Lebanon PM appeals for foreign help to combat import crisis

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri asked foreign allies for help on Friday as its dollar-starved economy faces an import crisis after weeks of political and economic turmoil. (File Photo/ Reuters)
Updated 06 December 2019

Lebanon PM appeals for foreign help to combat import crisis

  • The appeal was part of an effort “to address a liquidity crisis and secure basic imports”, the statement said
  • Petrol station owners have already staged strikes, and hospitals have threatened to stop admitting patients

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri asked foreign allies for help on Friday as its dollar-starved economy faces an import crisis after weeks of political and economic turmoil.
Lebanon asked for credit lines from the United States, France, Russia, Saudi Araba, Egypt, Turkey, China and Italy, a statement from Hariri’s office said.
The appeal was part of an effort “to address a liquidity crisis and secure basic imports” and was critical to preserving food security, the statement said.
Since October 17, Lebanon has been rocked by anti-government protests that triggered a protracted lockdown and prompted the cabinet to resign within two weeks.
But political paralysis amid the ongoing demonstrations has aggravated a dollar liquidity crisis that since September has seen banks limit dollar withdrawals and transfers.
With banks failing to provide sufficient dollars, the greenback is selling for more than 2,000 Lebanese pounds on the parallel market for the first time since it was pegged at 1,507 in 1997.
Importers of fuel, medicines and wheat warn of shortages if the situation persists.
Petrol station owners have already staged strikes, and hospitals have threatened to stop admitting patients, fueling public panic.
To ease the crisis, the central bank said in October it would facilitate access to dollars at the official rate for importers of fuel, wheat and medicinea.
Other sectors have struggled to obtain hard currency for imports however, with banks capping dollar withdrawals at $500 a week.
Even before protests began, economic growth had stalled following repeated political deadlock in recent years, compounded by the war in neighboring Syria.
Public debt stood at more than $86 billion, over 150 percent of gross domestic product, according to the finance ministry.
The World Bank has warned of an impending recession that may see the number of people living in poverty climb from a third to 50 percent of the population.
Unemployment, already above 30 percent for young people, would also increase, it said.


Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

Updated 39 min 32 sec ago

Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

  • Al-Imam is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel
  • The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison

NEW YORK: A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Libyan militant to more than 19 years in prison for his role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador.
A jury convicted Mustafa Al-Imam last year of conspiring to support the extremist militia that launched the fiery assaults on the US compounds but deadlocked on 15 other counts.
The attacks, aimed at killing American personnel, prompted a political fracas in which Republicans accused the Obama administration of a bungled response.
Al-Imam was sentenced to a total of 236 months behind bars. He is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, communications specialist Sean Smith and security officers Tyrone Snowden Woods and Glen Anthony Doherty.
The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Khattala was accused of driving to the diplomatic mission on Sept. 11, 2012, and breaching the main gate with militants who attacked with assault rifles, grenades and other weapons.
The initial attack killed Stevens and Smith and set the mission ablaze. Woods and Doherty were later killed at a CIA annex.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Washington asked US District Judge Christopher Cooper to send a message to others contemplating attacks on Americans overseas, saying Al-Imam deserved the maximum 35-year sentence.
“In the current geopolitical environment, terrorists must understand that there are harsh consequences for attacking diplomatic posts and harming US personnel — particularly a US ambassador,” Assistant US Attorney John Cummings wrote in a court filing.
Defense attorneys said Al-Imam made a “tremendous mistake” by damaging and looting US property after the attacks. But they insisted there was no evidence he intended to harm any Americans, noting jurors could not reach a verdict on the murder charges Al-Imam faced.
“Mustafa Al-Imam is a frail, uneducated and simple man,” they wrote in a court filing. “He is not a fighter, an ideologue or a terrorist. He is a former convenience store clerk whose main loves in life are soccer and family.”
Al-Imam was tried in a civilian court despite the Trump administration’s earlier contention that such suspects are better sent to Guantanamo Bay. His arrest, five years after the attack, was the first publicly known operation since President Donald Trump took office targeting those accused of involvement in Benghazi.
Prosecutors acknowledged there was no evidence that Al-Imam “directly caused” the killings at the US compounds. But they said he aligned himself with Khattala and acted as his “eyes and ears” at the height of the attacks.
During a four-week trial in Washington, prosecutors pointed to phone records that showed Al-Imam was in the vicinity of the mission and placed an 18-minute call to Khattala during a “pivotal moment” of the attacks.
Al-Imam also entered the US compound, prosecutors said, and took sensitive material that identified the location of the CIA annex about a mile away from the mission as the evacuation point for Department of State personnel.
In interviews with law enforcement following his 2017 capture in Misrata, Libya, he admitted stealing a phone and map from the US mission.