21 Jan 2021

Egypt, Qatar Announce Resumption of Diplomatic Ties

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Egypt's MOFA (courtesy of SIS)

Egypt and Qatar have agreed on the resumption of diplomatic ties between the two nations, the Egyptian foreign ministry announced on Wednesday.

The ministry said Cairo and Doha have exchanged on Wednesday two official memoranda in which they agreed on the restoration of diplomatic relations.

The decision comes few weeks after Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain ended a three-and-a-half-year rift with Qatar, announcing a full restoration of ties with Doha upon signing a Riyadh-based reconciliation declaration.

A boycott was imposed on Qatar by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, starting mid-2017 on accusations of supporting terrorism, which Qatar denied.

Egypt announced the reopening of its airspace to flights from Qatar on January 12, officially lifting travel restrictions imposed since the summer of 2017.

Flights have been resumed by both countries' airlines ever since.

Two Egyptian intelligence sources told Reuters on Wednesday that the Qatari foreign ministry pledged in a meeting earlier this week with Egyptian and Emirati security officials Doha's non-interference in Cairo's domestic affairs. This was one of the Egyptian authorities' main demands to restore ties with Qatar. 

The sources added that the Qatari official also pledged a shift of orientation by Qatar's Al-Jazeera television channel and other Qatari media outlets towards Egypt.

They also agreed on economic cooperation and holding several meetings on outstanding issues, including Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt and has long been backed by Qatar.

One of the sources said the adjudicators had approved the restoration of diplomatic ties between Cairo and Doha "under probation," with the Qatari official expressing his country's desire to restore normal relations between all five nations.


Economics

Egypt Could Recover to Pre-COVID-19 Growth Levels in FY2021/22: Minister

Egypt is the only country in the Middle East that could rebound to pre-coronavirus growth, as it is expected to register 5.5 percent in the coming fiscal year, according to Standard Chartered forecasts cited by Finance Minister Mohamed Maait yesterday.

Egypt's economic growth dropped to 3.5 percent in the elapsed fiscal year as an impact of the coronavirus, compared with 5.6 percent in 2018/2019.

Standard Chartered also expected Egypt to become one of the world's ten strongest economies in 2030, where it is projected to move from the 21st rank to the seventh.

In October, the World Bank expected Egypt's economic growth to hit 2.3 percent in the current fiscal year and 5.8 percent in the following fiscal year 2021/2022, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expected a growth of 2.8 percent in the current fiscal year.

The IMF also projected earlier this month that Egypt's economic growth will register 5.5 percent in the fiscal years 2021/2022 and 2022/2023.

Maait told Bloomberg in December that Egypt's economic growth is projected between 2.8 to 4 percent in the current fiscal year and 5.5 to 6.5 percent in the fiscal year 2021/2022.

Oil Prices Rise on Inauguration Day as Markets Eye Stimulus Package

Oil prices rose on US President Joe Biden's inauguration day, as the market expects a big stimulus package from the new US administration.

International benchmark Brent oil gained 18 cents to close at $56.08 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled at $53.24 a barrel, climbing 26 cents.

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Nominee Janet Yellen told the Senate Finance Committee that the US should "act big" with regard to the upcoming stimulus package, especially when it comes to pandemic relief spending.

"There's renewed hopes about the stimulus - there's just a good mood in the markets overall, a sense of moving forward and that demand is going to be picking up," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

Stock Market

EGX30 Gains for 3rd Straight Day

The benchmark EGX30 index climbed 0.98 percent on Wednesday to settle at 11,598.9 points, its third consecutive gain during this week.

The EGX30's turnover hit EGP 811.86 million ($51.57 million), and its heaviest constituent, the Commercial International Bank (CIB), rose 0.85 percent to EGP 63.85.

The Eastern Company gained 2.18 percent to reach EGP 14.53 ($0.92), EFG Hermes advanced 1.21 percent to EGP 15.95, and Elsewedy Electric went up 1.05 percent to EGP 10.57.

Talaat Moustafa Group increased 0.97 percent to EGP 7.25 ($0.46), while Telecom Egypt saw no change at EGP 11.79.

The broader EGX70 EWI rose 1.06 percent to settle at 2,302.85 points.

