PM Hariri’s office says foreign governments back Lebanon reform goals

PM Hariri’s office says foreign governments back Lebanon reform goals
Prime Minister Saad Hariri hopes the reform package will increase foreign investments and help Lebanon’s struggling economy. (File/Reuters)
Updated 25 October 2019

PM Hariri’s office says foreign governments back Lebanon reform goals

PM Hariri’s office says foreign governments back Lebanon reform goals
  • The embattled premier sought international support for economic reforms announced a day earlier
  • The reforms were intended to pacify massive protests calling for his government to resign

BEIRUT: Foreign governments backed the Lebanese government’s reform targets on Tuesday, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri’s office cited the country’s UN coordinator Jan Kubis as saying.
Hariri met ambassadors including from the United States, Russia, China, the European Union and the Arab league, his office said.
They urged Lebanon to address the demands of protesters, refrain from using violence against them, and work to curb corruption, it said.
Hariri hopes the reform package will increase foreign investments and help Lebanon’s struggling economy. But the nationwide demonstrations only grew larger Monday after the reforms were announced, with protesters dismissing them as more of the same “empty promises” seen in past decades that never materialized.
Lebanon’s biggest demonstrations in 15 years have unified an often-divided public in their revolt against status-quo leaders, who have ruled for three decades and brought the economy to the brink of disaster. Rampant corruption has also hollowed out the country’s infrastructure and basic services.
In downtown Beirut, thousands of protesters were digging for a sixth day of demonstrations, insisting Hariri’s government resign. Scores of other protesters held a sit-in outside the central bank, while protests on other cities and town continued as well.
Hariri held meetings Tuesday with western and Arab ambassadors to explain the reform package.
He was also studying a possible government reshuffle, to be “determined in the coming few days,” according to the prime minister’s economic adviser, Nadim Munla.
The Cabinet approved the 2020 budget with a 0.63% deficit on Monday. The government also approved a series of reforms that would cut the budget deficit, with the central bank and the banking sector helping to reduce the deficit by about $3.4 billion next year. Lebanon has one of the highest debts in the world that stands at more than $86 billion, or more than 150% of the gross domestic product.
Munla said restoring the people’s confidence in their government “is not going to be an easy job. It’s going to be an uphill battle.”
He told reporters that the plan would include cutting debt servicing costs, privatizing no more than 40% of the telecoms sector, improving the dysfunctional power sector and cutting salaries of top officials in half.
Lebanese officials hope that plans to fix the electricity sector — which costs the state around $2 billion annually — would lead to the release of $11 billion in loans and grants made by international donors at the CEDRE conference in Paris last year.
Munla said international companies like Siemens, General Electric or Mistubishi will have a two-month window to make bids for constructing new power stations, with the winning bid announced two months later.
He said the plants — which will take years to build — should increase Lebanon’s power production by 1,000 megawatts by mid-2020. Lebanon currently produces about 2,000 megawatts, while its peak demand is nearly 3,500 megawatts. Residents rely on private generators to cover the deficit.
Walid Joumblatt, a powerful politician who has representatives in the government, criticized the reforms as “weak drugs” that aim to buy time.
From 2007 until 2010, Lebanon’s economy grew at an average of 9% annually. But it hit a major downturn in 2011, when a political crisis brought down the government and the uprising in neighboring Syria stoked unrest among Lebanese factions.
Since then, growth has averaged a mere 1.5%, according to government estimates. Munla said there will be no economic growth in 2020.
Nearly three decades after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon still experiences frequent cutoffs of water and electricity. With public transport networks virtually non-existent, its aging roads are clogged with traffic. Chronic problems with waste management have sparked mass protests in recent years.

(With AP and Reuters)


Oman COVID-19 fatalities rise in February

Oman COVID-19 fatalities rise in February
Updated 11 min 54 sec ago

Oman COVID-19 fatalities rise in February

Oman COVID-19 fatalities rise in February
  • Sultanate has reported 1,5480 COVID-19 deaths so far this month

DUBAI: The number of COVID-19 related fatalities in Oman rose in February compared with the earlier month, health officials in the country said.

A total 41 were reported to have died from coronavirus complications last month compared with 30 in January, according to the latest Ministry of Health figures.

The Sultanate has reported 1,5480 COVID-19 deaths so far this month.

The Gulf country has expanded its immunization campaign against coronavirus, and now covers individuals aged 60 and above, whether or not the individuals are healthy, as well as patients suffering chronic diseases and health workers in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

“Some of this spread is due to the presence of rapidly spreading mutated strains of the virus,” according an earlier statement from the country’s Supreme Committee, which tasked with addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total 142,169 coronavirus cases have been reported overnight, with 132,945 of the patients making full recovery.

Health officials meanwhile said 19 people have been admitted to hospital with COVID symptoms over the last 24 hours, a report from Times of Oman said.


