- - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PERSIAN GULF

Gulf markets slump on regional unrest

CAIRO | Gulf Arab stock markets slumped Tuesday and the cost of insuring Bahrain’s debt surged, as investor unease with the political volatility in the tiny island nation appeared poised to grow with the declaration of a three-month state of emergency.

The declines, also fueled by fears of further trouble in earthquake and tsunami-battered Japan, reflected the continuing volatility in Mideast markets, where weeks of anti-regime protests that have swept through the Arab world are crafting daily a new political dynamic while unsettling investors.

“It’s to be expected, given what’s happening today in Bahrain,” said John Sfakianakis, chief economist for the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Banque Saudi-Fransi. “The shock waves are felt throughout the region.”

ISRAEL

Israelis stop ship bearing arms

JERUSALEM | Israel intercepted a ship carrying a large delivery of weapons off the country’s Mediterranean coast on Tuesday, saying the weapons were sent by Iran and Syria for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

The incident was the latest in a string of Israeli naval operations against smugglers it accuses of arming Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Israel has long contended that Iran and Syria provide arms and other support to Hamas and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he ordered the takeover overnight Tuesday after receiving intelligence about the arms shipment.

The military said the cargo vessel “Victoria” initially departed from the Syrian port of Lattakia before proceeding to Mercin in Turkey. From there it was headed for the port of Alexandria in Egypt when it was intercepted.

Israel said there were no signs that Turkey or Egypt were involved in the arms shipment.

EGYPT

Junta dissolves state security agency

CAIRO | Egypt’s interior minister on Tuesday dissolved the country’s widely hated state security agency, which is accused of torture and other human rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule.

The new Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo security chief, said in a statement that a new agency in charge of keeping national security and combating terrorism will be formed.

Dismantling the State Security Investigations agency was a major demand of the protest movement that led an 18-day uprising to oust Mr. Mubarak.

Since he stepped down on Feb. 11, Egyptians have stormed the agency’s main headquarters and other offices, seizing documents to keep them from being destroyed to hide evidence of human rights abuses.

Many protest leaders have said that despite the fall of Mr. Mubarak and his government, the agency remains active in protecting the old regime and trying to sabotage the democratic transition.

GAZA STRIP

Palestinians rally for reconciliation

GAZA CITY | Thousands of Palestinians thronged major squares in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Tuesday to deliver an impassioned appeal to their leaders to end the long-running feud that has divided the Palestinian people between two rival governments.

Protesters waved the black, red, green and white Palestinian flag in their largest show of grass-roots strength since democracy-fueled protests began rocking the Arab world in January.

Demonstrators on each side of the Palestinian divide hoisted banners urging their leaders to unite the government that split after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007, leaving Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party ruling only the West Bank.

“Unity is our way and liberation an end to the [Israeli] occupation is our goal,” read one banner in Gaza City. Others grouped photos of the rival movements’ late legendary leaders, Yasser Arafat of Fatah and Sheik Ahmed Yassin of Hamas.

“Our goal is national unity and an end to this dark chapter in our life,” said Mohammed Sheik-Yousef, spokesman of the March 15 Youth, the group of Facebook activists who organized the rally.

Past reconciliation attempts mediated by Arab powers have failed. And the marches seemed unlikely to bring the sides together because Fatah and Hamas do not seem inclined to relinquish the power they have.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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