Diplomats in Paris discuss aid for battered Lebanese economy

Lebanese anti-government protesters burn tyres to block a road in al-Mina town in the northern port city of Tripoli on December 10, 2019 following the collapse of a house overnight in the area that killed two siblings. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Diplomats in Paris discuss aid for battered Lebanese economy

  • Bteish said the situation is "worsening" and requires a quick solution
  • Lebanon has been swept by protests since Oct. 17

PARIS: Diplomats met behind closed doors in Paris on Wednesday to consider measures to help Lebanon as it grapples with ongoing political turmoil and its worst economic crisis in decades.
The international group, co-chaired by France and the United Nations, is weighing conditions for providing financial aid to Lebanon. Lebanese businesses and households are growing increasingly desperate as cash supplies there have dwindled.
For two months, protests have decried government mismanagement and the current political system. But even as the financial crisis deepens, protesters have denounced the Paris meeting and promised to condemn any international financial assistance to a government they see as corrupt and illegitimate.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Oct. 29, but he has stayed on as caretaker prime minister since politicians have been unable to form a new government. Protesters want to see a non-sectarian, technocratic government — and they want all traces of the old regime, including Hariri, out of office.
France and the US have made clear they support a new government in Lebanon.
Caretaker economy minister Mansour Bteish told broadcaster MTV on Wednesday that Lebanon’s economy is losing at least $70 million-$80 million a day — about half its usual income — due to the crisis that has paralyzed the country.
Bteish said the situation is “worsening” and requires a quick solution. Lebanon has been swept by protests since Oct. 17 and is now facing the worst economic strains since its 1975-1990 civil war. The pound currency has slumped and banks have enforced capital controls.
Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that “the responsibility lies with the Lebanese people” to push for a new political order. He said the US is ready to “do the things that the world can do to assist the Lebanese people getting their economy right and getting their government right.”
The US has escalated its sanctions on the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group, which dominates the national unity government that Hariri headed.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a press conference ahead of the Paris meeting that Lebanese authorities must “take into account the call of the street.” He urged Lebanese authorities to “form a government rapidly because any delay will aggravate the situation.”
Meanwhile, dozens of protesters in Beirut and Paris rallied Wednesday to call on the leaders meeting in France not to give financial assistance until a new government comes together.
“This authority ... no longer represents the Lebanese,” said a protester in Beirut reading a letter to be delivered to the French ambassador. Calling the current government corrupt, the protester said: “We don’t want (that aid) to go to waste.”
Hariri has called on Saudi Arabia, France, Turkey, the United States, China, and Egypt to send funds to help Lebanon finance imports.
But international donors are unlikely to write a check without substantial commitments to reform. More than 50 countries pledged last year to give Lebanon $11 million in aid, conditioned on Hariri implementing long-stalled reforms. Promised reforms never materialized.
Hundreds of Lebanese business owners gathered in central Beirut protesting the delay in forming a new government and threatening a collective tax strike. Organizers said most private businesses have already been unable to pay taxes and are still getting slapped with penalties.
“What we are asking for is to cancel the penalties. We can’t afford paying,” said Samir Saliba, a business owner.
Saliba said a new campaign is aimed at educating the private sector about their rights and advocate for a blanket tax strike. “People are fed up. We don’t have anything to lose anymore.”
In the last weeks, hundreds of people have been laid off or are receiving reduced salaries, while many businesses had to shut down.
Lebanon’s international support group said Wednesday the country faces a chaotic unwinding of its economy and increased instability if it does not enact swift reforms that give international financial institutions the confidence to offer support.
“In order to halt the sharp deterioration in the economy ... there is an urgent need for the adoption of a substantial, credible and comprehensive policy package of economic reforms to restore fiscal balance and financial stability,” the ISG said in a final communique after a meeting in Paris on Wednesday.
The group urged the Lebanese authorities to adopt a “reliable 2020 budget” in the first weeks after the formation of a new government and fight more rigorously against corruption.
“The ISG members consider that the support from international financial institutions is pivotal to help the authorities sustain their efforts to implement the necessary economic reforms over time,” the statement added.

(With AP and Reuters)


So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

Updated 33 min 30 sec ago

So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

  • Iranian president Rouhani has urged his cabinet to speed up the introduction of harsher laws against such killings

TEHRAN: The so-called honor killing of a 14-year-old Iranian girl by her father, who reportedly used a farming sickle to behead her as she slept, has prompted a nationwide outcry.
Reza Ashrafi, now in custody, was apparently enraged when he killed his daughter Romina on Thursday after she ran away with 34-year-old Bahamn Khavari in Talesh, some 320 kilometers (198 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran.
In traditional societies in the Middle East, including Iran, blame would typically fall on a runaway girl for purportedly having sullied her family’s honor, rather than on an adult male luring away a child.
Romina was found five days after leaving home and taken to a police station, from where her father brought her back home. The girl reportedly told the police she feared a violent reaction from her father.
On Wednesday, a number of national newspapers featured the story prominently and the social media hashtag #RominaAshrafi reportedly has been used thousands times on social media, with most users condemning the killing.
Proposed legislation against honor killings has apparently shuttled for years among various decision-making bodies in Iran.
On Wednesday, Romina Ashrafi’s case led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to urge his Cabinet to speed up harsher laws against such killings and he pushed for speedy adoption of relevant legislation.
There is little data on honor killings in Iran, where local media occasionally report on such cases. Under the law, girls can marry after the age of 13, though the average age of marriage for Iranian women is 23. It is not known how many women and young girls are killed by family members or close relatives because of their actions, perceived as violating conservative Islamic norms on love and marriage.
Iran’s judiciary said Romina’s case will be tried in a special court. Under the current law, her father faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Iran’s vice president in charge of family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, expressed hope that a bill with harsher punishments will soon be in the final stages of approval.
Shahnaz Sajjadi, special assistant to citizens’ rights in the presidential directorate on women and family affairs, on Wednesday told the khabaronline.ir news website “We should revise the idea that home is a safe place for children and women. Crimes that happen against women in the society are less than those that happen in the homes.”