Israeli-owned cargo ship back at sea after suspected attack

Israeli-owned cargo ship back at sea after suspected attack
Updated 16 min 42 sec ago

Israeli-owned cargo ship back at sea after suspected attack

Israeli-owned cargo ship back at sea after suspected attack
  • The MV Helios Ray was sailing along the Omani coast toward the Arabian Sea
  • The suspected attack has raised tensions in the region

DUBAI: An Israeli-owned cargo ship that suffered a mysterious explosion last week has left Dubai’s port and was transiting the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, satellite tracking data showed. The suspected attack has raised tensions in the region.
The giant MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship, was sailing along the Omani coast toward the Arabian Sea, according to satellite-tracking data from website MarineTraffic.com, days after docking in Dubai for repairs. Overnight, the vessel passed through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a third of the world’s oil flows. Its destination remained unclear.
Last week, a blast struck the cargo ship in the same waterway, raising alarms about ship security in the Mideast. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Israel’s regional foe Iran of attacking the ship. Iran swiftly denied the charge.
Tensions between Iran and the West have escalated in recent weeks as Iran accelerates its nuclear program, seeking to pressure the United States to grant sanctions relief it received under its tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. In the current standoff, each side is insisting the other move first to return to the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago.
It remains unclear what caused the explosion, which reportedly punched two holes in the vessel’s port side and two on its starboard side, just above the waterline. The incident recalled the summer of 2019, when the US military blamed Iran for a series of suspected attacks on oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf. The Navy had alleged that Iran used limpet mines — designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull — to strike some of the vessels. Iran denied any role in the suspected assaults.


Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program

Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program
Updated 52 min 5 sec ago

Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program

Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program
  • Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can also now be administered to all individuals 16 years and above
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can now be injected to anyone aged 18 and above

DUBAI: Dubai has expanded the coverage of its COVID-19 vaccination program, with residents aged 40 and above holding valid resident visas now allowed to register and receive jabs at any of the emirate’s inoculation facilities.

Dubai’s health authority likewise said that elderly individuals aged 60 and above with a valid resident visa issued in any emirate can register for the vaccine, provided they can prove they are residing in Dubai, according to state news agency WAM.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can also now be administered to all individuals 16 years and above, instead of 18 years, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can now be injected to anyone aged 18 and above, instead of those between 18-65 years.

Gulf nationals with a valid Emirates ID can also now get vaccinated at Dubai health facilities, the report added.

The UAE, which leads the world on COVID-19 vaccinations, has embarked on a widescale campaign to inoculation to achieve mass immunity and will help reduce the number of cases and control the spread of coronavirus.

About 66,539 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered overnight, bring the total doses at 6,094,956 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 61.62 doses per 100 people.

Health officials meanwhile confirmed 2,721 new infections overnight, bringing the total number of recorded cases in the UAE to 396,771.


Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French prosecutors

Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French  prosecutors
In this file photo taken on May 22, 2017, smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2021

Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French prosecutors

Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French  prosecutors
  • People in Khartoum watch a movie at the Sudanese European Film Festival at an outdoor cinema for visitors adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. (AFP)

PARIS: Lawyers representing survivors of a chemical weapons attack in 2013 in Syria have filed a criminal complaint against Syrian officials whom they blame for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a rebel-held area.
France is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, and its investigating judges have a mandate to determine whether crimes against humanity were committed anywhere in the world.
The case, which about a dozen people have joined, follows a similar one opened in Germany last year. It offers a rare legal avenue for action against the government of President Bashar Assad.
Attempts by Western powers to set up an international tribunal for Syria have been blocked by Russia and China at the UN Security Council.
“This is important so that the victims have the possibility to see those responsible being brought to justice and held accountable,” Mazen Darwish, who heads the Paris-based Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), said.
The SCM filed the complaint along with two other NGOs: the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative and Syrian Archive.

BACKGROUND

France is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, and its investigating judges have a mandate to determine whether crimes against humanity were committed anywhere in the world.

France’s intelligence services concluded in 2013 that a sarin gas attack on the Eastern Ghouta region just south east of Damascus that killed 1,400 people had been carried out by Syrian government forces.
The complaint is based on what the lawyers say is the most comprehensive body of evidence on the use of substances such as sarin gas in Syria.
“We have compiled extensive evidence establishing exactly who is responsible for these attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta, whose horrific effects continue to impact survivors,” said Hadi Al-Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive.
A UN-commissioned investigation to identify those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria concluded in 2016 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine and sarin gas.
Darwish said he expected another case to be opened in Sweden in the coming months.


Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany

Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany
Soldiers of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SARD) parade during celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of the creation of the SARD Saturday, Feb.27 2021 near Tindouf, southern Algeria. (AP)
Updated 03 March 2021

Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany

Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany
  • A senior Moroccan government official confirmed on Tuesday that the letter was authentic, but said it was not meant to be made public

RABAT: Morocco’s Foreign Ministry has suspended ties with the German Embassy because of “deep misunderstandings,” notably related to the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco is angered by German criticism of former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for moves by Rabat to normalize its relations with Israel.
A letter leaked online from Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to the rest of the government orders officials to suspend “all contact, interaction and cooperation” with the German Embassy and embassy-related activities.
A senior Moroccan government official confirmed on Tuesday that the letter was authentic, but said it was not meant to be made public.
The official also noted the appearance of a flag of the pro-independence Polisario Front outside the state assembly in the northern German city of Bremen. Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it was aware of media reports about the letter.
The Algeria-backed Polisario Front fought for independence for Western Sahara after Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975. UN peacekeepers now monitor a 30-year-old cease-fire between Moroccan forces and Polisario supporters.
The UN has expressed concern that Trump’s decision could thwart negotiation efforts in the long-running Western Sahara conflict.