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Kazakhstan Lowers Lending Rate Amid Plunging Oil Prices Over Virus Fears

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Fears over the spread of a new respiratory illness originating in China have led to an average drop of 25 percent in the price of oil and prompted oil-rich Kazakhstan’s central bank to hike its policy rate to 12 percent from 9.25 percent.

At a government meeting on March 9, Prime Minister Askar Mamin said he was barring state-owned companies from buying foreign currency unless it was required to meet their obligations.

Stock markets have tumbled worldwide, with the U.S. Dow Jones Industrial Average having its worst day since 2008, falling more than 2,000 points, or 7.8 percent, on March 9.

Sinking oil prices accompanied the plunge as they crashed to their lowest mark since 2016, recording the biggest one-day percentage decline since January 17, 1991 at the outset of the U.S. Gulf War.

After U.S. President Donald Trump initiated plans for a tax cut and other around-the-corner measures to ease the pain, markets in Asia bounced back on the morning of March 10.

Hong Kong’s benchmark jumped nearly 2 percent whereas Sydney added 1.2 percent, and Shanghai’s edged forward by 0.6 percent.

Markets in Tokyo and Seoul wavered back and forth.

More than 114,300 people have fallen ill with the COVID-19 virus worldwide, and more than 4,000 people have died.

Mongolia, Bulgaria, and Albania recorded their first cases on March 9-10.

Mongolia’s National Emergency Commission said in a statement its sole patient travelled to Mongolia from France and transited through Moscow, according to Reuters. The government has identified 42 people the patient has met with and another 120 individuals who had close contact with the person.

Iran has more than 7,100 cases and 237 deaths, the third-highest after China and Italy. The government in Tehran temporarily released 70,000 prisoners on March 9 because of the new virus.

“The release of the prisoners, to the point where it doesn’t create insecurity in society…will continue,” judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said on March 9.

Meanwhile, the office of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has announced that he has canceled a yearly speech marking the start of the Persian New Year due to concerns about the coronavirus.

“The ceremony of the speech of the supreme leader which takes place every year at the sacred mausoleum of Imam Reza…will not take place this year” and Khamenei will not travel to the city of Mashhad, his office said in a statement.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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