Gulf nationals exit Lebanon

A Saudia jet takes off from Beirut airport on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Gulf nationals exit Lebanon

BEIRUT: There has been an exodus of Gulf nationals from Lebanon. A Kuwaiti airliner arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut late Friday night in order to bring Kuwaiti citizens who are in Lebanon home to Kuwait.
The permanent representative of the National News Agency (NNA) in Lebanon told Arab News that Beirut airport had witnessed on Thursday night the departure of Saudi citizens on regularly scheduled Beirut-Riyadh flights.
She also noted that the airlines at the airport had reported many booking cancelations from passengers who had booked their flights to come to Lebanon during the coming holiday season.
The exodus comes in response to the call from the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE to their respective citizens who are in Lebanon to return to their countries and to avoid travel to Lebanon.
Lebanon is still experiencing the fallout from the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, announced from Riyadh about a week ago.
Al-Hariri blamed Iran and Hezbollah for his resignation and noted, “We live in an atmosphere similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of (his father) Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun continued his consultations on Friday with Arab and foreign ambassadors in the Presidential Palace. Aoun expressed concern over “the circumstances surrounding the situation of Hariri after announcing his resignation from abroad” and he pointed to the necessity of its unraveling, according to a statement from the Presidential Palace.
The statement added that President Aoun had held meetings with Arab ambassadors in Lebanon, in the presence of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. The spokesman at the Palace stated that Aoun told the Saudi Charge d’Affaires Walid Al-Bukhari that the circumstances of Al-Hariri’s resignation were “unacceptable,” and he demanded the return of the Lebanese prime minister to Beirut.
Arab diplomatic sources told Arab News that the Saudi charge d’affaires “assured Aoun the commitment of Saudi Arabia to the safety and security of Lebanon, and when Aoun raised, in the presence of Bassil, the ambiguity surrounding the situation of Al-Hariri, Al-Bukhari replied that it was possible to communicate with Al-Hariri directly or to send the foreign minister to the Kingdom to meet him.”
The sources told Arab News: “Prime Minister Hariri announced his position, and according to their information, we need to look into the problem and tackle it, and then Al-Hariri would return to Lebanon. But if he returned now, who would guarantee his safety? Taking into consideration the fact that the Kingdom did not dictate an option forcing him to stay in the Kingdom or leave it, he is free in his movements.”
The sources added that “questioning the situation of Al-Hariri and focusing on protocol issues is not right. Are we in Tora Bora? What’s the logic?”
After visiting Aoun, the ambassadors of the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon stressed in a statement read by UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini the importance of “keeping Lebanon protected from tensions in the region,” and the importance of “restoring the vital balance of Lebanon’s state institutions, which are essential to the country’s stability.” They welcomed the “steps taken to contain the political crisis and protect the country, its stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” The ambassadors reiterated their “commitment to support the country, its leadership, and its people during this difficult time.”
On the international front, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a statement on Friday, warned other countries against using Lebanon for “proxy conflicts.” Tillerson also called Al-Hariri a “strong partner” of the US.
“The US cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country,” Tillerson said.
France’s Foreign Ministry on Friday noted comments made earlier by the French minister, suggesting that Al-Hariri may not be free and urging that he continue to play his rightful role in the country, according to Reuters.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 Radio that as far as France was aware, Al-Hariri “was free in his movements” and that it was “important he made his own choices.”
From the UN, AP reported that the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was essential that peace be preserved in Lebanon, warning that a new conflict could have “devastating consequences” in the region.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed his concerns to his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, about the possibility of the destabilization of Lebanon.
A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry said in a press conference on Friday that Gabriel told Al-Jubeir in a phone call that he believed the “progressive steps achieved under the leadership of Al-Hariri should not be endangered.”
However, the spokeswoman added, “Berlin has no evidence that Al-Hariri has been detained against his will.”
She added: “Germany shares the Saudi concerns about Iranian meddling in Yemen and the support of Tehran for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah.”


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 4 min 20 sec ago
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.