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Pakistan national carrier inches closer to full international flights

Pakistan has addressed significant safety concerns regarding its national carrier, the country’s aviation minister said Thursday, but the airline still needs authorities in Europe and the United States to lift a ban before it can resume flights to major Western destinations.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was barred from flying in Europe and the USA in 2020 months after one of its Airbus A-320s crashed while landing at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, killing all but two of the 99 passengers and crew.

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Flight 8303 damaged its engines when the pilots attempted to land without the undercarriage lowered, and crashed into a crowded neighborhood while circling for a second attempt.

The accident was attributed to pilot error as a result of the crew being out of action for months, having been grounded by the coronavirus epidemic.

The government investigation that followed discovered dozens of Pakistani pilots had faked their certifications or flying hours, prompting the airline’s suspension from Europe and America.

On Thursday aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told a press conference a team from the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Universal Safety Oversight Auditing Program said Pakistan had now resolved outstanding issues.

“We addressed significant safety concerns,” Khan said, adding: “We hope to resume our flight operations to Europe and the US by February or March this year.”

He said a follow-up inquiry into pilot certifications was part of the clean-up process.

Some 262 licenses were found to be “dubious”, he said, most of which have now been cleared after further training and testing.

However, 50 pilots had been dismissed because of irregularities.

“There has been a lot of criticism on us during the last two years, but we improved our safety standards,” Khan said.

He added that Pakistan had signed an agreement with British civil aviation authorities for its pilots to be tested and certified in the UK.

Until the 1970s PIA was considered a top regional carrier, but its reputation plummeted amid chronic mismanagement, frequent cancellations and financial woes.

It still operates some domestic and regional routes, but Khan said the airline now hoped to resume intercontinental flights and add new destinations.

A senior Pakistani pilot told AFP there was still a long way to go.

“No country in the world recognizes licenses issued by our civil aviation authority in view of the obsolete system of examinations,” he said, asking not to be identified.

Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.

In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed during a flight from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.

Read more: Pakistani airline banned from US over pilot certifications

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What’s behind bitcoin’s latest surge?

At the turn of the year, bitcoin was in the grip of a bleak midwinter, down and out after a 2022 defined by tumbling crypto prices, bankruptcies and corporate scandals.

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Less than three months later, bitcoin’s got its mojo back. With gains of more than 70 percent so far this year, it has outpaced other major assets, and was on Wednesday trading near its highest in nine months.

The original and biggest cryptocurrency has been here before, its 15-year history peppered with dramatic price increases and equally vertiginous drops. Fuelling the gains: interest rates.

Markets expect that central bank hikes to the cost of credit are nearing their peak, and such a scenario is set to buoy risk-on assets such as bitcoin, six investors and analysts from crypto and traditional finance told Reuters.

“The macro narrative is the number one,” said Noelle Acheson, an economist who has tracked the crypto sector for seven years. “Bitcoin is not just a risk asset, it is arguably the most sensitive to monetary liquidity out of all of the risk assets.”

Other factors are at play, too, from turmoil in the banking sector to enduring hopes – still unfulfilled – that bitcoin can achieve wide usage as a form of payment.

Bitcoin closed its best week in four years on Sunday, and has gained 45 percent in just 12 days.

As the collapse of US lenders Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank helped to trigger the takeover on Sunday of 167-year-old Credit Suisse by rival UBS, claims that bitcoin is an asset immune to risks in traditional finance have gained traction.

“It’s rather narrow-minded to say that bitcoin is going to succeed because a bank failed,” said Usman Ahmad, CEO of Zodia Markets, the crypto exchange of the venture arm of Standard Chartered and Hong Kong crypto firm BC Technology Group.

“But confidence is almost a critical factor – confidence in the banking system has been damaged.”

Driving bitcoin’s gains have been its core user base of retail investors, analysts said. Institutional investors such as pension funds, until now wary of the unstable and mostly unregulated bitcoin, are likely to remain skeptical of a long-lasting renaissance for the cryptocurrency, the interviews showed.

“Bitcoin’s recent bull run looks to be mainly supported by individual investors – ranging from retail to whales – as we have seen evidence of institutions exiting during this rally,” said Zhong Yang Chan, head of research at crypto data firm CoinGecko.

Indeed, bitcoin investment products, favored by larger investors, saw outflows of $113 million last week, according to digital asset manager CoinShares, which ascribed the moves to a scramble for liquidity during chaos in the banking sector.

Deja vu?

In the past, too, dramatic price swings for bitcoin have been closely tied to shifts in monetary policy globally.

As stimulus measures flooded the global financial system during the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home investors fuelled a six-fold rally for bitcoin between September 2020 and April 2021.

Those moves, allied with emerging interest in crypto from larger investors and companies, led crypto backers to vow that its chances of a bruising crash historically seen after bitcoin rallies were lower.

Yet as signs of runaway inflation late in 2021 forced central banks and governments to curb stimulus packages, bitcoin slumped by more than half from its record high of $69,000 in just 75 days as rates began to rise.

In 2022, bitcoin plummeted over 65 percent as higher rates triggered the fall of a major crypto token, precipitating the closure of major hedge funds and crypto lenders. It was further bruised by regulatory headaches and the dramatic fall of the FTX exchange.

The disastrous year was another reminder of bitcoin’s vulnerability to external shocks, despite backers’ claims it is a safe haven asset in times of political and economic stress.

To be sure, some investors say developments to bitcoin’s intrinsic characteristics are now capable of supporting its price. Richard Galvin of crypto fund Digital Asset Capital Management, for instance, cited software upgrades that have enabled a new breed of non-fungible tokens on bitcoin.

Still, for investors in traditional assets, doubts remain.

“I don’t know if old-school currency people are reassessing it,” said Stephen Gallo, European head of FX strategy at BMO Capital Markets. “We are still struggling with bitcoin on the definition of a currency.”

Read more:

Bitcoin set for worst week since FTX crash on regulation, interest rates

Crypto exchanges allowing sanctioned Russian banks access: Report

ABO Digital to bring alternative financing structures to region’s crypto market

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World Bank agrees $7 bln new partnership framework with Egypt

The World Bank approved a new country partnership framework (CPF) for Egypt for the financial years 2023-2027 providing the country with $7 billion in funds, the lender said on Wednesday.
The CPF will entail $1 billion per year from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and about $2 billion during the entire CPF period from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the statement said, adding that the program was meant to support Egypt's efforts in green and inclusive develop-ment.

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Read more: Egypt’s president backs bigger private role in line with IMF demands

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UK inflation rate unexpectedly rises to 10.4 pct in February: ONS

British consumer price inflation unexpectedly rose to 10.4 percent in February from January’s 10.1 percent, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed on Wednesday.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast that the annual CPI rate would drop to 9.9 percent in January, moving further away from October’s 41-year high of 11.1 percent but still eating into the spending power of workers whose pay is rising by less.

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The Bank of England is due to announce on Thursday whether it has raised interest rates for an 11th meeting in a row.
Core CPI — which excludes energy, food, alcohol, and tobacco and is watched closed by the BoE — rose to 6.2 percent from 5.8 percent in January, versus a forecast decline to 5.7 percent.
The annual inflation rate in the services sector, which most policymakers consider is a good measure of underlying price pressures in the economy, rose to 6.6 percent after standing at 6.0 percent in January.

Read more: UK's Rishi Sunak says tough decisions needed to fix economy

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