Tracking cookies

To make our website even easier and more personal, we use cookies (and similar techniques). With these cookies we and third parties can collect information about you and monitor your internet behavior within (and possibly also outside) our website. If you agree with this, we will place these tracking cookies.

Yes, I give permissionNo thanks

Saudi Arabia is flooded with drugs and Japan collects nuclear power plants

5-9-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

Reuters: The gas war is in full swing

European gas prices rocketed as much as 30% higher on Monday after Russia said one of its main gas supply pipelines to Europe would stay shut indefinitely, stoking renewed fears about shortages and gas rationing in the European Union this winter.

The benchmark gas price surged as high as 272 euros per megawatt hour (MWh) when the market opened after Russia said on Friday that a leak in Nord Stream 1 pipeline equipment meant it would stay shut beyond last week's three-day maintenance halt.

This year's price surge has squeezed struggling already consumers and forced some industries to halt production.

Europe has accused Russia of weaponising energy supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. Russia says the West has launched an economic war and sanctions have hampered pipeline operations.

The Nord Stream pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany, historically supplied about a third of the gas Russia exported to Europe but it was already running at just 20% of capacity before flows were halted last week for maintenance.

Russian gas being supplied via Ukraine, another major route, has also been reduced, leaving the EU racing to find alternative supplies to refill gas storage facilities for winter. Several states have trigger emergency plans that could lead to energy rationing and raising prospects for a recession.

"Supply is hard to come by, and it becomes harder and harder to replace every bit of gas that doesn't come from Russia," said Jacob Mandel, senior associate for commodities at Aurora Energy Research.

Sky-high power costs have already forced some energy-hungry industries, including fertiliser and aluminium makers, to scale back production, and led EU governments to pump billions of euros into schemes to help households.

EU countries' energy ministers are due to meet on Sept. 9 to discuss options to rein in soaring energy prices including gas price caps and emergency credit lines for energy market participants, a document seen by Reuters showed.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Sunday that Germany, the EU's economic power house and Europe’s largest gas consumer, had been preparing for a total halt in gas deliveries.

Germany is at phase two of a three-stage emergency gas plan. Phase three would see some industry rationing.

In its race for alternative gas supplies, Germany is rapidly installing temporary liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals to enable it to receive gas from producers further afield, and it is planning to build permanent LNG facilities.

Norway, a major European gas producer, has also been pumping more fuel into European markets.

But the global market for LNG was already tight as the world economy sucked up supplies in the recovery from the pandemic, even before the Ukraine crisis added to challenge.

Klaus Mueller, president of Germany's Federal Network Agency energy regulator, said in August that even if Germany's gas stores were 100% full, they would be empty in 2-1/2 months if Russian gas flows were halted completely.

Germany's storage facilities are now about 85% full, while facilities across Europe hit an 80% target last week.

Although Russian gas has still flowed to Europe via Ukraine, albeit at reduced levels, analysts said those supplies could also become a casualty of the conflict.

"We're shifting focus to the (gas) ... that continues to flow to Europe through Ukraine," James Huckstepp, EMEA gas analyst at S&P Global Platts, said in a Twitter post, adding it was "only a matter of time..." before those faced disruptions.

CNN: Saudi Arabia is becoming the drug capital of the Middle East

A grisly drug-induced homicide captivated the media in Saudi Arabia this April, when a man in the country's Eastern Province set his family house on fire before iftar, the meal that ends the Ramadan fast. Four members of his family were killed.

Police said he was under the influence of shabu, a methamphetamine, according to local papers.

Saudi media has been sounding the alarm lately over the rise in drug use, with one columnist describing shipments of narcotics to the kingdom as an "open war against us, more dangerous than any other war."

On Wednesday, Saudi authorities announced the largest seizure of illicit drugs in the country's history after nearly 47 million amphetamine pills were hidden in a flour shipment and seized at a warehouse in the capital Riyadh.

The record seizure demonstrates what experts say is Saudi Arabia's growing role as the drug capital of the Middle East, driving demand and becoming the primary destination for smugglers from Syria and Lebanon.

The kingdom, they say, is one of the largest and most lucrative regional destinations for drugs, and that status is only intensifying.