Net purchases by Egyptian investors reached EGP 28.15 million ($1.79 million), while net sales by foreign and Arab investors stood at EGP 15.6 million and EGP 12.55 million, respectively.

EFG Hermes Closes $11 Mn Short-Term Securitization Issuance for Premium International

EFG Hermes announced the completion of the fourth short-term securitization issuance worth EGP 170 million ($10.79 million) for Premium International for Credit Services, consisting of a single ten-month tranche, according to a statement on Wednesday.

"This is the first issuance this year and the fourth in the two-year program, which is the first short-term securitization program in Egypt under the new Short-Term Debt Instrument decree (STDI) no. 172 of 2018," EFG Hermes stated.

The third EGP 160 million ($10.16 million) issuance closed in September 2020, it added.

The EGP 170 million ($10.79 million) issuance has received a Prime 1 Rating from Middle East Ratings and Investor Services (MERIS) "making it one of the highest rated bond issuances in the Egyptian market."

EFG Hermes acted as the sole financial adviser, sole transaction manager and book-runner, underwriter and arranger.

"We're very proud to be paving the way for growth in the securitization market, an asset class that has come into increased focus as of late," Mostafa Gad, co-head of investment banking at EFG Hermes, said.

Netflix Share Touches Its Highest in Over Four Years

Netflix share soared 18 percent on Wednesday, its highest since October 2016, to trade at $593.29 before slightly capping its gains and closing the day 16.85 percent up at $586.34.

The hike builds up on Tuesday's gains, when the world’s largest streaming service announced that it plans to be cash-flow neutral during this year and cash-flow positive for every year after 2021.

"We believe we no longer have a need to raise external financing for our day-to-day operations," the company said.

It also said that it will consider stock buybacks, after its revenue jumped 30.6 percent year on year in the fourth quarter of 2020 to $6.64 billion, compared with $5.47 billion in the same year-ago period.

Benefiting from worldwide lockdowns and other pandemic-curbing measures that have forced millions to spend more time at home, Netflix announced on Tuesday that global subscribers to its streaming service totaled 203.7 million -- surpassing the 200 million threshold for the first time -- after 8.5 million subscribers joined in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Science and Technology

Crédit Agricole, Dsquares to Launch 1st Reward Program to Allow Online Point Redemption

Crédit Agricole Egypt has signed a cooperation protocol with loyalty solution provider Dsquares to design technological solutions for the new loyalty program Happy Points. 

The new program will reward a larger number of customers than others as it will include transactions through cards of all types or the bank's digital services.

Customers who subscribe to this program can choose their rewards digitally through the online banking service or the mobile application.

The program includes more than 70 partners who own more than 800 stores. Point redemption is calculated digitally without visiting bank branches or obtaining coupons.

"The launch of the new rewards program in cooperation with Dsquares is a new step towards the bank's digital transformation strategy with the aim of achieving customer comfort and satisfaction, which is the bank's top priority," said Walie Lotfy, Deputy Managing Director of Credit Agricole Egypt. 

Business

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Ahmed El Wakil, President of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce

Juhanya Accepts Resignation of Safwan Thabet as Chair Following His Arrest

Juhayna Food Industries board has accepted the resignation of Safwan Thabet as executive chairman and co-CEO of the company, following his detention in December on charges of joining an outlawed group and financing terrorism.

On December 8, Juhayna's board named Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed El Dogheim as Thabet's successor.

Juhanya's board also appointed yesterday Ahmed El Wakil as an independent, non-executive board member.

El Wakil is currently the president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to that, El Wakil was the president of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce and a board member of the Internal Trade Development Authority (ITDA) and the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI).

In addition, Juhanya's board asked the company's general assembly to vote on the addition of two independent board members.

Shell Acquires Oil, Gas Exploration Concession in Red Sea's Block 4

Shell Egypt has acquired an oil and gas exploration concession in the offshore Block 4 in the Red Sea, which is owned by South Valley Egyptian Petroleum Holding Company (Ganope), under an agreement signed with Egypt's petroleum ministry yesterday.

As per the agreement, Shell will own 63 percent of the concession for the 3,084 square kilometer block, while UAE's Mubadala Petroleum will own 27 percent and Tharwa Petroleum Company will own 10 percent.

In related news, Petroleum Minister Tarek El-Molla said that Egypt would launch more international bids for oil and gas exploration in the Red Sea shortly after it begins the second phase of seismic reflection in the region.

