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Iraq Church Siege Ends With 52 Dead
Iraqi security forces stormed a Baghdad church where militants had taken an entire congregation hostage for four hours, leaving at least 52 people dead, including a priest, Iraqi officials said Monday.
It was not immediately clear whether the hostages died at the hands of the attackers or during the rescue late on Sunday night in an affluent neighborhood of the capital, AP reported.
The incident began when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange at dusk Sunday before turning their attention to the nearby Our Lady of Deliverance church -- one of Baghdad's main Catholic places of worship -- taking about 120 Christians hostage.
Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister, said 52 people were killed and 67 wounded, in the bloodbath. Officials said at least one priest and 10 policemen were among the dead. Many of the wounded were women.
A Christian member of parliament on Monday described the Iraqi rescue operation as "not professional," saying "it was a hasty action that prompted the terrorists to kill the worshippers."
"We have no clear picture yet whether the worshippers were killed by the security forces bullets or by terrorists, but what we know is that most of them were killed when the security forces started to storm the church," Younadem Kana said.
Video footage from an American drone that was overhead during the attack showed a black plume of smoke followed by flashes from inside the building before what appears to be soldiers going in. US forces often supply air support to Iraqi forces conducting operations on the ground, feeding them video footage of what American drones see from the air.
The casualty information was confirmed by police and officials at hospitals where the dead and wounded were taken.
There were conflicting accounts about the number of attackers involved in the assault, with Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim Al-Moussawi saying Sunday night that security forces killed eight, while the US military said between five and seven died.
Two police officers on the scene, however, say only three attackers were killed and another seven arrested afterward.
Police pushed back onlookers from around the church by erecting a barbed wire fence but residents and people from the Christian community claimed that it was too little, too late.
Converts in Egypt
A cryptically worded statement posted late Sunday on a militant website allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. The group, which is linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, said it would "exterminate Iraqi Christians" if Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.
It specifically mentioned two women in Egypt that extremists maintain have converted to Islam and are being held against their will in Egypt. The two are wives of priests and are believed to have converted to Islam to leave their husbands since divorce is banned by Egypt's Coptic Church. One woman disappeared in 2004 and another in July.
Egypt's Christians had maintained they were kidnapped and staged rallies for their release.
Both were later recovered by police, denied any conversions and were then spirited away to distant monasteries. In the message, the militants claim the two are still Muslim and called upon the Vatican, which held a meeting earlier in October to discuss the fate of Christians in the Middle East, to release the women.
“We direct our speech to the Vatican and say that as you met with Christians of the Mideast a few days ago to support them and back them, now you have to pressure them to release our sisters, otherwise death will reach you all,” the message said.
Leaving in Droves
Iraqi Christians, who have been frequent targets for insurgents, have left in droves since the 2003 US-led war. Catholics used to represent 2.89 percent of the population in 1980; by 2008 they were just 0.89 percent.
One Iraqi man who identified himself only as Abu Sami for security reasons, said his wife was inside the church during the attack.
Although she was unharmed, he said he feared that the church siege signaled a new round of violence by militants against Iraq’s Christian community.
“I expect the coming attacks will be worse in the future since the government is doing nothing to protect us. We are peaceful people and never harmed any of our fellow countrymen, so we do not understand the reasons behind such evil attacks,” he said.
“Many Christians now believe that they do not have any hope in Iraq and the best thing to survive is to seek another country to live in,” he said.
Taliban Briefly Overrun District in Ghazni
The Taliban briefly overran a district seat in eastern Afghanistan, torching government buildings and capturing police officers after an intense gunfight, officials said Monday.
The government was back in control of Ghazni province's Khogyani district headquarters a few hours later, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary, adding that three rooms in the government headquarters had been burned and a vehicle damaged. He did not have any information on casualties, AP reported.
Local police chief Mohammad Yasin, who wasn't there during the attacks, said government buildings were captured and set on fire.
All the police guarding the district headquarters were either killed or taken prisoner, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, and their weapons and vehicles were confiscated.
He put out a press release later saying the Taliban had left the district after damaging the headquarters.
A NATO spokesman said he did not have any details of the incident.
In recent months, Ghazni has become one of the most unstable provinces in Afghanistan. Insecurity around the country shot up after NATO and Afghan troops began pushing into the Taliban heartland of the south in July.
Parliamentary elections held in September did not take place in most of Ghazni because of the insurgent threat.
Afghanistan has more than 350 districts.
Around 10 are under direct Taliban control but they have a presence in many more.
