Uneasy calm returns to Aden’s streets

A southern Yemeni separatist fighter checks cars at a checkpoint in the city of Aden, as calm descends on Aden streets. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Uneasy calm returns to Aden’s streets

ADEN: A fragile calm has descended on Aden a week after heavy fighting saw southern Yemeni separatists take control of the city in a move that threatened to mark a volatile new phase in the conflict.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE helped broker a truce between warring factions in the area after heavily armed militiamen seized a local military barracks sparking clashes that killed 38 and injured more than 200.
The assault by the rebels of the Southern Transitional Council targeted government soldiers loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and left the two sides, who are both part of the Saudi-led coalition in the wider war against Iranian-backed Houthis, facing off against each other on the city’s streets.
After several days of intense combat, the fighters appeared to be on the verge of capturing the presidential palace.
But as a new round of clashes seemed set to erupt this week, the main countries of the coalition intervened to broker a cease-fire and prevented further bloodshed, Yemeni soldiers and civilians told the Arab News.
An uneasy truce now exists in Aden, bringing a semblance of normality back to a city that has long been central to the fluctuating conflict.
Mohammed Khalil, a 22-year-old university student, described how the fighting had damaged buildings and sent terrified families running from their homes. Just as he was also about to join the exodus from his neighborhood, however, the violence stopped.
“Last week was horrible. I had decided to to flee the city for a safer area but the Saudi-led coalition intervened just in time to stop the clashes,” he said.
As the de-facto center of government for President Hadi, Aden has played a key role in the civil war that has torn Yemen apart since 2015. The conflict began when the Houthi-led militiamen and forces loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the national capital Sanaa and tried to remove Hadi from power.
When the fighting spread to Aden, Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in an effort to protect the Hadi government and the Houthis were pushed back in the summer of 2015.
The situation in Aden remained volatile and the coalition and their Yemeni allies have had to confront a series of attacks and assassinations in the city carried out by extremist groups taking advantage of the conflict.
The city has also traditionally been the center of support for the Southern Movement, which calls for a separate state in Yemen’s south. The recent fighting was sparked when government forces tried to prevent a rally calling for the restoration of South Yemen, which was an independent country until 1990.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher appealed on Wednesday for reconciliation with the separatists, whose fighters still control much of the city and large areas of nearby provinces.
“The mission today is to bridge the gap, heal the wounds and abandon political escalation,” Dagher told a Cabinet meeting.
Aden was already heavily damaged when the Houthi militias attacked the city in 2015 and residents are desperate not to see similar scenes again.
Saeed Bamashmoos, 34, who works at the Al-Shorooq Exchange Company in Al-Muallah district, said things had improved this week in the city after the fighting.
“By dialogue, people can discuss and solve their disagreements and not by force. Force is not a solution at all, so I hope that the sides use dialogue instead of arms,” he told Arab News.
Fighters on either side also said they did not want to clash again with each other while they are meant to be fighting against the Houthis.
Mohammed Al-Qirbi, 26, a captain with the forces of the Southern Transitional Council said when they arrived at the presidential palace in Aden, they received orders that forbid them from storming the building.
Al-Qirbi said many fighter’s from Hadi’s presidential forces surrendered rather than fighting.
“I am very sad about our colleagues who were killed in these clashes,” Al-Qirbi said, adding that he hoped fighting in Aden would not resume. Sergeant Salem Al-Lawdari, 33, a sergeant in Hadi’s presidential forces was arrested amid clashes in the Crater area but released the next day. He told Arab News that they did not want to kill any of the southern separatist fighters.
“We were shooting in the air to avoid killing our colleagues, and then the president Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition directed us to stop fighting so fighters withdrew from battles and returned their barracks,” Al-Lawdari said.
Abdurrahman Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for Aden’s police, said: “The coalition called on all sides in Aden to calm and all sides welcomed this plea.”
The casualties add to the more than 10,000 people killed in nearly three years of war in Yemen.


Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

Updated 22 October 2018
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Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

  • An exhibition is ongoing at the site designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in a call to save it
  • Until Oct. 23, a show titled “Cycles of Collapsing Progress” seeks to celebrate the era that gave rise to the fairground

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Close to the seafront in Lebanon’s Tripoli, giant curves of concrete stand testimony to dreams before the civil war, etchings of an exhibition park never finished but already cracking.
This month, a rare exhibition is being held at the site designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in a desperate call to save it from ruin.
Inside the vast grey grounds of the Tripoli International Fair in northern Lebanon, a palm tree throws its dark silhouette onto a giant concrete dome.
A thin arch sweeps high over a narrow footbridge, and a steep staircase spirals up vertically, onto a circular cement platform perched on a curvaceous pillar.
“It’s a futurist paradigm that is unique in Lebanon and the region,” said Lebanese architect Wassim Naghi.
“In its modernity, in its reliance on curves, it sums up the progress of architecture over a hundred years,” he said.
And with buildings dotted over an area the size of 70 rugby pitches, it’s among “Niemeyer’s largest works outside Brazil,” he said.
The Brazilian architect designed landmarks around the globe during a decades-long career that started in the 1930s and ended in the 21st century.
When he died six years ago aged 104, he left behind hundreds of buildings, in Brazil as well as in the United States, France, Malaysia, Algeria and Cuba.
But today his work in Lebanon is in urgent need of restoration.
“These buildings of reinforced concrete need to be restored rapidly. There are buildings being eaten away at, blocks falling down, and many cracks,” Naghi warned.
“We fear there will be unpleasant surprises, especially during the rainy season,” he said.
Until October 23, a show titled “Cycles of Collapsing Progress” seeks to celebrate the era that gave rise to the fairground, but also sound the alarm.
In the halls under the perched platform, visitors can admire a seabed of snaking rebar, or even an elongated white space rocket hanging from the cieling.
The show “documents a golden age in Lebanon’s modern history — the architectural, scientific and cultural dreams of the time,” said curator Karina Al-Helu.
During the 1960s, the tiny Mediterranean country had its own space program, successfully launching a small unmanned rocket into space.
When Niemeyer was first asked to design the outdoor space in 1962, there were plans for the rooms under the circular platform to house a space museum.
But dreams of outer-space exploration, and any museum to commemorate it, were indefinitely put on hold with the outbreak of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The exhibition aims to remind Lebanese visitors of this chapter of the country’s recent past, Helu said, but also shine a light on a landmark about to collapse.
In a country whose history goes back millennia to the Phoenician period, she urged the authorities to give equal attention to modern architecture.
“It’s great to restore buildings that show Lebanon’s ancient history, but we should also care about the landmarks of this country’s modern history,” she said.
Architect Naghi said he was not optimistic about any immediate intervention by the government.
“The current atmosphere of crisis in the country doesn’t bode well,” he said, referring to a months-long deadlock over forming a cabinet.
Any renovation should involve in-depth studies and specialized companies, he said, “and that would require a lot of money, as well as a government decision.”
Instead, Naghi and others hope that the site can be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Brazil’s capital Brasilia and an outdoor center in the south of the country, both of which were designed by Niemeyer, are already featured on it.
Sahar Baassiri, Lebanon’s delegate to UNESCO, said efforts were now being made toward adding the concrete park to the list’s contemporary architecture section.
Akram Oueida, president of the fairground, said Lebanese officials have made promises of assistance, but none have yet materialized.
Getting the concrete park listed by UNESCO may help, Oueida said: “That could open the door to funding from donors.”