In December 2019, Egypt awarded oil and gas exploration concessions in the Red Sea to Chevron, Shell and Mubadala in its first international tender in the region after demarcating the maritime borders with Saudi Arabia in 2017.

Moreover, Alaa El Batal, chairman of Ganope, announced that 11 exploration wells are planned to be drilled in the coming 2021/2022 fiscal year with more than $37 million worth of investments.

UK Approves $2.3 Bn Financing to Bombardier Consortium for Egypt's Monorail Project

The UK Export Finance (UKEF) will provide £1.7 billion ($2.3 billion) in financing to a consortium led by Bombardier Transportation for its mega monorails project in Egypt, according to a statement by the British embassy in Cairo,

British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced the government guarantee on Wednesday, the statement added.

This announcement marks the largest financing ever provided by the UKEF for an infrastructure project abroad.

The consortium was awarded the monorail project during the UK-Africa Investment Summit last year. The UKEF guarantee unlocked the funding needed to fulfill the contract and begin production.

One of the new monorail lines will run from Cairo to the New Administrative Capital (NAC), and the other will connect the Giza side of Cairo to 6 October City. 

Bombardier will deliver the NAC monorail within 34 months, which began in August 2019.

The 6 October City monorail will be completed within 42 months, which began in January last year.

Bombardier is awaiting the green light to invest in its manufacturing center in Derbyshire, where the two monorail trains are to be manufactured.

This opportunity would directly secure 100 jobs at the company in UK and others in the country's supply chain.

According to the embassy, the UK-Africa trade relationship was valued at £35 billion ($47.7 billion) in 2019, with an estimated £54 billion of bilateral investment stock.

The UK is the largest foreign direct investor in Egypt to date, the embassy said.

MNHD Records 11% YoY Increase in Contracts, Reservations in 2020

Madinet Nasr Housing and Development (MNHD) said that its contracts and project reservations during the past year amounted to around EGP 7 billion ($444.5 million), an 11.3 percent year-on-year increase, according to a bourse filing.

MNHD added that this growth is the result of strong demand for the Taj City and Sarai projects as well as the sale of various plots.

The value of contracts for the Taj City project amounted to EGP 1.29 billion ($81.9 million) during 2020 and EGP 2.9 billion for the Sarai project.

The company sold two plots in the Taj City project at EGP 1.98 billion ($125.7 million) last year, in addition to other lands worth around EGP 735 million.

Real Estate Demand in Egypt Falls 9% MoM in December: Aqarmap

Real estate demand in Egypt declined 9 percent month on month in December, Aqarmap, an online platform for buying and selling properties, reported yesterday.

Aqarmap said that real estate demand usually retreats during winter, adding that the second wave of the coronavirus will continue to weigh on demand levels even further.

The decrease in demand is expected to persist during the current month, the platform added.

According to Aqarmap, around a million users visit its platform monthly.

Egypt's Manufacturing, Extractive Industries Index Edge Up 0.84% in November

Egypt's index of manufacturing and extractive industries edged up 0.84 percent month on month in November, official statistics body CAPMAS announced on Wednesday.

The index of manufacturing industries, excluding crude oil and petroleum products, reached 97.76 in November, compared with 96.94 in October.

The pharmaceutical and chemical products index rose seven percent in November, reporting 118.43 from 110.69 in October due to increased demand for medications and detergents as an impact of the second wave of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the beverage industry index plunged 31.58 percent month on month in November to 102.77, down from 150.19 in October, as demand dropped on the back of the winter season.

FAB Approves Full Acquisition of Bank Audi's Egyptian Unit

United Arab Emirates' First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) has approved a full acquisition of the Egyptian unit of Lebanon's Bank Audi, becoming one of Egypt's biggest foreign banks by assets.

According to a joint statement by the two banks yesterday, FAB and Bank Audi signed a definitive agreement for the UAE lender's acquisition of 100 percent of the share capital of the Lebanese bank's subsidiary in Egypt.

The agreement comes after finalizing due diligence by FAB, one of the largest banks in the Gulf country, following preliminary approval by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE).

"The transaction is expected to be completed within the next few months, following the satisfaction of customary conditions, including the receipt of regulatory approvals in the UAE and Egypt," the statement read, without disclosing the value of the deal.

