Tunisian premier announces major cabinet reshuffle

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi speaks during a press conference to announce a wide cabinet reshuffle in the capital Tunis, on January 16, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 January 2021

Tunisian premier announces major cabinet reshuffle

  • The new line-up, which does not include any women, must be approved by parliament
  • “The aim of this reshuffle is to achieve greater efficiency in the work of the government,” Mechichi said

TUNIS: Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced on Saturday a major cabinet reshuffle affecting 12 ministries, in the wake of high-profile sackings.
“The aim of this reshuffle is to achieve greater efficiency in the work of the government,” Mechichi said at a press conference in the capital Tunis.
The new line-up, which does not include any women, must be approved by parliament.
A few hours before the announcement, Mechichi had met with President Kais Saied, who insisted the “integrity” of proposed ministers should “raise no doubt,” according to a statement from the presidency.
“There is no place (in the government) for people who are subject to legal proceedings” or to “doubts about their background or their behavior that could undermine the state and the credibility of its institutions and the legitimacy of its decisions,” Saied said.
One of the officials to be replaced is former environment minister Mustapha Aroui, who was sacked and arrested in December in a scandal over hundreds of containers of household waste shipped from Italy.
Chiheb Ben Ahmed, CEO of the Tunisian Export Promotion Center (CEPEX), was proposed as his replacement.
Cabinet chief Walid Dhahbi has been put forward as interior minister to replace Taoufik Charfeddine.
The former lawyer and pillar of Saied’s election campaign was sacked earlier this month over high-level staffing changes he sought to make to some security agencies, according to a previous statement from Mechichi.
The reshuffle also impacts the ministries of health, justice, industry, energy and agriculture.
Ten years after the uprising that led to the fall of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has successfully transformed into a democracy — albeit one still riven by corruption and economic pain.
The country has had nine governments in 10 years, but the transfers of power have been peaceful.
However, since a general election in 2019, the political class has been more fragmented than ever and paralyzed by infighting, fueling discontent over the continued economic malaise, which has been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.


UN Security Council sanctions top Houthi security official for rape and torture

Updated 26 min 46 sec ago

UN Security Council sanctions top Houthi security official for rape and torture

  • Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin's acts “threaten peace of Yemen”
  • “Zabin himself directly inflicted torture in some cases,” the council said

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on a top Houthi security official in the Yemeni city of Sanaa, citing his prominent role in intimidations, systematic arrests, detentions, torture, sexual violence “and rape against politically active women.”
A resolution adopted by a vote of 14-0, with Russia abstaining, said Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin, director of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sanaa, was directly or by virtue of his authority responsible for using multiple places of detention including police stations, prisons and detention centers for human rights abuses.
“In these sites, women, including at least one minor, were forcibly disappeared, repeatedly interrogated, raped, tortured, denied timely medical treatment and subjected to forced labor,” the council said in imposing a travel ban and arms embargo. “Zabin himself directly inflicted torture in some cases.”
It added that Zabin “engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security and stability of Yemen, including violations of applicable international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in Yemen.”
Resolution 2564 strongly condemned “violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, as well as human rights abuses, including those involving conflict-related sexual violence in Houthi-controlled areas and recruitment and use of children in armed conflict across Yemen, as recorded in the Panel of Experts’ final report.”
The council welcomed the formation of the new cabinet of Yemen’s government under the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement, calling “for the full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement (and) calling for the swift resumption of talks between the parties, in full engagement with UN mediation efforts.”
Council members also condemned “in the strongest terms” last year’s attack on Aden that killed 27 civilians, including a Yemeni deputy minister and three humanitarian and health personnel.
The council strongly condemned the ongoing escalation of violence in Yemen’s oil-rich central province of Marib between the Houthis and government forces, and the continuation of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The resolution stressed the need “for de-escalation across Yemen and a nationwide cease-fire.”
Regarding the imminent disaster posed by the Houthis’ refusal to allow a UN inspection of the Safer oil tanker, which has been moored off the war-torn country’s coast and is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil at risk of leaking, council members emphasized the environmental and humanitarian risk and “the need, without delay, for access of UN officials to inspect and maintain (the) tanker, which is located in the Houthi-controlled north of Yemen.”
They stressed the militia’s responsibility for the situation and for not responding to this “major environmental and humanitarian risk,” underscoring the need for the Houthis “to urgently facilitate unconditional and safe access for UN experts to conduct an assessment and repair mission without further delay.”
Meanwhile US President Joe Biden, during a phone call with King Salman, commended Saudi Arabia’s support for UN efforts to reach a truce and cease-fire in Yemen.
King Salman said Saudi Arabia was keen to reach a comprehensive political solution in Yemen and to achieve security and development for its people.
The two sides discussed Iran’s behavior in the region, its destabilizing activities and its support for terrorist groups.
The Arab coalition thwarted a second Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia just hours after it had destroyed a drone launched by the militia toward Khamis Mushait.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the militia’s attempt to target civilians in Saudi Arabia.
Heavy fighting between rebels and government forces in Marib has killed at least 27 people, tribal leaders and security officials said on Friday.
(With AP)

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US airstrike in Syria sent ‘unambiguous message’: White House

Updated 23 min 46 sec ago

US airstrike in Syria sent ‘unambiguous message’: White House

  • The Pentagon said Thursday's strike was in response for a series of rocket attacks targeting US soldiers in Iraq
  • Psaki said Biden's aim was for "deescalating activity in both Syria and Iraq"

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE: The United States sent an "unambiguous message" with an airstrike against an Iranian-backed militia in eastern Syria, the White House said Friday.
President Joe Biden is "sending an unambiguous message that he's going to act to protect Americans and when threats are posed he has the right to take an action at the time and the manner of his choosing," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
The Pentagon said Thursday's strike, which according to a Syrian war monitoring group killed 22 militia members, was in response for a series of rocket attacks targeting US soldiers in Iraq.
One of those strikes, on a military complex in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil on February 15, killed a civilian and a foreign contractor working with coalition forces, and wounded several US contractors and a soldier.
Psaki said the decision behind the strike was "deliberative" and that Biden's aim was for "deescalating activity in both Syria and Iraq."
Addressing criticism from some in Congress that Biden should have sought legislators' authority before ordering the strike, Psaki said "there was a thorough legal process and review in advance."


Dubai extends COVID-19 precautionary measures to beginning of Ramadan

Updated 26 February 2021

Dubai extends COVID-19 precautionary measures to beginning of Ramadan

  • Restaurants and cafes will continue to close by 1.00 a.m and pubs/bars will remain closed
  • The capacity of indoor seated venues, including cinemas and entertainment and sports venues, is limited to 50%

LONDON: A series of precautionary measures introduced in Dubai at the beginning of February to curb the spread of the coronavirus will stay in place till the beginning of Ramadan, Dubai Media Office announced on Friday.
Ramadan is due to start in the third week of April 2021.
The measures include the capacity of indoor seated venues, including cinemas and entertainment and sports venues, being limited to 50 percent, and shopping malls, hotel establishments and swimming pools and private beaches in hotels operating at 70 percent capacity.
Restaurants and cafes will continue to close by 1.00 a.m and pubs/bars will remain closed.
Monitoring and inspection campaigns will continue and tough penalties will be imposed for violations.
The decision to extend the measures was taken after data showed that they were effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

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Vehicle-carrier ship hit by explosion in Gulf of Oman

Updated 26 February 2021

Vehicle-carrier ship hit by explosion in Gulf of Oman

  • “It remains a realistic possibility that the event was the result of asymmetric activity by Iranian military,” Dryad said
  • The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said it was aware of the incident and monitoring the situation

DUBAI: A Bahamas-flagged ship, the MV HELIOS RAY, was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and a maritime security firm said on Friday.
The cause of the explosion is not clear.
“Investigations are ongoing. Vessel and crew are safe,” the UKMTO’s advisory notice said, advising vessels in the area to exercise caution.
The incident occurred at 2040 GMT, it said, but gave no details about a possible cause.
Maritime security firm Dryad Global said the MV HELIOS RAY was a vehicle carrier owned by Helios Ray Ltd, an Israeli firm registered in the Isle of Man. The ship was en route to Singapore from Dammam in Saudi Arabia.
A spokesman for Israel’s Transportation Ministry said it had no information about an Israeli vessel having been struck in the Gulf.
A company with the name Helios Ray Ltd. is incorporated in the Isle of Man. The ship was managed by Stamco Ship Management, Refinitiv ship tracking data showed. Stamco Ship Management declined to comment when contacted by phone by Reuters.
“Whilst details regarding the incident remain unclear it remains a realistic possibility that the event was the result of asymmetric activity by Iranian military,” Dryad said in a report on the incident.
Refinitiv data shows the ship has set Dubai as its current destination.
The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said it was aware of the incident and monitoring the situation.
Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.
Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, including on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran distanced itself from those attacks.
In early January, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf waters and detained its crew amid tensions between Tehran and US ally Seoul over Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks due to US sanctions.
In 2018, 21 million barrels per day of oil flowed through the Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz, equivalent to about 21% of global petroleum liquids demand at the time, according to the US Energy Information Administration.


UN court to try Hezbollah member for Lebanon attacks

Updated 26 February 2021

UN court to try Hezbollah member for Lebanon attacks

  • Hariri and 21 others died in a massive suicide bomb explosion in Beirut in early 2005
  • Ayyash was one of four suspects tried by the Netherlands-based court

THE HAGUE: A fugitive Hezbollah suspect will go on trial in June accused of three attacks on Lebanese politicians in the mid-2000s, a UN-backed tribunal announced on Friday.
Salim Ayyash, 57, will be tried in absentia by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which in December sentenced him to life in prison for the 2005 murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri.
Hariri and 21 others died in a massive suicide bomb explosion in Beirut in early 2005 and Ayyash was one of four suspects tried by the Netherlands-based court.
Ayyash’s sentence is currently under appeal, while the three other suspects were acquitted as the court ruled there was not enough evidence against them. The acquittals are also being appealed.
The new trial concerns three attacks against Marwan Hamade, George Hawi and Elias Murr, said the STL, based on the outskirts of The Hague.
Ayyash faced five counts including the “commission of acts of terrorism” and “intentional homicide,” the court said.
The first attack in Beirut in October 2004, wounded Druze MP and ex-minister Hamade, as well as another person, and killed his bodyguard, the tribunal said.
The second attack, also in Beirut, in June 2005, killed Hawi, the former leader of the Lebanese Communist Party, and injured two other people.
The third attack in July of that year killed one person and injured then defense minister Murr and 14 others in Antelias, near the Lebanese capital.
The case was due to open on June 16, but the date was still provisional, the court said.
Ayyash however remains on the run, with Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, refusing to hand him over, alongside three other defendants who were eventually acquitted.
The trial against Ayyash is the first new case taken on by the tribunal since its creation in 2007.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim former prime minister was allegedly killed because he opposed Syrian control over Lebanon. His death led to the “Cedar Revolution” which forced Damascus to pull out in 2005.