Wednesday's operation was the biggest single smuggling attempt in terms of narcotics seized, according to the General Directorate of Narcotics Control. While authorities didn't name the drug seized or where it came from, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has previously said that "reports of amphetamine seizures from countries in the Middle East continue to refer predominantly to tablets bearing the Captagon logo."

Captagon was originally the brand name for a medicinal product containing the synthetic stimulant fenethylline. Though it is no longer produced legally, counterfeit drugs carrying the captagon name are regularly seized in the Middle East, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Drug busts of captagon in Saudi Arabia and around the region have grown over time. Earlier this week, A US Coast Guard boat seized 320 kilograms of amphetamine tablets and almost 3,000 kilograms of hashish worth millions of dollars from a fishing boat in the Gulf of Oman.

The drug was popularized in the kingdom some 15 years ago but has taken off more intensely in the past five years, "perhaps becoming on par with cannabis," according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, who has written on the topic.

Saudi Arabia's Center for International Communication didn't respond to CNN's request for comment.

Captagon can be sold for between $10 and $25 a pill, meaning the latest Saudi haul, if it was the same drug, has a street value of up to $1.1 billion, based on figures from the International Addiction Review journal.

"Captagon's amphetamine-type properties are sought out as a coping mechanism that can aid users facing food insecurity in staving hunger, and inducing a euphoric 'rush' that users have said to help with traumatic stress," said Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at the New Lines Institute in Washington, D.C. who has studied the captagon trade.

While hashish and khat are also common drugs in the kingdom, amphetamines are popular among Saudi youth.

"In wealthier consumer markets, the drug has a different appeal, serving as a recreational activity amongst its growing youth population that, despite social reforms... have reportedly struggled with boredom amidst widespread youth unemployment and a lack of opportunities for leisurely activities," said Rose. "Some consumers have justified captagon as less of a taboo substance, compared to 'harder' drugs like opiates and cocaine."

Since many young people in Saudi Arabia have been taking drugs as a result of boredom and lack of social opportunities, the increased freedoms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could help reduce some of that use, said Felbab-Brown.

Over the past few years, a number of drug rehabilitation centers have popped up across the kingdom after the government began licensing private establishments.

Khalid Al Mashari, the CEO of Qaweem, one of the first such centers to open, says around four or five have opened in the past two years. That's a testament to the government's recognition of the importance of rehabilitation, he says, but it also shows that the problem is on the rise.

"We're in high demand, unfortunately," he told CNN. "But at least people have an option now, instead of having to go to neighboring countries to seek treatment."

Despite the presence of rehabilitation centers, Rose says there is little public health messaging or campaigning to raise awareness about captagon.

"While this taboo regarding drug consumption in the kingdom is not going anywhere, the government's tendency to exclusively securitize this issue and downplay its role as a destination market will be harder to ignore," she said.

Felbab-Brown says drug policies in the Middle East have focused on the harshest of responses.

"Unlike large parts of the world [that] have walked away from such rigid and mostly ineffective or outright counterproductive policies, the Middle East has often doubled down on them," she said. "Imprisoning users is ineffective and counterproductive."

The Guardian: Legally Blonde: Liz Truss is the new UK premier

Liz Truss will become Britain’s next prime minister after beating Rishi Sunak in the bitterly fought Conservative leadership contest.

Photo: Getty Images

The foreign secretary, who won 81,326 votes (57.4%) of Tory members to the former chancellor’s 60,399 (42.6%), takes over from Boris Johnson, who was ousted by his own MPs earlier this summer.

But the euphoria of victory will quickly give way to the hard reality of the economic challenges ahead, with the country gripped by a cost of living crisis leaving families struggling to pay their energy bills this winter.

Truss has said she will reveal plans to support households within a week of taking office, with allies understood to be discussing a £100bn package that could include freezing energy bills. She has already pledged to reverse a national insurance rise even though it disproportionately benefits the well-off.

Truss promised a “bold plan” to cut taxes and grow the economy and said that she would “deal with” soaring energy bills as well as longer-term energy supply, but gave no further detail on how she would do so.

