Lebanon’s new government lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

Lebanese riot police stand guard in front the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the Lebanese central bank's governor Riad Salameh and the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Lebanon’s new government lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid
  • Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government raised gasoline prices on Friday, cutting a subsidy that Prime Minister Najib Mikati termed unaffordable as he advances plans to address a devastating financial crisis.

The government also signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank.

Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent with immediate effect.

The price of a 20-liter canister of unleaded 98-octane gasoline now ranges between 174,000 and 180,000 Lebanese pounds ($13). On the black market, 20 liters are sold for 600,000 Lebanese pounds.

The Ministry of Energy issued on Friday a price list for liquid fuels based on the exchange rate of the central bank’s Sayrafa platform.

This means that Lebanon has entered the last stage before lifting subsidies on gasoline after the subsidy on diesel was completely lifted.

The exchange rate on Sayrafa is 12,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, while the black market rate dropped to 13,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on Friday morning. It began picking up again in the afternoon, reaching 14,200 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Queues at gas stations were especially long over the past 24 hours, with the postponement of the pricing process delaying the opening of hundreds of gas stations.

“The liberalization of gasoline imports means that the process has become purely technical; companies import and secure goods for the country as they did many years ago. The central bank no longer has anything to do with the issue of securing dollars,” said Georges Fayyad, who heads the Association of Petroleum Importing Companies in Lebanon.

This measure came the day after the first shipment of Iraqi fuel arrived in Lebanon. The 32,000 ton-shipment is being unloaded in the tanks of Electricité du Liban, and the second shipment of grade B fuel will arrive next week.

A source in the EDL said: “The EDL is expected to be able to increase the power supply by about four hours,” bearing in mind that households only get one or two hours of EDL power a day.

Owners of private generators practice harsh rationing on subscribers due to the scarcity of diesel. Bills have doubled: Five amps per month costs over 1.5 million Lebanese pounds, more than double the minimum wage.

Eighty Syrian tankers loaded with Iranian diesel entered Lebanon through Hezbollah’s illegal crossings with Syria this week, evading state control and violating state sovereignty.

Druze leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, sarcastically tweeted: “We no longer know where the convoys of diesel, gasoline and oil come from. We now have so many enthusiasts that we may become an oil-exporting country without demarcation of borders or exploration.”

George Brax, a member of the gas station owners’ syndicate, said: “The Iraqi fuel will contribute to reducing the demand for diesel to generate electricity, and lifting the subsidy will reduce demand on the black market. As for Iranian diesel, it contributes to alleviating the crisis, but it is only temporary since Hezbollah cannot continue importing fuel into Lebanon.”

The government signed a new contract with A&M to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank, a step sought by donors who want to see Beirut enact reforms to unlock badly needed aid.

Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, formerly a senior central bank official, signed the contract with A&M, which the ministry said would present an initial report within 12 weeks of its team starting work.

A&M withdrew from the audit last November, saying it had not received the information it required. The Finance Ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over required documents.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced that a public session would be held on Sept. 20 to discuss the ministerial statement of Najib Mikati’s government and pass a vote of confidence.

In a statement, Mikati’s government stressed that it is “committed to resuming talks with the International Monetary Fund based on priorities and what the national interest requires.”

It also noted that it wants to implement “reforms in the banking sector and restructure it as necessary.”

The IMF talks were stalled last year when politicians and bankers questioned the extent of financial losses identified in the financial recovery plan put in place by the government at the time.

The EU is threatening Mikati’s government with sanctions until it fulfills the promises made to implement the reforms required by the IMF and the international community.


