Lebanon has 28 days to present rescue plan

Riot police fire tear gas against the protesters, during a protest against the new government, in downtown Beirut, as the Hassan Diab government struggles to resolve the crises in the country. (AP)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Lebanon has 28 days to present rescue plan

  • UN special coordinator for Lebanon tells PM Diab: ‘Most important step to take is reforms, reforms, and reforms’

Lebanon has 28 days to prepare a statement showing how it will resolve its crises following a meeting Friday between the UN’s special coordinator for the country and Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis met Diab and reiterated that the most important step that should be taken was “reforms, reforms, and reforms, break up with previous corruption practices, adopt transparency, reestablish trust, and listen to the demands of people demonstrating in the streets in order to win their confidence.”

The government has 28 days to prepare its statement, which includes a plan to address the turmoil coursing through Lebanon.

The formation of a new government earlier this week ended months of political deadlock following Saad Hariri’s resignation as prime minister in October in response to mass protests over corruption and mismanagement.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said the ministerial committee tasked with drafting the statement intended to promptly issue it as there were “pressing internal and external situations, and the crisis is getting more aggravated.”

Hundreds of people were injured in Beirut last weekend after security personnel fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at demonstrators who threw stones, attempted to invade the Parliament building, and attacked bank offices and shops. 

There were also recent clashes between activists and supporters of the Amal Movement, which is associated with the country’s Shiite community. People wanting to protest corruption outside a public institution in the southern part of the capital were targeted by knife and stick-wielding men.

“Young men attacked us and accused us of being spies and agents, then started beating women and men alike,” said one activist. “We fled in every direction and the guards of a major store denied us entry to hide, for they feared being attacked by the aggressors.”

Amal’s leadership said the attack was perpetrated without its knowledge and was a “mere improvised reaction” by inhabitants of the area.

But newly appointed Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmy condemned the “brutal attack.” 

“Security services will not hesitate to pursue the aggressors and unveil their identities,” he warned. “We will no longer accept that those who tamper with security continue to violate the rights and dignity of any citizen under any circumstances or pretext, for demonstrations, sit-ins are legitimate rights protected by law.”

There is also anger at the makeup of the new Cabinet, with senior political figures saying it showed that Hezbollah’s takeover of the Lebanese state was complete.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Hezbollah had become the party with the most authority in Lebanon as it was able to extend its influence, authority and control to the head and members of the government.

“What happened so far will have negative repercussions on the government and its approach to a large number of problems, which have become aggravated since Michel Aoun became president and led to a significant decline in the confidence of citizens in the government and the political class as a whole,” he told Arab News.

The new government did not bring independent ministers as promised, he added. 

Earlier this week former minister Marwan Hamade told Arab News that Hezbollah regained a parliamentary majority in 2018 thanks to an electoral law designed to benefit the pro-Iranian party.

“Now Hezbollah completes its takeover through the new government where we find the fingerprints of the Syrian regime. The majority of the new ministers in key positions depend either on Hezbollah or on the former security chief, the pro-Syrian Jamil Sayyed, or on Gebran Bassil, their ally,” Hamade said.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.