by Staff Writers
Managua (AFP) April 12, 2016
Nicaragua's Congress has scuppered a bill backed by thousands of people hoping to block a cross-country canal project, saying the legislature does not have the authority to weigh the issue.
The draft legislation presented by rural dwellers living along the proposed canal's path "is rejected as inadmissable," the chamber said, adding that it lacks the "jurisdiction" to handle it, Congress's first secretary wrote in a letter made public on Monday.
The government hopes the ambitious canal project will rival Panama's lucrative canal, which handles five percent of commercial maritime traffic.
Some 28,000 Nicaraguans signed a petition backing the bill, which sought to block the state's authorization giving the canal project to a Chinese consortium, HKND, to build and run for 50 years.
Seven thousand of those signatures were stamped, as required by law. Only 5,000 stamped signatures must be collected for Congress to consider a citizen's bill.
The legislature argued on Monday that it is unable to debate the citizen's bill because of a 2013 ruling by the country's Supreme Court rejecting a complaint against the canal and drawing a line under the issue.
A legal consultant for the petitioning rural citizens, Monica Lopez, criticized Congress's decision, saying the lawmakers were declaring that "the law on the canal is written in stone and 28,000 signatures cannot modify it."
That, she said, was "a legal aberration, an outrageous situation."
Congress in June 2013 approved a law handing the canal's operating rights to the HKND consortium, which is tasked with building the gargantuan waterway at a cost of $50 billion.
Israel received Saudi pledge over strategic Red Sea strait: media
Cairo announced Saturday it had settled a long-standing maritime dispute with Riyadh by ceding to its Red Sea neighbour the two small islands in the Straits of Tiran.
An Egyptian blockade of the narrow channel, which controls Israel's access to its sole Red Sea port, Eilat, was one of the causes of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Egypt made peace with the Jewish state in 1979, signing a treaty which guaranteed Israeli shipping unimpeded movement through the straits, vital for access to the Indian Ocean and trade with Asia.
A multinational observer force (MFO), deployed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, monitors compliance.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, becoming the second -- and so far the last -- Arab state to do so.
Saudi Arabia has no official relations with Israel, but Israeli public radio and several newspapers cited Yaalon as saying, in a briefing restricted to Israeli defence reporters, that Israel had received pledges on the preservation of the status quo from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as from the United States, a signatory to the Israel-Egypt peace accord.
"Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the agreement on transferring the islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egyptian control to Saudi control was done with Israel's assent," the radio posted on its website.
"It needed our agreement, that of the Americans... and that of the MFO," Haaretz daily quoted Yaalon as saying.
"We reached an understanding between the four parties -- the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States -- on the passing of responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis step into the Egyptians' shoes regarding the military annexe to the peace treaty."
Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry would neither confirm nor deny the substance of Yaalon's reported comments.
Eyal Zisser, a professor in Middle East history at Tel Aviv University, welcomed the Red Sea agreement as a step forward in regional relations.
"By engaging Israel, Saudi Arabia essentially vowed to comply with the terms of the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel," he wrote in Israel Hayom newspaper, considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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