Top News: Deadly explosion in the heart of Turkey’s capital

A car filled with explosives blew up in a public square in the heart of Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Sunday evening in the latest of a string of terrorist attacks that have destabilized the country. At least 34 people were killed and 125 wounded in the attack, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said, although recent reports indicate significantly greater casualties. Almost immediately, the Turkish authorities, as they had after other attacks, imposed a ban on local news media coverage of the bombing and an order blocking access to social media. The blast came as Turkey’s security forces were preparing to launch large-scale operations against militants in two mainly Kurdish towns where authorities have imposed curfews. Evidence had been obtained that one of the bombers was a woman who joined the militant PKK in 2013. Officials say she was born in 1992 and was from the eastern Turkish city of Kars. A security official later said that a male Turkish citizen with links to the party was a second suspect. There were no immediate claims of responsibility. At least 20 suspects have been detained amid ongoing investigations. Hours after the bombing in the capital, Turkey’s air force hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. [AP, Guardian, NYT, 3/14/2016]



Justice Minister fired over comments on ‘imprisoning prophet’
Egypt’s Prime Minister sacked Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend on Sunday after he was criticized for saying he would jail Islam’s Prophet Mohammad himself if he broke the law. Zend said Friday in a television interview that he would put anyone who violates the law in prison, “even if he is the prophet, peace and blessing be upon him.” Zend made the remark in defense of his litigation of a number of journalists who accused him of financial corruption. Cabinet spokesman Hossam Qawish said on Sunday that Ahmed al-Zend was “released from his position,” without providing further details. Responding to the storm of criticism, Zend said on Twitter that his statement was “a slip of the tongue.” He also made a couple of phone calls to satellite TV channels stressing that he was “speaking metaphorically” and that he had “asked for God’s forgiveness for the mistake.” Al-Azhar issued a statement on Sunday warning against blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet, even those made unintentionally. An Arabic Twitter hashtag calling for his trial went viral in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egyptian judges issued a statement opposing Zend’s removal. “Egypt’s judges are sorry that someone who defended Egypt and its people, judiciary, and nation in the face of the terrorist organization that wanted to bring it down should be punished in this way,” said Abdallah Fathi. It was not immediately clear who would replace Zend, though Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has appointed Zend’s assistant Rend Shawkat to serve as interim Justice Minister while a search for a permanent replacement is underway. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, SIS, The Guardian, 3/13/2016]

Egypt’s parliament rejects EU parliament’s ‘interference’ in domestic affairs
Egypt’s parliament has rejected all interference in its work and the country’s domestic affairs in response to a resolution from the European Union (EU) parliament on Thursday that criticized Egypt’s human rights record. The House of Representatives issued a statement on Friday after the EU parliament’s resolution, which was overwhelmingly passed on Thursday, over the death of Giulio Regeni. The European lawmakers also demanded the Egyptian chamber review specific laws that it deemed to be repressive. “[The Parliament] does not accept interference in Egyptian domestic affairs … and urges it against employing a selective approach to dealing with human rights issues or the politicization of some of the cases,” the statement read. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abou Zaid added that it is shameful for a prestigious legislative institution like the European Parliament to issue decisions based upon unconfirmed media reports. A ministry statement demanded that respect be shown toward the Egyptian judiciary. On Thursday, Egypt’s Ambassador to Italy Amr Helmy called on the Italian prosecutor to hold a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian investigators to see the results of investigations into Regeni’s murder, which he accepted. Egyptian media and lawmakers have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of bribing European Parliament members to adopt a resolution stating a “grave concern” that Egyptian authorities might be culprits in the torture and killing of an Italian graduate student in Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, AMAY, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/13/2016]

Cairo hosts Hamas to break the ice with the Islamist movement
Three senior leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas traveled to Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials. The delegation is headed by senior Hamas member Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas said in a statement on its website. The meeting will tackle Hamas’s “bilateral relations” with Egypt. The talks will also address the opening of the Rafah border crossing which connects Egypt with the Gaza Strip. The visit comes a week after Egypt accused Hamas of involvement in last year’s assassination of Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat. Hamas rejected the claim as “politically motivated.” Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri said in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the group’s leader, Khaled Meshal, asked the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Khaled Fawzi, in a telephone call to hold a bilateral meeting between the two sides. Abu Zuhri affirmed Hamas’s keenness to forge positive relations with Cairo and to open a new page in bilateral relations. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 3/12/2016]