This deal marks the first international acquisition by the UAE lender.

It will raise the size and scale of its operations in Egypt, with total assets amounting to over EGP 120 million ($8.1 million).

The sale will contribute to backing Bank Audi Group's capitalization and financial resilience, the statement added.

UBS AG acted as financial adviser to FAB over the sale, while EFG Hermes acted as adviser to Bank Audi.

The deal comes days after Bahrain's Arab Banking Corporation (Bank ABC) approved the acquisition of Lebanon's BLOM Bank subsidiary in Egypt for EGP 6.7 billion ($426.7 million).

In related news, the acquisition of Egypt's Arab Investment Bank (aiBank) is expected to be finalized soon by the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and EFG Hermes, the CEO of the fund Ayman Soliman said in December.

Egypt's SWF and EFG Hermes announced their intention last year to acquire stakes of 25 percent and 51 percent in aiBank, respectively.

Feature

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The Central Bank of Egypt

Egypt's Banks Well-Positioned to Withstand COVID Risk, Yet Profits Remain a Challenge

Egyptian banks are well-positioned to weather the pandemic crisis going into 2021, analysts told Delta Digest, with ongoing central bank initiatives set to aid struggling companies and help maintain the banking sector's strong liquidity -- though profits may continue to be squeezed.  

Both NAEEM Brokerage Head of Research Allen Sandeep and CI Capital Co-Head of Research Monsef Morsy viewed positively the Central Bank of Egypt's (CBE) early January decision to extend initiatives aiding defaulting tourism companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with the impact on banks expected to be minimal given Egypt's robust record on liquidity, both regionally and globally.

"From an overall point of view, of course it's good for SMEs, tourism companies … especially tourism companies that have been burdened by the pandemic," said Sandeep, adding that regarding the risk to banks from defaults and non-performing loans (NPLs), "you're looking at less than 5 percent of total credit, so the stress on the balance sheet is minimal."

Morsy echoed a similar view, saying that the central bank was supporting "the economy, corporates, individuals, everyone, in order to absorb the current implications" of the pandemic, with the extension of debt payment holidays for tourism companies set to benefit the heavily impacted sector in a way that "would not have a major implication when it comes to banks' asset quality."

Meanwhile, Sandeep described the CBE's more recent announcement that banks would be prohibited from distributing dividends and retained earnings to shareholders as a "pre-anticipated safety move" to further cushion banks' liquidity and make sure they are prepared for a worst-case scenario, adding that it was "expected and doesn't come as a complete surprise."

While the CBE said the decision to withhold dividends from bank shareholders came to mitigate uncertainty over outlooks and protect lenders' capital from risk, both Morsy and Sandeep cited banks' need to meet the new minimum EGP 5 billion ($319.3 million) capital requirement as another reason not to distribute profits this year.

Morsy said that although shareholders who had been waiting to receive dividends would receive the news negatively, "from an operational perspective it would be helpful for banks to retain 100 percent of their profits and retained earnings this year."

He said the move would help banks in two ways: first, by improving their capitalization generally and bringing smaller banks closer to satisfying the minimum capital requirement; and second, because "going into a period where we expect the credit cycle to pick up … a high level of capitalization would of course give banks the required funding to grow their balance sheets."

In its January 11 announcement, the CBE said that employees would still receive their share of annual profits, to which they are entitled by law.

However, one banker told Delta Digest that the central bank's initiative to postpone loan repayments during the pandemic for corporates and individuals, which ended last September, had "affected the profits of banks badly," leading some banks to privately inform employees as early as "three or four months ago, before the decision of the CBE to refrain from distributing profits to shareholders" that they would not be receiving any profit share for 2020.

That suggests that while liquidity is not a major concern for banks going into 2021, profitability may well be.

Morsy said the six-month extension of central bank measures introduced during the pandemic to limit cash transactions and facilitate the use of electronic payment methods -- cancelling fees on ATM withdrawals, for example -- would continue to negatively impact banks' profit margins.

"This will definitely have an impact on banks' fees and commissions in 2021," he said, while acknowledging the CBE's rationale of encouraging social distancing and promoting digitalization.

Morsy also predicted that in the wake of the pandemic and its accelerant effect on digitalization, banks may have lost such small fee and commission income streams permanently.

