British Firms Urged to ‘Pack Suitcases’ in Rush for Libya

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New defence secretary says companies should be ready to cash in on reconstruction contracts in newly liberated Libya

By Jo Adetunji

The starting pistol for British firms to pursue contracts in Libya has been fired by the new defence secretary, Philip Hammond, who urged companies to “pack their suitcases” and head there to secure reconstruction contracts.

As Nato announced that it plans to wind up operations in Libya, Hammond said that great care had been taken during the campaign to avoid destroying critical infrastructure.

“Libya is a relatively wealthy country with oil reserves, and I expect there will be opportunities for British and other companies to get involved in the reconstruction of Libya,” he told the BBC in an interview.

“I would expect British companies, even British sales directors, [to be] packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that country as soon as they can,” said Hammond, who replaced Liam Fox as defence secretary a week ago.

He added that after a “hugely successful” British mission in Libya, Britain now needed “to support the Libyans to turn the liberation of their country into a successful stabilisation so that Libya can be a beacon of prosperity and democracy in north Africa going forward.”

The National Transitional Council has already said that it intends to reward countries who showed support for its fight against the Gaddafi regime, with Britain and France likely to lead the way.

The success of British contractors in the country – which could see billions of pounds spent on reconstruction over the next decade – will be seen as a huge victory for prime minister David Cameron, who visited Tripoli and NTC members last month, along with Nicolas Sarkozy.

British gains in Libya include business and reconstruction contracts, as well as oil. As Libya’s £100bn in frozen assets around the world are released, it is a sizeable pot.

Lord Green, a trade minister, has already met with British firms to discuss potential opportunities in Libya, and oil company BP is believed to have already held talks with the NTC.

In a press conference in September, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the interim Libyan prime minister, praised the “brave positions” of Cameron and Sarkozy. “They showed us political, economic and military support, which helped the rebels establish a state, and we thank France and the UK for that,” he said.

But while Guma al-Gamaty, the NTC’s UK representative, has said Libya would honour contracts signed under the Gaddafi regime, he has also indicated that British companies might not get “easy business” from Libya.

“There will be huge changes in everything – in the oil and gas sectors, in education, and with the creation of new industrial sectors,” he said. “But it’s not a guaranteed market. Contracts will be awarded not on the basis of political favouritism, but on merit, quality and competitiveness.”

France has already begun its own campaign to secure business in the country. French foreign minister Alain Juppé has said it was only “fair and logical” for its companies to benefit.

Daniel Kawczynski, a Conservative backbencher and chair of the cross-party parliamentary group on Libya, said Britain should come first when it comes to awarding contracts, which would also pay back some of the cost of some £300m spent on military action.

“The question that remains is, who should ultimately bear this cost?” he said. “Should the burden fall on those who could be counted on? Or should, in time, Libya repay those who fought with her, and for her?”

He added: “In these difficult economic times, it should not be too much to ask a country with Libya’s wealth and resources to pay their share of the gold.”

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Russia: Arming Libya Rebels Is “Crude Violation”

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lutfi Abu-Aun

2011-07-06T202351Z_158716080_GM1E7770CEB01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Head of the rebel forces Abdel Fattah Younes gestures as he arrives at Green Square in the Kish, Benghazi July 6, 2011, to demonstrate against Muammar Gaddafi and his regime. 

REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Russia accused France on Thursday of committing a “crude violation” of a U.N. weapons embargo by arming Libyan rebels, while Washington said it was acting legally, creating a new diplomatic dispute over the Western air war.

France confirmed on Wednesday that it had air-dropped arms to rebels in Libya’s Western Mountains, becoming the first NATO country to acknowledge openly arming the insurgency against Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.

France, Britain and the United States are leading a three-month-old air campaign which they say they will not end until Gaddafi falls. The war has become the bloodiest of the “Arab Spring” uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

Rebels acknowledged French support, saying it had helped sustain them in the region.

“There should be no doubt that Libyans in the Nafusa Mountain (Western Mountains) area are alive and safe today thanks to a combination of heroic Libyan bravery and French wisdom and support,” Vice Chairman Abdul Hafeedh Ghoga of the Transitional National Council said in a statement of thanks to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Though rebel advances have been slow, the insurgents scored a success in the region on Sunday in pushing to the outskirts of Bir al-Ghanam, within 80 km (50 miles) of Tripoli.