Cairo defends abstention from UN resolution on peacekeeping sex abuse
Egypt has slammed criticism related to its reservation on supporting a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the repatriation of peacekeeping units whose troops face allegations of sexual abuse. The resolution passed 14-0 on Friday, with Egypt abstaining, after Cairo’s representative described the measures being passed as libel and “branding entire states.” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power described Egypt and other states’ “undermining” of the resolution as “sad” on Twitter. Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid responded in kind: “What is sad is for a #UNSC Permanent Rep. to impose resolution on security council for publicity & personal ambition,” he wrote. The US-drafted resolution endorses Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plan for reform, including his decision to repatriate military or police units “where there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse.” The resolution asks Ban to replace contingents where allegations are not properly investigated, perpetrators are not held accountable, or the secretary-general is not informed on the progress of investigations. Under a floor amendment put forth by Egypt, all three conditions would need to be met before a contingent could be returned. [Ahram Online, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/12/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya’s Presidential Council calls for transfer of power to unity government
Libya’s UN-backed Presidential Council called on Saturday on the country’s institutions to begin a transfer of authority to a unity government, and appealed to the international community to stop dealing with any rival powers. Its statement suggests it will seek to take power despite continuing opposition from hardliners in both of Libya’s competing parliaments. The move drew immediate criticism from some members of the Libyan Political Dialogue. The Tunis-based Presidential Council nominated a unity government last month, but recognition of the proposed cabinet has been held up by the failure of the HOR to vote to approve it. However, the council said in a statement on Saturday that a document signed by a majority of HOR members backing the new government, as well as support from the group that signed the UN-backed deal, represented a “green light to start work.” [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, UNSMIL, 3/13/2016]

UNSMIL calls for Benghazi ceasefire as fresh fighting flares in south of the city
Heavy clashes broke out on Saturday between the Libyan army and militants in the Tika area, at the southern approach to Benghazi. The fighting continued throughout the morning, with one Libyan National Army (LNA) soldier killed and eight wounded. The army, however, has claimed it killed three militants. Meanwhile, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has called for a temporary ceasefire in the city to enable local humanitarian organizations provide desperately needed supplies of food and medical supplies to be delivered to the few remaining residents in Ganfouda and Gwarsha, the last remaining militant strongholds. [Libya Herald, UNSMIL, 3/12/2016]

Russia says Libya military intervention needs UN approval
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that a military operation in Libya is only possible if the United Nations Security Council approves it, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported. “We know about the plans of military involvement, including in the situation in Libya. Our common view is that it could be done only with the permission of the UN Security Council,” Lavrov said after talks with his Tunisian counterpart in Moscow. “A possible mandate for an operation against terrorists in Libya must be defined unambiguously so as not to allow perverted and false interpretations.” [Reuters, 3/14/2016]

Algeria’s military chief calls alert over Libyan frontier
Algeria’s top military chief has heightened the army’s state of alert over border security because of concerns over arms trafficking and turmoil in neighboring Libya. Chief of Staff and Deputy Defense Minister Ahmed Gaed Salah visited southeast Algeria, close to Libya’s border, on Sunday, days after the army killed three Islamist militants in an ambush and seized an arsenal including stinger missiles. Algeria has already increased its military presence along the borders with more troops and using drones for surveillance, according to local press reports. [Reuters, 3/14/2016]

Tunisia calls for day’s wages to fight terrorism
Tunisia’s Prime Minister called Saturday for civil servants and the general public to donate part of their wages to an anti-terrorism fund following a deadly assault on a town near the Libyan border. Habib Essid invited members of government and high-ranking state officials to donate a day’s work to the ‘Fund for the Fight against Terrorism’. The Prime Minister also called on civil servants, the state’s agents and citizens to take part in the initiative to support the national effort. The statement came after President Beji Caid Essebsi donated a month’s salary to the fund at a post office in central Tunis, in what his office described as “a symbolic gesture to support security and military institutions.” [AFP, 3/12/2016]

