Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques discusses with Sudanese president regional developments, receives phone call from French president

2 new minarets built in Makkah

King Abdullah’s dialogue initiative enhances Muslim presence in international arena

Zardari hails Saudi Arabia’s backing for Pakistan

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir held a meeting in Jeddah.

At the outset of the meeting, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques welcomed the Sudanese President, wishing him a good stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For his part, President Bashir extended thanks to and appreciation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for the warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to him and the accompanying delegation.

The overall incidents and developments at the regional and international arenas as well as the current situations in The Sudan were discussed. For his part, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques congratulated the Sudanese President on the signing of Darfur Peace Accord, appealing to Allah Almighty that this agreement conduces to consolidated security and peace for the people of The Sudan and prosperity and stability for the country of The Sudan.

The meeting was attended by Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior; Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Makkah Region; Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Miqren bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; and Faisal bin Hamid Mualla, the Saudi Ambassador to Sudan.

On the Sudanese side, the meeting was attended by President Bashir's official accompanying delegation.

Bashir visited the Holy Mosque of the Prophet in Madinah, performed Salat (prayer), paid homage, and bade greetings to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and to the resting companions, the first two of the four righteous Caliphs Abu Bakr And Omar.

At the Gate of the Holy Mosque of Madinah, Al-Bashir was received by Deputy President General of the Two Holy Mosques' Affairs for the Prophet Mosque affairs Dr. Ali Al-Obaid and Commander of the Prophet Mosque's Security Force Brig Gen. Hamid Al-Ruhaili.

Bashir and his accompanying delegation later left Riyadh.

At Riyadh Air Base, the President was seen off by Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz, Acting Governor of Riyadh Region; and a number of officials.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah received a telephone call from President Nicholas Sarkozy of France.

During the conversation, bilateral relations between the two friendly countries were reviewed and regional and international situations were discussed.

In Jeddah, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister, received Gambia's Foreign Minister Dr. Mamadou Tangara.

During the meeting, Prince Saud al-Faisal received a message to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from the president of Gambia.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah received at Al-Salam Palace at the Royal Court a number of princes, scholars, sheikhs, ministers and senior officials and a group of citizens who came to greet the King.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques also received the sons of late Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Ghanim, namely Adel, Fahd, Osama, Bandar and Turki, who thanked the King for offering them condolences on the death of their father.

The King prayed Allah Almighty to bless the soul of their father.

The audience was attended by Prince Khalid Al Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Makkah Region; Prince Mamdouh bin Abdulaziz; Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Mansour bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; and Prince Dr. Bandar bin Salman bin Mohammed, Advisor to the King.

King Abdullah made a telephone call to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to express his condolences and sympathy on the death of his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, praying to Allah Almighty to bless his soul.

During the telephone conversation, they also reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and discussed the latest developments at regional and international arenas.

Two new minarets are being added to Makkah's Haram Mosque as part of a huge expansion project.

The construction of the new King Abdullah Gate is also progressing well.

The two new minarets will form part of the giant gate located on the northern side of the mosque.

There will be a total of 11 minarets once construction work is complete, Gulf News has learnt from sources close to the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.

So far, nearly 25 per cent of the expansion work has been completed. The expansion, which will change the face of the Haram area, was ordered by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz in January 2008.

It will facilitate the accommodation of an additional 500,000 worshippers by creating more prayer space in the northern and northwestern parts of the mosque.

With the new expansion that will cover an area of 370,000 square meters, the mosque will have the total capacity to accommodate more than 1.2 million worshippers at a time.

On a tour of the construction site, Gulf News saw that construction work on the basement area was almost complete.

With the help of advanced equipment, including giant cranes and forklifts, thousands of workers as well as engineers and technicians were seen working round-the-clock on the project.

According to the sources, one of the new minarets will be ready by the time Ramadan starts on August 1.

The demolition of rocky mountainous areas near the Jabal Al Kaaba zone is under way as part of measures to allow construction work on the new border area of the expanded mosque.

The sources told Gulf News that the expansion project will be a separate entity, and it will be linked to the main structure of the Haram Mosque through four giant bridges. Worshippers can enter the circumambulation area (Mataf) of the Kaaba through the northern courtyards.

Dr Mohammad Bin Nasser Al Khozaim, deputy head of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, said that construction work on the pattern of the same architectural design of the Haram Mosque is progressing well.

"More than 300,000 [square meters] will be added to the holy mosque on the northern side," Dr Al Khozaim said.

"There will also be supporting services and high-tech facilities such as those for drinking Zamzam water, the disposal of garbage, security monitoring, sunshade on the courtyards and the like. There will be bridges and escalators to facilitate [the] smooth flow of pilgrims to and from the mosque complex," he said.

On the other hand, Saudi Basic Industries Corp., the world’s largest petrochemicals company, reported record revenue in the second quarter as exports rose and crude oil traded at a two-year high amid rising demand from Asia.

