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Kazakh president orders investigation into China-linked transport project



Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Tuesday ordered an investigation into former senior officials, who initiated a struggling 1.5 billion dollars Chinese-led project to build a light rail network in the capital.

While Tokayev mentioned no names, his order could mean that he is targeting former and current members of his patron and predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev’s inner circle.

Tokayev wanted to challenge the widespread notion that the president is only No.2 in the Kazakh political hierarchy.

Tokayev’s criticism could also hurt the image of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative, of which the troubled project was part.

Kazakhstan signed deals with several Chinese companies and the state-owned China Development Bank in 2015 to finance and carry out a light rail transit (LRT) project in Astana, which has since been renamed Nur-Sultan.

The 22-km (14 miles) network was originally due to be built in time to serve visitors to the 2017 Expo exhibition, for which Kazakhstan built a whole new area in the capital.

But the project lagged behind schedule and was plagued with financial difficulties such as having a large part of its cash – more than 200 million dollars- frozen in a local bank that went bust.

Last spring, construction was put on hold altogether as the city government and the Chinese bank could not agree the terms of the next loan tranche.

At a meeting with city government officials on Tuesday, Tokayev said the project should have never been given a green light in the first place.

“This is a very questionable project…economically incomprehensible” he said. “I do not understand how it could have been launched.”

Because of large costs and heavy penalties for pulling out of the deal, Kazakhstan will have to complete the project, Tokayev said, but those behind it must be held accountable.

“I would also like to ask the anti-corruption agency to step up the investigation, it should not be superficial, simply, noting that certain people have fled abroad…and overlooking (the roles) of others,” he said.

Tokayev’s comments appeared to refer to Talgat Ardan, a former Astana LRT chief executive, who was put on the wanted list in July on embezzlement charges, and some of the former mayors of the capital.

The LRT project was launched in 2011 under Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov but was subsequently shelved due to high costs.

The next mayor, Adilbek Zhaksybekov, revived the idea and oversaw the signing of the deals with Chinese companies.

His successor Aset Isekeshev, in turn, oversaw the revision of some of the deal terms.

All three men are political heavyweights who had for years – alongside Tokayev himself – been promoted by and became close to Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s sole leader for nearly 30 years.

The offices of Isekeshev, who now manages Nazarbayev’s nonprofit foundation, and Tasmagambetov, who is Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Russia, declined to comment on Tokayev’s speech. Zhaksybekov’s office could not be reached for comment.

Nazarbayev resigned in March 2018, handing over the presidency to Tokayev in line with the constitution and backing him in the subsequent election.

But the 78-year-old former Communist apparatchik retains the title of Yelbasy, the national leader, and enjoys sweeping powers as the chair of the Security Council and head of the ruling Nur Otan party. (Reuters/NAN)


Edited by Fatima Sule/Ali Baba-Inuwa


Iran warns of strong response to fuel price protests



Nationwide protests in Iran against fuel price rises have resulted in more than 40 arrests and one police officer reportedly killed, as Iranian authorities warned of a strong response.

Protesters took to the streets of key cities across the country on Saturday in response to moves by the government to ration fuel and increase the price of petrol.

Iran’s government, caught in the midst of a deep economic crisis triggered by the U.S. sanctions, announced it was raising fuel prices late on Friday.

Now faced with paying three times as much in fuel costs, many Iranians have called for an immediate repeal of the price hike, amid fears of a deepening economic crisis and a halving in the value of the national currency.

News agency ISNA reported on Sunday that a police officer was killed during clashes between security forces and protesters in the western city of Kermanshah.

The Iranian secret service said it would take strong action against protesters taking part in vandalism.

State news agency IRNA cited the Intelligence Ministry as saying that it would “spare no efforts” in its efforts to safeguard national security.

The attorney general issued a similar warning to demonstrators on Saturday in comments carried by ISNA.

“The instigators are undoubtedly being directed from abroad and their actions are illegal and criminal,’’ Attorney General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended the rationing and price rises.

“The political leadership of the country reached a technical decision, which should logically be then put into practice,’’ he said.

He added, however, that “authorities should use all their capacities to minimise people’s concerns over this (gasoline rationing) plan,’’ according to Mehr news agency.

Internet services have been unavailable for many since protests escalated on Saturday evening.

The Telecommunications Ministry said that online access had been “limited” for 24 hours on the orders of the National Security Council.

The Iranian parliament was holding a special sitting on Sunday to discuss the protests, but media reports suggest that the government has refused to delay the price rises.

According to the plan, Iranians will only be able to refuel only up to 60 litres of petrol per month at a litre price equivalent to 0.13 dollars.

Additional petrol incurs a higher price of between 24 and 30 cents, nearly the triple the previous price.

Many Iranians, who say 60 litres per month will not be enough, are, therefore, now faced with paying a higher petrol price.


Edited by Abdulfatah Babatunde

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Crisis-swept Lebanon in gridlock after Safadi withdrawal



Lebanon slipped deeper into political crisis on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate for prime minister narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidature late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate, who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

Faced by the worst financial strains since its 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged to carry out urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged at a conference last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month.

They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and U.S. dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shi’ite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media.

But no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters, who have filled Lebanon’s streets since Oct. 17, denounced the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and long-time politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

“We are in a deadlock now.