"In my view, the bulk of these fees will be abolished going forward," he said.

For his part, Sandeep flagged profitability as the greatest challenge for banks looking ahead in 2021, since net interest margins (NIMs) are expected to narrow due to a drop in yields on treasury bills (T-bills) and bonds, while loan and deposit interest rates also look set to fall.

"Given this backdrop, the main challenge that banks will face is to maintain margins in a narrowing environment," he said.

Morsy, on the other hand, said banks could see the same challenges faced by the Egyptian economy more widely in 2021: a potentially slow pace of recovery, and the risk of further pressure on the country's foreign currency resources.

"This would be a bit of a challenge that could trigger an increase in yields in general in interest rates and delay any recovery when it comes to the pick-up in private spending activity," he said, while emphasizing that "the outlook is positive in general" for the year.

Egypt News

Libyan Parties Meeting in Egypt Agree to Hold Constitutional Referendum Ahead of General Elections

Libyan parties meeting at United Nations-sponsored talks in Egypt agreed to hold a referendum on a draft constitution in preparation for general elections before the end of 2021, the Egyptian foreign ministry announced on Wednesday.

The foreign ministry said it welcomed the agreement reached between Libyan parties in the Red Sea city of Hurghada -- part of the constitutional process framework under the sponsorship of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

According to the agreement, a constitutional referendum will be held ahead of the planned nationwide elections on December 24.

Egypt will host a final round of talks in February to set a roadmap for the referendum and elections, the ministry added.

Meanwhile, UNSMIL praised the agreement reached on the constitutional referendum, thanking the Egyptian authorities for hosting the meetings, according to a statement.

The Libyan envoys have asked the UNSMIL to help implement their decision and provide the needed support for conducting the referendum once the date has been determined, the statement added.

Sisi Says Pandemic Highlights OECD's Role to Tackle Such Unprecedented Crisis Globally

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the positive contribution of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in forging the required global path to tackle ensuing challenges.

In a televised speech to commemorate the OECD's 60th anniversary, El-Sisi expressed Egypt's deep appreciation for its prominent role in multilateral cooperation, formulating policies that promote transparency and governance and accommodating the evolving trends and needs of the global economy. 

Despite the severe economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the Egyptian economy has managed the situation with flexibility, preserving its ability to continue achieving positive growth rates, El-Sisi said.

The crisis saw the world avail important opportunities, "notably to accelerate digitalization, and to improve our policies to become socially, economically and environmentally more sustainable, which will contribute to achieving comprehensive recovery as soon as possible," the president added.

Egypt and the OECD have close cooperation ties, with Egypt participating in several OECD committees. 

Egypt has also acquired a full membership in the organization's development center since 2008 as the first Arab and African country to join it.

The OECD is an intergovernmental economic organization with 37 member states. It was founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

Egypt to Toughen Penalty for FGM to 20 Yrs in Prison

The Egyptian cabinet approved a bill to toughen the penalty for female genital mutilation (FGM) to up to 20 years in prison instead of the previous seven-year maximum, the latest step by the state to curb the unlawful practice.

Doctors and nurses can face up to ten years in prison if they perform the procedure and causes permanent damage in the process.

If the victim undergoing the procedure dies, the perpetrator can face ten years in prison if they are not a licensed medical practitioner, and 15 to 20 years if they are.

Those convicted will also not be allowed to practice medicine for five years and the institution where the procedure took place will be shut down.

The amendments to the penalty include a prison sentence to whoever requests the procedure as well as anyone who promotes it or encourages others to do it. 

Last year, Egypt's top prosecutor referred to court a doctor and the parents of a 12-year-old girl who died due to an FGM procedure.

FGM has been banned in Egypt since 2008, but the practice remains a common rite of passage and is often seen as a way to promote female chastity.

A 2016 amendment toughened criminal penalties for those involved in FGM procedures.

Egypt Registers 789 New Coronavirus Cases, 51 Deaths

The Egyptian health ministry yesterday announced it had recorded 789 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections to 158,963.

The overall death toll hit 8,747, with 51 new fatalities reported on Wednesday.

The ministry also said on Wednesday that 511 cases have fully recovered and left hospitals, bringing total recoveries to 124,605.

