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In brief

News of the week

by Wolf Dagmar

In brief

Guatemalan president resigns / Historic gas discovery off Egyptian coast / Border tensions between Colombia and Venezuela / Saudi women stand for office / ISIS pursues destruction of Palmyra

Guatemalan president resigns

Guatemala’s president Otto Pérez Molina resigned on Wednesday after an arrest warrant was issued against him. Earlier this week, the congress voted to lift his immunity, paving the way for his prosecution. Pérez Molina is involved in a corruption scandal that has plunged the Central American country into a political crisis. He faces charges of fraud, illicit association and corruption related to a customs fraud ring that gave discounts on import tariffs to companies in exchange for bribes.

A judge ordered the former leader to jail for the duration of pre-trial hearings. Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti had already been jailed earlier this year and is awaiting trial in relation to similar charges.

On Thursday, Vice President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre was sworn in as the new president. He is a conservative lawyer and former constitutional court justice. In his first speech in office, Maldonado Aguirre demanded the resignation of the entire cabinet and asked civil society to help him build a government that could bring together Guatemalans and re-establish trust. General elections are due to be held on Sunday, and Maldonado Aguirre will probably remain in office until the winner is inaugurated on 14 January next year.

Sources: Guardian, Wall Street Journal, CNN


Historic gas discovery off Egyptian coast

A natural gas field believed to be one of the world’s largest has been discovered off the coast of Egypt. The Italian energy company Eni said on Sunday, its “Zohr” field could hold 849 billion cubic meters of fuel, making it the “largest-ever” found in the Mediterranean Sea. It covers an area of about 100 square kilometres. For Egypt, a net energy importer frequently struck by gas and oil shortages, the find comes as a boon. The government announced to keep all the gas produced at the giant field for domestic use.

Hamdy Abdel Aziz, director of the Egyptian Petroleum Ministry’s information department, said the field’s reserves could meet Egypt’s needs for more than 10 years. Local demand for electricity is rising by more than seven percent a year. Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi said :”This historic discovery will be able to transform the energy scenario of Egypt.” The discovery is expected to boost Egypt’s economy and fuel regional competition.

Sources: AP, Bloomberg


Border tensions between Colombia and Venezuela

After Venezuela had closed several border crossings to Colombia last week, Colombia suffers from rising prices and refugees in the border area. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday that he will issue an “economic emergency” in the border regions. Venezuelan officials have deported more than 1,000 Colombian migrants, and another 5,000 have left voluntarily, many of them now camping along the border.

Venezuela, an oil-producing country, intends to crack down on the heavy smuggling of gas and goods across the border. Last year, smuggling of petrol alone caused losses of $ 3.6 billion for Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro said that closing the border serves “to clean up paramilitary activity, crime, smuggling, kidnapping and drug trafficking”. Colombians are used to crossing the border to Venezuela to buy cheap gas. The closing of the border has lead to steeply rising prices.

Colombia asked the Organization of American States (Organización de Estados Americanos, OEA) for an urgent meeting of all Secretaries of State regarding the border issues, referring to a “humanitarian crisis and arbitrary deportations”, but failed to get the necessary votes.

Sources: El País, El Comercio, Al Jazeera, teleSUR


Saudi women stand for office

For the first time, Saudi Arabian women will be able to vote and run for office. Registration of candidates for municipal council elections due to be held in December began on Sunday, while voter registration had started eight days earlier. Since 2005, citizens of the absolute monarchy may choose their local representatives. In 2011, the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud granted women the right to participate both as voters and candidates.

424 polling stations out of 1,263 in 284 municipalities across the kingdom have been reserved for women. According to media reports, at least 70 women have registered as candidates so far. Awareness campaigns aimed at Saudi women were run in major cities and villages, and lectures and workshops were held to explain how women would participate within the framework of Islamic laws. Voter registration lasts until September 14, while candidates have time until September 17 to enrol.

Sources: Arab news, AFP


ISIS pursues destruction of Palmyra

The Islamic State (ISIS) is continuing the destruction of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Satellite images showed the blasting of the temple of Bel on Sunday. According to Irina Bokova, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Bel was one of the most important religious edifices of the first century in the Middle East and one of the best preserved and most impressive temples in Palmyra. Last week, ISIS militants had blown up the 2000-year-old temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra. Three towers tombs dating back to the first and second century were destroyed too.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told The Guardian “This is the start of the total loss of Palmyra in the coming days.” He said the militants had also begun excavations in the city to unearth artefacts to be sold on the black market. Abdulkarim said he lost all hope of Palmyra’s treasures being salvaged. The complete destruction of Palmyra would constitute one of the most devastating losses of historical heritage in recent memory. It is one of the best preserved sites from antiquity.

Sources: UNESCO, Guardian


These items were compiled by Katja Dombrowski and Sheila Mysorekar on the basis of international media coverage.