Lebanon gas stations to abandon dollar payments, suspend strike

Lebanon gas stations to abandon dollar payments, suspend strike
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Drivers fill up at a petrol station in the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
Lebanon gas stations to abandon dollar payments, suspend strike
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A driver fills his tank at a petrol station in the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
Lebanon gas stations to abandon dollar payments, suspend strike
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Fuel trucks fill up at a distribution station of French oil giant Total in the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2019

Lebanon gas stations to abandon dollar payments, suspend strike

Lebanon gas stations to abandon dollar payments, suspend strike
  • The Syndicate of Gas Station Owners on Thursday night announced an open-ended strike, saying banks were not supplying them with the dollars they need
  • It decided to suspend the strike on Friday, after a meeting was scheduled with PM Saad Hariri in the afternoon

BEIRUT: Petrol station owners in Lebanon on Friday suspended a strike and said they reached a deal with the government allowing them to pay suppliers in Lebanese pounds, following complaints over a shortage in dollars.

The Syndicate of Gas Station Owners on Thursday night had announced an open-ended strike, saying banks were not supplying them with the dollars needed to pay importers and suppliers because of a shortage in reserves.

Lebanon was thrown into confusion overnight on Friday as some petrol stations turned off their pumps — the second time that drivers have been unable to refuel their vehicles in less than two weeks.

The fuel “shortage” arrived against the backdrop of a social media campaign calling for the removal from office of the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh, as a result of Lebanese banks’ continued abstention from securing liquidity in dollars for those who do not have dollar-based accounts, and limiting the amount of funds available for withdrawal through ATMs. 

These moves have allowed traders to control the exchange rate of available dollars, increasing the rate in some regions to more than LBP1,600. The official rate is LBP1,507.

A source at the central bank told Arab News that the bank’s decisions had been triggered by unusual patterns of dollar withdrawals in “many Lebanese areas within a limited period of time,” claiming that up to 20 times the normal daily rates were withdrawn, “confusing the banks.”

“Through a comprehensive audit by the Central Bank, it was found that these funds were in dollars and that they arrived in Syria, Turkey and Iran, which are experiencing severe economic crises,” the source said. 

“These mafia-like operations led to questioning, especially as they were carried out during US sanctions on Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. These dollar withdrawals were also accompanied by a sell-off of the dollar drawn from banks on the black market, specifically to money exchangers at high prices for profits.

“The demand for the dollar cannot be the result of economic activity,” the source said. “The amounts offered by banks have been the same for a long time, which means that there has been an unjustified use of the dollar, which is not related to increased imports — in light of the economic downturn in Lebanon.”

This situation caused chaos in the markets as traders refused to deal the Lebanese pound and offered prices in dollars. This affected the cost of fuel, leading some owners to close their gas stations in protest — despite Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s promises last week to representatives of the fuel sector and its unions to find ways out of the crisis by opening credit lines for companies that import fuel.

The head of the gas and exploration sector union in Lebanon, Maroun Al-Khouli, said: “The threat of some gas station owners of an open strike is unacceptable and is similar to the practice of banditry. It violates the decision of the oil sector coalition to allow for the time needed to find a solution.”

On Thursday night, there was a rush on gas stations as rumors of protests began circulating on social media, accompanied by footage of road closures and protestors calling for the government to be overthrown. However, the Traffic Management Center claimed that the footage was old and denied the rumors.

Banque du Liban governor Salameh has promised to regulate the import of crucial materials including wheat, medicine and fuel. Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun, who returned from New York on Friday, spoke to reporters of “some pressure on Lebanon, which is not new.” He called for “deliberation before adopting any position and until the truth is clear, especially with regard to the dollar crisis.” However, he also said he did not know what had happened in Lebanon while he was in New York.

MP Hadi Abul Hassan said that the cause of the dollar crisis is “a deliberate operation to increase financial, economic and political pressure on Lebanon through an internal network that is trying to withdraw the dollar from banks and smuggle it into Syria, but the real purpose of this matter is unknown.”

He called on the Lebanese state to “move quickly to put an end to the problem of illegal crossings.”

Former MP Fares Souaid blamed Hezbollah for the deteriorating economic situation. “It is preventing investment because of its weapons, trying to get Lebanon out of its Arabism and putting us in the space of Iran. It has taken us hostage in the face of the world and wants to convince us that it is the fault of Riad Salameh, the banks, Syrian refugees and gas stations.”