Next Thursday Off to Commemorate Jan 25 Revolution, Police Day

The Egyptian cabinet decided that Thursday, January 28, will be an official paid holiday to commemorate the January 25 Revolution and Police Day, which will fall on Monday, January 25.

Work will be suspended in ministries and government departments, local administration units, public sector companies, the public business sector and the private sector.

Sports

Handball: Egypt Open Main Round With Convincing Win Over Russia

Hosts Egypt opened their main round campaign with a convincing 28-23 victory over Russia in Cairo, putting themselves in a good position to qualify for the World Championship quarterfinal.

The Pharaohs secured their third win in four World Championship games, producing a superb display against Russia.

They claimed a 15-8 first-half lead, with veteran player Ahmed Al-Ahmar stealing the show with a virtuoso display.

Keeper Essam El-Tayar also pulled off a string of impressive saves as Egypt moved level on four points with Slovenia and Sweden on top of their group in the main round.

Egypt next face Slovenia and Belarus in the group. The top two will advance to the last eight.

World

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US President Joe Biden

Joe Biden Sworn In as 46th US President Without Security Issues

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president on Wednesday, without security issues that were somewhat expected thanks to a tense build-up to the inauguration. 

"This is America's day, this is democracy's day, day of history and hope," said Biden in his first speech as the US president.

Biden's oath of office was administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in the presence of congressional leaders from both parties and former US presidents including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That's why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families," Biden said in his first presidential tweet.

Kamala Harris was sworn in as Biden's vice-president, becoming the first woman in American history to hold the post.

The highest-ranking female elected official in US history is also the first vice president of African American descent as well as the first with south Asian descent.

Harris, 56, the former California senator, was sworn in by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the supreme court. 

Biden signed three documents yesterday after the inauguration ceremony while in the president’s room at the capitol, including the inauguration day proclamation and nominations to cabinet and sub-cabinet positions in his administration.

Former US President Donald Trump landed yesterday in the southern state of Florida, ending his four-year term as the 45th US president, after delivering a farewell address to the nation from Joint Andrews Air Force Base.

Trump became the first president in over 150 years to skip the inauguration of his successor.

Following a short helicopter flight to Joint Base Andrews, he received a sendoff ceremony with a red carpet, military band, a 21-gun salute and a crowd of about 200 guests in attendance.  

Trump wished the new administration great success, without mentioning the name of his successor.

"I will always fight for you, I will be watching, I will be listening, and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better," Trump said. "I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they'll have great success; they have the foundation to do something really spectacular." 

White House Spokesman Judd Deere confirmed on Wednesday that Trump left a note for his successor Biden. However, the White House did not release the contents of Trump's note.

Vice President Mike Pence also left a note for his successor, Kamala Harris.

Trump issued pardons and sentence commutations for more than 140 people, including his former Campaign Chief Steve Bannon.

Trump last week became the first US president to be impeached twice, after the House of Representatives impeached him for inciting an insurrection following the riot at the capitol. 

His first impeachment was in December 2019, for pressuring Ukraine to dig up damaging information on Biden and his son.

YouTube has extended US former President Donald Trump's channel suspension for one more week.

The Google-owned company previously suspended Trump's channel for one week and issued a strike under the platform's policies against violence.

The video-sharing platform also removed videos from the White House's channel for violating its policy, yet it did not suspend it.

"So just a goodbye, we love you. We will be back in some form," were Trump's final words before departing to Florida.

Ethiopians Suffer From Food, Water Shortages: Agencies

Ethiopians in the north are suffering from food and water shortages and are dying from the lack of healthcare services, according to aid agencies.

This comes after the Ethiopian government launched a manhunt for the leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front in the region of Tigray, after it announced that the federal troops had taken control of the northern region last November.

Thousands died and over 300,000 fled their homes, resulting in a humanitarian crisis in the already poor region.

Despite the government declaring the war over by the end of November, aid groups, the United Nations and officials say that reaching needy people has been a challenge due to violence and logistical obstacles.

Madrid Explosion Kills 2, Injures 8

A building in central Madrid was blown apart following an explosion, killing at least two and injuring eight.

Initial reports put the explosion down to a gas leak.

The building belonged to the Catholic Church, where its representatives provided residential training for priests and gave meals to the homeless. 

A church volunteer is missing, and one of those injured was transferred to a hospital. 

