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Fitch revises Saudi Arabia’s outlook to ‘positive’ from ‘stable’

Ratings agency Fitch revised its outlook on Saudi Arabia to “positive” from “stable” on Thursday, citing improvements in the country’s sovereign balance sheet given higher oil revenues.

Saudi Arabia expects to post its first budget surplus in nearly a decade this year by keeping a tight rein on its budget while revenues roll in, boosted by higher crude prices, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said in December.

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The Kingdom has increasingly relied on its $450 billion sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, and other state entities to drive an ambitious spending push – leaving the government’s books relatively clear while freeing it to raise debt if needed.

S&P last month also raised Saudi Arabia’s outlook to positive from stable.

“Government debt/GDP and sovereign net foreign assets (SNFA) will remain considerably stronger than the ‘A’ median, even as these metrics weaken mildly after 2022 as oil prices trend lower offsetting further gradual budgetary reforms,” Fitch said.

The Saudi government plans to keep its debt stock unchanged this year, with new issues used mostly to refinance maturing debt rather than to support the budget.

Jadaan said in December: “In total, actually the numbers are higher than what we used to spend, but the scope is a lot bigger.”

The Kingdom expects 7.4 percent GDP growth this year after the economy rose 3.2 percent last year as oil prices rose and it recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. GDP had contracted 4.1 percent in 2020.

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IAEA loses transmission from Ukraine’s Russian-held nuclear plant surveillance system

The UN atomic watchdog said on Wednesday it had again lost its connection to its surveillance systems keeping track of nuclear material at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe’s largest, which the watchdog wants to inspect.
“The fact that our remote safeguards data transmission is down again –- for the second time in the past month –- only adds to the urgency to dispatch this mission (to Zaporizhzhia),” the
International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

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The connection was lost on Saturday “due to a disruption of the facility’s communication systems,” it added.

Read more: UN watchdog ‘concerned’ about Ukraine nuclear plant access

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Anti-coup protesters in Sudan shot dead: Report

Four protesters were killed in Sudan on Thursday, medics said, as large crowds took to the streets despite heavy security and a communications blackout to rally against the military leadership that seized power eight months ago.

In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon as they tried to prevent swelling crowds from marching towards the presidential palace, witnesses said.

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They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be in the tens of thousands. In Omdurman witnesses reported tear gas and gunfire as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.

The protests mark the third anniversary of huge demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.

Last October, the military led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan toppled the transitional government, triggering rallies that have called on the army to quit politics.

Some protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations. Others chanted, “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.

Earlier, protesters barricaded some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with stones and burning tires.

It was the first time in months of protests against the October coup that internet and phone services had been cut. After the military takeover, extended internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement.

Staff at Sudan’s two private sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had ordered them to shut down the internet once again on Thursday.

Bridges shut

Phone calls within Sudan were also cut and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri – another step typically taken on big protest days to limit the movement of marchers.

In recent days there have been daily neighborhood protests in the build-up to Thursday’s rallies.

On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during protests in Bahri. Thursday’s four deaths, all in Omdurman, brought the number of protesters killed since the coup to 107.

There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.

The United Nations envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called this week on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.

Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has deepened.

Burhan said on Wednesday the armed forces were looking forward to the day when an elected government could take over, but this could only be done through consensus or elections, not protests.

Mediation efforts led by the United Nations and the African

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UN: Almost 16 million people in Ukraine need humanitarian aid

As Russia presses on with its invasion of Ukraine, some 16 million people inside the country need humanitarian aid, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine said Thursday.

“Almost 16 million people in Ukraine today need humanitarian assistance: water food, health services,” Osnat Lubrani told a press briefing.

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Six million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes for other parts of the country since the war started, though around 5 million have since returned, she said.

But “many know that they might be forced to flee again,” she added.

Over 5.3 million more Ukrainians have fled abroad, Lubrani said.

She said the UN tally of casualties since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 was likely much higher.

“The number we have of almost 5,000 civilians killed and more than 5,000 injured is just a fraction of the frightening reality,” she said.

She also said it was “extremely difficult if not… impossible” for humanitarian groups to access areas that are no longer under Kyiv’s control.

Lubrani called on Russia and Ukraine “to do more to protect the people of this country and to make our work possible.”

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