In an unrelated incident in southern Helmand province, NATO and Afghan troops killed 15 insurgents in the course of a two-day battle over a bomb-making factory in Reg-i-Khan Nishin district that ended Sunday, the coalition said.
NATO troops eventually seized and destroyed a stockpile of explosives that would have been enough to build more than 2,000 bombs, Monday’s statement said.
Also in Helmand, two Afghan women were found shot to death, said provincial government spokesman Daud Ahmadi.
They had been running a small organization helping other women set up businesses before their bodies were found in Naway-e-Barakzayi district.
Egypt’s leading newspaper Al-Ahram in an editorial last week accused Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad of undermining Arab interests. Assad in a recent interview had said he has differences of opinion with the government in Cairo and he would travel to Egypt only when invited.
Differences between Syria and Egypt have existed for ages and manifest itself largely when it comes to the policies of the two Arab countries vis-à-vis Palestine and Lebanon.
It can also be said that their strategic approach to and vision about regional developments often contradict each other. However, this rift is a matter of concern to only Damascus and Cairo. Syria can defend its right if and when necessary and would hardly need outside help to do so.
Assad needs to respond to charges that he is not very interested in resistance or else he would have launched a resistance movement in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
This is an issue the Syrian leader should address in whatever form or fashion he deems fit.
However, the Al-Ahram editorial calls for a response from a third party as it also focused on cordial ties between Tehran and Damascus and claimed that this harmony is harmful to the Arab world.
The Arabic-language newspaper said the timeline of the long-awaited departure of American troops from Iraq is known…But “has any date been set for the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Lebanon?”
To those who have eyes to see, it is visible that Iran has no military presence in Lebanon. Whatever is said and written about the alleged presence of our armed forces in that small country is without foundation and the result of propaganda tactics unleashed by Israel and the US.
Little surprise that Al-Ahram has sided with such a shallow allegation. The point is that Al-Ahram and the powerhouses in Egypt simply cannot swallow the fact that Israel was defeated in Lebanon and no Arab army so far had been able to vanquish the formidable Israeli military in warfare.
The sacrifices of Egyptian people and its armed forces in past wars against Israel, especially the war in 1973, cannot and should not be forgotten. Nevertheless, what forced Israel to concede defeat in the 2006 war is the resistance of Lebanon and its army’s support for the Islamic resistance.
Does there exist any picture or valid document about the participation of one Iranian soldier in that war? It would indeed be a source of pride and glory for Iranians to participate in the war against the occupying power.
Al-Ahram should be rest assured that if any document had existed about Iran’s participation in that conflict, Israel and the US would have overblown the issue without the least reservation only to demonstrate that the Lebanese Army alone cannot defeat the so-called invincible Israeli military.
Al-Ahram alleges that Assad prefers Iranian interest to those of the Arab world.
The newspaper says Tehran is backing the Shiite minority in the Persian Gulf and exercises control over the Arab states. It urged Syria to curb Iran’s role and influence in Palestine.
The newspaper seems to purposefully forget that Iran as a matter of policy pursues strong ties with its neighbors in the Persian Gulf. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Saudi King Abdullah before and after visiting Lebanon last month.
Pundits and politicians consider the move as a sign that Tehran is assuring Riyadh of its intention to help eliminate the possibility of renewed tensions in Lebanon and the volatile region.
A few years ago Iran’s Foreign Ministry tried its best so that an article printed in an unofficial Iranian newspaper about the history of ties between Iran and Bahrain would not lead to unwanted and unhelpful events.
The understandable problem with Al-Ahram and those who share its vision is that they see Egypt’s role in regional equations diminishing rapidly while Cairo does little other than keep its borders safe for Israel and its lawlessness.
Iranians of all persuasions are proud of their friendly ties with the people of Egypt. Egypt is a great country with an equally great ancient civilization. Should a simple gesture like launching a direct flight between Tehran and Cairo upset some quarters to the extent that they consider an Arab country like Syria as enemy of Arab interests because it has good relations with Iran?
It seems the Al-Ahram write-up is a continuation of Washington’s rebuke of Cairo about the small steps taken for improving ties between the two estranged powers in the Middle East.
Genetics Seminar Planned
Avicenna Research Institute (ARI) intends to hold a seminar on Genetics, Law, Ethics and Psychology during November 10-11 to review genetic findings.
Avicenna Research Institute (ARI) intends to hold a seminar on Genetics, Law, Ethics and Psychology during November 10-11 to review genetic findings.
The seminar’s venue is Shahid Beheshti University’s Faculty of Law, IRNA reported.
