Lebanon protesters react angrily to finance minister’s appointment as new PM

Lebanese protesters who have been demanding radical reform reacted with anger Friday to the reported designation of Mohammed Safadi as new prime minister, who they regard as emblematic of the country's failed political system. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2019

Lebanon protesters react angrily to finance minister’s appointment as new PM

  • Outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29
  • President Michel Aoun has said he will support the formation of a government including technocrats

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters who have been demanding radical reform reacted with anger Friday to the reported designation of a new prime minister they regard as emblematic of a failed political system.

According to senior officials speaking on condition of anonymity and Lebanese press reports, key political players agreed that Mohammed Safadi should be tasked with forming the next government.

Outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29, nearly two weeks into the unprecedented nationwide protests demanding the wholesale removal of a ruling elite seen as corrupt and incompetent.

President Michel Aoun has said he will support the formation of a government including technocrats but he has not yet announced consultations over a new line-up and there was no official confirmation that Safadi had been designated.

Demonstrators in his hometown of Tripoli wasted no time in rejecting Safadi, however, and gathered in front of one of his properties to protest against a reported nomination they regard as a provocation.

"Choosing Mohammed Safadi for prime minister proves that the politicians who rule us are in a deep coma, as if they were on another planet," said Jamal Badawi, 60.

Another protester said that as a business tycoon and former minister, Safadi was an embodiment of the kind of political class the protest movement wants to remove.

"He's an integral part of this leadership's fabric," said Samer Anous, a university professor. "Safadi does not meet the aspirations of the popular uprising in Lebanon."

A protest was planned in the afternoon at Zaytuna Bay, a luxury marina in central Beirut which is fun by a company that Safadi chairs and which many say encroaches on public land.

Several dozen private hospitals across the country closed their doors to patients -- except for emergencies -- to protest shortages of essential goods following delays in payments by the state.

Last week the head of the syndicate of private hospitals, Suleiman Haroun, said that current medical "stocks in the country will not last more than a month".

A lack of access to the US currency meant the situation could deteriorate fast, he warned.

Banks, which have restricted access to dollars since the start of the protests, remained closed after employees went on strike over alleged mistreatment by customers, while many school and university classes were disrupted again.

For two decades the Lebanese pound has been pegged to the greenback at around 1,500 to the dollar, with both currencies used interchangeably in daily life.

The army meanwhile said it had arrested 20 demonstrators on Friday after soldiers were targeted as they attempted to reopen roads closed by protesters.

Nine were later released, seven were held for questioning and four were transferred to the military police, the army said without giving further details.


Libya peace still elusive despite ‘small step’ in Berlin

Updated 2 min 31 sec ago

Libya peace still elusive despite ‘small step’ in Berlin

  • World leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to upholding a weapons embargo
  • GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar attended the Berlin summit but they refused to meet

BERLIN: A peaceful solution to Libya’s protracted conflict remains uncertain despite an international agreement struck in Germany, analysts say, as a fragile cease-fire between warring factions brought only a temporary truce.
On Sunday in Berlin, world leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the country’s conflict.
But overnight Sunday to Monday heavy bombardment again echoed south of Tripoli — the capital of a country that has been in turmoil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Since April last year the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli has fought back against an offensive launched by fighters loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
GNA leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar attended the Berlin summit but they refused to meet and the conference failed to get the two rivals to commit to a permanent truce.
The host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tried hard to get Sarraj and Haftar to engage in a serious dialogue.
But after the hours-long talks, she had to put on a brave face and admit she had no illusions concerning a peaceful outcome in Libya anytime soon.
“Ensuring that a cease-fire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee,” Merkel said.
Echoing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who took part in the talks, she said the Libyan parties had taken “a small step forward.”
Khaled Al-Montassar, a Libyan university professor of international relations, agreed that much still needs to be done.
“Theoretically, the Berlin summit was successful and touched upon all the details and the causes of the Libyan crisis,” he said.
“But the mechanisms of implementing the summit’s conclusions are still not clear.”
The summit was attended by the presidents of Russia, Turkey, France and Egypt, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN chief Antonio Guterres.
The main points they agreed to will be put forward as a UN Security Council resolution.
They include a commitment to end foreign interference in Libya, respect for a UN arms embargo, a permanent cease-fire and steps to dismantle numerous militias and armed groups.
European states must now convince Italy to resume naval operations suspended since March 2019 aimed at enforcing the embargo.
Other points agreed in Berlin were a return to a political process under the auspices of the UN, respect for human rights and guarantees to ensure the security of Libya’s lucrative oil infrastructure.
The United Nations walked away from the summit satisfied at least with one key development.
The summit saw the formation of a military commission comprising five GNA loyalists and five Haftar delegates who will seek to define ways of consolidating the cease-fire.
The UN mission in Libya had for weeks urged the rival camps to submit names of delegates to such a commission, and its wish was finally answered on Sunday.
The military commission is expected to meet in the coming days, according to the UN, tasked with turning the fragile cease-fire into a permanent truce as requested by the international leaders in Berlin.
The cease-fire was co-sponsored by Russia and Turkey and has broadly held since it went into effect on January 12.
The main goal of the Berlin summit was to end the international divisions concerning Libya.
Although the GNA is recognized by the UN as Libya’s legitimate government, the world body’s member states do not agree when it comes to the oil-rich North African country.
Haftar, who insists his military campaign is aimed at battling Islamists, has the support of several countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France, with some providing him with military and logistical backing.
The GNA is backed by Qatar and Turkey, which has recently sent some troops to shore up Sarraj’s embattled government.
Moscow is also suspected of backing Haftar but denies funding Russian mercenaries on the ground.
As a follow-up to the Berlin summit, the two rival administrations must now choose representatives to attend talks in order to revive the moribund political process, UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said.
Algeria, which attended the conference and shares a border with Libya, on Monday offered to hold inter-Libyan talks on its soil. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Algiers on Tuesday, his ministry said Monday, to discuss the situation in Libya, among other topics.
Future Libya talks are certain to face huge challenges, particularly after pro-Haftar forces blocked oil exports from Libya’s main ports last week.
Meanwhile, Libyans on social media remained skeptical, the deep divisions reflected in comments such as “who won, Haftar or Sarraj?“
Tripoli resident Abdul Rahman Milud said a “another summit isn’t necessary.”
Establishing “a consensus among Libyans themselves” is much more important, he told AFP.