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Pakistan removed from global watchdog’s ‘grey’ list for terrorism financing



(Last Updated On: October 22, 2022)

Pakistan has been taken off an international grey list that warrants increased surveillance for terrorism financing, the head of the international money laundering watchdog which makes the list said on Friday.

The decision, which provides a boost to the reputation of the crisis-ridden South Asian nation, was taken at the end of a two-day meeting in Paris, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) president T Raja Kumar told a news conference, Reuters reported.

“After a lot of work by the Pakistani authorities, they have worked through two separate action plans and completed a combined 34 action items to address deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing systems,” FATF president T Raja Kumar told a news conference in Paris.

In a meeting in June, the FATF had said it was keeping Pakistan on the so-called “grey list”, but said it might be removed after an on-site visit to verify progress.

Kumar said a FATF team had visited Pakistan and was satisfied with the implementation of the programme.

“Pakistan exiting the FATF grey list is a vindication of our determined and sustained efforts over the years,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Twitter.

Pakistan was listed in 2018 because of “strategic counter-terrorist financing-related deficiencies”.

Even though the country had been removed from list, “there is work to be done,” Raja said, adding that the FATF encouraged Pakistan to strengthen its monitoring mechanisms.

With its removal from the list, Pakistan would essentially receive a reputational boost and get a clean bill of health from the international community on terrorist financing.

It would also improve sentiment, important from a foreign direct investment perspective.

Recent widespread floods in Pakistan have further weakened the country’s economy, already in turmoil with a rising current account deficit, inflation above 20% and a sharp depreciation of the rupee currency.


Oil prices rise as Russia fuel export ban stokes supply concerns



(Last Updated On: September 22, 2023)

Oil prices rose on Friday as renewed global supply concerns from Russia’s fuel export ban counteracted fears that slowing economies and high interest rates could crimp demand, Reuters reported.

Brent futures were up 78 cents, or 0.84%, at $94.08 a barrel by 1443 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) futures rose by $1.02, or 1.14%, to $90.65 a barrel.

For the week, both benchmarks were relatively flat, after rising more than 10% in the previous three weeks on concerns about tight global supply.

Russia’s Transneft suspended deliveries of diesel to the key Baltic and Black Sea terminals of Primorsk and Novorossiysk on Friday, state media agency Tass said.

Russia temporarily banned exports of gasoline and diesel to all countries outside a circle of four ex-Soviet states with immediate effect to stabilise the domestic fuel market, the government said on Thursday, without a specified end date.

The ban will “bring new uncertainty into an already tight global refined product supply picture and the prospect that the impacted countries will be seeking to bid up cargoes from alternative suppliers,” RBC said in a note.

Russian wholesale gasoline prices were down nearly 10% and diesel down 7.5% on Friday on the St. Petersburg International Mercantile Exchange, read the report.

But macroeconomic headwinds continue to weigh on oil demand sentiment.

“It is signals on the demand side that are mainly likely to affect oil prices in the short term,” Commerzbank analysts said in a note.

The euro zone economy is likely to contract in the third quarter, according to Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data released on Friday.

A contraction in UK economic activity deepened further in September compared to August, additional PMI data showed.

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday maintained interest rates, but stiffened its hawkish stance, buoying fears that higher rates could dampen economic growth.

“Progress on inflation is likely to be slow given the current level of monetary policy restraint,” Fed Governor Michelle Bowman said on Friday. “Energy prices could rise further and reverse some of the progress we have seen,” she added.

U.S. offline refinery capacity was expected to reach 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) this week according to IIR Energy versus 800,000 bpd offline last week.

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Azerbaijan halts Karabakh offensive after ceasefire deal with Armenian separatists



(Last Updated On: September 21, 2023)

Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had halted military action in its breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after its battlefield success forced Armenian separatist forces to agree to a ceasefire that will see the area fully return to Baku’s control, Reuters reported.

Under the agreement, outlined by Azerbaijan and the Russian Defence Ministry, which has peacekeepers on the ground, separatist forces are meant to disband and disarm, while talks on the future of ethnic Armenians who live there are due to start on Thursday.

In a speech to the nation on Wednesday evening, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Baku had restored its sovereignty “with an iron fist” in a 24-hour offensive by troops backed by artillery strikes that brought the breakaway region to heel.

He said Armenian forces had begun handing over their weapons and leaving, and that Karabakh’s 120,000 Armenians would be able to take part in Azerbaijani elections, receive state education, and freely practice their Christianity in his Muslim-majority nation.

“We will turn Karabakh into paradise,” said Aliyev, who said he was a man of his word.

Karabakh, a mountainous area in the volatile wider South Caucasus region, is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory, but part of it has been run by separatist Armenian authorities since a war that ended in the early 1990s.

