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Consolidation of the GCC stock markets is “inevitable”

Consolidation of the GCC stock markets is “inevitable”, the chief executive of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) said yesterday. “Globally that is where we are headed,” said Nasser Al Shaali. “We have seen some efforts going in this direction with a GCC bourse, an Arab bourse, even an Islamic bourse. They have yet to bear any fruit for the region, but it is inevitable. We want to go beyond localised volatile and turbulent markets into a more global, mature environment.” Al Shaali would not be drawn on when consolidation of the GCC market will occur. “Speculation is unwise given the history of this region,” he said. Al Shaali refused to comment on rumours the London Stock Exchange was poised to take a stake in the (DIFX). In May 2006, the DIFC increased its holding in Euronext, the pan-European exchange that operates bourses in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Lisbon, to 3.48 per cent. The following month, the New York Stock Exchange announced a merger with Euronext worth $20 billion (Dh73.4bn) to create the first transatlantic stock market. Al Shaali reiterated the DIFC was planning to invest up to Dh2.5bn in other markets and was currently in talks with six bodies worldwide. “Hopefully we will see the first deal in the first half of 2007, but we cannot always predict when these will happen. “We are looking at all kinds of options. These investments are not limited to exchanges, it could be financial services.” Al Shaali said the investments were part of its goal to become global hub between London and Hong Kong. “These will fill in the gaps in financial services and infrastructure in the region.” Source : emiratestoday

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Dubai Microsoft pioneer prepares for blast-off

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – Billionaire software programmer Charles Simonyi is set to rocket into space Saturday in a flight to the International Space Station (ISS) that will make him the world’s fifth space tourist. The 58-year-old Simonyi, who was born in Hungary and made his fortune as a pioneer at US software giant Microsoft, will spend 10 days on the station conducting experiments, blogging, and at least part of the time, marvelling at how far he’s come. Simonyi will bring with him a paper ribbon containing a program he wrote on the 1960s Soviet-made UrAl 2 computer, as he said, ‘to remind me where it all began.’ Like any good guest, he’ll also have a treat for his hosts on the ISS: a special space meal he will prepare for them on April 12, Cosmonaut’s Day. Simonyi is set to blast off at 1731 GMT Saturday from the space centre here with Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov will see them off, as will about 50 of the programmer’s friends. The three space travellers spent a two-week quarantine in Baikonur after a month of training — and a crash-course in Russian for Simonyi — at Star City, a space mission preparation centre near Moscow. The flight, which cost Simonyi around 25 million dollars (19 million euros), will be far more than a pleasure trip. Between snapping shots of Earth, he will be conducting medical experiments for the European Space Agency and testing high-definition cameras for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. He plans to spend his free time detailing his experiences in a blog at www.charlesinspace.com. The site already contains daily accounts of his training sessions, as well as information and games ‘for future generations of space explorers.’ At a walk around the Baikonur space centre this week, Simonyi said he had been thrilled to find a piece of his programming past there. ‘At the Baikonur museum they have a UrAl 1, which is almost like a UrAl 2…. I kind of thought that the circle is closed, that we’re back to the future, and I think it’s great.’ His passion for the stars seized him only recently as he watched rocket launches at the US space centre in Cape Canaveral. As a teenage computer programmer, Simonyi’s greatest ambition had been ‘to get out of Hungary and emigrate to the West.’ He succeeded in 1968, at the age of 20, when he enrolled in the prestigious University of California-Berkeley and studied engineering and mathematics. His path to fortune was laid in 1981, when he was hired by Microsoft — then a scrappy young company — and helped design the benchmark Word and Excel programmes. He later received US citizenship, and in 2002 quit Microsoft to found his own firm, Intentional Software. Already adept at piloting airplanes and helicopters, Simonyi said he was not sure what would strike him more — the sight of the blue planet from space or the feeling of weightlessness. ‘I think that the best is to discover it on the spot,’ he said. He is scheduled to return to Earth on April 20 together with the current ISS team — Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin and American Miguel Lopez-Alegria — while his companions stay on for a 190-day shift in orbit. Simonyi will be the fifth tourist to travel to the ISS, following the United States’ Dennis Tito (2001) and Greg Olsen (2005), South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth (2002) and an American of Iranian origin, Anousheh Ansari (2006). Once back on Earth, he will focus on a more worldly task: developing his new company. ‘I’ve got this company, and my dream is to make it very successful,’ he said. Source : Khaleedj