Britain’s fourth Tory prime minister in six years declared “we will deliver, we will deliver and we will deliver” on the many challenges facing her government, including the state of the NHS.

Significantly, Truss appeared to rule out a snap general election, telling the audience in central London that she would “deliver a great victory for the Conservative party in 2024”.

She added: “I know that our beliefs resonate with the British people: our beliefs in freedom, in the ability to control your own life, in low taxes, in personal responsibility.

“I know that’s why people voted for us in such numbers in 2019 and as your party leader I intend to deliver what we promised those voters right across our great country.”

Truss also praised the outgoing prime minister, saying he was admired “from Kyiv to Carlisle”, perhaps unaware that the Tories lost the council covering Carlisle to Labour in May.

After her speech, she was planning to go out for a victory lunch with her husband, Hugh O’Leary, and her closest aides. with her work as prime minister starting on Tuesday.

An emergency budget is expected within the first month to set out how she will bolster the economy amid sustained low growth, soaring inflation, flatlining wages and the very real prospect of recession.

Her political honeymoon is likely to be short-lived, with an over-flowing in-tray of thorny issues including the prospect of an autumn of strikes, the NHS and ambulance services on their knees, the conflict in Ukraine showing no sign of easing and an ongoing row with Brussels over how to implement Brexit in Northern Ireland.

New prime minister inherits a deeply divided party lagging behind in the polls after a contest in which both campaigns traded bitter personal attacks, and a vacuum at the top of government at a time when the public was looking for reassurance, leaving senior Tories fearing lasting damage to their electoral prospects.

Johnson will tender his resignation to the Queen at Balmoral on Tuesday with Truss visiting the monarch at her Highland residence shortly afterwards for her appointment to be confirmed.

She will then travel back to London, where she is expected to address the nation in a speech outside No 10 Downing Street, before putting the finishing touches to her first cabinet.

Truss, who will become Britain’s third female prime minister, is expected to appoint Kwasi Kwarteng as her chancellor, with James Cleverly as foreign secretary and Suella Braverman home secretary. Her old friend Thérèse Coffey could take over at the Department of Health, while Brandon Lewis has been tipped for the Ministry of Justice.

Sunak is not expected to take a ministerial job, with allies saying he is preparing to wait in the wings until history proves Truss wrong on her plans to cut taxes rather than first getting inflation under control. He has not ruled out standing in a future Tory leadership contest.

The new cabinet will meet for the first time on Wednesday morning before Truss, who has channelled Margaret Thatcher and pitched to the right during the leadership contest, faces the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, for her first prime minister’s questions.

CNBC: Japan is willing to take a risk in betting on nuclear power

Nuclear power will be key for Japan’s energy security as the country targets carbon neutrality, said Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura.

Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura
Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

“I believe that nuclear power is important as we work towards carbon neutrality while ensuring energy security. We are in the direction of planning to increase the overall dependency level in nuclear energy,” Nishimura told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro on the sidelines of the G-20 ministers’ meeting in Indonesia on Saturday.

Nuclear power has often been touted as an important option for decarbonization. In May, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the country will take steps to restart idled nuclear power plants in efforts to stabilize energy supply and prices.

Nishimura added that Japan has secured 10 plants for reactivation and is working toward reactivating seven more starting next year.

The minister emphasized the importance of safety while acknowledging the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident, when a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

“The price of natural gas and the price of energy are soaring internationally… the energy market is tight,” Nishimura said. On Friday, Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom said it would indefinitely halt gas flows to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, citing the need for additional repairs.

“If Japan reactivates one nuclear plant, it produces 1 million tons’ worth of energy, making it possible for Japan to have secure energy and potentially be self-sufficient,” Nishimura added.

Japan currently depends on imports for 94% of its energy supply.

The G-7 countries on Friday agreed to impose a cap on Russia’s oil prices to reduce funds flowing into Moscow’s war chest and bring down the cost of oil for consumers.

When asked about the price cap, Nishimura said he is balancing a few considerations:

“We would like to consider the establishment of a stable crude oil market, and also a stable supply and security of crude oil imports to Japan, and while taking this into account, continue to cooperate with the G-7 countries.”

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva