Perform or quit, archbishop tells Lebanese leaders

Protesters chant slogans and wave Lebanese flags during a demonstration at Martyrs’ Square during ongoing anti-government protests in Beirut. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 February 2020

Perform or quit, archbishop tells Lebanese leaders

  • The new government faces strong financial pressures, including benefits to pay off state debt next month, an acute shortage of dollar liquidity leading to a decrease in confidence in banks

BEIRUT: Archbishop Abdel Sater has told Lebanon’s political rulers to find solutions to the country’s problems or choose an “honorable” resignation.
He told them: “Lebanese people, who trusted you and elected you in May 2018, trust you to reform the political, economic, financial and social imbalances and work along with the true revolutionaries, who have goodwill, to find solutions that guarantee a decent living for every citizen. Otherwise, resignation is more honorable.”
President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri were told by Sater that “the people will explode after they get tired of the vulgar accusations between the responsible political leaders and the recrimination for gains.”
He added: “He who promotes intolerance and discrimination in his speech is neither a national leader nor a good official, and he who deems the homeland his and his children’s property, monopolizes power, practices tyranny and oppresses those who trusted him is not a leader.”
The three politicians met at Mar Maroun Church in Gemmayze in Beirut on Sunday to celebrate the day of the patron saint of the Maronite Church, Mar Maroun (St. Maron).
The celebration needed tight security to prevent protesters from approaching the processions. Activists are holding sit-ins in the squares close to the church.
During a meeting held a few days ago at the Baabda Palace, the Supreme Defense Council discussed measures to ensure MPs’ access to Parliament on the day of the session for giving confidence to the government formed by Diab.
While the council did not reveal its measures, which remain secret, concrete walls are blocking most of the roads leading to Parliament. The council left only one or two routes open for easy control.
Activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News: “The activist groups in the civil movement will try to prevent MPs from reaching Parliament to give confidence to a government that does not meet our ambitions.
“Arrests of activists also continue in an attempt to intimidate people and prevent them from expressing their pain,” he said, adding: “We are betting on recharging the street as there is increasing pressure on people’s livelihoods.”


• Protesters to prevent members of Parliament from supporting trust motion.

• Activists believe the government’s plan does not include listening to protester demands.

The new government faces strong financial pressures, including benefits to pay off state debt next month, an acute shortage of dollar liquidity leading to a decrease in confidence in banks — which continue to increase their strict restrictions on capital movement — the continued weakening of the lira and rising prices.
The extent of the confidence that the government will gain in Parliament is set to greatly impact its work, especially since the main forces supporting it are concerned about the possibility of a decrease in the number of votes it will receive in light of the negative echoes of the ministerial statement that the government has put in place.
Activists believe the government’s plan does not include listening to protester demands.
Nizar Hassan, a researcher of social movements, told Arab News: “We have put in place a ministerial statement as an alternative to the government’s. We do not want to be accused of rejecting it for the sake of it. We have clear alternatives and a work program that serves as a basis for our opposition.”
Hassan revealed that “the alternative statement was discussed in the protest tents in all regions and has been revised to represent every activist group, therefore voicing demands regarding the economic affairs and serving as their language and focus of their demands.”
Some of the demands put forward include reversing all tax increases approved within the budgets of 2019 and 2020, imposing a progressive tax on wealth, abolishing the Bank Secrecy Act and waiving the immunity of MPs and ministers.

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.