Dr. Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundi, the head of the institute, said on Sunday that in addition to considering different branches of genetics, its cutting-edge theories, findings and guidelines, as well as its related legal, ethical and psychological aspects will be discussed in the seminar.
“Recently, significant developments have taken place in the science of genetics. Determining the genetic map of various living beings, cloning, identifying genetic causes of diseases and diagnosing them based on genetic data are among prominent evolutions in this field,” he said.
“All these novel achievements have raised questionable issues in different fields of ethics, law and psychology.”
The official also said that from the legal point of view, there are challenges surrounding the findings of genetics. Generally, collection, processing, storage and use of human genetic data potentially threaten fundamental freedoms, observance and performance of human rights, respect for human dignity and social relations.
“So, there is need to review and establish new laws to regulate and control the process. New achievements also widely affect issues of criminology and introduce new opinions in this field,” he said.
He added that new developments, particularly in the field of human genome and inappropriate use of genetic knowledge, have given rise to ethical concerns.
Akhoundi noted that for instance, employers and insurance companies may abuse genetic findings and violate ethical principles such as respect for human autonomy, equity and nondiscrimination.
“In addition, the increasing use of gene therapy may possibly diminish unpleasant social traits and restore eugenics to improve human species,” he said.
“In view of the effect of genes on behavior and development of personality, new findings can be applied in behavioral psychology,” he said.
Akhoundi said that although genetic technology is progressing, it is necessary to organize its social consequences to make it ethically acceptable.
Topics on Agenda
The main topics on the seminar’s agenda are as follows:
1. Legal aspects of using human, animal and plant genetic data
2. Ethical aspects of using genetic engineering for treating human illnesses and manipulation of physical appearance, as well as animal and plant cloning
3. Psychological aspects of genetic impact on human traits and behavior
4. Different aspects of the modern science of genetics and its application in human society
The event will provide an opportunity for experts to discuss, in an interdisciplinary way, various areas of genetics, promote awareness of geneticists and humanities students about its influence and repercussions.
The seminar will also evaluate views and guidelines to resolve challenges arising out of genetic developments concerning human beings, animals and plants.
Anti-Putin Rally in Moscow
Over a thousand anti-government protesters were allowed to rally on Sunday in Moscow's central Triumph Square for the first time in years as authorities granted their opponents a moment to air their grievances.
Though veteran human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva was granted permission by authorities to hold a rally for 800 people, scores of armed police stood by as the square filled up with more people than allowed, many of them chanting "Russia without (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin!"
"We are holding this protest to uphold our constitutional rights. This is no longer the Soviet Union," Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident, told a jubilant crowd, Reuters reported.
Opposition attempts to hold monthly rallies on the square, which lies on the city's main shopping street, have become a barometer of the Kremlin's willingness to tolerate dissent. Police have broken up a dozen rallies and detained protesters.
Alexeyeva hailed Sunday's rally as "a small victory."
To the side of the square, a much smaller protest of around 200 and organized by fierce Kremlin critic Eduard Limonov formed, which had not been granted permission to rally.
Riot police detained at least seven protesters from that rally, a Reuters witness said. For over a year, Russia's marginalized opposition have been convening on Triumph Square on the 31st of each month symbolizing the right to free assembly guaranteed in Article 31 of Russia's Constitution.
Alexeyeva said the opposition was still far from sated, referring to an August decision by Moscow authorities to rail off most of the square for an underground parking garage, a move widely seen by analysts as an attempt to weaken the opposition by taking away their traditional place of protest.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who styles himself as more liberal than his mentor Putin, last month dismissed Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov after 18 years in power. He was replaced by longtime Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin.
Medvedev has repeatedly called for more democracy and engagement with civil society in Russia since taking office two years ago as Putin’s anointed successor, but human rights groups and diplomats say little has changed.
“Putin has totally violated the rights of citizens who belong to this state,” said opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister under former president Boris Yeltsin.
A trio of elderly women donned masks of Putin and held up baseball bats with “31” written on them.
“Putin is simply against the people of Russia. He is corrupt and has established legal banditry in Russia,” said musician Olga, one of the three.
In Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, 70 people were detained by police at two protests totaling 300 that were not given permission, according to a Reuters witness.
But in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, police did not intervene when around 40 opposition supporters gathered in the center and held signs saying “31” and pages of the Russian Constitution.
“We are here to support our allies in Moscow on Triumph Square, who get regularly beaten and detained by police,” said activist Alexander Kurov.