“I don’t know when it will move again; it is not easy,’’ said a senior political source.

“The financial situation doesn’t tolerate any delay.’’

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as “back to square one”.

Safadi’s withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support.

Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the U.S.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier but have demanded the inclusion of both technocrats and politicians in the new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global rating agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon’s debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to ‘CCC/C’ from ‘B-/B’.

S&P cited rising pressure on central bank foreign currency reserves and diminished depositor confidence brought on by the bank closures and reported restrictions on hard currency movement.

Lebanon’s bank staff union said it would meet on Sunday or Monday to decide whether to call off a strike after receiving a security plan to keep branches safe and potentially re-open banks as early as Monday.


Edited by Abdulfatah Babatunde

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2 suspects arrested for planning to attack French president – Report



Two men close to the ultra-right were indicted for “terrorist criminal conspiracy” and placed in pre-trial detention, as part of the investigation of a bombing project against French President Emmanuel Macron.

Franceinfo, a French domestic rolling news channel, reported this on Saturday.

The two suspects, aged 30 and 45 respectively, were believed to have planned an action against President Macron during the commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War, in Nov. 2018, said Franceinfo quoting a Parisian judicial source.

The two were arrested Monday in Moselle, northeastern France.

They had been presented to an examining magistrate for their indictment.

The national anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office had requested their detention on remand. (Xinhua/NAN)


(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)

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Yellow Vest anniversary protests: More than 20 subway stations closed in Paris



More than 20 subway and express train (RER) stations were shut down in Paris on Saturday morning in the run-up to protests as the yellow vest movement marks its first anniversary this weekend.

The movement plans large-scale weekend protests, including those unauthorised, across France.

“On Saturday, Nov. 6, by order of the police prefecture, starting from 7:00 a.m. (6:00 GMT), some stations/transport hubs are closed to the public in the run-up to numerous demonstrations in public places,” public transport company RATP said in a statement.

In particular, the stations near Champs-Elysees – a traditional venue for protests – will be closed.

The stations near the Eiffel Tower, the Place de la Concorde and the National Assembly will also be shut down.

The train services on metro lines 2 and 6 will be completely suspended.

In addition, more than 50 bus routes will also be affected, with the routes either shortened or changed to avoid blocked streets.

The planned time when the transport services will return to normal is not reported.

The wave of the yellow vest rallies started in France on Nov. 17, 2018.

The protests were initially triggered by the government’s intention to increase fuel taxes.

Even though the authorities abandoned the plan and introduced a set of measures to improve the socio-economic situation, protesters continue to take to the streets across France every weekend to express their wider discontent with the government’s policies. (Sputnik/NAN)

(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)

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Ankara confirms it will activate Russia’s S-400s in spite of U.S. sanctions threats



Ankara intends to activate the Russian-made S-400s despite the threat of U.S. sanctions, with only Turkish personnel planned to be involved in operating these air defense systems.

The head of the country’s Defense Industries Directorate made this known to СNN Turk after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

During talks with Erdogan on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said Turkey’s S-400 acquisition “creates some very serious challenges for us”.

He noted that the two leaders had tasked their national security advisers with working on resolving the matter.

Two days later, Turkey announced that it had begun work on a joint “mechanism” with the U.S. to evaluate a potential effect of the purchase on the country’s participation in the U.S. F-35 multirole fighter programme.

“It is illogical to buy S-400s and not use them.

“Russian personnel will not be involved in operating them, these systems do not pose a threat to NATO,” Ismail Demir said.

He added that Turkey sought to resolve the differences with the U.S. over the S-400s, reiterating that the country was ready to purchase Patriot air defense systems on favorable terms and use them along with the Russian antiaircraft weapons.

The U.S. has repeatedly objected to Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s, saying that the weapons system is incompatible with NATO security standards and might compromise the operations of the new fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets.

Washington called upon Turkey to cancel the deal with Russia and instead acquire Patriot missile defense systems from the U.S.

In July, the U.S. suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme, adding that the country would be completely removed from the project by late March 2020.

Turkey refused to abandon the deal with Russia.

However, even after the latter completed the delivery of the main batch of S-400 components, U.S. officials have still continued urging Ankara against putting the systems into operation. (Sputnik/NAN)

(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)

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More than 240 IS militants, their families surrender to Afghan gov’t forces – Governor



At least 241 militants of the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, banned in Russia) and the members of their families have surrendered to the Afghan government forces over the past three days in eastern Afghanistan.

This is contained in a statement issued by the Nangarhar provincial governor’s office.

The Afghan government army’s eastern division, known as the 201 Selab Corps, has shared photographs and videos showing a group of men, women, and children huddled together, claiming them to be IS fighters and their families who have surrendered following a campaign to find and destroy their hideouts.

“The ISIS militants have handed over 60 weapons to 201 Selab Corps, two communications radio, one hand grenade, 13 assault rifles and three motorcycles,” a statement by the brigade published on their Facebook page said.

The IS terror group announced the creation of their Afghanistan branch in 2015, when at the height of their power in Iraq and Syria.

Since then, they have seen their support dwindle but have remained a source of insecurity often outside the influence of the more powerful Taliban.

Most notably, IS claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack that killed 63 people at a wedding celebration in Kabul in August. (Sputnik/NAN)

(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)

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