The top five floors of the building were destroyed, while the bottom two were mostly intact.

Virus Roundup: Zimbabwe's FM Dies of COVID-19

Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo dies from the coronavirus at 61.

The minister was the military general who announced the coup against then-president Robert Mugabe on television, which ended his 37-year rule in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is likely to be effective against the highly transmittable virus strain discovered in the UK.

A study found that all the mutations associated with the variant were neutralized by antibodies in the blood of 16 participants who got the vaccine.

The UK recorded its highest number of coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic at 1,820 deaths, pushing the total number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the country to 93,290.

Wales Health Minister Vaughan Gething also warned that the number of cases is still high, despite case rates falling.

He added that the National Health Service is still under pressure as critical care services are operating at 150 percent.

Britain is helping Kenya prepare to roll out the AstraZeneca and Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine.

Kenya confirmed two cases of the new variant first seen in South Africa.

"It is for us not just our moral duty, but in the British national interest to see Kenyans vaccinated just as soon as we physically, logistically can," British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said.

Elsewhere, Russia's Sovereign Wealth Fund filed to register Sputnik V in the European Union. Yesterday, the Sputnik V team and the European Medical Agency held a scientific review of the vaccine. The agency will make its decision based on the review outcomes. 

India started supplying coronavirus vaccines to neighboring countries after it struck a balance between having enough doses for its citizens and aiding countries that cannot produce their own shots.

According to the Indian foreign ministry, India will send 150,000 doses to Bhutan. The shots are of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine, which will be manufactured locally.

India will also send 100,000 shots to the Maldives, followed by Bangladesh, Nepal and Seychelles.

In Portugal, the government recorded the highest seven-day average rate of new coronavirus cases per capita and the second-highest rate of new deaths globally.

The country is in lockdown, but the government is yet to close schools.

The Chinese capital, Beijing, will look into all individuals who entered the city from abroad from December 10. 

It also shut down a subway station following the biggest rise in daily reported coronavirus cases in over three weeks.

China is currently facing its most serious virus outbreak since March 2020, right before the Lunar New Year holiday season, during which hundreds of millions of people travel.

The Vatican began offering free coronavirus vaccination to the homeless in Rome. The vaccinations were overseen by the Polish head of the papal charities office. 

About 25 homeless people have received their first dose of the vaccine, with more to be vaccinated soon.

As of yesterday, there were 97,009,267 recorded coronavirus cases worldwide and 2,075,001 deaths.

Cypriot FM Says Mideast Should Not Expect Outside Powers to Solve Their Conflicts

Middle East countries and their neighbors should solve their conflicts on their own, and not to expect external powers to do so, Cyprus' Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

During an official visit to Saudi Arabia, Christodoulides said that his country does not expect a significant change to US foreign policy under new President Joe Biden.

"We believe that we should have the leading role in our region," he said. "We are not in favor of a neocolonial approach."

Christodoulides added that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is suggesting convening a meeting next month with all involved parties in the Cyprus conflict, including Greece, Turkey and the UK to mull ways of resuming reunification talks.

"Cyprus is a very small country and the only way to reunite the island is though a bizonal federation," Christodoulides said. "It’s also the only solution that a great majority of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots will accept."

Tensions were sparked between Turkey and Greece when Ankara dispatched a survey vessel into the disputed waters in August, after the two NATO members approved rival accords on their maritime borders with Libya and Egypt, respectively.

Top Headlines of the Week

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Germany DAX 13,921.37 +0.77%
France CAC 40 5,628.44 +0.53%
Japan Nikkei 225 28,727.30 +0.72%
China HANG SENG INDEX 29,972.79 +0.03%
Currencies
US Dollar 15.68 15.78
Euro 18.98 19.10
Sterling 21.44 21.58
Saudi Riyal 4.18 4.21
UAE Dirham 4.27 4.30
Kuwaiti Dinar 51.73 52.13
Swiss Franc 17.62 17.73
Commodities
Oil Brent USD/bbl. 55.95 -0.23%
Wheat USD/bu.Mar 2020 673.25 +0.82%
Gold USD/t oz. 1,874.47 +0.14%
Gold Egypt LE/ oz. 1,874.43 +0.15%
Silver Egypt LE/ oz. 26.00 +0.47%

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