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Egyptian President pardons Briton convicted of smuggling tramadol

She was among a number of prisoners granted a presidential pardon

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Egyptian judges Samih Suleiman chairs a trial in Cairo - AFP

Laura Plummer, a British woman convicted of smuggling tramadol has been granted early release after spending more than a year in prison in Egypt, an Egyptian security source said Monday.

Laura Plummer, 34, was arrested at Hurghada airport and sentenced in December 2017 to three years in prison after customs officers found almost 300 Tramadol pills in her luggage.

She was among a number of prisoners granted a presidential pardon after having served a third of her sentence, said the source at the Egyptian prison authority.

“Procedures for her release were completed Sunday,” he added.

Tramadol, a strong painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain, is tightly controlled in Egypt where it is often abused as a recreational drug.

The painkiller is dispensed on prescription in Britain.

Since her arrest, Plummer and her relatives maintained that she was unaware of Egypt’s restrictions on the drug and that she was bringing the painkillers for her Egyptian partner who suffered from back pain.

There was no immediate confirmation from Britain of Plummer’s pardon.

“Our staff continue to do all they can to support Laura and her family, and our embassy remains in regular contact with the Egyptian authorities,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said. 

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Morocco’s Sole oil refinery struggles to stay afloat

A self-declared “national front” is leading the charge to salvage refining company SAMIR

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morocco's oil refinery SAMIR struggle for survival

Three years after it was liquidated for racking up billions of euros worth of debt, Morocco’s sole oil refinery and the one-time economic flagship is struggling to attract a buyer and survive. A self-declared “national front” – comprising employees, economists and union leaders – is leading the charge to salvage refining company SAMIR, while a trade court desperately seeks a new owner.

They face a tough battle, including a court deadline of July 18 to seal the refinery’s fate. The firm was liquidated in 2016 after it was unable to honour some four billion euros ($4.5 billion at current prices) in borrowing. The refinery was set up in 1959 by the Moroccan government and sold in 1997 to the Corral group, a Saudi-Swedish enterprise that holds a majority stake of more than 67 per cent.

Work at the refinery, which had a capacity of more than 150,000 barrels a day, had already wound down a year before it was dissolved. But nearly 800 employees remain on the payroll, albeit on slashed salaries scratched together from company coffers and creditors.

The workers’ fate now hangs in the balance, according to staff representative Houcine El Yamani, who has spearheaded efforts by the “national front” to salvage the facility. “We have made tremendous efforts” to pressure the state into reviving SAMIR since work stopped in 2015 at the plant in Mohammedia, between Rabat and the economic hub Casablanca, El Yamani said.

Such efforts include sit-ins and press conferences.  “We still have hope of finding a solution,” he added. A “national front” report submitted last year to Moroccan authorities denounced the 1997 privatisation of the refinery as a “big sham” and the sale to Corral as “totally lacking in transparency”.

“The Corral group did not respect any of the terms of the contract (including pledges to invest funds to develop the refinery), dragging the sole national refinery into an infernal spiral,” said the report. The drop in global oil prices in 2014 affected SAMIR, but the “national front” says bad management was the main factor behind the firm’s woes, as debts mounted and attempts to satisfy creditors failed.

Sold to scrap

After its liquidation in March 2016 by a Casablanca court, a committee of trustees was set up to find a buyer and safeguard jobs for employees. “Around 30 international groups showed an interest,” but nothing materialised, El Yamani said.

The “national front” also said the government could have been more pro-active. “In the absence of any government action, the refinery’s assets risk being sold to scrap by the kilogramme,” the coalition of employees, economists and union leaders said in its report.

Minister of Energy and Mines, Aziz Rebbah, dismissed claims that the government has no interest in salvaging the oil refinery. “We have nothing against it,” he said. “If a buyer comes forth we will examine the proposal,” he added. Morocco is totally dependent on oil imports and the winding up of SAMIR’s operations has left the North African country more reliant than ever on imports of refined oil products.

