Lebanon president calls on protesters to go home

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun speaking during a televised interview at the presidential palace in Baabda. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2019

Lebanon president calls on protesters to go home

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on protesters to go home, saying their demands had been heard, and warned of a "catastrophe" if they stay in the streets.

In a televised interview, Aoun also urged the Lebanese not to rush to the banks to withdraw their money, which he said was safe.

Aoun also said he supports the formation of a government made up from both politicians and technocrat.

The interview was the latest attempt by the president to address the protesters who took to the streets last month. The demonstrations were initially against tax increases but soon turned on the countries leaders, who they accuse iof corruption, and the sectarian political system.

They forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and have led the country into its worst economic crisis since the civil war.

"If you continue in this way, you will strike Lebanon and your interests ... I am placing you in front of this choice," Aoun said. "We are working day and night to get the situation in order. If they keep going, there is a catastrophe. If they stop, there is still room for (us) to fix things."

The UN has4 urged Lebanon to form a competent new government better able to seek international aid.
Indicating no breakthrough in talks over the next government, Aoun said he was still waiting for answers before calling formal consultations with MPs to designate the next prime minister.
"A technocrat government cannot define the policy of the country...and I back forming a government that is half political and half technocrat," Aoun said. "I met Hariri and I found him hesitant between yes and no." 

With Reuters


Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 42 min 36 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”