 


Italy fears current crisis in Tunisia may lead to new waves of migrants

Italy has recently put political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands. (Reuters/File Photo)
Italy has recently put political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 27 July 2021

Italy fears current crisis in Tunisia may lead to new waves of migrants

Italy has recently put political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Calm sea weather could incentivize up to 15,000 migrants to head toward Italian shores
  • Italian foreign minister calls on EU to increase cooperation with Tunisia

ROME: Italian authorities fear that the ongoing political turmoil in Tunisia may result in a drastic increase in migrants arriving from Tunisia, with numbers potentially reaching up to 15.000.

Despite bad sea conditions, yesterday nearly 200 people arrived on dinghies and small boats from the Tunisian shores to Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean, where the local holding center known as the “hotspot” and designed to accommodate only 100 people came under pressure once again.

However, in the next few days, the situation could progress from strained to intolerable. As weather forecasts announce calm seas, this could significantly incentivize migrants to depart from Tunisia toward the Italian shores.

“We are seriously worried about this situation,” Adm. Giovanni Pettorino, chief of the Italian Coast Guard, told Arab News.

“Our primary mission is saving lives at sea. In the past 10 years, 900,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean, and we have always made every effort to save them. We will continue to do so, but solutions to the issue of migrant flows must be found on land and not at sea. Every time a boat leaves the coasts of North Africa overcrowded with people, it’s a defeat for everyone. The solution must go beyond rescue,” he added.

A source in the Italian Interior Ministry believes that “the political turmoil could exacerbate the economic crisis in Tunisia, which is already severe due to the impact of the pandemic.”

The same source added: “If Tunisia faces social unrest, protests, or even civil war or a new dictatorship, as it is realistic to expect, the impact will immediately be felt in Lampedusa with a surge in arrivals by sea.”

Since the beginning of the year, 5,805 Tunisians have arrived in Italy. Italian intelligence services told Arab News they estimate that over 15,000 Tunisians could reach Italy by the end of the year if the situation in the country does not improve.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio immediately called on the EU Commission for help, asking for increased cooperation with Tunisia to solve the local economic crisis and discourage the departure of migrants. The government is also worried about the Italian community in Tunisia, comprising 3,537 nationals.

“In this situation, we can only show great concern for what is happening now in Tunisia. We believe that this crisis can be solved through democracy,” Di Maio said.


Discontented Iranians march through central Tehran, chanting ‘death to the dictator’

Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. (Screenshot)
Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. (Screenshot)
Updated 5 min 55 sec ago

Discontented Iranians march through central Tehran, chanting ‘death to the dictator’

Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. (Screenshot)
  • The Tehran protests come after recent violent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan province

LONDON: Disgruntled Iranians held protests in central Tehran on Monday. 

Demonstrating in Jomhouri Avenue and other parts of central Tehran, angry protestors shouted “death to the dictator,” and “Khamenei, shame on you, leave our nation alone.”

Other chants from the crowd included “Tanks, guns (are not going to save your regime), the mullahs must go,” and “Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran.”

The Tehran protests come after recent violent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan province.

Ahwazi Arabs are one of the largest minority groups living in Iran and most of them live in Khuzestan. 

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

The President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Maryam Rajavi praised the protestors in Tehran.

“The sacrifices of martyrs in Khuzestan now echoes in the cries of “Death to the dictator” in Tehran’s central streets, near Khamenei’s headquarters. The uprising continues on for the twelfth day and shows that the henchman of the 1988 Massacre cannot save Khamenei from his inevitable destiny,” Rajavi said.


Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead
Updated 27 July 2021

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead
  • The woman spent over 5 hours buried under rubble of the four-story building
  • Rescuers managed to locate and speak with the woman and passing her a bottle of water

CAIRO: An apartment building in the Egyptian capital of Cairo collapsed on Tuesday, killing a man while rescue workers hours later pulled his wife alive from under the rubble, officials said.
The woman spent more than five hours buried under the rubble of the four-story building in the city’s Waraq neighborhood, officials said. She was taken to hospital. No other residents were believed to be inside the building at the time of the collapse.
Earlier, the rescuers had managed to locate and speak with the woman — even passing her a bottle of water, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Prosecutors opened an investigation, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the collapse but such incidents are common in Egypt, where shoddy construction is widespread in shantytowns, poor city neighborhoods and rural areas.
Last month, at least five women died when an apartment building collapsed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Another building in Cairo collapsed in March, leaving at least 25 dead.
With real estate at a premium in big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, developers seeking bigger profits frequently violate planning permits. Extra floors often, for example, are sometimes added without proper government permits.
The government recently launched a crackdown on illegal construction across the country, jailing and fining violators, and in many cases demolishing the buildings.


Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
Updated 27 July 2021

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
  • The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new prime minister-designate Najib Mikati started consultations with leading political parties Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.
The billionaire politician, already twice a prime minister, was designated on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.
The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August and efforts to agree on a new lineup have proved fruitless.
The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s worst crises since the mid-19th century.
On Tuesday, Mikati met with top political parties, including the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.
Following their meeting, Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said his party is ready to “seriously cooperate” with the new PM-designate.
“What is required is speedy cabinet formation and cooperation from all parties toward that end,” Raad told reporters.
FPM chief Gebran Bassil, accused by critics of repeatedly obstructing efforts to form a new government, said his party has decided “not to participate in the next cabinet, which means we will not get involved in the formation process.”
In an interview with the An-Nahar newspaper, Mikati vowed his lineup would be “purely technical” and tasked with bridging the gap to elections due next year.
Several lawmakers, including deputy speaker Elie Ferzli, on Tuesday, backed this push.
“The government will consist of specialists,” Ferzli said. “As for the nominating process, it will rest on Mikati and his agreements with the president.”
The designation of the 65-year-old Mikati, Lebanon’s richest man and to many a symbol of its corrupt oligarchy, was met with general skepticism.
A native of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest, he was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment, a charge he denies.
“How can I trust a thief who stole from me and my children and their future?” asked 57-year-old Beirut resident Mohammed Deeb, after Mikati’s designation.
“As long as this (political) class is still in power, nothing will change.”
On Sunday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside Mikati’s Beirut home, accusing him of corruption and cronyism.
Lebanon’s former colonial ruler France and other Western governments stopped short of welcoming Mikati’s designation and simply urged him to swiftly deliver a competent lineup.
But Lebanon’s bickering politicians view Mikati as a consensus candidate, who may be capable of easing a political deadlock that has stymied efforts toward forming a government.
Mikati, the third politician in a year to attempt the job, promised his government would work on implementing a French roadmap conditioning a huge aid package on reform and transparency.
Tuesday’s meetings with the parliamentary blocs are the customary official step that follows a new prime minister’s designation but the high-stakes horse-trading has yet to begin.
In some of his first comments after his designation, Mikati addressed the shortages that have plunged the country into darkness and further crippled its crumbling economy.
Lebanon can no longer provide mains electricity to its citizens for more than a handful of hours a day nor can it afford to buy the fuel needed to power generators.
Almost none of the international community’s demands for a broad program of reforms have so far been met.
Further stalling the bankrupt state’s recapitalization has been the government’s failure to engage the International Monetary Fund and discuss a fully-fledged rescue plan.
Until then, the monetary institution is due to send around $900 million as part of its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) aid financing scheme to help Lebanon recover.
Experts have warned however that the amount would not be enough and risked being misused by a ruling class that offers no more guarantees of transparency than before.
According to the Al-Akhbar newspaper, Mikati wants to use the IMF money to build new plants aimed at stabilising Lebanon’s power supply.


Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
Updated 27 July 2021

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
  • The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier
  • The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week

TEHRAN: Iran recorded over 34,900 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, setting the nation’s single-day record for cases as vaccinations lag, public complacency deepens and the country’s outbreak spirals further out of control.
The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier, providing a sense of how quickly Iran’s latest surge, fueled by the contagious delta variant, is mounting. Health authorities recorded 357 COVID-19 fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 89,479 — the highest in the Middle East.
The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week. The government ordered the closure of state offices, public places and non-essential businesses in the capital of Tehran. But as with previous government measures, the lockdown looked very little like a lockdown at all. Tehran’s malls and markets were busy as usual and workers crowded offices and metro stations.
Iranian authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules on a population that can little afford to bear them. The country, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from a series of crises: tough US sanctions, global isolation, a heat wave, the worst blackouts in recent memory and ongoing protests over water shortages in the southwest.
Now, health officials warn that hospitals in the capital are overwhelmed with breathless COVID patients too numerous to handle. Fewer than 3 percent of Iranians have been fully vaccinated in the sanctions-hit country. Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots or the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine that may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced that its homemade vaccine provides 85 percent protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data or details. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.