On Thursday the rebels surveyed the strategic town from a ridge overlooking the desert plateau that leads to the capital, in preparation for a possible attack. A Reuters journalist with them said they were waiting for NATO airstrikes to help them.

Libyan television broadcast a statement from tribal leaders condemning Sarkozy over the arms, calling the rebels in the Berber area “a product of France.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow “asked our French colleagues today whether reports that weapons from France were delivered to Libyan rebels correspond with reality.”

“If this is confirmed, it is a very crude violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970,” he said. That resolution, adopted in February, imposed a comprehensive arms embargo.

Paris said on Wednesday it believed it had not violated the U.N. embargo because the weapons it gave the rebels were needed to protect civilians from an imminent attack, which it says is allowed under a later Security Council resolution.

Washington agreed. “We believe that U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, neither specified nor precluded providing defense materiel to the Libyan opposition,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“We would respectfully disagree with the Russian assessment,” he added. Nevertheless, although legal, arming the rebels was “not an option that we have acted on,” he said.
Although Russia is not involved in the bombing campaign, its stance could add to reservations among some NATO countries wary over an air war that has lasted longer and cost more than expected. Moscow could also challenge Paris at the U.N. Security Council, where both are veto-wielding permanent members.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said it was up to the Security Council to determine what is permitted by its resolutions.

France’s weapons airlift, while possibly increasing the insurgent threat to Gaddafi, highlights a dilemma for NATO.

More than 90 days into its bombing campaign, Gaddafi is still in power and no breakthrough is in sight, making some NATO members feel they should help the rebels more actively, something the poorly-armed insurgents have encouraged.

But if they do that, they risk fracturing the international coalition over how far to go.

The World Bank’s Libya representative said on Thursday Islamist militants could gain ground if the conflict wears on.

“If this civil war goes on, it would be a new Somalia, which I don’t say lightly,” said Marouane Abassi, World Bank country manager for Libya who has been in Tunisia since February.

“In three months we could be dealing with extremists. That’s why time is very important in this conflict, before we face problems in managing it.”

Even before news of the French arms supply emerged, fissures were emerging in the coalition with some members voicing frustration about the high cost, civilian casualties, and the elusiveness of a military victory.

Gaddafi says the NATO campaign is an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing the North African state’s oil. He says NATO’s U.N.-mandated justification for its campaign — to protect Libyan civilians from attack — is spurious.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made clear on Thursday the weapons airlift was a unilateral French initiative. Asked by reporters on a visit to Vienna if NATO had been involved, he answered: “No.”

“As regards compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolution, it is for the U.N. sanctions committee to determine that,” Rasmussen said.

The rebel advance toward Tripoli’s southwest outskirts from the Western Mountains has not been matched by progress toward the capital from the east, where they hold Misrata on the coast about 200 km (130 miles) from the capital.

The city has been bombarded for months by Gaddafi’s forces. Six rockets landed early on Thursday near the oil refinery and port. A Reuters journalist there reported no casualties.

Britain’s military said its Apache helicopters had attacked a government checkpoint and two military vehicles near Khoms, on the Mediterranean coast between Misrata and Tripoli.

Insurgents say Gaddafi’s forces are massing and bringing weapons to quell an uprising in Zlitan, the next big town along the road from Misrata to the capital. Rebels inside Zlitan said they mounted a raid on pro-Gaddafi positions on Wednesday night.

“(We) carried out a violent attack last night on checkpoints … and exchanged gunfire, killing a number of soldiers,” a rebel spokesman, who identified himself as Mabrouk, told Reuters from the town.
Le Figaro newspaper said France had parachuted rocket launchers, assault rifles and anti-tank missiles into the Western Mountains in early June.

A French military spokesman later confirmed arms had been delivered, although he said anti-tank missiles were not among them. Despite the diplomatic storm, the rebels encouraged more arms deliveries.

“Giving (us) weapons we will be able to decide the battle more quickly, so that we can shed as little blood as possible,” senior rebel figure Mahmoud Jibril said in Vienna.