France urges Iran to curb nuclear activity, resume talks

Updated 54 min 53 sec ago

France urges Iran to curb nuclear activity, resume talks

  • US envoy Robert Malley joined counterparts from France, Britain and Germany at meetings in Paris
  • Iran’s new government has hinted it will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has balked at setting a date

PARIS: France on Friday urged Iran to curb nuclear activities of “unprecedented gravity” as US and European envoys met to discuss efforts aimed at reviving the troubled 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
US envoy Robert Malley joined counterparts from France, Britain and Germany at the meetings in Paris, at what the French Foreign Ministry called a “critical time” in efforts to salvage the accord.
“It is urgent and crucial for Iran to end the activities of unprecedented gravity that it is conducting in violation of the (agreement) and to immediately resume full-fledged cooperation” with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre said in an online briefing.
The IAEA is charged with monitoring the 2015 accord, which was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. The US pulled out of the accord under Donald Trump and re-imposed sanctions.
Since then Iran has stepped up nuclear activity and is now in violation of several aspects of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
Iran’s nuclear activity includes enriching uranium which Western nations fear could be used to build an atomic bomb. Tehran denies any such ambitions.
The US and European partners are ready to return immediately to negotiations with Iran “in order to swiftly conclude an agreement on Iran’s return to its commitments and the United States’ return to the JCPOA,” Legendre said.
Iran’s new hard-line government led by President Ebrahim Raisi, which took power in August, has hinted it will return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has balked at setting a date.


Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

Updated 22 October 2021

Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

  • The designations authorise Israeli authorities to close the groups' offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank
  • Israel's defence ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

TEL AVIV: Israel on Friday designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations and accused them of funnelling donor aid to militants.
The charge was rejected by human rights watchdogs who said the move will stifle monitoring of potential abuses.
The designations authorize Israeli authorities to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank, watchdogs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement condemning the move.
Israel’s defense ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a left-wing faction with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.
“(The) declared organizations received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations, using a variety of forgery and deceit,” the defense ministry said in a statement, alleging the money had supported PFLP’s activities.
The groups include leading Palestinian human rights organizations Al-Haq and Addameer, who document alleged rights violations by both Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
Asked for comment, an official with PFLP, which is on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist, did not outright reject ties to the six groups but said they maintain relations with civil society organizations across the West Bank and Gaza.
“It is part of the rough battle Israel is launching against the Palestinian people and against civil society groups, in order to exhaust them,” PFLP official Kayed Al-Ghoul said.
Al-Haq did not immediately provide comment. Addameer and another one of the designated groups, Defense for Children International — Palestine, rejected the Israeli accusations as an “attempt to eliminate Palestinian civil society.”
The other three groups listed did not immediately provide comment.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said the “decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
They added: “The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek the territories for a future state.


127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

Updated 22 October 2021

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

  • 127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday
  • Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea

TRIPOLI: A group of Gambian migrants stranded in Libya have been repatriated, the United Nations’ migration agency said Friday, the first such evacuation flight in months.
“127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday after IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return program received clearance to resume humanitarian flights from #Libya,” the International Organization for Migration said in a tweet.
Rocked by a decade of lawlessness and war, Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea.
But many end up becoming stranded in Libya, where they face grave abuses, according to international rights groups and UN agencies.
The resumption of humanitarian flights came as Tripoli hosted an international conference to seek support for stability in Libya.
The UN’s vice-head for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, used the conference to urge authorities to speed up repatriations and release migrants in detention.
Libyan authorities faced international outcry earlier this month after carrying out sweeping raids described by Doctors without Borders as “violent mass arrests” that left at least one person dead.
Days later, guards had shot dead six migrants at the Al-Mabani detention facility in Tripoli, while at least 24 others were wounded, the IOM said.
Some 2,000 migrants escaped in the chaos.
The Libyan interior ministry said a “stampede” had left an “irregular migrant” dead and wounded others as well as several police officers.
The United Nations has in the past offered flights for migrants voluntarily seeking repatriation.
Its refugee agency, the UNHCR, organized one such flight to Rwanda in July with 133 asylum seekers on board — the only one authorized by Libyan authorities this year.
The UNHCR on Friday welcomed the resumption of humanitarian evacuation flights but warned that “it is not enough.”
“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart,” its regional envoy Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.
“But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”
The UNHCR urged the Libyan government to “immediately address the dire situation of asylum seekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner.”
More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers are currently prioritized for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption, it said.