Moroccans protest over UN Ban’s Western Sahara position
Tens of thousands of Moroccans marched through Rabat on Sunday to protest against UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s position on the Western Sahara dispute and rally support for the king. Waving Moroccan flags and portraits of King Mohamed, protesters chanted, “The Sahara is ours, the King is ours,” as they packed the streets near the parliament building in a rally supported by the government. Morocco’s government last week accused Ban of no longer being neutral in the Western Sahara conflict, saying he used the word “occupation” to describe Morocco’s presence in the region. State news agency MAP said three million people attended the march, though those figures could not be confirmed. Some protesters said they were bussed for free to the march and said trains had also been free for the day of the rally. [Reuters, AFP, AP, 3/13/2016]


UN Syria Envoy says Plan B in talks is a ‘return to war’
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura restarted peace talks between the government and the opposition on Monday, warning that the only alternative is a return to war and describing the political transition in the country as “the mother of all issues.” Moments before meeting with a Syrian government envoy de Mistura laid out both high stakes and low expectations for what is shaping up as the most promising initiative in years to end the conflict that moves into its sixth year on Tuesday. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Saturday that any talk of removing Assad during a transitional period sought by the United Nations was “a red line” and rejected the international call for a presidential election to be held within 18 months—a key demand of the opposition. De Mistura was asked if he would like to see a woman as president. He said, “I would love that.” His spokesman Ahmad Fawzi quickly added that the outcome of any election was entirely a matter for the Syrian people. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said federalization is one possible option if it is the will of the Syrian people. Lavrov said that Russia will support whatever solution the Syrian government and the opposition devise to end the country’s war, including “any form (of government) whatever it may be called: federalization, decentralization, unitary state.” The Syrian government has submitted a document entitled “Basic Elements for a Political Solution” to the United Nations as well. [AP, Reuters, 3/14/2016]

ISIS commander Shishani clinically dead
Top Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) commander Omar al-Shishani has been “clinically dead” for several days after a US air strike in northern Syria, a monitoring group said Sunday. “Shishani is not able to breathe on his own and is using machines. He has been clinically dead for several days,” said Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Rami Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman said the notorious red-bearded commander, known as Omar the Chechen, was in a hospital in the northern province of Raqqa. [AFP, 3/13/2016]

Nusra Front attacks US-backed Syrian rebels
The Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front swept through a rebel-held town in northern Syria in a display of dominance Sunday, arresting US-backed fighters and looting weapons stores belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Nusra Front along with allied jihadists have been moving to exert their authority over rebel-held areas in Idlib province since a partial ceasefire to the country’s conflict took effect two weeks ago, extinguishing patriotic demonstrations and sidelining nationalist militias. The FSA’s Division 13, which has received weapons, training, and money from the US government, said on Twitter Sunday that Nusra fighters were going door to door in the town of Maarat Numan and arresting its cadres; the Nusra Front, alongside fighters from the Jund al-Aqsa faction, seized Division 13 posts the night before. Seven Division 13 fighters died in the clashes and detained 40 fighters from the division. SOHR said the Nusra Front seized antitank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms from the division. [AP, Reuters, AFP, WSJ, 3/14/2016]

Syria aid deliveries from Red Cross postponed over violence
Aid groups were unable to deliver much-needed food packages to four besieged towns in war-torn Syria on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, citing security problems. Though aid deliveries have reached thousands of people in areas blockaded by regime and opposition forces since the start of the ceasefire, aid deliveries to Madaya and Zabadani, two towns near Damascus blockaded by the regime, and Fuaa and Kafraya, which are besieged by rebels in Syria’s northwest, have been delayed. ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek said distribution to those areas has always been “synchronized,” meaning that aid could only be delivered to all four towns at once. Citing “the situation around Qalaat al-Madiq” in central Hama province, Krzysiek said that “for security reasons we can’t really send our trucks in this direction,” which is located on the road to Kafraya in northern Syria. SORH reported shelling by the army on Qalaat al-Madiq. “We have everything ready,” Krzysiek said. “As soon as the security situation allows for the synchronization to happen, we will do it.” [AFP, 3/14/2016]