Saudi Basic, majority owned by the kingdom’s government, had revenues of 49 billion riyals ($13 billion) in the quarter, Chief Financial Officer Mutlaq Al-Morished told reporters in Riyadh. The median estimate of three analysts was for revenues of 46.3 billion riyals, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Saudi petrochemical companies have started to recover from the global financial crisis as oil prices surged and demand from fast-growing Asian economies including China and India increased. Saudi Arabia’s annual petrochemicals exports climbed 39 percent to 4.8 billion riyals in May, according to data posted on the Saudi Ports Authority website.

Saudi Basic, also known as Sabic, said second-quarter profit jumped 61 percent to 8.1 billion riyals as production, sales volumes and prices increased. The median estimate of four analysts was for 7.72 billion riyals, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue was 38.86 billion riyals in the second quarter of last year and 44.87 billion riyals in the first quarter of 2011.

The company’s revenue was unaffected by the financial conditions in the U.S. and the earthquakes in Japan, Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Al-Mady said. “Inventory levels are still good so we don’t have any reason to believe that the demand will be sluggish,” he said.

“Earnings may have peaked in the second-quarter of 2011 and we expect relatively weaker performance in the second half, as the slowdown in China’s demand weigh on global chemicals prices,” Ahmed Shams El Din, director of equity research at EFG-Hermes Holding SAE, said. He has a “buy” rating on the stock with a price estimate of 133 riyals.

The shares closed unchanged at 104 riyals in Riyadh after gaining 1.4 percent. The stock has dropped 0.7 percent this year compared with a 2.4 percent decline in the benchmark Tadawul All Share Index. BASF SE, the world’s largest chemical company, increased 14 percent in the same period.

The current range of oil prices is good for Sabic and the company’s preferred crude price is about $100 a barrel, Al-Mady said. Oil prices averaged $102.41 a barrel in the second quarter and closed at $97.24 on July 15. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil.

“You can’t take things in absolute terms; you have to see also the currency you go with and what the dollar situation is at the time,” said Al Mady. “Maybe $100 is good today because the dollar is appreciating.”

Sabic wants to grow by adding capabilities in specialty chemicals organically and through acquisitions, CFO Morished said when asked about the company’s future strategy. He didn’t provide further details on acquisitions.

The company’s last acquisition was in 2007 when it bought General Electric Co.’s plastics unit, now Sabic Innovative Plastics, for $11.6 billion. Since then, Sabic has been active in joint ventures with companies including China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., Asia’s largest oil refiner known as Sinopec.

Sabic and other Middle East chemicals makers are “in the best strategic position since the industry was established” due to high sales prices and low feedstock costs, Nomura Holdings Inc. said in June. The petrochemical producers can “cherry pick” acquisitions internationally or choose projects within the region, Nomura said.

Sabic is refinancing some of its loans with cheaper rates and the company is under no pressure to tap the debt market to finance its expansion plans, Al-Mady said. The company raised $1 billion from selling bonds in October.

The company plans to build two petrochemicals plants in the Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia along with Mitsubishi Rayon Co., and a polycarbonate facility in Tianjin, China with China Petroleum & Chemical Corp.

“Once we award these contracts, we will go to banks for loans or sukuk or whatever is cheaper for us,” Al-Mady said.

Meanwhile, the Secretary General of Muslim World League (MWL) received Bangladeshi Official for Gulf relations at the National Party Mohammed Inam ul Haq.

During the meeting, the Bangladeshi official hailed the efforts exerted by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud in supporting solidarity among Muslims and Islamic relations. He also lauded the efforts of MWL in the fields of education and relief.

The Bangladeshi official was briefed on the report of the cooperation relations between the Bangladeshi National Party and GCC Member States.

He also highlighted the positive effects of the moderated policy pursued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the international levels which have contributed to improve the Islamic relations with others in addition to launching International Islamic dialogue due to the principles of the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the dialogue.

In Jeddah, King Abdullah received at his palace in Jeddah Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Pakistani President held a meeting at the outset of which the monarch welcomed his Pakistani senior guest, wishing him a good stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For his part, the Pakistani President expressed thanks to and appreciation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for the warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to him and the accompanying delegation.

Then aspects of cooperation between the two sisterly countries and ways of enhancing them in all fields in a way that benefits the two countries and peoples were discussed.

Also discussed were the overall situations at the regional and international arenas and the positions of each country towards them.

The meeting was attended by Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior; Prince Miqren bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the monarch; Dr. Abdulaziz bin Mohieddin Khoja, Minister of Culture and Information; Dr. Nizar bin Obeid Madani, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador to the United States; and Abdulaziz bin Ibrahim Al-Ghadeer, Saudi ambassador to Pakistan.

On the Pakistani side, the meeting was attended by Zardari's official accompanying delegation.