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In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

Updated 22 October 2021

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

  • This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan
  • The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May

MALUALKON, South Sudan: He feels like a man who has drowned.
The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years now surrounds his home of mud and grass. His field of sorghum, which fed his family, is under water. Surrounding mud dykes have collapsed.
Other people have fled. Only Yel Aguer Deng’s family and a few neighbors remain.
This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperiling livelihoods of many of the 11 million people in the world’s youngest country. A five-year civil war, hunger and corruption have all challenged the nation. Now climate change, which the United Nations has blamed on the flooding, is impossible to ignore.
As he empties a fishing net, Daniel Deng, a 50-year-old father of seven, recalls a life of being forced to flee again and again because of insecurity. “But this one event (the flood) is too much,” he said. “It is the worst thing that happened in my lifetime.”
The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May. Here in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, the Lol river has burst its banks.
This state is usually spared from extreme flooding that plagues the South Sudan states of Jonglei and Unity that border the White Nile and the Sudd marshlands. But now, houses and crops have been swamped.
A new report this week coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization warned of increasing such climate shocks to come across much of Africa, the continent that contributes the least to global warming but will suffer from it most.
In these rural South Sudan communities, shelters of braided grass put up a fragile resistance in a land of seemingly endless water.
In Langic village, Ajou Bol Yel’s family of seven hosted nine neighbors who had lost their homes. The elders sleep outside on beds protected by mosquito nets, while the children share the floor.
In Majak Awar, some 100 families have been displaced twice, in June when homes were flooded and again in August when their shelters were ruined, too.
“I want to leave for Sudan,” whispered Nyibol Arop, a 27-year-old mother of five, as she boiled her morning tea just steps away from the stagnant water that threatens her current shelter.
It is hard to see a stable future when constantly on the move, a lesson learned during the civil war that displaced millions of people before a peace agreement in 2018.
“Floods are not constant. Some people will stay, and some will go,” said Thomas Mapol, a 45-year-old father of nine, as he showed off the destroyed houses of his village near Majak Awar. “But me, I cannot move anywhere. There is no other place that I know.”


Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Updated 22 October 2021

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

  • Pavilion is one of the largest at the event and could remain as a permanent structure once the expo is over
  • The pavilion’s launch coincides with year-long celebrations marking 75 years of Indian independence 

DUBAI: Stepping into India’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is like being instantly transported from the skyscraper-dominated skyline of the Middle East’s commercial capital to the hustle and bustle of South Asia.

The pavilion, located in Al-Forsan Crescent in the expo’s Opportunity District, is one of the largest at the event. Designed by CP Kukreja Architects in Delhi, it features an innovative kinetic facade made up of 600 individual blocks in assorted hues of brown and beige — not entirely unlike the desert landscape outside — arranged in a mosaic of panels, each of which rotates on an axis.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The design is intended to represent India’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move;” a country rooted in its rich heritage but also avant-garde and innovative in its approach to technological and economic advances.

The pavilion is also a nod to the nation’s fight against COVID-19 and the various reforms implemented by the government to prepare for what is hoped will be a period of high and accelerated growth as India strives to become a $5 trillion economy.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

“The pavilion takes visitors through the numerous phases of development and the unparalleled growth trajectory that India has experienced in all sectors, ranging from health and wellness, climate change, biodiversity, food agriculture to accomplishments in space,” Aman Puri, the pavilion’s commissioner general and the consul general of India in Dubai, told Arab News.

“We have a wide assortment of festivals and celebrations to offer at the pavilion, which provide our visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get the … feel of the diverse Indian culture.”

Visitors are greeted warmly as they arrive at the state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site and showcases the nation’s cultural treasures and technological marvels.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

As they move along a winding pathway they pass by a live yoga display in an area surrounded by greenery, a demonstration of Ayurveda, India’s ancient art of wellness, and a sharply contrasting area dedicated to India’s space program.

