Protesters reject confidence vote on new Lebanon government

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A demonstrator uses a slingshot to throw a stone during a protest against the newly formed government near the government headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon Jan. 25, 2020. (Reuters)
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Lebanese anti-government demonstrators gather by barricades set by security forces to block a road leading to the government headquarter at the Grand Serail, in downtown Beirut, on Jan. 25, 2020. (AFP)
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A Lebanese anti-government protester uses a flare during a demonstration near government headquarters at the Grand Serail, in downtown Beirut, on Jan. 25, 2020. (AFP)
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A demonstrator holds the Lebanese flag during a protest against the newly formed government outside the government headquarters in downtown Beirut, Lebanon Jan. 25, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Protesters reject confidence vote on new Lebanon government

  • Protestors consider the new government an extension of previous ones accused of corruption
  • Parliament is expected to hold legislative sessions over two days from Monday to discuss the 2020 budget that was prepared by the former government before it resigned

BEIRUT: Protesters in Beirut on Saturday carried banners expressing their objections to the granting on Jan. 21 of a confidence vote on the government of Hassan Diab.
They consider the new government an extension of previous ones accused of corruption. Streets leading to the Parliament were blocked by high concrete walls to ward off any attempt to break through the security cordon around the building.
Parliament is expected to hold legislative sessions over two days from Monday to discuss the 2020 budget that was prepared by the former government of Saad Hariri before it resigned on Oct. 29 under pressure from peaceful demonstrations.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Parliament cannot discuss any task before voting on the 2020 budget plan. This means the confidence vote cannot be held before the budget is endorsed.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the new government has to “work on a new draft budget that includes reform plans, with a timeline to implement them.”
Activist Mohammed Kassem told Arab News: “All signs indicate that Diab’s government will head to Parliament to endorse the previous government’s budget that’s full of flaws, especially with regards to the reform pledge.”
He said: “Protesters will step up their actions on the streets until they get a rescue plan, end banks’ policies and their restrictions on people’s deposits, end the Central Bank’s financial policies, and achieve the independence of the judiciary so judges will be able to handle cases with full transparency, especially ones related to recovering embezzled public assets.”
He added: “Activists are trying to forbid political parties from riding the wave of the revolution, and are trying to limit rioting, which has characterized many protests.”
Kassem called on the authorities to protect protesters rather than attack them. He said protesters will remain on the streets to change Lebanon from a “country of banks and money exchange to a productive country.”
There has been leaked information that the government will propose a five-month contingency plan to reform the judiciary; fight illicit enrichment, corruption and economic crime; and modernize public institutions.


Lebanon cuts back on Iran flights amid coronavirus cases

Updated 22 February 2020

Lebanon cuts back on Iran flights amid coronavirus cases

  • Exports of medical equipment halted as supplies run low

BEIRUT: Lebanon is reducing flights to countries, including Iran, with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The decision to include Iran was taken after a Lebanese national, who was traveling from the city of Qom to Beirut, was diagnosed with the virus. Lebanese authorities asked the flight’s 150 passengers to self-quarantine for 14 days from the date they left Iran. 

Iran’s Health Ministry on Friday reported two more deaths among 13 new diagnosed cases of the COVID-19 virus, doubling the total number of deaths in the country. The virus has also spread to the UAE, Egypt and Israel. 

Thousands of Lebanese people travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Bizri, an infectious diseases specialist and a member of an emergency unit formed to counter the spread of the virus in Lebanon, said that while it was better to freeze some flights to Iran’s religious sites there remained challenges.

“It is easy to track down people who have returned from Iran through tour operators who have names and addresses, but our problem is with those who go to Iran for business (purposes), especially since the Lebanese do not need a visa to enter Iran, and these people cannot be reached to find out if they carried the virus to Lebanon or not,” he told Arab News. “The second problem that we face is at land-border crossings. There is a transport line between Lebanon and Iran through Syria and Iraq, and this matter needs urgent follow-up to monitor any cases that may enter Lebanon by land through legitimate or illegal crossings."

Two Iranian airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air, have two daily flights between Iran and Lebanon. Their passengers normally travel for religious purposes. 

The detection of coronavirus has overshadowed other events in Lebanon, such as the arrival of locust swarms and the new coalition government’s ongoing struggle to resolve the country’s social and political crises.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab chaired a meeting about the spread of the coronavirus. The meeting called for strict measures at Beirut airport and all border crossing stations, with those attending urging people not to panic. 

Face masks became scarce at pharmacies once the confirmed coronavirus case was reported. 

Dealers of medical equipment who had large quantities of the masks and other protective clothing had re-exported them in recent weeks, especially to countries battling the virus. The dealers were paid in US dollars - a boon as Lebanese banks are currently restricting dollar transactions - and they were able to buy medical equipment. 

Lebanon’s Economy Minister Raoul Neama issued a decision preventing the export of devices, equipment, or medical personal protective equipment against infectious diseases until further notice.

“The Consumer Protection Directorate will monitor the prices of this equipment in pharmacies and will be strict with violators in order to prevent any exploitation that aims to make unjustified profits at the expense of the Lebanese,” he said.

The price of one face mask in some pharmacies reached around $5, compared to its pre-crisis price of $0.25 or less.

Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Al-Hassan visited government hospitals to see how ready they were to deal with coronavirus cases. 

“Fear is legitimate, so is caution, but excessive panic is unnecessary,” he said, emphasizing the need to strictly abide by procedures at the country’s entry points and border crossings. 

But fear of infection has not deterred people from demonstrating against corruption and institutions.

Mask-wearing protesters demonstrated in Beirut against banking policies under the slogan: “You will pay the price.”

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