A report earlier this year by the International Energy Agency noted that “the closure of the country’s only refinery… has clear implications for the security of oil supply” in Morocco. The court that liquidated SAMIR three years ago has extended a deadline to keep the refinery open a dozen times.

The last extension expires on July 18, when SAMIR will know if it has a buyer or if it will be sold “in bits and pieces”, according to Moroccan media reports. As the battle for SAMIR’s survival plays out, another legal fight is underway between the refinery’s main shareholder, Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi, and the government.

Al Amoudi – who was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2017 as part of a vast anti-corruption campaign – is demanding $1.5 billion in compensation from Morocco over SAMIR’s demise, according to Moroccan news website Media24.

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National Oil Company warns that any attempt to disrupt the sector would escalate unrest

“Any deliberate disruption of oil sector operations will severely impact national revenue streams, potentially render NOC in contravention of contractual obligations

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Libya's National Oil Company in the capital Tripoli. The Oil company warns against shutdown as it it will escalate conflict

Libya’s National Oil Company has warned that any bid to tamper with the sector could escalate unrest in the country after the parliamentary speaker called for a halt to production. In a statement issued late Saturday, NOC said it “is concerned by recent calls for the shutdown of national oil production”.

“Any deliberate disruption of oil sector operations will severely impact national revenue streams, potentially render NOC in contravention of contractual obligations, and create further division in the country.” Libya has been in conflict since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations vying for power and to control its oil wealth.

The conflict has been exacerbated since April when commander Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country where most oil fields are located, launched an offensive against the capital Tripoli. The city is the seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), while the elected parliament which supports Haftar is based in eastern Libya.

Last week parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh Issa said oil production must cease, accusing the GNA of using oil revenues to finance the militias fighting Haftar, in an interview with an Egyptian news channel.

The country’s oil company, which is headquartered in Tripoli, has repeatedly insisted on its neutral status and refused to be drawn into the conflict. “This crucial source of income to the state, vital to all Libyans, must remain de-politicised and uninterrupted,” NOC said on Saturday.

But it also called for “economic transparency – including the equitable distribution of oil revenues nationally – to be embraced by all parties as an integral element of Libya’s future stability, and any lasting political settlement”. Libya’s oil revenues are managed by the country’s central bank, which is also based in Tripoli.

Both Haftar and the eastern parliament have repeatedly said that oil revenues are not evenly distributed and accuse the GNA of using the funds to finance its militias. Last month UN envoy Ghassan Salame said that Libya – which produces more than a million barrels of oil a day – was “committing suicide” and plundering its oil wealth to pay for the war.

On Saturday he met Haftar to discuss the Tripoli offensive and ways to “accelerate the transition towards reaching a political solution” in the country, the United Nations said.

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Court in Sudan orders authorities to resume internet services

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan by the ruling military council

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A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum on June 17, 2019 as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an internet blackout.
A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an internet blackout.

A Sudanese court Sunday ordered authorities to end a nationwide internet blockade imposed by the ruling generals after a deadly crackdown on protesters earlier this month, a lawyer said.

Crowds of protesters were violently dispersed on June 3 by men in military fatigues, who stormed a weeks-long protest camp outside the army headquarters in Khartoum where they had camped to demand that the generals step down.

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan by the ruling military council, with users saying it was done to prevent further mobilisation of protesters.

Lawyer Abdelazim al-Hassan said he had filed a petition against the blockade, and on Sunday a court in Khartoum ordered that the services be resumed.

“I had filed the case 10 days ago and Judge Awatef Abdellatiff ordered the telecommunications department to resume the internet services immediately,” Hassan said. Authorities can appeal the decision.

For the generals the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi said earlier this month.

The internet blockade was an attempt to quell new protests against the generals, who have so far resisted to hand power to a civilian administration as demanded by demonstrators, protest leaders say.

Tens of thousands of protesters were mobilised through online social media apps during the months-long campaign against the now ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

Protest leaders have resorted to neighbourhood campaigns to keep their movement alive, with activists mobilising supporters in night-time gatherings, witnesses said.

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