Houthis exploiting businesses, banks: Yemeni govt

A Yemeni soldier mans a machine gun mounted on a military truck near the Red Sea coast city of Al-Mokha, on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 28 January 2017

Houthis exploiting businesses, banks: Yemeni govt

JEDDAH: Houthi militias in Yemen are exploiting businesses, levying inflated fees, and using bank profits to finance war expenses, the war-torn country’s prime minister has said.
Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr said Houthi militias and rebels regrettably still control YER300 billion generated from areas including customs, trade, telecoms, cigarette sales and cement factories.
In a statement to the official Yemeni Press Agency, the country’s prime minister accused the Houthis of exploiting the private manufacturing and service sectors, making them pay more royalties, and using a significant portion of commercial banks’ returns to cover war expenses.
The prime minister added that such funds should be under the control of the legitimate government of Yemen. Leaving them in the hands of Houthis will harm people’s lives by allowing militias to smuggle in weapons used to kill Yemeni people.
Daghr urged Houthi militias and those loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh to desist from the illegal control of central bank branches in Sana’a, and allow them to work under the guidance of the bank’s new board of directors and governor.
On Thursday, Yemen’s Ambassador to the UN Khaled Al-Yamani said rebels in his country use collective punishment against Yemenis in areas under their control, having effectively transformed Yemen into a large prison with thousands of journalists, students, activists, academics and politicians languishing in militia detention centers.
In his speech to a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, Al-Yamani said “rebels, over the past two years, have depleted the state’s resources and capabilities, and trafficked in everything for unholy funds, while sacking billions from the central bank. This pushed the Yemeni government to transfer the central bank to the temporary capital of Aden.”
Al-Yamani said the “government has worked over the past two months to provide the finances needed to pay public servants in the civilian and military sectors their salaries, despite the rebels’ attempts to punish the Yemeni people by threatening all those who cooperate with the government to facilitate the payment of salaries.”
The King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid has meanwhile transported 16 injured Yemenis from Taiz to Sudan for treatment.
The group left from Aden International Airport for Sudan in order to receive treatment at the expense of the center.
In a statement Taiz Gov. Ali Al-Maamari praised the center for covering the cost of treatment abroad and transportation of this second group of injured Yemenis.


Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 42 min 7 sec ago

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”