured by Iranian forces last July 19 for accusations of violating international maritime rules while it was passing through international water in the strait of Hormuz.  

The vessel was then brought to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas where it was anchored for more than two months.

In a statement, the management of Stena Impero has confirmed that its vessel has left the Iranian port and is transiting to Dubai for the crew’s disembarkation and medical de-briefing.

“The families of crew members have been informed and the company is currently making arrangements for the repatriation of its valued seafarers at the earliest possible opportunity,” Erik Hanell, president and CEO of Stena Bulk said.

Big-time oil price hike looms next week

Marje Pelayo   •   September 23, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Oil companies are set to impose another big-time oil price hike next week.

This means an additional P2.00/L will be imposed on the price of gasoline and more than P1.00/L on other fuel products.

Should the big-time price hike push through, the price of gasoline will increase by P2.35/L.

The price of diesel will be up by P1.80/L and kerosene will mark up by P1.75/L.

The Department of Energy (DOE) said the price hike was in relation to the recent bombing at two large oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

The incident pushed oil prices up in fear of supply shortage.

In a statement, however, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that consumers have no reason to panic because Saudi Arabia has assured to recover their oil supply to normal at the soonest possible time.

“Hindi makikiusap ang DOE sa mga kumpanya ng langis na utay utayin ang dagdag presyo sa petrolyo sa susunod na linggo (The DOE will not ask oil companies for a gradual price hike next week),” Cusi said.

“Let market forces dictate kasi inaasahan namang babalik na sa normal ang produksyon ng langis ng Saudi Arabia kasunod ng bombing (because it is expected that oil supply will return to normal following the blast in Saudi Arabia),” he added.

The DOE assured also that the country’s oil supply is enough to last for 30 days.

Cusi said they are keen on recommending the suspension of excise tax on oil in case oil prices soar as a result of the blast in Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. — MNP (with details from Mon Jocson)

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