Iran Daily Cartoonist Ranks 1st
Iran Daily’s cartoonist, Mohammad Ali Rajabi, ranked first at the 17th International Festival of Press and News Agencies which ended on Monday.
According to Fars News Agency, the festival’s closing ceremony was held at Tehran’s Vahdat Hall with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Culture Minister Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini in attendance.
Rajabi ranked first in the cartoon category. The artist was also awarded the festival’s previous editions, including the second and the third, as well as at the International Gaza Cartoon Contest in 2008, marking the 60th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine.
Rajabi’s cartoons mainly focus on international events, particularly in the Middle East, Palestine and Lebanon.
Other winners included Mokhtar Parto-Sagvandi who topped the foreign media category and Mohammad Javad Mahmoud Dehabadi who stood first at the news agencies category.
In addition, Ali Kaveh and Reza Mehr-Ata ranked first at the news photo and culture article sections, respectively.
More than 2,400 magazines and domestic and foreign news agencies participated in the exhibition.
About 150 foreign news agencies were present in the event. Some 250 foreign guests, including 30 scholars from 15 Islamic states also took part in the event.
Turkey does not believe that its neighbors including Iran pose a threat, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday.
Turkey does not believe that its neighbors including Iran pose a threat, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday.
Turkey stands for creating NATO missile defense shield which will cover all of the members of the alliance.
Talks on possible deployment of elements of NATO missile defense shield in Turkey are likely to be concluded at a NATO summit in Lisbon on November 19, Ria Novosti reported.
NATO chief Andres Fogh Rasmussen and the leading members of the alliance believe the defense shield should be created to protect them from countries that pose a potential nuclear threat.
“We do not have a perception of threat in our adjacent areas, including Iran, Russia, Syria and the other adjacent countries,” Davutoglu said.
“NATO should exclude any formula that confronts Turkey with a group of countries in its threat definitions and planning. ... We do not want a cold war zone or psychology around us.”
The top Turkish diplomat said, “NATO can develop defense systems by taking into consideration security risks,” and added that his country’s opposition to such NATO measures “is out of the question.”
In September, Rasmussen proposed to deploy a 200-million-euro (253-million-dollar) anti-missile system around Europe to protect against possible attacks by “rogue states.”
The NATO chief claimed that Iran’s nuclear program was one of the reasons that would necessitate a missile system.
As NATO decisions are made by consensus, any alliance member could veto the missile shield plan.
Asia Stocks Rise
Asian stock markets climbed on Monday, boosted by faster growth in Chinese manufacturing and expectations that the US central bank will pump more money into the world’s largest...
Asian stock markets climbed on Monday, boosted by faster growth in Chinese manufacturing and expectations that the US central bank will pump more money into the world’s largest economy to rejuvenate a sluggish recovery.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 1.9 percent at 23,543.60 and South Korea’s Kospi rose 1.3 percent to 1,907.63. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.9 percent to 4,704.00 and China’s Shanghai Composite Index added 2.1 percent to 3,041.73, AP wrote.
Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average bucked the trend, falling 0.2 percent to 9,186.01.
Markets in New Zealand and Indonesia were also down while Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia posted gains.
The state-affiliated China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said its purchasing managers index rose to 54.7 in October from 53.8 in September. Monthly PMI readings have stayed above 50, the benchmark for expansion, for 20 straight months.
The upbeat sentiment was reinforced by expectations that the US Federal Reserve will pump more money into the world’s largest economy to boost its feeble recovery.
Trading volume was relatively brisk as markets awaited Fed action this week, according to Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.
“It looks like sentiment has changed toward positive,” he said. “The market is remaining positive ahead of the Fed announcement.”
“Those who shorted stocks last week will try to avoid losses by trying to buy stocks today,” he said.
US gross domestic product grew just 2 percent at an annualized pace in the three months through September, slightly faster than the previous quarter but not enough to bring down unemployment, which is hovering near 10 percent.
The weak showing underlined expectations that the Fed policy meeting, which ended on Wednesday, will announce a Treasury bond buying program, known as quantative easing, to inject more liquidity into the economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average on Friday rose 4.54, or 0.1 percent, to close at 11,118.49. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.52, or 0.1 percent, to 1,183.26.
Despite the soft finishes, both US indexes were up over 3 percent for the month.
China, India Ahead
Growth in China and India powered ahead last month, providing welcome support for the global economy at a time of sluggishness in the United States and most of Europe and a faltering in Japan’s recovery.
