- - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SAUDI ARABIA

Kingdom to increase wages for military

RIYADH | Saudi Arabia will raise wages for most of its army staff, a move that follows a surge in inflation and the kingdom’s first military engagement in almost 20 years against rebels in Yemen.

At about $41 billion, military expenditure accounted for about 33 percent of the budget of the world’s top oil exporter last year, according to the Finance Ministry’s website.

A weekly Cabinet meeting chaired by King Abdullah late Monday approved a proposal to raise wages for all soldiers as well as senior officers such as generals and lieutenants.

Defense Minister and Crown Prince Sultan did not attend the meeting.

The wage increase would be the second for the army since 2008, when Saudi Arabia offered state employees a 15 percent wage increase spread out over a three-year period.

The Cabinet did not say when the raise would take effect and what was its percentage. The Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Gen. Ibrahim al-Malek, declined to comment.

The desert kingdom does not provide statistics on its military forces. Diplomats estimate various corps of the Saudi army to number a total of 175,000.

The rise in wages is likely at least to match the 5.1 percent inflation rate of 2009, said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi.

WEST BANK

Abbas seeks mediation in Mideast talks

RAMALLAH | The Palestinian president says he will seek active U.S. mediation in negotiations with Israel resuming this week in Washington.

President Obama is hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first direct talks in nearly two years. Mr. Obama has said he hopes to see a peace agreement within a year.

Mr. Abbas told reporters accompanying him to Washington on Tuesday that the deadline is reasonable because many of the issues already have been discussed in previous rounds. However, Mr. Netanyahu has not agreed to pick up where negotiations left off.

Mr. Abbas also warned he will not hesitate to walk out if Israel fails to extend its 10-month curb on settlement construction.

IRAN

Iran needs two weeks to load nuclear fuel

TEHRAN | Iran will need two more weeks to complete the process of loading fuel into its Russian-built first nuclear power plant, atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said.

The process of loading 163 fuel rods, also supplied by Russia, into the nuclear power plant located in the southern port city of Bushehr began on Aug. 21 and was to be completed by Sept. 5.

Thereafter the rods were to be transferred to the reactor.

But state news agency IRNA reported late Monday that Mr. Salehi, in an interview with Al-Alam television, said it will take another two weeks to shift the rods into the plant.

Last week, he had said the transfer of fuel rods into the reactor would start at the end of the Iranian month of “Shahrivar [Sept. 22], and at the end of [the month of] Mehr [Oct. 22], we will close the lid of the reactor.”

On Monday, Mr. Salehi blamed Bushehr’s “severe hot weather” for the delay in moving the rods into the plant and said that work is being done during the night.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudis ask Obama to free compatriot

RIYADH | A group of Saudis has launched a video plea to President Obama to free a Saudi man sentenced to 28 years in jail in Colorado for abusing an Indonesian housemaid.

The five-minute video, in Arabic with English subtitles, was made public Monday.

It features conservative and liberal Saudi figures asking Mr. Obama to pardon Humaidan al-Turki, who was convicted by a Colorado court in 2006 for imprisoning and sexually abusing a maid while he was a doctoral student.

They cite numerous pardons by U.S. presidents of men convicted of ostensibly more serious crimes, such as arms and drug smuggling.

“We, as the Saudi public, ask Obama to look at Humaidan al-Turki’s issue, using the same eyes” that previous presidents used in granting pardons, it says.

The campaign comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court rejection in April of Turki’s appeal.

The case and the stiff sentence angered many Saudis, who supported Turki’s argument that he was being victimized in the anti-Muslim atmosphere in the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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