Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

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Demonstrators carry national flags and banners during an anti-government protest near Al-Amin mosque in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 19, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
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Lebanese demonstrators take part in a protest in the capital Beirut outside the Mohammad al-Amin mosque in the downtown district's Martyr's Square on October 19, 2019. (AFP / Patrick Baz)
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A Lebanese protester lifts a placard during a rally in downtown Beirut on the third day of demonstrations against tax increases and official corruption, on October 19, 2019. (AFP / IBRAHIM AMRO)
Updated 03 November 2019

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

  • The Lebanese Forces party has four ministers in the Hariri-led ruling coalition
  • Protesters in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre demand that others remaining in power also quit

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s “strong republic” bloc quit the coalition government on Saturday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces party, said his group was resigning from the government ahead of the 72-hour deadline that Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave to partners in power to help make his reform programs work.

Lebanon’s  banks will remain closed on Monday due to nationwide protests, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced on Sunday, according to the country's state news agency.
Geagea’s Christian party has four ministers in the coalition government, namely: Ghassan Hasbani, Kamil Abu Suleiman, Richard Qayomjian and May Chidiac.
“Since people have lost confidence in the political class, and since the people in the street represent all segments of society and because all components of the government does not want serious and actual reform, we were the first party to act with transparency and when discussing the 2020 budget, we demanded a basket of immediate reforms, but we did not feel the seriousness required,” Geagea told a late night press conference that extended into the early hours of Sunday.
“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” said Geagea. “Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government.”
He denied “any talk of an agreement with Prime Minister Hariri regarding the resignation of ministers.”
Geagea’s announcement was welcomed by the protesters, who are still sit in yards in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre. They demanded the resignation of the remaining in power.

‘Sweeping overhaul needed’
The protesters took to the streets despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests on Friday. Many waved billowing Lebanese flags and insisted the protests should remain peaceful and non-sectarian.
The demonstrators are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
They have blocked main roads and threatened to topple the country’s fragile coalition government.
Most Lebanese politicians have uncharacteristically admitted the demonstrations are spontaneous, rather than blaming outside influences.
Demonstrators in Beirut celebrated the news of the coalition party’s resignation, calling on other blocs to leave the government. In Tripoli, they let off fireworks.
“I am thinking maybe it’s better all the government resign,” said one protester, 24-year-old Ali. “I am thinking maybe it’s better to go to another election as people already woke up.”
The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property.”
Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh Al-Solh Square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannons to disperse similar crowds a day before.

AI slams ‘use of excessive force’
Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.
“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering — in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.
Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tires and other obstacles.
The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made Friday on accusations of theft and arson.
But all of those held at the main police barracks were released Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
The demonstrations first erupted on Thursday, sparked by a proposed 20 US-cent tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.
Prime Minister Hariri has given his deeply divided coalition until Monday evening to give back a reform package aimed at shoring up the government’s finances and securing desperately needed economic assistance from donors.
He held a series of meetings Saturday regarding the situation, NNA said.
Hariri’s political rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, told protesters Saturday their “message was heard loudly.”
But he warned against demanding the resignation of the government — saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.
The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.

Protesters attacked in Tyre
In the southern port city of Tyre, supporters of Shia politician and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri attacked protesters Saturday, a witness said, a day after demonstrators had accused him of corruption.
His Amal political party condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Many of the country’s senior politicians came to prominence during the country’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The promised austerity moves are essential if Lebanon is to unlock $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
Growth has plummeted in recent years, with political deadlock compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — more than 150 percent of gross domestic product — according to the finance ministry.

(With AFP and Reuters)


Iran shutters newspaper after expert questions coronavirus numbers

Updated 10 August 2020

Iran shutters newspaper after expert questions coronavirus numbers

  • Jahane Sanat began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news
  • ‘The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons’

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran shut down a newspaper on Monday after it published remarks by an expert who said the official figures on coronavirus cases and deaths in the country account for only 5 percent of the real toll.
Mohammad Reza Sadi, the editor-in-chief of Jahane Sanat, told the official IRNA news agency that authorities closed his newspaper, which began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news.
On Sunday, the daily quoted Mohammad Reza Mahboobfar, an epidemiologist the paper said had worked on the government’s anti-coronavirus campaign, as saying the true number of cases and deaths in Iran could be 20 times the number reported by the Health Ministry.
He also said the virus was detected in Iran a month earlier than Feb. 19, when authorities announced the first confirmed case. He said they held up the announcement until after the commemorations of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and parliamentary elections earlier that month.
“The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons,” he said, and only provided “engineered statistics” to the public.
He also criticized testing efforts and warned of a renewed outbreak next month as universities hold entrance exams and people mark major Shiite holidays.
Iran’s Health Ministry has reported a total of nearly 330,000 cases and 18,616 deaths, including 189 fatalities in the last 24 hours.
Authorities in Iran have come under heavy criticism since the start of the pandemic because of their reluctance to impose the kind of sweeping restrictions seen elsewhere in the region. Iran is home to the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East.