Two surveys of Chinese executives showed broad-based strength in the manufacturing sector of the world’s second-largest economy and helped boost Asian shares outside Japan by 1.7 percent, Reuters reported.
The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose to a six-month high in October of 54.7 from 53.8 in September, easily beating market forecasts of 52.9.
A figure above 50 denotes expansion; a reading below 50 indicates contraction.
The strength of the official PMI was striking because the index normally heads down in October, said Yu Song and Helen Qiao, economists at Goldman Sachs.
“The fact that the PMI went up despite this seasonal bias suggests real activity growth was likely to have been exceedingly strong in October,” they said in a note.
The survey showed that manufacturers continued to run down stocks last month to meet rising domestic orders, which Ting Lu with Bank of America Merrill Lynch said was a reflection of strength in construction and consumption.
“These readings bode well for a recovery of output in coming months,” Lu told clients.
A companion PMI produced by Markit for HSBC painted a similar picture, rising to 54.8 from 52.9--one of the largest month-on-month rises in the history of the survey.
Calling the official PMI one of the best leading indicators of the economy, Lu said the October report supported his forecast of 9.3 percent year-on-year growth in gross domestic product in the fourth quarter and 10.3 percent for all of 2010.
In contrast, the United States reported on Friday that its economy grew at a tepid 2.0 percent rate in the third quarter, reinforcing expectations that the Federal Reserve will agree this week to ease monetary policy by embarking on a new program of bond purchases.
The HSBC Markit PMI for India, Asia’s third-largest economy, rose to 57.2 in October from 55.1 in September.
“The manufacturing sector remains supported by strong local consumption growth, and growing employment suggests that domestic demand will remain robust,” Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian Economics Research at HSBC, said in a statement.
S. Korean Exports
Not all the economic news from Asia was rosy. The South Korean manufacturing sector shrank for the second month in a row as the HSBC/Markit PMI fell to 46.7 in October, the lowest since February 2009, from 48.8 in September.
New export orders also fell below the boom-bust line of 50 for the first time since February 2009.
But actual exports from Asia’s fourth-largest economy rose 29.9 percent in October from the same month last year.
That surpassed the 21.9 percent increase economists had expected and boosted investor confidence in the export-dependent economy. Shares in South Korea’s top automakers shot to record highs, while the won rallied against the dollar.
“It bodes well for the economy and solid overseas demand will continue to be a major driver for economic growth,” said So Jae-yong, an economist at Hana Daetoo Securities in Seoul.
Dilma Rousseff has been elected president of Brazil to succeed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, electoral officials have confirmed. Rousseff, 62, who has never before held elected office, becomes the country's first woman president.
Dilma Rousseff has been elected president of Brazil to succeed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, electoral officials have confirmed.
Rousseff, 62, who has never before held elected office, becomes the country’s first woman president, BBC reported.
She promised to “honor the trust” Brazilians had put in her and work to eliminate poverty. Rousseff was the preferred successor of President Lula, who is leaving after two terms with record popularity.
Thousands of supporters of the governing Workers’ Party took to the streets across Brazil to celebrate her victory.
The Superior Electoral Court said that with almost all the votes counted, she had won 56% against 44% for her rival, Jose Serra of the Social Democratic Party.
Although voting is compulsory in Brazil, there was a high rate of abstention at 21.5%.
The second round of voting was forced after Rousseff fell short of the 50% needed in the 3 October first round, winning 47% to Serra’s 33%.
In her victory speech, she said her first priority would be to lift 20 million Brazilians out of poverty.
“I reiterate my fundamental promise: the eradication of poverty,” she said.
“We must not rest while there are Brazilians going hungry.”
Her election as the country’s first female leader, Rousseff said, was a sign of the democratic progress Brazil had made.
Her priority now was to make sure that such equality of opportunity between men and women became the norm at every level, she added.
Continuing Lula Policies
“I would like parents who have daughters to look straight in their eyes and tell them: ‘Yes, a woman can.’”
Rousseff, who will be sworn in on 1 January, is expected to continue the left-leaning policies of President Lula, with emphasis on government efficiency, expanding the role of the state in some sectors such as mining, and upgrading the country’s decrepit infrastructure.
She will also oversee a huge expansion of Brazil’s oil industry, following the discovery of major offshore fields that should make Brazil one of the world’s top 10 oil exporters.
She can count on strengthened majorities for the governing coalition in both houses of Congress to help ease the task of pushing her legislative agenda.
Rousseff’s victory owed much to the extraordinary popularity of the outgoing President Lula, who endorsed her as his successor from the start.
