Hezbollah MPs step up attacks on US over Lebanon ‘meddling’

In this photo from a drone, anti-government protesters gather during separate civil parade at the Martyr square, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon,on Nov. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Updated 24 November 2019

Hezbollah MPs step up attacks on US over Lebanon ‘meddling’

  • ‘We want a government distant from US desires,’ claims caretaker minister.
  • Allegations of foreign interference ‘ridiculous,’ says former Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese government on Saturday widened their attacks on the US over alleged meddling in the country’s political future.

In an interview with the Central News Agency (Al-Markazia), Muhammad Fneish, Hezbollah’s minister in the caretaker government, referred to “foreign interference in our affairs” and said: “We want to form a sovereign government that is distant from US desires and foreign accounts.”
He said that recent statements by former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman had “complicated matters.”
Feltman told a US House of Representatives hearing last Tuesday that most Lebanese people have lost faith in Hezbollah and that there is growing anger against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil for providing “Christian cover” for the militant party.
The comments sparked outrage in Lebanon with Hezbollah and its allies accusing the former envoy of “interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs.”
Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem joined the criticism on Saturday, accusing the US of “meddling in the formation of a new Lebanese government.”
“Hezbollah is determined not to fall into strife,” he said, adding: “I do not see signs of a civil war in Lebanon.”
As widespread street protests in the country entered their 38th day, MP Salim Aoun, a member of the parliamentary bloc loyal to the president and the Free Patriotic Movement, claimed that protesters have created a “political movement.”
“No matter what we give them, nothing pleases them,” he said, accusing international bodies of backing the demonstrations.
“We know who is intervening and what their goals are,” Aoun said.
Amal MP and Hezbollah ally Ali Bazzi asked: “Is it true that there is aim to create a political vacuum and chaos in the country?”
Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin also questioned the motives of the civil movement. Speaking in Beirut, he said that “people’s demands have turned against Hezbollah, and this is a very serious matter.”
Zasypkin urged “the Lebanese parties to find a compromise solution that satisfies everyone on the formation of a government.”
However, former Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush described Hezbollah’s claims of US meddling as “ridiculous.”
“To say that the US is behind a movement that brought thousands of people on to the streets to demand tax cuts and jobs is a ridiculous accusation. Will they prosecute people for high treason?” he asked.
“Hezbollah supporters who are paid by Iran, take up arms, and fight and kill people, are not held accountable. How does this make sense?”
Public affairs analyst Walid Fakhreddine also rejected claims of a US conspiracy, saying: “We have seen these accusations at the beginning of the movement and now they are back. We were accused of treason and of receiving funding for the protests. They do not understand what is happening. People are now in a different place.”
Fakhreddine warned that the ruling class is “dragging the country into financial and economic collapse.”
“They insist on leading the country into bankruptcy. What is required is an independent transitional government that will hold early elections,” he said.
“They think people are revolting because they want to be represented in government. This is not true. The civil movement does not want to share power. We are looking for a homeland. They accuse us of demagoguery. We are a people who want real reform, not their corrupt reform.”


Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

Search and rescue personnel work at the site of a collapsed building, after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 in Elazig, Turkey, on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 28 January 2020

Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

  • Special taxes following the 1999 earthquake became a permanent tax in 2004

JEDDAH: Rescue operations continue amidst mountains of debris in eastern Turkey, following the deadly earthquake that hit the region on Friday with a magnitude of 6.8.

The quake, which followed two others in the western city of Manisa and the capital Ankara, has killed 33 people so far in Elazig province, and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.
The country remains poised for further trouble, with a large quake in or around Istanbul feared possible in the coming days. “We’re expecting a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul,” Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned in a live broadcast.
Turkey, which has a history of powerful earthquakes, faced a 7.6 magnitude quake in August 1999 in the western city of Izmit, which killed over 17,000 people, while another in 2011 in eastern city of Van killed more than 500.
However, not all lessons have been learned. Now, as then, authorities have been quick to criticize people who have questioned spending of funds raised by special earthquake taxes, meant to make vulnerable areas more resistant.
Turkish prosecutors were quick to launch an investigation against Turkish actress Berna Lacin, after she shared her views on earthquake taxes on social media platform Twitter, asking: “Where are they spending all the quake taxes that have been collected so far?”
About 63 billion lira ($10.598 billion) was collected in special taxes following the 1999 earthquake, which became a permanent tax in 2004.
Turkish politician Mahmut Tanal criticized the lack of transparency over the collection and allocation of funds, saying: “The taxes are not used as promised, but they are still being collected although humanitarian assistance … is not conducted anymore.”
He suggested that funds meant for earthquake relief and damage mitigation were being channeled toward other government budgets.
Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, a political scientist at TOBB University in Ankara, was also critical of the use of earthquake funds.

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33 - people killed so far by the earthquake that rocked Elazig province and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.

“Elazig’s reconstruction … has not been planned well by the municipality, and the result has been a disorganized city. That is the real danger. The fight against earthquakes should start first by the construction policies of municipalities,” he said.
Award-winning scientist Naci Gorur criticized Turkey’s lack of policies concerning preparation for potential earthquakes.
Gorur, who has conducted extensive research on fault lines in the country, had alerted authorities of the possibility of an earthquake in Elazig, where he is from, three months before the Jan. 24 quake struck.
Meanwhile, the natural disaster has served as a point of contention in ongoing political hostilities between the Turkish government and separatist Kurdish factions.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, claiming it had attempted to send aid to the region to assist beleaguered residents, released an official statement on Sunday, saying: “Delivery of two aid trucks … for Elazig earthquake victims has been obstructed by the Interior Ministry.
“There can be no explanation for blocking humanitarian aid to people in need. We call on the government to stop such practices at once.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, visited Malatya in the aftermath of the earthquake on Saturday.