Armenians claim a long historical dominance in the area, which they call Artsakh. Azerbaijan links its historical identity to the territory too.

Fearful of what the future might hold, thousands of Armenians massed at the airport in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh known as Khankendi by Azeris. Others took shelter with Russian peacekeepers in the hope of being flown out.

As Karabakh has been the focus of two wars since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, many of its Armenians deeply distrust Azerbaijan. Neighbouring Armenia has accused Baku of trying to ethnically cleanse the territory, something Baku denies.

“They are basically saying to us that we need to leave, not stay here, or accept that this is a part of Azerbaijan – this is basically a typical ethnical cleansing operation,” Ruben Vardanyan, a former top official in Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian administration, told Reuters.

Another separatist Armenian official said at least 200 people had been killed in the fighting and more than 400 wounded. He said 10 of those killed were civilians, of whom five were children. Reuters could not verify his assertion.

The victory for Azerbaijan, whose forces far outnumbered the separatists and which is backed by Turkey, could cause political turmoil in neighbouring Armenia, where some political forces are angry that the government was unable to do more to protect the Karabakh Armeniansm, read the report.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is already facing calls from some opponents to resign and thousands of protesters gathered in the Armenian capital on Wednesday evening to demand that the government do more for the Karabakh Armenians.

Some of them yelled “Nikol is a traitor!”.

Others are furious that Russia, which has peacekeepers on the ground and helped broker an earlier ceasefire deal in 2020 following a 44-day war, did not stop Azerbaijan.

The Kremlin rejected that criticism on Wednesday and President Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying that Russian peacekeepers, some of whom were killed on Wednesday when their car was shot at, would protect Karabakh’s civilian population, Reuters reported.

But Moscow has not criticised Baku. Describing a phone call between Putin and Pashinyan, the Kremlin said Putin “noted with satisfaction that it was possible to overcome the acute phase of the conflict, and welcomed the agreement … on a complete cessation of hostilities and the holding of negotiations on Sept. 21”.

Separatists running the self-styled “Republic of Artsakh” said they had been forced to agree to Azerbaijan’s terms – relayed by Russian peacekeepers – after Baku’s army broke through their lines and seized strategic locations.

Azerbaijan had said it could no longer tolerate a situation it regarded as a threat to its security and territorial sovereignty.

Separatist fighters were expected to leave Karabakh for Armenia after handing over their tanks and artillery to Russian peacekeepers, though some of them figure on an Azerbaijani wanted list and are likely to be arrested.

Armenia, which says it has no forces in Karabakh despite Azerbaijani assertions, did not intervene militarily – something that Aliyev said he appreciated.

It was unclear how many ethnic Armenians would opt to stay in Karabakh, Reuters reported.

Russia’s defence ministry, which has thousands of peacekeepers on the ground, broadcast footage of Karabakh Armenians being given temporary shelter at a makeshift Russian military facility.

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovhannissyan told Reuters that Karabakh Armenians could “in an ideal world” live under Azerbaijani rule but that historical experience made it hard to imagine.

Azerbaijan’s military operation had faced sharp criticism from the United States and some European countries.

They said the Karabakh problem should have been solved through talks and that Baku’s actions were worsening an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground following a nine-month blockade of the area by Azerbaijan that caused acute shortages of food and other staples.

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Azerbaijan pounds Karabakh as Russia and US call for calm



(Last Updated On: September 20, 2023)

Azerbaijan on Wednesday pounded Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region controlled by ethnic Armenians, despite calls from Russia and the United States for both sides to halt a spiral into war.

Azerbaijan began its “anti-terrorist” operation on Tuesday against Nagorno-Karabakh after some of its troops were killed in what Baku said were attacks from the mountainous region. Karabakh is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Karabakh was being shelled intensively in an attempt to provoke a war. He demanded that Russian peacekeepers do their job and warned that unidentified forces were talking about a coup in Yerevan, Reuters reported.

Ethnic Armenians in Karabakh said Azerbaijan had triggered a new war against the 120,000 people living in an area they consider their homeland. Nearby Turkey backed Azerbaijan, with which it has strong linguistic, cultural and economic ties.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to “immediately cease hostilities” and told Pashinyan that Washington supported Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russia – distracted by the war in Ukraine – also called for calm but some Russian officials scolded Armenia for flirting with the West and said this could lead to serious problems.

“We urge the conflicting parties to immediately stop the bloodshed, stop hostilities and eliminate civilian casualties,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its Telegram messaging platform.

Another war in the former Soviet Union could disrupt the geopolitical balance in the South Caucasus, an area where Russia, the United States, Turkey and Iran are jostling for influence.

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