SAMS reports 161 chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s war
As Syria marks five full years of civil war this month, a new report claims that chemical weapons have been used at least 161 times through the end of 2015 and caused 1,491 deaths. It says such attacks are increasing, with a high of at least 69 attacks last year, and a total of 14,581 people injured. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) says its report released Monday is the most comprehensive listing of chemical weapons attacks in Syria so far. The US-based nonprofit, which supports more than 1,700 workers at over 100 medical centers in Syria, says the list is based primarily on the reports of medical personnel who have treated victims, aided by NGOs and other local sources. The organization is asking the 15-member UN Security Council and the international community to quickly identify perpetrators and hold them accountable through the International Criminal Court or other means. [AP, Guardian, 3/14/2016]

Russia has evidence Turkish troops in Syria, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov says
On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Defense received reports on Saturday of Turkish shelling of Kurdish positions in Syria’s Aleppo province. Turkey claims to be targeting ISIS positions. Russia also accused Turkey of sending its military across the Syrian border to prevent Kurdish groups from consolidating their positions. Meanwhile, Turkish authorities imposed curfews on two mainly Kurdish towns where Turkey’s security forces are set to launch large-scale operations against Kurdish militants. “According to our information, they are digging in a few hundred meters from the border inside Syria,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview on Sunday. Lavrov said Turkey has declared a sovereign right to create a security zone on Syrian territory to prevent the unification of Kurdish enclaves located to the east and to the west in northern Syria. Lavrov also said that Russia would insist the UN invites Kurds to peace talks on the Syrian conflict despite Turkey’s opposition. [Reuters, AP, 3/13/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Iraqi cleric calls for sit-in, urges action against corruption
On Saturday, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement calling for his followers to step-up their demands for the government to implement reform by setting up tents in front of Baghdad’s Green Zone and staging a sit-in until their demands are met. “I make a historical call to every honest, reform-loving Iraqi to rise up and start a new phase in the peace popular protest … Get ready and organize yourselves to establish sit-in tents,” the statement read. Sadr wants the sit-in to last until the 45-day ultimatum he gave Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reform expires in ten days time. Abadi is currently seeking to replace several ministerial positions with technocrats, a move that many believe will be a solid step towards reform in a system which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. [Reuters, Rudaw, 3/12/2016]

Turkish warplanes continue to hit Kurdish PKK camps in northern Iraq
Turkish warplanes bombed camps belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq early on Monday, following another car bomb attack in Ankara over the weekend. This comes after Turkish airstrikes reportedly killed 67 PKK members during strikes in northern Iraq on camps and ammunition storage sites on Wednesday. Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said Saturday that 14 F-16 and F-4 jets were involved in Wednesday’s strikes that destroyed ammunition depots, bunkers and shelters belonging to the PKK. The agency said the offensive targeted five areas in northern Iraq, including the Qandil Mountains where the PKK’s leadership is based. [Reuters, AP, 3/14/2016]

ISIS fighter from United States in custody in Iraq
Two sources with Kurdish Peshmerga forces said on Monday that its troops in northern Iraq had detained an apparent American ISIS defector as he tried to make his way back to Turkey. The man identified as Virginia resident Muhammad Jamal Amin was apprehended as he approached a Peshmerga checkpoint near the Iraqi town of Sinjar. Peshmerga forces initially fired warning shots when they saw Amin approaching, concerned he was a suicide bomber, but he then surrendered and identified himself as a former member of ISIS. [Reuters, CBS News, 3/14/2016]

ISIS chemical attacks kill child, wound at least 600
Iraqi officials reported that on Saturday, ISIS launched two chemical attacks near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing a three-year-old girl, wounding at least 600 people and causing hundreds more to flee. Security and hospital officials say the latest attack took place in the small town of Taza, which was also attacked by ISIS with a barrage of rockets carrying chemicals three days earlier. Sameer Wais, whose daughter Fatima was killed in the attack, is a member of a Shia militia fighting ISIS in Kirkuk province who was on duty at the frontline when the attack occurred. Those wounded are suffering from infected burns, suffocation and dehydration, and eight have been transferred to Baghdad for further treatment according to Helmi Hamdi, a nurse at the Taza hospital. Adel Hussein, a local official in Taza reported that a German and an American forensics team arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents. [AP, AFP, 3/14/2016]

