Lebanese PM Hariri denounces Hezbollah criticism

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019

Lebanese PM Hariri denounces Hezbollah criticism

  • Beirut's relations with Arab countries are not subject to the whims of some parties, he said

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has given his view on a number of recent controversies, including the Tripoli terrorist attack and attitudes toward refugees from neighboring Syria, which have shaken the settlement between him and the President Michel Aoun.

He also denounced criticism of Lebanon’s position at the recent Makkah summit of Arab leaders, particularly the statement made by Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah, noting that “Lebanon cannot be run by slips of tongues and hiccups.”

“Anger among Sunnis cannot be considered non-existent; it is a reality and it is the result of positions taken by key partners,” Hariri said.

“Lebanon’s relations with Arab countries are not subject to the whims of some (parties),” he added, stressing that “the first line of the constitution states that Lebanon is an Arab country, so it is worth noting that when a prime minister delivers a speech, he does so on behalf of Lebanon.

“I went to the Makkah summit and agreed to its decisions in the name of Lebanon. My position and speech at the summit go in line with the ministerial statement. The ones that think otherwise should go back to the decisions of previous summits and see who is truly violating the principle of disassociation.

“We should not put Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in a position of rivalry with Lebanon. It about time that we understand that the interests of the country should come before our personal and political interests and our loyalty to Lebanon should always come first.”

Hariri also addressed the controversy that arose at the weekend involving the Free Patriotic Movement, after it released a video in support of a campaign encouraging businesses to hire Lebanese nationals rather than foreigners, sparking allegations of racism. Subsequent comments on Twitter by party leader, and Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, provoked further criticism.

“I was very upset with the words (from the party’s) head, (Foreign) Minister Gebran Bassil,” said Hariri. “I wish the negation came immediately because the repercussions were very bad and they put us in an unacceptable position.

Hariri also criticized the decision by a court in May to acquit Lt. Col. Suzanne Hajj, who was charged with fabricating evidence against actor Ziad Itani, who was falsely accused of spying for Israel.

“It is unacceptable that a certain judge does what he pleases,” said Hariri. “There has been an interference in the judiciary. Nobody should cover for the mistake and I will not keep silent in this regard. The government made a mistake.”

Hariri then talked about terrorist Abdul Rahman Mabsout, who shot and killed two police officers and two soldiers last week during attacks on a bank, a police station and an army vehicle before blowing himself up. He had been detained after returning to Lebanon from Syria in 2016 but released the following year.

“Imprisoning him for a year and a half was not wrong; what was wrong is not properly monitoring him after his release,” said Hariri.

Finally, as debates continue regarding the 2019 draft budget, Hariri asked those blocking it: “Do you want the outcome of the Cedar Conference or not? Do you want McKinsey’s plan or not? Do you want our Arab brothers to come back or not?”

International donors pledged about $11 billion to Lebanon during the Cedar Conference in Paris in April last year, in return for which Hariri vowed to cut the country’s budget deficit. In July, global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. published a 1000-page report setting out its vision for Lebanon’s economy, with a view to unlocking that international investment.

Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 23 min 56 sec ago

Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.