AT A GLANCE

Maliki nominates 6 new ministers

BAGHDAD  (AFP) —  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri  Al Maliki on Thursday nominated ministers for six Cabinet seats that  loyalists of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr vacated six weeks  ago. The move is widely viewed as a way of recasting the national government along more technocratic lines after a year of political gridlock and party infighting prevented it from reining in the country’s spiralling chaos. In a speech before announcing the six names Maliki insisted that the nominees were independent technocrats, in order to “confirm that the formation of the government is based on democracy and  professionalism”. The nominees appear to be independent technocrats chosen for their experience, a departure from their predecessors who were selected from Surd’s political bloc in order to cement a ruling coalition. Parliamentarians will listen to the nominees recite their CVs and answer questions before reconvening on Sunday to vote on them. Sadr’s ministers withdrew from the government on April 16 in response to Maliki’s refusal to back a timeline for the departure of US forces from the country. The nominees are Ali Al Bahadli (agriculture), Dr Sabah Rasul  Sadeq (health), Amer Abdel Jabbar Ismail (transport), Thamer Jaafar  Mohammad Zubaidi (civil society), Dr Kholud Sami Azar Al Maajun  (provincial affairs) and Zuhair Mohammad Ridha Sharba (tourism).

Egypt grants licence to new political party

CAIRO (Reuters) —  Egyptian authorities agreed on Thursday to license a political party led by a prominent defector from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak. The party affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, which grants legal recognition to political parties, approved an application from a group of politicians who call themselves the Democratic Front. One of the leaders is Osama Al Ghazali Harb, an academic, intellectual and writer who left the ruling party in 2006 because he said it was not committed to political reform. Harb was a member of the party’s policies council which had more than 100 members. After resigning, he said the party leadership gave little weight to the council’s opinions. He remains a presidentially appointed member of the upper house of parliament, known as the Shoura Council. Another prominent member of the new party is Yahya Al Gamal, a minister of social affairs in the 1970s and a well-known leftist who began his political life as an Arab nationalist. The Democratic Front is Egypt’s 24th political party and joins a long list of similar parties which advocate political reforms and liberal policies.

Jordan-Palestinian confederation would improve peace prospects — Netanyahu

LONDON (AFP) — A federation or confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians would improve the prospects for peace in the Middle East, Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview published on Thursday. Speaking to the Financial Times from Jerusalem, Netanyahu, who is the leader of the Likud Party, also rejected a peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia that was re-affirmed by the Arab League in March. “Some kind of federation or confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians” would enhance peace prospects in the region, Netanyahu said. He used the specific example of “tackling a major problem the Palestinians have, which is instituting law and order in their own cities and streets and preventing the spillage of violence into their own homes and ours.” According to the FT, however, both Jordan and the Palestinians have rejected the idea. Netanyahu went on to reject an Arab peace proposal as “traditional Arab demands” for Israel to return to “indefensible [pre-] Six-Day War lines [of 1967] and be prepared to negotiate on its own dissolution, on the so-called right of return of the so-called Arab refugees and that’s not helpful”.

Egyptian court sentences two gang leaders to death for murder, rape of 20 street children

CAIRO  (AP) — An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced to death two gang leaders who had confessed to the murder and rape of 20 street children, court officials

said. Ringleaders Ramadan Abdel Rehim Mansour, known as Al Tourbini, and Farag Samir Mahmoud, known as Hanata, were convicted and sentenced by the criminal court in Tanta, 90 kilometres north of Cairo.  Turbini, 27, and Hanata, 25, were also found guilty of illegal possession of weapons. The case has shocked Egypt since it was first revealed by reports in an independent daily last October. The Tanta court adjourned the case till June 20, when it will rule on five other defendants in the case. The gang leaders are said to have committed their crimes in a period of five years.

Cairo airport customs seize man trying to smuggle 700 live snakes onto plane

CAIRO (AP) — Customs officers at the Cairo international airport on Thursday detained a man they caught trying to smuggle 700 live snakes onto a plane bound for  Saudi Arabia, airport officials said. The officers were stunned when a passenger, identified as Yahia Rahim Tulba, after being asked to open his carry-on bag, told them it contained live snakes. Tulba opened his bag to show the snakes to the police but asked the officers, who held a safe distance, not to come close. Among the various snakes, hidden in small cloth sacks, were two poisonous cobras. The wannabe smuggler said he had hoped to take the snakes into Saudi Arabia and sell them there. Police confiscated the snakes and turned Tulba over to the prosecutor’s office, accusing him of violating export laws and endangering the lives of other passengers.

Moroccan Islamist group to boycott elections

RABAT (AFP) —  An influential Moroccan Islamic association will boycott September’s legislative elections and will not support the main Islamic opposition party, a member said in comments published on Thursday. “The elections are not transparent,” Omar Iherchan, a member of the political arm of Al Adl Wal Ihssane (justice and charity), told Moroccan weekly Assahifa. He said the September 7 elections would not give his group the measure of political representation equal to its influence and credibility. And he said members of his association would not vote for  candidates of the PJD, which has around 40 lawmakers in the 325-seat parliament. The Islamist group is considered the most influential of the north African country’s Islamic groups. It regularly reiterates its opposition to violence and is officially recognised and tolerated by Morocco’s secular authorities.

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