23 November 2008

* Dubai in UAE talks over state funds

Dubai is in talks with the United Arab Emirates government over a loan facility that would make state funds available to companies as international sources of capital dry up.
The plan, one of several options under discussion by the authorities, would draw on support from the cash-rich federal government, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi, the capital that also owns 90 per cent of UAE oil wealth.
Dubai, which derives its wealth from its role as a port and trading centre, is at the tail end of almost a decade of strong growth but now faces declining real estate and stock markets, clogged credit markets and a collapse of oil prices, the main barometer of the region's economic health.
The emirate's ability to engineer a soft landing is vital for companies betting on the Gulf as a heaven of stability and a source of growth amid the global downturn.
The plan, which could be unveiled next week, would establish a facility for state-owned companies similar to a Dh120bn ($33bn, €26bn, £22bn) liquidity package for UAE banks announced in October.
According to officials in Dubai, the terms of the facility have yet to be defined but it would be likely to lend to companies that need help refinancing existing debt.
The economic crisis has highlighted the inter-dependence of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, and the crucial role of the federal government, which has at times been overshadowed by the rivalry between the trade and commerce hub of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the oil town that now has its own ambitions to diversify its economy away from oil.
Concern over Dubai's high level of debt has fuelled talk that stakes in companies will be sold to Abu Dhabi. Fitch Rating Agency says Dubai's debt is at $70bn, more than 100 per cent of gross domestic product.
Citi said Dubai's exposure to real estate and debt made it the Gulf economy most vulnerable to the global economic downturn. The bank expects consolidation among Dubai's state-owned companies, rather than significant financial aid from Abu Dhabi, but says it will "pull through with some help".
Dubai officials insist that the emirate has enough internal cash resources to refinance the more than $20bn worth of debt due over the next couple of years. But merging Dubai companies or launching initial public offerings to raise cash, are also options being explored.
Dubai has also set up a high-level committee to steer the emirate through the crisis, and is expected to introduce measures to reassure investors in the property market, which is beginning to decline after years of steep price increases. 


(zawya)



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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.