ISIS attacks kill 47 Iraqi soldiers near Ramadi
At least 47 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in a series of ISIS attacks near the strategic city of Ramadi, military sources said. The first attack took place overnight on the headquarters of the 3rd Rapid Deployment Force and other military barracks in the villages of Qutainiya and Zuwaiya. At least 22 soldiers were killed and a further 16 security personnel were injured in the attack. On Monday, two separate ISIS suicide car bombers struck Iraqi Security Force convoys in the villages of Safiyra and Abu Taiban, killing at least 25 soldiers and wounding another 20. Since being pushed from the center of Ramadi in December, ISIS has launched near-daily attacks on Iraqi forces stationed in and around the city, especially on its outskirts. [Al Jazeera, 3/14/2016]

Italian engineers need two months on Mosul dam before starting repairs
According to Mahdi Rasheed Mahdi, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources, Italian engineers hired to help prevent a catastrophic collapse of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam will need at least two months to assess the structure. Mahdi furthered that it might take up to six months before work can actually begin as Italy’s Trevi Group needs specialist equipment to plug gaps caused by erosion. While collapse would devastate Mosul and other cities along the river, including Baghdad, Mahdi said there was no imminent threat of collapse as some maintenance work is being carried out now before the major stabilization work begins. [Reuters, 3/14/2016]


Houthis signal openness to peace talks with Saudis
The Houthis Monday confirmed carrying out a prisoner exchange with Saudi Arabia and said they were open to negotiating a peace deal with the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting them for a year. “We will not turn our backs on any understandings or initiatives that could lead to the halt of aggression and lifting the suffering from the Yemeni people,” Saleh al-Sammad, head of the Houthis’ political wing, said in a statement posted on his official Facebook page. He said the exchange of a captive Saudi army officer for seven fighters earlier this month came as part of an “initial and preliminary” stage of negotiations, which would be followed by “gradual steps” if Riyadh is willing to pursue a deal that would halt its operations. Saudi Arabia announced the swap last week without mentioning the Houthis’ involvement. [AP, 3/14/2016]

Hadi’s troops break siege of Taiz
Forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi have broken a siege by the Iranian-allied Houthis around the strategic Yemeni city of Taiz, local fighters and residents said on Saturday, as the United States raised the possibility of a Syrian-style truce in Yemen. At least 48 people were killed and 120 were wounded in heavy clashes in the city, medics and local fighters said, and at least. Witnesses said there were bodies scattered in the streets. Supporters of Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, have been trying for months to lift the siege of the southwestern city and open up supply routes. [Reuters, 3/12/2016]

Helicopters kill 18 as Yemeni government moves against Aden militants
Saudi-led coalition helicopters attacked Al-Qaeda militants in Aden overnight in an effort to dislodge them from a stronghold in the southern port city, killing at least 18 people, medics and a security official said on Sunday. Witnesses and medics said Apache helicopters from the Saudi-led coalition struck armored vehicles and a government compound used by the militants in al-Mansoura district, a stronghold in north Aden. There was no immediate comment from the coalition. [Reuters, 3/13/2016]

Two UAE fighter pilots killed in jet crash in Yemen
The Saudi-led coalition said Monday that two Emirati pilots were killed after their jet crashed in Yemen. The Saudi state news agency SPA said the crash was caused by “technical difficulties.” Earlier today the UAE said that a fighter jet had gone missing during a Yemen combat mission. “The Supreme Command of the Armed Forces announced today that a fighter jet taking part in the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia … in Yemen was missing,” said a statement on the official WAM news agency. [Al Arabiya, 3/14/2016]

Senior Saudi prince condemns Obama comments on Middle East
Former Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, condemned comments attributed to US President Barack Obama, saying the American leader had “thrown us a curveball” in criticizing Riyadh’s regional role. Obama, in an interview with The Atlantic last week, described Saudi Arabia as a “free rider” on US foreign policy and criticized what he saw as Riyadh’s funding of religious intolerance and refusal to come to an accommodation with Iran. “No, Mr. Obama. We are not ‘free riders’,” Prince Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to Washington and London, wrote in an open letter carried by the local Arab News English-language daily. Prince Turki listed Riyadh’s support for Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) group, its humanitarian aid for refugees in the region, and its creation of an Islamic anti-terrorism coalition. [Reuters, 3/14/2016]

