Hariri and Aoun trade blame as PM candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

A Lebanese anti-government protester in central Beirut on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as PM candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

  • Withdrawal of Mohammad Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms
  • Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a "harmonious" government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon's fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite

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The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi's bid in order to keep the job for himself.

"Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour," said a source familiar with the FPM's view.

A statement by Hariri's office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to "score points" despite Lebanon's "major national crisis".

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

"We are in a deadlock now. I don't know when it will move again. It is not easy," said a senior political source. "The financial situation doesn't tolerate any delay."

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as "back to square one."

Safadi's withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon's debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to 'CCC/C' from 'B-/B'.

Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.

 


UN chief warns foreign interference in Libya `unprecedented’

Updated 09 July 2020

UN chief warns foreign interference in Libya `unprecedented’

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that foreign interference in Libya’s war has reached “unprecedented levels” and urged key players and their backers to unblock the political stalemate and agree to a cease-fire and peace talks.
Calling the current situation “gloomy,” the UN chief said Wednesday that the United Nations political mission in Libya is undertaking de-escalation efforts, “including the creation of a possible demilitarized zone,” to try to reach a negotiated solution and spare lives. He said between April 1 and June 30 there were at least 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilians wounded in Libya, “a 172% increase compared to the first quarter of 2020.”
Guterres addressed a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council six months after leaders of 11 world powers and other countries with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war agreed at a conference in Berlin to respect a much-violated UN arms embargo, hold off on military support to the warring parties, and push them to reach a full cease-fire.
Guterres and speaker after speaker decried the failure of the parties to adhere to the Berlin agreement and demand its speedy implementation.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations Naledi Pandor and Egypt’s foreign minister were among those urging a cease-fire.
“We all took strong commitments in the Berlin conference in January and it’s now time to translate our words into concrete actions,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the virtual meeting. “The polarization that has turned Libya into a theater for proxy-war needs to stop. Action in support of one or the other Libyan parties needs to stop.”
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive trying to take Tripoli in April 2019, and the crisis in the oil-rich country has steadily worsened as foreign backers increasingly intervened despite pledges at the Berlin conference.
Haftar’s offensive is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey — which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January — as well as Italy and Qatar.
Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war in early June after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake the strategic city of Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Haftar seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.
Egypt warned that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attacked Sirte and the inland Jufra air base.
Guterres told the Security Council that forces supporting the government are now 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Sirte, after two previous attempts to gain control of the city.
“The situation on the front lines has been mostly quiet since June 10,” he said. “However, we are very concerned about the alarming military buildup around the city, and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the UN arms embargo, UN Security Council resolutions, and the commitments made by member states in Berlin.”
Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal stressed that it was in Libya to support the legitimate government at its request and supported the Berlin agreement for providing “the architecture for intra-Libyan talks.”
Referring to Haftar’s offensive, Onal said: “Placing the aggressor on equal footing with the legitimate UN-recognized government is wrong and counterproductive. This grave mistake must be corrected.” And he said blaming Turkey for what’s happening in Libya “amounts to hypocrisy.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the council presidency and chaired the meeting, expressed dismay that while other countries were trying to save lives in the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months, hospitals in Libya were being bombed and “ships, planes and trucks with weapons and mercenaries kept arriving in Libyan cities.”
He said foreign interference, “the main driver of the conflict in Libya,” must be brought to an end, and there must be “no more lies” and “backdoor deals” where foreign parties carve out spheres of influence.
“We will use the measures at our disposal, including targeted sanctions, to make sure that Libya is no longer the battleground in a foreign war,” Maas warned.
He urged all parties to unite behind UN-led peace efforts and behind a first important step which could be “a demilitarized solution for Sirte and Jufra.”