Abu Dhabi’s Etihad lays off staff, warns of further cuts: Report

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has laid off a large number of employees due to the coronavirus pandemic that has shattered global travel demand, and warned staff to brace for further cuts, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency. 

The state-owned airline declined to comment. But during a previously unreported US-UAE Business Council webinar on April 29, Etihad Chief Executive Tony Douglas said the airline had made “quite sizeable redundancies”.

It was not immediately clear how many employees had been affected or from which departments. Etihad has grounded scheduled passenger flights and temporarily cut wages by as much as 50 percent. It has said it plans to restart flights from mid-June.

Coronavirus: No professional sport in England until 1 June at earliest

Elite sport in England could start behind closed doors from June 1, according to government guidelines published on Monday, boosting Premier League clubs’ hopes of completing their season.

The government’s road map for exiting the coronavirus lockdown sets out the conditions under which various activities could be safely carried out.

Step two of the process, which cannot begin any earlier than June 1, includes “permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”.

Events will only be allowed to take place if sufficient progress is made in limiting the spread of the virus between now and then.

It appears supporters in the UK face a long wait to attend matches, with the guidelines recognising a return to sport in front of a crowd “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections”.

Sports events involving international travel, such as football’s European competitions, cricket tours and Formula One, could be affected by the government’s planned introduction of an enforced 14-day quarantine period for arrivals to the UK, except for those from countries “on a short list of exemptions”.

Premier League clubs are meeting on Monday to continue their discussions on “Project Restart”. The English top-flight had been planning for a return to action no earlier than the week beginning June 8.


Football: Ighalo, £20m? Not worth it – Neville

Manchester United legend Gary Neville has advised the club against spending £20m on striker, Odion Ighalo.

The ex-Super Eagles striker, who is on loan from Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua, has been in good form since moving to England in the January transfer window.

He has scored four goals for United in eight appearances in all competitions.

This form has seen United considering him for a permanent deal after the expiration of his loan in June.

His parent club, Shenhua, are hoping to keep him, tabling a contract renewal worth £400,000 per week for the striker.

They are however willing to let go of him if United are able to cough out £20m for a permanent move.

The Nigerian has also expressed his interest in staying at his boyhood club.

But in an Instagram Live interview, Neville, advised United boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, against spending that amount on the striker.

According to him, the ex-Watford player is not worth the £20m his parent club are asking for him.

Religious centres to re-open May 15 in Liberia.

Liberian President George Weah has said he will partially lift restrictions on praying in mosques and churches aimed at curbing coronavirus while extending a lockdown in the capital Monrovia.

In a statement on Friday, the former international footballer said emergency measures announced in April would be extended for two weeks in the West African nation.

These include a ban on all movement between the country’s 15 counties, the closure of non-essential businesses, and stay-at-home orders for Monrovia’s roughly one million inhabitants.

But Weah said he would allow churches to resume services from May 17, and mosques from May 15, provided that they run at 25-percent capacity to allow for social distancing.

Liberian authorities have recorded 199 cases of the coronavirus to date, with 20 fatalities.

As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Liberia is ill prepared to handle a large outbreak.

The nation of some 4.8 million people was badly hit during West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 4,800 people in the country.


Certificate Scandal: FIIRO demotes former DG

The Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, has demoted a former acting director-general of the agency, Chima Igwe.

Igwe had been asked to revert to principal research officer, the position he held before claiming to have bagged a doctorate from the Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic, over 18 years ago.

It was learnt that the decision followed the governing board’s ratification of the recommendations of the disciplinary committee, which sat over Igwe’s case.

The Ministry of Science and Technology was said to have also been informed of the development.

However, it was learnt that Igwe had refused to comply with the directive, as the demotion made him a junior official in the institute.

Igwe, a first class graduate of Chemistry from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, had finished with a pass during his master’s at the University of Lagos, Akoka.

He subsequently proceeded to the Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic, where he claimed to have bagged a doctorate in 2001.

However, he could only produce an attestation document for the PhD. The document was signed by his supervisor, Prof. Mansour Moudachirou.

On the basis of that document, he was promoted from principal research officer to chief research officer, deputy director and director.

The attestation document became a subject of controversy in 2019 when the tenure of the former DG, Prof. Gloria Elemo, ended and Igwe was made the acting DG.