The conflict has halted oil exports from Libya, helping push up world oil prices. Jibril said it may take years for oil exports to fully resume: “No, no oil is being sold. A lot of the oil well system was destroyed, especially in the east.”

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Middle-class Muslims Fuel French Halal Boom

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

french halal Retailers and restaurants cash in on rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks

Halal butchery and poultry shelves in a supermarket in Illzach, eastern France. Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

Few things define the traditional good life in France better than champagne and foie gras, but few would have thought them symbols of social integration – until now.

A boom in sales of halal products, including alcohol-free bubbly and goose liver paté approved by Islamic law, is being driven by the emergence of an affluent middle class of young Muslims.

Known as the beurgeois – a play on bourgeois and the word beur, slang for a French person of North African descent – these new consumers are behind a rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks.

With spending power worth an estimated €5.5bn a year, according to the opinion pollsters Solis, these under-40s are forcing international food suppliers to cater for their demands.

Yanis Bouarbi, 33, an IT specialist who started the website paris-hallal.com, which lists restaurants in France serving halal food, says young Muslims are at the heart of a mini social revolution.

“When our parents and grandparents came to France they did mostly manual work and the priority was having enough to feed the family,” said Bouarbi, who arrived from Algeria at the age of three.

“But second or third-generation people like me have studied, have good jobs and money and want to go out and profit from French culture without compromising our religious beliefs. We don’t just want cheap kebabs, we want Japanese, Thai, French food; we want to be like the rest of you.”

The demand for halal products, currently increasing by an estimated 15% a year, has captured the attention of food giants such as the supermarket group Casino, which has stocked an increasing variety of halal foods – mostly meat products – for the last three years.

The fast-food chain Quick has a number of halal-only burger bars; the opening of the most recent caused a political storm before the regional elections last month, but the row has since blown over. Muslim corner shops selling exclusively halal foods and drinks including eggs, turkey bacon and pork-free sausages as well as alcohol-free “champagne”, known as Cham’Alal, are also flourishing.

Halal foie gras, first introduced into supermarket chains across the country two years ago at the end of the Muslim feast of Ramadan, has proved an unexpected success. “It’s one of our best sellers; we have around 30 foie gras bought a day,” Cyril Malinet, manager of a major Carrefour supermarket, told Libération.

Annick Fettani, head of Bienfaits de France, which specialises in halal duck, said: “Until now we’ve had to fight to sell our foie gras but today everyone wants it.” Bouarbi believes the halal boom is taking place because young Muslims have more money. His website now lists more than 400 restaurants in Paris and its suburbs, and he plans to expand it to other French cities.

In Paris’s trendy 11th arrondissement, Les Enfants Terribles restaurant, run by brothers Kamel and Sosiane Saidi, serves halal French haute cuisine. “Before, Muslims wishing to eat halal would go to a restaurant and it was fish or nothing. Now we have a choice,” said Sosiane, 28, who worked in the property market before setting up the restaurant three years ago.

“Young Muslims have money and want to eat out like everyone else but according to their religion. The food doesn’t taste any different; we have many French customers who don’t even know we’re totally halal. To us, that is what integration is about.”

Like Yanis and Sosiane, younger members of France’s estimated 5 million-strong Muslim community – with whom relations have been strained by the recent debate on national identity and threats by Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-of-centre government to ban the burqa – are asserting their economic muscle. As one French website put it, halal is “very good business” for French companies.

“Supermarkets aren’t benevolent charities, they’re in it for the money,” said Bouarbi. “And they’ve discovered halal sells.”

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France May Ban Niqab

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

niqab2 PARIS (AP) — A top lawmaker from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party filed legislation on Tuesday to bar Muslim women in France from appearing in public wearing veils that hide their faces.

The bill by lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope, who heads the UMP party in the National Assembly, or lower house, has sparked criticism from some of his political allies. The speaker of the lower house, Bernard Accoyer, called Cope’s move “premature.”

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A panel of lawmakers has held hearings for six months on the all-encompassing veils that cover all but a woman’s eyes. It is to advise parliament by month’s end whether it believes a law banning such garments is needed.

In further criticism from within Cope’s own party, Labor Minister Laurent Wauquiez accused the lawmaker of using the debate over veils for self-promotion because he failed to await the conclusions of the parliamentary mission.

