Former Pakistani PM Abbasi arrested by anti-graft agency

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was arrested in a case that was opened last year over a liquefied natural gas terminal project. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2019

Former Pakistani PM Abbasi arrested by anti-graft agency

  • Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was arrested in a case over a liquefied natural gas terminal project
  • Arrest adds to a political scene already thick with accusations of corruption and abuse of office

LAHORE, Pakistan: Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency arrested former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Thursday, drawing a furious response from opposition parties, which accused the government of trying to silence its opponents.
The National Accountability Bureau said in a statement Abbasi had been arrested in a case that was opened last year over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal project.
The arrest, as Abbasi was on his way to a news conference in the eastern city of Lahore, adds to a political scene already thick with accusations of corruption and abuse of office with opposition parties planning a day of protest next week.
“I believe today is yet another black day in Pakistan’s history,” Ahsan Iqbal, a senior parliamentarian from Abbasi’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, told reporters, accusing Prime Minister Imran Khan of trying to suppress opposition.
“We are not afraid of your fascist acts. Don’t think that you will gag our voices through such arrests,” he said.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the other main opposition party, condemned Abbasi’s arrest which he said was part of a government “witchhunt” against elected representatives.
The PML-N was already engaged in a bitter standoff with Khan’s government, which came to power last year accusing Abbasi and his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, of large-scale corruption and mismanagement of the economy.
Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court in 2017 over accusations that eventually led to a seven-year jail sentence for receiving undeclared income. Abbasi took over as premier and served for less than a year before losing an election to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in 2018.
The PML-N accuses the government of being behind Sharif’s arrest and last week produced video footage that it said showed the judge who heard the case confessing that he had been blackmailed to ensure a conviction.
The judge denied the accusation but was sacked from his position with the Accountability Court.
The government has rejected opposition accusations of using the National Accountability Bureau, an independent body, to suppress its critics and opponents.
It says corruption by past governments is the main reason for an economic crisis that has forced Pakistan to seek a $6 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund, its 13th IMF bailout since the 1980s.
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry against Abbasi, Sharif and others “for granting a 15-year contract of LNG terminal to a company of their liking in violation of rules and by misuse of their powers, which caused national exchequer a loss of billions of rupees.”


Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

Updated 15 min 41 sec ago

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

  • The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17
  • The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis

BEIRUT: Protesters blocked several main roads across Lebanon on Friday as unprecedented demonstrations against a political elite accused of corruption and incompetence entered their fourth month.
The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17 has resurged this week, over delays in forming a new cabinet to address the country’s growing economic crisis.
No progress seemed to have been made on a final lineup, which protesters demand be made up solely of independent experts and empty of traditional political parties.
In central Beirut, dozens of protesters Friday stood between parked cars blocking a key thoroughfare linking the city’s east and west.
“We blocked the road with cars because it’s something they can’t move,” Marwan Karam said.
The protester condemned what he regarded as efforts to form yet another government representing the usual carve-up of power between the traditional parties.
“We don’t want a government of masked political figures,” the 30-year-old told AFP. “Any such government will fall. We won’t give it any chance in the street.”
Forming a new cabinet is often a drawn-out process in Lebanon, where a complex system seeks to maintain balance between the various political parties and a multitude of religious confessions.
Nearby, Carlos Yammine, 32, said he did not want yet another “cake-sharing government.”
“What we have asked for from the start of the movement is a reduced, transitional, emergency government of independents,” he said, leaning against his car.


Elsewhere, demonstrators closed roads including in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, though some were later reopened, the National News Agency said.
The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis that Lebanon has witnessed since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The protests this week saw angry demonstrators attack banks following the imposition of sharp curbs on cash withdrawals to stem a liquidity crisis.
On Thursday night, protesters vandalized three more banks in the capital’s Hamra district, smashing their glass fronts and graffitiing ATMs, an AFP photographer said.
Earlier, Lebanon’s security services released most of the 100-plus protesters detained over the previous 48 hours, lawyers said.
Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the arrests and the response of security forces to protests outside a police station on Wednesday night demanding detainees be released.
“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the rights watchdog.
Over the past few months, the Lebanese pound — long pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 — has fallen in value on the unofficial market to around 2,500.
The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half if the political crisis is not remedied fast.