An official petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, seeking a probe of Igwe’s PhD.

While the ICPC delayed in releasing its report, our correspondent investigated and reported that Igwe had not completed the doctoral programme.

The ICPC released a report clearing Igwe of wrongdoing, but later backtracked and reopened investigation.

After direct communication with the Benin university, the ICPC spokeswoman, Rasheedat Okoduwa, confirmed  that the official did not have a PhD yet.

There were protests by workers, who said the image of the institute had been damaged and demanded Igwe’s dismissal and prosecution.

Based on the ICPC’s report, the 58-year-old was suspended by the FIIRO governing board and a disciplinary procedure was instituted against him.

In February 2020, the embattled Igwe returned to Benin Republic to defend his thesis before a panel, which included his ally and a FIIRO officer, Dr Ahmed Aroke.

A senior FIIRO official, who did not want to be identified, said the Benin institution confirmed that Aroke was indeed present during the defence.

“Aroke was queried for travelling to Benin without permission. I was told that the board will sanction him for the action,” he added.

The source said, “The committee looked at the issues exhaustively. During the investigation, Igwe brought a new attestation document that the school gave him. The committee contacted the Benin university and confirmed that he attended the public defence.

“We discovered that the Benin Ministry of Education issues certificates and not the universities. So, he does not have a certificate yet. However, the attestation indicated the effective date of the degree. It was signed in February 2020, meaning that he finished in February 2020. The implication is that all the achievements he claimed were on wrong grounds.

“So, he is going back to where he belongs. If he graduated in 2020, then it means those who graduated before him are his seniors. That means the principal research officer, which he was before graduating, is where he should revert to. That is the position of the board.”

Our correspondent learnt that the board’s decision had been communicated to Igwe and the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu.

The ministry was said to have sent an acknowledgement copy last Wednesday.

A source said the permanent secretary in the ministry had asked that the acting director-general, Dr Agnes Asagbra, be addressed as ‘Overseeing DG.’

It was gathered that Igwe, since his suspension, had refused to revert to his old rank.

Iran missile ‘accidentally’ strikes own ship, kills 19 sailors

An Iranian missile fired during a training exercise in the Gulf of Oman has struck a support vessel near its target, killing at least 19 sailors and wounding 15 others, according to Iran’s army. 

The friendly fire incident happened on Sunday near the port of Jask, about 1,270km (790 miles) southeast of Tehran on the Gulf of Oman, a statement on the army’s website said on Monday.

“On Sunday afternoon, during an exercise by a number of the navy’s vessels in Jask and Chabahar waters, the Konarak light support vessel had an accident,” said a statement on the army’s website.

“The number of this accident’s martyrs is 19 and 15 have also been injured,” it added, saying the vessel had been towed ashore.

The missile struck the Konarak, a Hendijan-class support ship, which was taking part in the exercise.

State television described the incident as an accident, saying the Konarak, a Hendijan-class support ship which was struck by the missile, had been putting targets out in the water for other ships to fire on and had stayed too close to a target.

“Iran’s Moudge-class frigate Jamaran accidentally hit the Konarak ship with a missile during the exercise,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

Iranian media said the Konarak had been overhauled in 2018 and was able to launch sea missiles.

The Dutch-made, 47-metre (155-foot) vessel had been in service since 1988.

It was not immediately clear how many crew members were on board the warship at the time of the accident.

Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said at least 20 people had been killed and that there were as many as 40 crew members on board the Konarak.

Anadolu said the incident had been deemed “human error”, citing sources in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Iran regularly holds exercises in the Gulf of Oman, which is closed to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes.

Iranian media rarely report on mishaps during its exercises, signalling the severity of the incident.

Saudi triples VAT, suspends monthly payment to citizens

Saudi Arabia will triple its Value Added Tax (VAT) and halt monthly handout payments to citizens in tough new austerity measures amid record low oil prices and a coronavirus-led economic slump.

The measures, which could stir public resentment with the cost of living rising, come as the country steps up emergency plans to slash government spending to deal with the twin economic blow.

“It has been decided the cost of living allowance will be halted from June 2020 and VAT will be raised from 5 percent to 15 percent from July 1,” Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.