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Suicide bomb threat rings out in Pakistan capital

ISLAMABAD – The chief cleric of a radical mosque in Pakistan’s capital trumpeted plans on Friday to set up vigilante Islamic courts and exhorted followers to become suicide bombers if their Taleban-style movement was forcibly suppressed. “Our youths will shake their palaces with their suicide attacks,” Maulana Abdul Aziz warned the government in a fiery sermon delivered to thousands of followers at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in central Islamabad. Followers of the radical clerics in Lal Masjid have become increasingly audacious in recent months, raising fears that for all President Pervez Musharraf’s talk of “enlightened moderation” he cannot stop a trend toward the Talebanisation of Pakistan. “They should not take the law into their own hands; this will create lawlessness in the country. We will not allow them, I will not allow this,” Musharraf told a convention for women’s health being held barely a kilometre away. So far, the authorities have been wary of confronting the anti-Musharraf and anti-American radicals at Lal Masjid for fear of provoking a wider backlash from conservative forces. There were no police around the mosque and militant literature was sold openly, while chants of jihad, or holy war, rang out from loudspeakers. “The government has been saying that an operation against us is the last option, I want to tell the government that suicide attacks are our last option,” Aziz said. “Yes, Yes, Allah-o-Akbar,” the worshippers shouted when Aziz asked them if they were ready to sacrifice their lives. Aziz also set a one-month deadline for the government to close down video and music shops, and bordellos. “If the government fails to do this by the deadline, then our students will take action themselves,” he said amid more shouts of “Allah-o-Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”, from the congregation. Outside the packed mosque, hundreds more worshippers offered prayers on the roads, protected by youths carrying batons and some covering their faces with scarfs, while burqa-clad women stood on the rooftops of an adjacent madrasa. A bonfire of thousands of video and audio cassettes and CDs was set alight by a contrite shopkeeper outside the mosque as onlookers chanted “our way is jihad, jihad”. Aziz said shariat, or Islamic law, courts would be set up and presided over by 10 clerics to stamp out vice in the capital, a sedate, suburban city hardly known for its vice dens. “Allah’s system on Allah’s land” and “We will sacrifice our lives to bring about an Islamic system” read two of the banners strung on trees on the waste ground outside the mosque where Aziz said the vigilante courts would be set up. Pakistan already operates a parallel Islamic legal system alongside its civil penal code. Female students from the adjoining Jamia Hafsa madrasa, or religious school, raided a brothel last month, and took the owner and two of her relatives into custody until they repented. City authorities have for months been at odds with clerics and their followers at the mosque over government attempts to demolish mosques illegally built on public land. Women from the Jamia Hafsa madrasa have occupied a library next door since January and their compound is akin to a fortified camp with young men guarding the gate and walls. Source : khaleedj

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Dubai : Call for greater transparency, tougher stock exchange rules

DUBAI — In terms of governance and transparency, the Middle East “has come a long way but still has a way to go, especially in relation to international accounting rules,” says Shayne Nelson, Standard Chartered’s regional chief executive in the Gulf and Levant. Speaking to Khaleej Times, he emphasised the need for greater transparency “in terms of financials as well as the need for tougher stock exchange rules.” For many companies, “their financials don’t have the detail and transparency that stakeholders and regulators require. This is generally an issue across the region. Although countries vary, we would like to see an improvement,” he says. But he added that “regulations are improving quite quickly and that the DIFC creates a good standard for countries to look up to.” Nelson also thinks “Bahrain is doing a very good job.” He also believes that financial centres should not be competing with one another to become the “centre of excellence” for the region but should be seeking to establish their own niche. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that because you are smaller you can’t find a niche that is very profitable and adds a lot of value to the community,” he says. “Despite Singapore being a big regional financial hub, for example, Malaysia has still found a niche as an Islamic hub.” Source : Khaleedj

