Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation

A general view shows the parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation

  • Najib Mikati, caretaker premier, enjoys the support of the traditional parliamentary blocs that will rename him to head a four-month government

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s political class was squabbling on Wednesday to agree on a Sunni figure to designate as the future prime minister, ahead of binding parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun on Thursday.

Parliamentary blocs attempted to communicate with each other but failed to agree on a name.

Najib Mikati, caretaker premier, enjoys the support of the traditional parliamentary blocs that will rename him to head a four-month government. Its term will conclude when Aoun’s term ends in October and a new president is elected. Meanwhile, many have been discussing designating Nawaf Salam, a former ambassador and judge on the International Court of Justice.

Hezbollah and its allies are seeking to establish a parliamentary majority for its political side and to secure the votes of 65 MPs for its candidate, with the head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc saying it must “realize the importance of resistance.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement refused to designate Mikati and is setting impossible conditions, such as requesting sovereign ministries, and most importantly, keeping control of the Energy Ministry.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the party’s MPs will not designate anyone “because the proposed candidates do not meet our criteria.”

The Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb Party have decided to designate Salam.

The Takaddom party’s MP Mark Daou and MP Najat Saliba have voiced their decision to designate Salam, while other independent and reformist MPs have refrained from announcing their decisions.

However, independent MP Nabil Badr said that he and 13 other MPs will designate Mikati, which will increase the latter’s chances with the support he will receive from the MPs of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and others.

It remains uncertain whether or not Mikati will be able to form a government that is acceptable to the ruling parties within a short time, especially after some recent governments took a year to form.

This new political confusion wreaked havoc on the management of the country’s affairs. Bakeries and shops ran out of bread on Wednesday, with the owners of mills and bakeries blaming the Economy Ministry.

Similar to gasoline and medicine, Arab bread made from subsidized wheat is now being sold on the black market at a very high price.

On Wednesday, Economy Minister Amin Salam referred the issue to the Financial Public Prosecution, in which he mentioned “the greed of those monopolizing people’s sustenance.”

The minister’s office said: “Some bakery owners sold subsidized flour for Arab bread on the black market at double prices. They have also been using it to make sweets, cakes and French bread, generating double profits. They are thus wasting public money.”

Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank governor, said in an interview that when he accepted to “lend the Lebanese state, it was because there were laws allowing it to borrow from the Banque du Liban, and depositors believe that the money they put in the banks was taken by the BDL, and this is not true.”

He added: “The wrong political decisions that were taken have led to the local currency’s depreciation. Those responsible are blaming BDL and me. I never imagined some would default or try to shut down banks and turn the economy into a cash economy.

“The secret for the BDL standing on its feet lies in our commitment to not implement any reckless policy and we were thus able to secure financing for the country. Without the BDL, the government would not have been able to purchase wheat and medicines. We devised plans that introduced dollars to the BDL, which allowed it to use its reserves to secure subsidies. We only used $2.2 billion from the end of 2021, until June 15. We still have $11 billion."

Salameh stressed: “Lebanon needs between $15 billion and $20 billion to get back on its feet. The BDL was not late in providing dollars to importers of medicines for chronic illnesses, including cancer medicines. Subsidized medicines were cut off and medicines sold in dollars are available. It is not my job to go after these dealers.”

Speaking about Lebanon’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund, he said: “An amount of $3 billion from the IMF is not enough. Lebanon needs $400 million every month to secure diesel and gasoline alone, in addition to $35 million to secure medicines, as well as it needs $300 million annually to secure wheat. However, Lebanon needs the IMF, through which it will regain trust.”

He added: “Mafias are taking over the pharmaceutical, wheat, and gasoline sectors, and the state feeds the mafias’ profits. Some are trying to blame the BDL, and I have confronted such attempts. I cannot give names, but it is clear who these parties are.”

Speaking about the politicians who transferred their money abroad, he said: “The banks provided us with information, not names, because they do not have the right to give out people’s names, but we can review the banks’ documents to see if these regulations were done properly.

“Political pressure is being exerted on me by my political opponents, who tell some judges what they should do. Those who want my head say so publicly.”


Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Updated 13 August 2022

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

CAIRO: A vehicle accident involving an overturned microbus in southern Egypt killed at least nine people and injured eight, authorities said Saturday.
The crash took place Friday when the passenger vehicle overturned following a tire blowout on a highway in Minya province 273 kilometers (170 miles) south of the capital Cairo, provincial authorities said in a statement.
The microbus, a sort of mass transit minivan, was transporting people from Sohag province to Cairo, the statement said.
Ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to hospitals in Minya, the statement added.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
Earlier this month, a microbus collided with a truck in Sohag, killing at least 17 people and injuring four others. In July, a passenger bus slammed into a parked trailer truck in Minya, leaving 23 dead and a least 30 wounded.

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Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.


Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

Updated 12 August 2022

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

  • Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July
  • Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday

BAGHDAD: Thousands of followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr held a mass prayer outside parliament in Baghdad on Friday in a show of support for the powerful Shiite cleric who has called for Iraq’s judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.
Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July after a 10-month political stalemate that followed elections last October. Sadr was the biggest winner but failed to form a government free of Iranian-backed parties.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and is now preventing the chamber from electing a new government and is demanding early elections.
On Wednesday he said the judiciary must dissolve parliament by the end of next week. If not “the revolutionaries will take another stand,” he said without elaborating.
Outside parliament on Friday thousands of Sadr supporters gathered for prayer. Most were dressed in black to mark the Muslim month of Muharram and some wore white capes symbolizing burial shrouds and their willingness to die.
“You will not break Iraq as long as Sadr is here,” an imam told the crowd from a big red stage set up outside parliament. “There is no going back from this revolution ... and the people will not give up their demands.”
In the intense summer heat, men picked their way through the worshippers and sprayed them with cold water. Some carried portraits of Sadr and his father, also a prominent cleric, as well as Iraqi flags.
“We have revolted and there is no going back,” said Mohammed Elwan, 40, carrying a portrait of Sadr.
Hamid Hussain, a father of five, said: “I am here to call for an early election and make sure that all the corrupt faces are excluded from the upcoming elections...I became unemployed because of the corrupt parties.”
Sadr’s opponents also accuse him of corruption. They say his loyalists have run some of Iraq’s most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments.
Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday, the latest in a series of protest and counter-protest in recent days which have led to fears of unrest.
Sadr counts millions of Iraqis among his followers and has shown he can still stir up gatherings by hundreds of thousands of supporters, mostly working-class Shiite Muslims, if he needs to exert political pressure.
His father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr was killed more than 20 years ago for his outspoken opposition Saddam Hussein. When Saddam was topped in a US-led invasion in 2003 Sadr began an insurgency against US troops.
His new foes, however, are fellow Shiite leaders and parties mostly aligned with Iran, as Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who rejects foreign interference. Those groups, like Sadr, are backed by heavily armed militias, but do not hold the same sway as he does over masses of fanatical followers.


Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

Updated 12 August 2022

Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

  • Comments sparked calls for protests in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces
  • Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria

SYRIA: Protests broke out in Syria’s rebel-held north on Friday over a call from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for reconciliation between the Syrian government and opposition.
“We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this,” Cavusoglu said Thursday, in remarks to diplomats.
The comments have sparked calls for protests after Friday weekly prayers in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces and their supporters, including in Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus.
Similar calls were made in Idlib, controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and other rebel groups, to gather at border crossings with Turkey.
Small protests already began overnight in some areas, including Al-Bab, where dozens gathered holding opposition slogans and chanting against Turkey.
Some demonstrators burned a Turkish flag, while others took down Turkey’s colors hung up around the city, an AFP photographer said.
Dozens of others gathered at the Bab Al-Salama crossing to Turkey, many shouting “death rather than indignity.”
Turkey’s top diplomat also revealed that he had held a short meeting in Belgrade in October with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Meqdad, adding that communication had resumed between the two countries’ intelligence agencies.
But he denied direct talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, despite long-standing calls from Russia for such dialogue.
Cavusoglu added that Turkey would continue its fight against “terrorism” in Syria, following warnings from Ankara since May that it could launch new strikes on Kurdish-held areas in north and northeast Syria.
Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. Most have targeted Kurdish militants that Turkey links to a group waging a decades-long insurgency against it.
Cavusoglu’s comments have sparked widespread anger among the opposition, with renowned figure George Sabra writing on Facebook: “If Cavusoglu is concerned with reconciling with the Syrian regime, that is his business. As for the Syrians, they have a different cause for which they have paid and continue to pay the dearest price.”
About half a million people have died during Syria’s 11-year conflict, which has destroyed large swathes of the country and displaced millions of people.