Saudi Arabia says it will punish anyone linked to Hezbollah, Bahrain deports Lebanese citizens
Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it would punish anyone who belongs to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, sympathizes with it, supports it financially, or harbors any of its members. An Interior Ministry statement carried by the state news agency SPA said that Saudis and expatriates would be subjected to “severe penalties” under the kingdom’s regulations and anti-terrorism laws. Foreigners would be deported, it said. The Bahraini Foreign Ministry said Monday that several Lebanese residents believed to have links to Hezbollah have been deported. Gulf Arab countries and the Arab League declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization, raising the possibility of further sanctions against the group. [Reuters, 3/14/2016]


Egypt devalues currency to record low against the dollar
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) on Monday devalued the Egyptian pound to 8.85 per dollar from 7.73 and said it would move to a more flexible exchange rate policy, as it sold $198.1 million to local banks in a $200 million exceptional auction. Markets welcomed the move, with the EGX 30 benchmark index rising 6.4 percent. “The CBE decided to adopt a more flexible policy to heal the exchange rate distortions and to sustainably and regularly restore the circulation of foreign currency in banks,” the bank said in a statement. “The central bank affirms that it will follow all developments closely and will not hesitate to use all the tools and authority at its disposal to maintain order in the currency market and stability in price levels in the medium term.” The CBE added that it expects to rebuild foreign currency reserves to $25 billion by year-end from about $16.5 billion. [Reuters, Bloomberg, Ahram Online, 3/14/16]

Tunisia parliament to debate law on central bank autonomy
Tunisia’s government will ask parliament next month to strengthen central bank autonomy to shield it from political interference. According to draft legislation, the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) will not take instructions from the government and will have absolute control over monetary policy, currency reserves, and gold reserves. There is currently no law preventing the government from seeking to intervene in central bank policy or making demands on reserves. “The goal is to establish a modern central bank and good monetary governance and avoid any possible political bickering or demands to impose certain monetary policies regardless of the economic trend for the next government,” said a BCT official said. The draft includes a clause allowing the government to form a committee to monitor the CBT in case of suspicions of corruption or criminal misdeeds. [Reuters, 3/14/2016]

Saudi central bank governor vows to keep currency peg
Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) Governor Fahad al-Mubarak said Monday that he is committed to maintaining the kingdom’s currency peg of 3.75 riyals per dollar. Currency speculators have put pressure on the riyal in recent months due to the impact of lower oil prices on Saudi Arabia’s fiscal balance. “I would like to assure that the monetary agency will continue to manage its monetary policies to achieve the goal of stabilizing the value of the riyal at the exchange rate of 3.75 riyals to the dollar,” Mubarak said. SAMA has been drawing down its overseas assets at an annual rate of more than $100 billion, although it still has enough to support the riyal for several years. [Reuters, 3/14/2016]

Kuwait’s central bank says may act if budget gap isn’t cut
Kuwait’s Central Bank Governor Mohammad al-Hashel warned that authorities may adjust monetary policy if the government does not act urgently to cut a budget deficit caused by low oil prices. Hashel said the legislative and executive branches of the government need to prove that public finances are stable in the next two months. “[If this does not happen,] it will reflect negatively on the credit rating of the state of Kuwait because of the negative consequences on financial institutions, and then it may affect monetary policy,” he said. Hashel did not say how monetary policy might change, but the Kuwaiti dinar, which is pegged to a weighted basket of the currencies of major trading partners, has been under pressure in the foreign exchange market since late last year. [Reuters, 3/13/2016]

Iraqi Kurdistan gets $200 million from Turkey after oil pipeline halt
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) received $200 million from Turkey to assist Kurdish finances, which have been hit by a recent oil pipeline export stoppage, industry sources said. “An emergency aid transfer has been sent to KRG this week. The pipeline was pumping 600,000 barrels per day and the halt has deprived the KRG of an important source of revenue,” the sources said. Iraqi Kurdistan was reconnected to oil markets on Friday as pumping from its fields to Turkey resumed. Meanwhile, Iraq’s state-run North Oil Company stopped feeding a pipeline to Turkey with crude produced at fields it operates in Kirkuk. The order to halt pumping through the pipeline came from the oil ministry in Baghdad. North Oil, which normally exports 150,000 barrels, is continuing to produce crude, but is storing it in Kirkuk instead of exporting it through the pipeline. [Reuters, 3/11/2016]