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Dubai : DFM jumps 2.5 per cent

DUBAI — Leading UAE stock market indices made strong gains yesterday, the biggest in more than a month. The Dubai Financial Market (DFM) General Index advanced 2.5 per cent to 3,757,69 while the Abu Dhabi Securities Market (ADSM) Index jumped 2.1 per cent to 2.922.32. On the DFM, the banking sector performed strongly. The banks index advanced 3.2 per cent as three banks made gains. Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) leapt 6.5 per cent to Dh6.87. Shares in Emirates Bank International, currently in the process of merging with National Bank of Dubai, rose 3.9 per cent to Dh9.09. The National Bank of Dubai advanced 0,8 per cent to Dh8.67. Shares in the Islamic Arab Insurance Company (IAIC), the largest Islamic insurance (takaful and re-takaful) operator in the world, rose 5.47 per cent to Dh5.91. It made profits of Dh181 million for the 2006 financial year, a 65 per cent increase over 2005. Gulf General Investments, a UAE investor in real estate and industrial projects, recovered most of its recent losses (it had lost about 7 per cent over the past few days) by climbing 5 per cent to Dh5.91. Amlak, the UAE’s largest home-finance provider, also made significant gains, advancing 4.2 per cent to Dh2.95. This follows yesterday’s 2.5 per cent increase. Before that it had lost 12 per cent since March 29 when the company announced that the UAE Central bank had rejected its application for a banking licence. Emaar Properties, one of the world’s largest property companies and Amlak’s largest shareholder, also advanced by 2.3 per cent to Dh11.20, extending the previous day’s 0.9 per cent gain. On the ADSM, 28 stocks advanced, eight declined and two remained unchanged. Among the biggest gainers was Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) whose shares jumped 7.5 per cent to Dh6.18 on speculation that the bank was in merger talks with Union National Bank (UNB). ADCM, the third largest lender by assets in the UAE, said there was “no substance” to the market speculation. The government-controlled UNB is the seventh-largest bank by assets in the UAE. Its shares jumped 3.1 per cent to Dh6.01. Source : Khaleedj

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Khalifa issues decree to set up ADHSC as public joint stock company

ABU DHABI — The President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in his capacity as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has issued a decree, setting up the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (ADHSC) as a public joint stock company. The new company, which shall be known as ‘sihha,’ shall be an independent corporate body, enjoying full legal status to practice its activities and to achieve its objectives. It shall also enjoy financial and administrative independence with its headquarters in Abu Dhabi. The branches of the new company may be opened inside or outside Abu Dhabi emirate by virtue of a decision by the company’s board, the decree states. The company shall have a capital of Dh1 billion distributed in same quantity of shares at a nominal value of Dh1 per share all of which shall be fully paid and owned by the government. Relinquishing of the company’s share shall be made only with the approval of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. The decree also states that the company’s board shall establish for the company an ordinary and Extra-ordinary General Assembly which shall last for hundred years, beginning from the date of issuance of a decree by the finance minister announcing the establishment of those assemblies. The duration is renewable for same years unless an extraordinary meeting decision calls for the dissolution of the company. Source : Khaleedj

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The UAE government yesterday

Dubai : The UAE government yesterday said it would begin tackling internet crime head on with the formation of a new task force.

Cyber crimes have wrecked havoc in some countries in recent past, with a breakdown in IT infrastructure and resulting in loss of valuable data. “Instead of reacting to virus attacks or hackers, we’re now taking action,” a TRA spokesperson told Gulf News. Mohammad Al Ganem, TRA director-general, said the project arose out of the need to “safeguard the critical information and communication technology infrastructure residing under the government, business, and education sectors.” Details on the scale and scope of the initiative were scarce yesterday, but Al Ganem said the response team would serve as a point of contact for incident reporting in the country, and also collaborate with international cyber crime prevention organisations. aeCERT would present a “proactive and structured approach” in deterring future cyber security incidents and raise the profile of IT security in the country, he added. New laws Al Ganem also raised the prospect that the team would help draft new laws governing internet crime. “The aeCERT will, no doubt, enhance the cyber security law and assist in the creation of new laws,” he said. The move comes a month after the TRA said it discovered an internet crime ring running fake financial services sites that sought to defraud unsuspecting UAE victims. This year the government also counteracted many attacks, mainly website defacement and phishing attacks, the TRA said. Web security professionals hailed the move as a positive step forward in protecting against an increasingly global array of threats. “Anyone using the internet is vulnerable to attack if they are not using the proper protection tools,” said Patrick Hayati, regional managing director for internet security firm McAfee. “There are two ways to fight cyber crime. One is to have the right tools in place to prevent attacks, and the other is to catch the bad guys and remove them from circulation. The TRA team will help with the latter.” Hayati also expressed his desire for the new team to begin recommending guidelines to educate companies on the necessary level of threat protection.

