Lebanon expects deal with World Bank on food security

Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam gives an interview to The Associated Press at his office in Beirut, on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 19 April 2022

Lebanon expects deal with World Bank on food security

  • Amin Salam said talks with the International Monetary Fund were progressing in a positive way
  • He said the IMF is focusing on three sectors that are improving — electricity, transportation and high-speed internet

BEIRUT: Lebanon is close to reaching an agreement with the World Bank in which the international agency would give the crisis-hit country a $150 million loan for food security and to stabilize bread prices for the next six months, the economy minister said Tuesday.
Amin Salam said talks with the International Monetary Fund were progressing in a positive way.
“Work is ongoing and the train is moving. I am optimistic,” Salam said in an interview with The Associated Press. He said the IMF is focusing on three sectors that are improving — electricity, transportation and high-speed Internet — because they can help reactivate the whole economy.
Salam said the government does not have immediate plans to lift bread subsidies, especially for flour used in making flat Arabic bread, the main staple in Lebanon.
Lebanon is in the grip of a devastating economic crisis that has been described as one of the worst in modern history. It imports most of its wheat and has faced shortages over the past weeks as the war in Ukraine leads to increases in prices of oil and food products around the world.
There have also been concerns that the government might lift wheat subsidies as foreign currency reserves drop to critical levels at the central bank. Any lifting of subsidies would sharply increase the price of bread affecting the poor in the Mediterranean nation where more than three quarters of its 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.
“We are working with the World Bank to keep market stability for the next six months by getting $150 million,” Salam said. He added that the deal with the World Bank will stabilize the price of bread and wheat until a ration card policy is in force so that people in need can benefit.
Salam added that subsidies cannot continue forever, especially for flour that is used for making pastries and sweets. He said that such policies were implemented in Egypt and other countries where subsidies were lifted for wheat used in some products and left for the bread.
Salam said meetings were scheduled with officials from the World Bank on Wednesday, after which Lebanon will propose final recommendations to the bank’s board. Salam said there is tentative approval from the Lebanese state and the World Bank, adding that it could be effective in three weeks to a month.
He said that the war in Ukraine is forcing Lebanon to find new sources of wheat that are far away and more expensive.
Earlier this month, Lebanon and the IMF reached a tentative agreement for comprehensive economic policies that could eventually pave the way for some relief for the country after Beirut implements wide-ranging reforms.
Salam, who is part of the Lebanese negotiating team with the IMF, said the government, parliament and all Lebanese officials are fully aware that if Lebanon does not fully abide by the IMF program, conditions ″will become very difficult because there is no alternative plan.″
He said the banking sector has to be restructured because without a banking sector it is impossible to move forward with economic growth. Salam added that during the talks with the IMF the Lebanese side worked to make “the banking sector carry some of the losses without destroying the banking sector.”
He said whenever a final deal with the IMF is reached and there is political intention for success by authorities, Lebanon can start achieving tangible results in the next two to three years. And in five years “Lebanon can be in a very good place.”
The Lebanese pound, which has lost more than 90 percent of its value since the economic meltdown began in October 2019, can become more stable, he said.
The staff level agreement that Lebanon reached with the IMF on April 7 lists five “key pillars” that should be implemented, including restructuring the financial sector, implementing fiscal reforms, and the proposed restructuring of external public debt, anti-corruption and anti-money laundering efforts.
Salam said the country’s 14 largest banks will be held up as a standard to work on restructuring the sector since they control about 80 percent of the market. The smaller banks that have problems should be taken over by bigger lenders. He said most likely people with deposits of up to $100,000 will eventually get their money back while those with much bigger balances will end up either getting treasury bills or become shareholders in banks or state institutions.
“The 100,000 figure will be a number that will be protected for everyone,” he said.
Breaking with the position of the prime minister, he suggested that central bank Gov. Riad Salameh should go.
″His situation has become tenuous,″ Salam said, saying it will be difficult for future governments in Lebanon to work with him.
Salameh, who has been in the job since 1993, is facing investigations in Lebanon and several European countries into possible cases of money laundering and embezzlement. The governor is protected by several top officials, including the prime minister and parliament speaker.
“I’m all for change,” Salam said. “No one is irreplaceable.”


Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.


Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.


Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Updated 05 July 2022

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.