Syria says ready to cooperate with new UN envoy

Geir Pedersen is set to assume the role at the end of November. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 November 2018

Syria says ready to cooperate with new UN envoy

  • Geir Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed the UN’s special envoy to Syria since the country’s war broke out in 2011

DAMASCUS: Syria is ready to cooperate with new UN envoy Geir Pedersen as long as he avoids the methods of his predecessor, its deputy foreign minister said in remarks published Sunday.
Pedersen, who assumes the role at the end of November, is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed the UN’s special envoy to Syria since the country’s war broke out in 2011.
A seasoned Norwegian diplomat, he replaces Staffan de Mistura, who announced he is leaving the post last month after a four-year stint.
“Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper.
It would work with him if “he announces his support for the unity of Syria’s land and people and does not side with the terrorists as his predecessor did,” he added, referring to rebel groups.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has long accused de Mistura of bias during his tenure.
Its opponents have said the change in UN envoy would have little impact on the fate of the country as international will and consensus were lacking.
Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian Negotiations Commission, this week told AFP he hoped Pedersen would be “more decisive” and call things out for what they are.
De Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat, announced he was stepping down to spend more time with his family after four years in the demanding post.
He had been appointed in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following two years in the position.
Brahimi stepped in after late UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role which he described as “mission impossible.”
Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.


Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

Updated 21 October 2019

Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

  • Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied on Sunday
  • The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters were expected to return to the streets for a fifth day Monday, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri holding a cabinet meeting to try to calm the unprecedented demonstrations.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied against corruption and the entire political class Sunday, the largest such demonstrations in the country for years.
Early Monday morning protesters began to block main roads and prevent employees going to work, while calls on social media urged people to boycott work.
Banks, universities and schools closed their doors Monday, with Hariri expected to offer reforms in a bid to stem the anger.
“It’s a day of destiny for us. All our hard work and efforts in previous days and years were to get us to this moment,” said Roni Al-Asaad, a 32-year-old activist in central Beirut.
“If they could have implemented these reforms before, why haven’t they? And why should we believe them today?”
At the nerve center of the demonstrations near the country’s houses of government in central Beirut, volunteers were once again collecting rubbish from the streets, many wearing face masks and plastic gloves.
The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday evening in response to a proposed tax on calls via WhatsApp and other messaging services.
While the government quickly dropped that plan, the leaderless protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of the political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
Hariri had given his coalition partners three days to support reforms he said were crucial to get the economy back on track.
On Sunday evening a cabinet official said that the parties had agreed.
The cabinet will hold a meeting chaired by President Michel Aoun at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) to discuss the reforms.
Demonstrators said Hariri’s proposals would not be enough, with demands for the entire political class to resign.
“All of them are warlords,” said Patrick Chakar, 20. “We waited 30 years or more for them to change and they didn’t.”
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line, the World Bank says, while the political class has remained relatively unchanged since the end of a devastating 15-year civil war in 1990.
Lebanon ranked 138 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption index, and residents suffer chronic electricity and water shortages.
Lebanese media hailed the demonstrations.
Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Shiite Muslim militant party Hezbollah, published a picture of protesters carrying a giant flag on its front page with a commentary on “Test Day: Power or People?”
The French-language newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour said “The hour of truth has arrived,” while the English-language The Daily Star said: “Lebanon’s only paths: reform or abyss.”