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Property legislation in final approval stage

Dubai: Legislation crucial to the future of Dubai’s real estate sector is in its final stage of approval, say officials at Dubai Land Department. Eagerly-anticipated legislation concerning escrow accounts and a condominium law have passed the final draft stage and are awaiting official approval from the emirate’s rulers. It follows a lengthy period of consultation between the land department and property developers in Dubai. “The draft laws have been finalised and have been submitted for government feedback and approval,” said Mohammad Sultan Thani, director of development and marketing administration at Dubai Land Department. Concern Legal experts say the Strata (Condominium) Law will clarify owner/occupier responsibility for commonhold land, while Trust (Escrow) Accounts will protect buyers’ stage payments in independently-held accounts. According to information obtained by Gulf News, escrow accounts in Dubai will be managed by a number of domestic and international financial institutions, all of which will be supervised and monitored by the land department. “We need to determine which banks are in a position to handle this responsibility,” said Thani. An area of concern for many small developers was the stage that funds will be released. Many argued that payments held in accounts pending full completion of a project would create significant cash flow problems. According to Thani, the funds will be released in stages depending on the stage of project completion. Meanwhile, the release of the Condominium Law will also pave the way for a by-law to be signed on the rights and responsibilities of owners associations. Figures: Transactions double The value of land transactions in Dubai has doubled, according to figures released by Dubai Land Department. Transactions worth Dh8 billion were made In the first quarter of 2006 compared to Dh16 billion in the same quarter this year. – R.D.

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UAE creates team to fight cyber crime

Dubai: The UAE government yesterday said it would begin tackling internet crime head on with the formation of a new task force. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said it is creating a UAE Computer Emergency Response Team (aeCERT) for the detection and prevention of cyber crime in the country. Cyber crimes have wrecked havoc in some countries in recent past, with a breakdown in IT infrastructure and resulting in loss of valuable data. “Instead of reacting to virus attacks or hackers, we’re now taking action,” a TRA spokesperson told Gulf News. Mohammad Al Ganem, TRA director-general, said the project arose out of the need to “safeguard the critical information and communication technology infrastructure residing under the government, business, and education sectors.” Details on the scale and scope of the initiative were scarce yesterday, but Al Ganem said the response team would serve as a point of contact for incident reporting in the country, and also collaborate with international cyber crime prevention organisations. aeCERT would present a “proactive and structured approach” in deterring future cyber security incidents and raise the profile of IT security in the country, he added. New laws Al Ganem also raised the prospect that the team would help draft new laws governing internet crime. “The aeCERT will, no doubt, enhance the cyber security law and assist in the creation of new laws,” he said. The move comes a month after the TRA said it discovered an internet crime ring running fake financial services sites that sought to defraud unsuspecting UAE victims. This year the government also counteracted many attacks, mainly website defacement and phishing attacks, the TRA said. Web security professionals hailed the move as a positive step forward in protecting against an increasingly global array of threats. “Anyone using the internet is vulnerable to attack if they are not using the proper protection tools,” said Patrick Hayati, regional managing director for internet security firm McAfee. “There are two ways to fight cyber crime. One is to have the right tools in place to prevent attacks, and the other is to catch the bad guys and remove them from circulation. The TRA team will help with the latter.” Hayati also expressed his desire for the new team to begin recommending guidelines to educate companies on the necessary level of threat protection.