Sarkozy opened the debate on such veils in June, saying they aren’t welcome in France — but without specifying whether he wants a law against them.

A 2004 law bans Muslim headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols from classrooms. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in France wear the more extreme covering — which is not required by Islam. However, Islam is the No. 2 religion in France after Roman Catholicism, and authorities worry that such dress may be a gateway to extremism. They also say it amounts to an insult to women and to France’s secular foundations.

There has been concern over how any law banning the full veil could be presented without infringing on constitutional rights.

Cope’s approach is based on public order and safety. Article 1 of his proposal stipulates that “no one, in places open to the public or on streets, may wear an outfit or an accessory whose effect is to hide the face” except those with legitimate motives formally recognized. This was an apparent reference to certain cultural events and carnivals such as Mardi Gras, which Cope said last week would be exempt from his legislation.

Women failing to abide by the law, were it passed, would be subject to fines that could reach euro750 ($1,070), according to a summary by Cope last week.

He also introduced on Tuesday a parallel resolution — which does not carry the weight of law — stressing the importance of respecting the nation’s values “in the face of the development of radical practices which harm them.” The resolution states that all-enveloping veils harm “dignity and equality between men and women” and are contrary to French values.

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Sarkozy Says Burqas Are Unwelcome in France

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susanna Ferreira and David Gauthier-Villars in Paris

President Nicolas Sarkozy took sides in a growing debate on the burqa, a head-to-toe garment that is worn by some Muslim women and that conceals their faces, saying it isn’t a religious symbol but “a sign of enslavement and debasement” of women.

“The burqa is not welcome on French territory,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”

Mr. Sarkozy, who was addressing a joint session of the French Parliament at Versailles — the first French president to address the legislature in more than a century — also pledged further government investment to help the country out of its recession.

Almost halfway through his five-year term, Mr. Sarkozy is struggling to deliver on his electoral pledge to downsize the French state. Instead, his government is spending to try to boost the economy, which is expected to shrink 3% this year.

He told lawmakers he would sharply reduce the state’s “bad budget deficit,” but he also unveiled a government bond issue to finance industrial, education and cultural projects.

Mr. Sarkozy’s speech, delivered at the château of Versailles, signaled his growing domination of French government. He used a change he introduced last year in France’s constitution that allows the president to address lawmakers directly.

Opposition lawmakers called the address a “narcissistic exercise” and said it only served Mr. Sarkozy’s taste for pomp. They said the speech highlighted how Mr. Sarkozy has relegated Prime Minister François Fillon to a subordinate role.

Mr. Sarkozy said he endorsed holding a parliamentary inquiry to study the small, but apparently growing, phenomenon of women wearing the burqa on French streets. The move could be the first step toward an outright ban on the coverings.

This month, a group of 76 lawmakers called for France to ban the garment, which is often associated with the Salafi strain of Islam and is worn by only a small percentage of Muslim women. The lawmakers appealed for a parliamentary commission to study the issue.

Some Muslim lobby groups, however, have urged the French government to refrain from holding a public debate on the issue, saying it would stigmatize France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest.

France has strict rules separating state and religion, including a 2004 law banning veils, crosses, and other religious symbols and dress from public schools and government buildings.

The French debate was spearheaded by André Gerin, a French lawmaker and mayor of Vénissieux, near Lyon. The veils are “a test for our civilization,” Mr. Gerin said in a telephone interview, adding that his goal is to “liberate these women.”

Mr. Sarkozy said that he won’t raise taxes and that it is time to make spending cuts. He proposed slashing the number of local-government representatives, and said he will decide by mid-2010 whether to raise the minimum retirement age, which stands at 60 years for most workers.

So far, Mr. Sarkozy has maintained his popularity despite the economic slump. Still, he has been forced to shelve some of his plans to slim down France’s state in order to promote a livelier, more prosperous economy.

The budget deficit is likely to shoot up to €140 billion ($194 billion) this year — 7.5% of gross domestic product compared with 3.4% in 2008. Tax revenues are falling because of the recession, and Mr. Sarkozy has spent public funds to prop up banks and struggling auto companies.

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