Visitors then move up through several levels that offer insights into various aspects of Indian culture, heritage and modern-day achievements. Massive floor-to-ceiling LED screens show images of Indian dancers and traditional ceremonies, and showcase the nation’s successes in the fields of robotics, energy, e-commerce, healthcare, cryptocurrency and blockchain.

A number of conference rooms and meeting spaces will be used to host talks and networking events in the coming months in an attempt to encourage the forging of new international business relationships with India.

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

“The expo is an important occasion to exhibit and invite the world to participate in India’s economic growth by utilizing the existing Indian talent base, creating additional employment opportunities, and empowering the secondary and tertiary sectors,” said Puri.

“The plethora of global discussions, business and investment summits will focus on creating synergies and providing opportunities to explore and accelerate trade partnerships.”

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

INNUMBERS

8.5 million - Population of overseas Indians in the Gulf states (2018).

(Source: GoI, Ministry of External Affairs)

Noting that India is “a country of start-up unicorns, and with an ecosystem of more than 50,000 recognized start-ups,” Puri said that “the Innovation Hub at the India pavilion will host several leading startups from India. Expo 2020 Dubai will be an excellent platform for these startups to engage with the global market.”

As it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, India has set its sights on becoming a high-tech, $5 trillion economy. (Credit: Supplied)

Among the events the pavilion will host is a World Majlis, which includes a program of talks including: Lessons from Space, on Oct. 19; Cities on the Move, on Nov. 2; and Off the Beaten Path, on Jan. 13.

For those interested in sampling some of India’s heritage, arts and crafts, and cultural treasures, the pavilion features a retail area with shops selling gemstones, textiles and pashminas from Jodhpur, Rajasthan and Jaipur.

And of course there is also a food court offering a wide range of Indian delicacies, along with a fine-dining restaurant, managed by Taj Hotels, where visitors can feast on a selection of the country’s rich culinary offerings.

The pavilion will also offer a packed schedule of indoor and outdoor performances of traditional Indian music and dance. In addition, visitors are invited to take part in festivities such as Diwali, the festival of light, and Holi, the festival of color.

 India’s state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site, showcases the nation’s cultural treasures alongside its technological marvels. (Credit: Supplied)

There are plans for the pavilion to remain as a permanent space for cultural and business exchange after the expo concludes, a testament to the long-standing relationship between the UAE and India.

About 2.75 million Indian nationals live in the UAE, representing 27 percent of the Gulf state’s population of about 10 million. The majority work in the service industry, which was badly hit by the precautionary lockdown measures during the pandemic. As a result, many Indian expats were forced to return home.

India’s participation at the expo coincides with the Indian government’s Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative, also known as [email protected], a year-long celebration of the upcoming 75th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The Indian consulate has launched a number of special events, in addition to those taking place at the expo, to mark the anniversary, including competitions, documentary screenings and art exhibitions. The consulate is also reportedly planning a joint celebration to coincide with the 50th UAE National Day on Dec. 2, in celebration of the bond of friendship between the nations.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the 35th World Expo. The previous one was in Milan in 2015, and the next is scheduled to take place in 2025 in the Japanese city of Osaka, which also hosted the 1970 World Expo.

People attend the opening ceremony of the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on September 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo)

The event dates back to 1851 and the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London, the first of what came to be called World Expos. In recent years have been staged every five years in a host city for a period ranging from three to six months.

Since 2013, when Dubai impressed a selection panel in Paris with its bid for the 2020 event, the expo has been one the most talked about and eagerly anticipated events in the UAE.

Organizers say the expo, which was delayed by a year because of the pandemic and finally got underway on Oct. 1 this year, provides a showcase for more than 200 participating entities, including 192 countries, and features 60 events. About 25 million visitors are expected before it closes in April.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

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