Turkey urges Russia, Iran to 'stop' Syria govt in Eastern Ghouta

Turkey urges Russia, Iran to 'stop' Syria govt in Eastern Ghouta
A Syrian man checks the site of Syrian government bombardments in Hamouria, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on Feb. 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018

Turkey urges Russia, Iran to 'stop' Syria govt in Eastern Ghouta

Turkey urges Russia, Iran to 'stop' Syria govt in Eastern Ghouta

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Friday called on Russia and Iran to "stop" the Syrian bombardment of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta after more than 400 civilians were killed there since Sunday.
"Russia and Iran must stop the regime," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
As part of a peace process aimed at stopping the seven-year war in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia sought to create de-escalation zones across the country, including one for Eastern Ghouta and the rebel-held Idlib province.
Cavusoglu said the regime's offensive in the enclave as well as in Idlib was "contrary" to the agreements negotiated by the three countries.
At least 426 people including 98 children have been killed since the Syrian regime and its Russian ally intensified their bombardment of the besieged area on Feb. 18, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
More than 2,000 people have also been wounded in the enclave east of Damascus.
"Since the beginning of the conflict, tens of thousands of people have died in Eastern Ghouta alone, and that is enough, these people must not die," Cavusoglu said.
Turkey has been working closely with strong regime supporters Moscow and Tehran despite repeatedly calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
"The killing of women and children... this is a typical method of the regime," Cavusoglu said, as he called for a ceasefire.
Ignoring international calls to stop the bloodshed, the regime again bombed the besieged region on Friday, killing at least nine people, the Observatory said.
After unsuccessful attempts, the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote at 1600 GMT on a draft resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow for humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.
Diplomats said it was not known whether Russia would use its veto to block the draft resolution.


Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported
Updated 18 min 10 sec ago

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

BEIRUT: An explosion hit a military bus in Damascus early on Wednesday, and a number of people were reportedly wounded, state news agency SANA reported.
The explosion happened in the bus while it was near the entrance of a heavily fortified Republican Guards housing compound in the west of the Syrian capital, SANA said.
A source with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named, said at least ten people were wounded.
Blasts in Damascus have been rare since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took control of rebel enclaves around the city.
There have been several attacks this year on army vehicles in eastern Syria by suspected Daesh militants who still operate in the sprawling desert area.


UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
  • The booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose
  • The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing a booster shot against COVID-19 to all fully vaccinated individuals in the Gulf Arab state, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
It said on Twitter the booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose, and six months for others.

The Gulf state, which has approved five types of COVID-19 vaccines, had in June begun providing booster shots to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates. Around 79 percent of the population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose, while some 70 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to latest official data.


Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”


Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful labor union urged the president on Tuesday to rapidly announce a new government that should be small and led by an experienced premier, after he seized executive control in a move his opponents called a coup.

President Kais Saied has defended his actions as constitutional and said he will govern alongside a new prime minister during an emergency period, but nine days after his intervention, he has yet to name one.

“We can’t wait 30 days for the announcement of a government,” said Sami Tahri, a spokesman for the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces.

UGTT chief Noureddine Taboubi said later on state television later on Tuesday that the cabinet should be small and headed by somebody with experience, sending a positive message to both Tunisians and international lenders.

“We must speed up the formation of the government to be able to face economic and health challenges,” he said.

Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25 appeared to have widespread public support but raised fears for the future of the democratic system that Tunisia adopted after its 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring.

On Tuesday Saied removed Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, the latest in a string of dismissals of senior and mid-ranking officials over the past week including several ministers. He did not immediately name a replacement.

He is also still to announce a roadmap to end an emergency period that he initially set at one month but later announced could be two months.

A source close to the presidential palace in Carthage said earlier that Saied might announce the new premier on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters that Central Bank Governor Marouane Abassi and two former finance ministers, Hakim Hammouda and Nizar Yaich, are contenders.

Saied’s most powerful organized opponent, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, has meanwhile been riven by internal splits over its response to the crisis and its longer-term strategy and leadership.

Tunisians had over the past decade grown ever more frustrated by economic stagnation, corruption and bickering among a political class that often seemed more focused on its own narrow interests than on national problems.

The coronavirus pandemic ripped through Tunisia over the past two months as the state vaccination effort crawled, leading at one point to the worst infection and death rates in Africa. Pandemic counter-measures last year hammered the economy.

On Monday Saied replaced the finance, agriculture and telecoms ministers after having said last week that “wrong economic choices” had cost the country.

On Sunday he said there were contacts with “friendly countries” for financial assistance. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)


Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
  • President Kais Saied has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago
  • Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions

TUNIS, Tunisia: A day after naming a new economy minister, President Kais Saied on Tuesday added Tunisia’s ambassador to the United States to a rash of dismissals.
Yet he has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago or when.
Saied, who took on executive powers July 25 and began ruling by decree, has also undertaken globe-spanning consultations, meeting Tuesday with the foreign minister of Egypt, a critical ally in the Middle East.
Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions, which importantly included freezing Tunisia’s parliament,
The North African country has been cementing its democracy since chasing out its former autocratic ruler a decade ago, triggering the Arab Spring. Tunisia is the only success story to emerge from those chaotic times, and allies, from the United States to Europe and the Middle East, have worried about what comes next.
Tunisia is coping with economic, social and health crises, with the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming its hospitals. Saied, using an article in the constitution that allows a president to step in under grave circumstances, has said he did so to save the country.
In his meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, the president highlighted “the correlation between Egypt’s and Tunisia’s security and stability,” the official TAP news agency said.
Egypt’s envoy said that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi backed Saied’s moves with “his full support for the historic steps” of the Tunisian leader, TAP added. “Egypt and Tunisia are working together to ensure stability not only in the two countries, but also across the region,” the agency quoted the foreign minister as saying after the meeting.
The important Economy Ministry got a new acting minister Monday, with the dismissal of Ali Kooli, as did the Communications Technology ministry.
The rash of firings that began when Saied assumed all executive power continued Tuesday. Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, Nejmeddine Lakhal, was the latest dignitary terminated, the official news agency said. No explanation was given. Also Tuesday, the president fired the governor of the important Sfax region in eastern Tunisia.
Some lawmakers have not been spared, snared by judicial officials on complaints that could not be prosecuted earlier. The president lifted the immunity of the parliamentary body when he took on all powers, and a handful have been summoned to answer to charges they had escaped.