Houthis destroy UN food aid after blocking it from delivery in Yemen

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A Houthi militant disposes of an expired aid package from the World Food Programme (WFP) in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Houthi militants dispose of expired aid packages from the World Food Programme in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Houthi militants dispose of expired aid packages from the World Food Programme in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Houthi militants dispose of expired aid packages from the World Food Programme in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Houthi militants dispose of expired aid packages from the World Food Programme in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Houthi militants dispose of expired aid packages from the World Food Programme in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Houthi militants dispose of expired aid packages from the World Food Programme in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 27 August 2019

Houthis destroy UN food aid after blocking it from delivery in Yemen

  • AFP food aid had been intended for people in Taiz last year before the militants blocked it
  • Food was spoiled after Houthis kept it held at a checkpoint

SANAA: Yemen’s Houthi militants on Tuesday destroyed tonnes of food aid that they said had expired after being held up for months in the country which is teetering on the edge of famine.

The Houthis, who control Yemen's capital Sanaa, used diggers to break up sacks of maggot-ridden rice and flour bearing the logo of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).

"This consignment of foodstuff was going off and was full of small insects... it wasn't even good for animals," said Houthi official Majed Sari.

A UN source said the aid had been intended for delivery to families in the city of Taiz in November 2018.

But it "ended up detained at a checkpoint for months and months", the source told AFP.

Yemen was already the Arab world's poorest nation when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and launched an assault to take over the rest of the country.

The conflict with the internationally recognized government, which is supported by an Arab military coalition, has since triggered widespread malnutrition.

But the WFP, which says it feeds around 11 million people a month in Yemen, halted distributions to Houthi-controlled territory in June following accusations of "diversion of food" meant for Yemeni civilians for their own benefit.

In early August, it reached a deal to resume deliveries after the Houthis offered guarantees concerning the beneficiaries, the UN agency said.

A WFP spokesperson told AFP that the agency distributes more than 130,000 metric tonnes of food each month in Yemen despite "operational challenges" linked to the complex conflict.

"WFP needs unimpeded access to all areas of the country so we can get food assistance to those who need it most," the spokesperson said.


Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

Updated 17 October 2019

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday to protest dire economic conditions after a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications sparked widespread outrage.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, in its southern suburbs, in the southern city of Sidon, in the northern city of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, while others massed near the interior ministry in central Beirut, NNA said.
“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.
Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July, with the aim of trimming the country’s ballooning deficit.
The situation worsened last month after banks and money exchange houses rationed dollar sales, sparking fears of a currency devaluation.
The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.
And it is expected to announce a series of additional tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.
On Wednesday, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products.
Earlier on Thursday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced a 20 cent daily fee for messaging app users who made calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber — a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues.
The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million annually into the government’s coffers.
Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make Internet calls using their networks.
“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.
The latest policy “will force users to pay for Internet services twice,” it added.
TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.
“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.
“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.
But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.
“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.