Lula, who has to step down after completing the maximum allowed two consecutive terms, said he would not interfere in her government.
Rousseff will have “to form a government in her own image. I only hope she achieves more than I did”, he said after casting his vote.
He added that he would not be attending public victory celebrations because “this is her party”.
Rousseff paid tribute to her mentor, saying: “I will be knocking on his door often, which, I’m sure, will always be open.”
Succeeding Lula would be “difficult and challenging”, she said, “but I know how to honor his legacy. I know how to consolidate and advance his work.”
A former Marxist rebel who was jailed and tortured in 1970-72 for resisting military rule, Rousseff trained as an economist and worked her way up through local and state governments.
She joined President Lula’s cabinet as energy minister in 2003-5 and then became his chief of staff.
For Jose Serra, this is the second time he has been defeated in a presidential runoff, after losing to Lula in 2002.
He has congratulated Rousseff and said he hoped she would work for the good of the country. He said: “I proudly battled the president. To those of us imagining we’re defeated: We have only started the real fight.”
Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) plans to attract foreign investments in the tourism industry.
Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) plans to attract foreign investments in the tourism industry.
This was announced by Mohammad Hussein Fazeli, the deputy head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), in a press conference related to an international exhibition and a seminar themed “Investment opportunities in free and special economic zones and tourism industry” on Saturday, CHTN reported.
“We want to ensure that ceding investment opportunities will comply with the governing laws. The subject of attracting foreign investors is an important concern of the government and the Islamic system. Meeting developmental targets depends upon the participation of private sector and mobilizing internal and external resources as well as appealing to Iranian expatriates,” he said.
Fazeli stressed that reliance on domestic assets alone cannot fulfill the government’s goals, expressing hope that local and foreign investments could be utilized in free trade and economic zones.
“A great deal of ICHHTO’s targets regarding tourism promotion has to do with the influx of foreign tourists … In order to gain a significant share of revenues generated by the global tourism industry, we need to hold meetings and attract local and foreign tourists,” he said.
The official noted that over 1.5 million tourists toured the country in the first half of 2010.
“What helps attract foreign tourists to the country are infrastructures that comply with international norms and standards. And we cannot acquire global standards without the presence of foreign investors,” he said.
Fazeli added that holding such events helps acquaint potential investors with investment opportunities.
Noting that 664 investment packages are to be presented in the exhibition, he said, “Of this figure, 178 packages pertain to investment opportunities in free trade and industrial zones. About 120 special packages will also be presented in the tourism sector.”
These packages pertain to investments in tourism services, free trade zones, coastlines, restoration of historical relics, handicraft townships, markets, ecotourism sites and water therapy complexes.
He said so far $5.1 billion have been invested in 330 tourism projects and a bigger amount was invested in free trade zones.
“All costs related to the exhibition, including accommodation and reception services, are borne by those who seek investments and we have had good interaction with them. They will also invite 100 special guests to the event. Some 700 guests and 500 tourism investors have been invited,” he said.
Fazeli emphasized that the potential foreign investors should display their capabilities and potentials so that ICHHTO would agree to their investment ventures.
“Currently, the trend is that if investors cannot advance the project within the set deadline it would be taken away from them,” he said.
He said the secretariat of the exhibition will function permanently in cooperation with ICHHTO and Free Trade Zones Organization to identify and select private sector investment opportunities and investors.
He noted that the important consideration of the exhibition will be to identify investment projects in special zones.
Referring to investment incentives in free trade zones, the official said every economic activity that commences and becomes operational in these zones will be exempt from income tax for 20 years.
“Regarding tourism sector in the mainland, the units that go on stream will enjoy 50 percent income tax exemption and tariffs for utilities comply with industrial ones. The subsidy for the profit rate of bank facilities is 4 percent that can be increased to 8 percent,” he said.
Addressing the same event, another ICHHTO official, Hassan Qadamgahi, said so far projects worth 6,300 billion rials have had a progress of above 20 percent or are near completion.
“In recent years, 235 hotels, hotel apartments, motels and guesthouses have become operational nationwide. At present, 400 hotels and 200 hotel apartments are under construction nationwide. Some 66 percent of these projects are underway in the proviances of Tehran, Gilan, Mazandaran, Khorasan Razavi and Isfahan,” he said.
The exhibition and seminar will be held on Kish Island during Dec. 1-3.
Number 3816 ● Tuesday November 2, 2010 ● Aban 11, 1389 ● Ziqadeh 25, 1431 ● Price 2,000 Rials ● 12 Pages