Lebanon MPs meet in hall as protesters stage car convoy

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Anti-government demonstrators hold Lebanese flags as they protest in their cars, amid a countrywide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beirut, Lebanon April 21, 2020. (Reuters)
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Anti-government demonstrators wave Lebanese flags as they protest in their cars, amid a countrywide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beirut, Lebanon April 21, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 April 2020

Lebanon MPs meet in hall as protesters stage car convoy

  • MPs approved the re-allocation of $40 million from the World Bank to help fight COVID-19

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament sat Tuesday in a conference hall to allow for social distancing between lawmakers amid the coronavirus pandemic, while outside anti-government protesters demonstrated in a car convoy.
As the country struggles with a battered economy, MPs approved the re-allocation of $40 million from the World Bank to help fight COVID-19, which has officially infected 677 people and killed 21 nationwide.
It also passed a law to fight corruption in the public sector and set up a national body in charge of stamping out graft.
On the agenda of the three-day session were proposals for a divisive general amnesty, to legalize cannabis for medical use, and to lift immunity for ministers and lawmakers to allow prosecutions for corruption.
Outside the venue, dozens of protesters drove a noisy convoy of cars covered in slogans, drivers honking their horns and passengers brandishing the national flag and leaning out of the windows in face masks.
They took to the streets on wheels to protest deteriorating living conditions while maintaining social distancing, as they kept up the pressure on a political elite under fire since mass protests erupted last October.
“Today, instead of passing a general amnesty law... they could pass a law on the independence of the judiciary,” Jad Assaileh, a young demonstrator said.
“We want to recover the stolen money,” he said, referring to allegations that Lebanon’s ruling elite transferred billions out of the country while regular citizens were prevented from withdrawing their savings by the banks.
Similar protests took place in the cities of Saida and Tripoli.
Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war is now compounded by the lockdown. Poverty has risen to 45 percent of the population, according to official estimates.
Protests had petered out after a new government took office in January, and demonstrators have largely remained at home since the coronavirus lockdown started mid-March.
But on Friday, hundreds again protested in Tripoli to mark six months since the street movement started to demand an overhaul of a ruling class widely deemed inept and corrupt.
The lawmakers met in a 1,000 seat conference hall at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut, as part of measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Among their 66 items to discuss, legalizing growing marijuana for medical purposes was expected to be approved by a majority as it could generate revenue for the indebted state.
Lebanon bans growing, selling and consuming cannabis, but illicit production in the country’s east has developed over decades into a multi-million-dollar industry.
No consensus was in sight, however, for a general amnesty to free thousands of detainees and to suspend arrest warrants for thousands more.
Supporters — which include Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal as well as the Sunni Future Movement — say an amnesty could lessen overcrowding in jails housing 9,000 prisoners.
But its detractors, including the president’s Christian parliamentary bloc, say the bill is merely an attempt to boost popular support.
The amnesty has long been a demand of the families of some 1,200 so-called “Islamist detainees,” most of whom hail from the Sunni-majority city of Tripoli, where the former premier’s Future Movement is dominant.
They are accused of carrying out crimes including fighting and assaulting the army, taking part in clashes in the city, and planning explosives attacks.
Families have also clamoured for the release of thousands more detainees from the eastern regions of Baalbek and Hermel, where Hezbollah and the parliament speaker’s Amal Movement are powerful.
Most of these are accused of drug-linked crimes including growing hashish illegally, or other offenses such as stealing cars.
Lebanon, one of the most indebted countries in the world with a debt equivalent to 170 percent of its GDP, defaulted on payments for the first time last month.
As the country faces an acute liquidity crisis, banks have banned transfers abroad and gradually restricted dollar withdrawals until suspending them last month.
The Lebanese pound has for decades been pegged to the dollar, but in recent months lost half of its official value on the black market.
The official exchange rate remains 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.
The banks earlier this month set their rate at 2,600 pounds to the dollar, but money changers were offering more than 3,200 pounds for the greenback on Tuesday on the black market.
On Tuesday, the central bank asked banks to allow depositors with foreign currency accounts to withdraw their savings in Lebanese pounds at the “market rate,” likely to signify 2,600 pounds to the dollar.


Italian Daesh member arrested, repatriated

Updated 8 min 17 sec ago

Italian Daesh member arrested, repatriated

  • Alice Brignoli moved to Syria in 2015 with her husband Mohamed Koraichi, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, and their three children
  • Brignoli has been flown back to Italy with her children, including a fourth who was born in Syria and stands accused of criminal association for terrorism

ROME: An Italian woman who moved with her family to Syria to join Daesh was arrested there on terrorism charges and repatriated, in an operation run by the special branch of Italy’s Carabinieri police in cooperation with the FBI.

Alice Brignoli moved to Syria in 2015 with her husband Mohamed Koraichi, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, and their three children.

She has been flown back to Italy with her children, including a fourth who was born in Syria. She is accused of criminal association for terrorism.

The Carabinieri said in a press conference attended by Arab News that Brignoli “played an active role in indoctrinating her children into the cause of jihad,” while Koraichi joined Daesh as a fighter. She was identified with her family by Italian investigators in Al-Hawl camp in Syria.

She and her children were handed over by the Kurdish authorities who control the camp to the Carabinieri, who flew them back to Italy on a military airplane. Koraichi died in September from a health complication.

According to investigators, Brignoli reached Syria in 2015 with her three children who were aged 6, 4 and 2 at the time. She drove by car all the way through the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey.

“Brignoli and her husband Koraichi had brought their children with them to Syria as part of a strategic choice: As they were all males, they could become fighters in the future. They could become terrorists,” Alberto Nobili, Milan anti-terrorism chief prosecutor, said at the press conference.

The 6-year-old “had been immediately sent to a training camp where he started to be instructed to become a fighter,” Nobili added.

“Upon her arrival in Milan, Brignoli said she was delighted that her children had finally returned to a normal life. The children are happy too because they know that their odyssey is over and now they hope to be able to live a new life.”

While Brignoli is now in San Vittore Prison in Milan, the children are being looked after by social services. She will be allowed to see her children periodically.

“It’s a beautiful story. With this operation we managed to bring back to life a woman and her four children,” Nobili said, adding that he is working on locating and repatriating “more Italian citizens who left the country” to join Daesh.

“We’ve developed relations with other countries who share with us this same problem, and we’re particularly focused on children kept in training camps,” he said.

“We must take care of them. Most of them are orphans and carry a fierce hatred as they saw their parents die. We must bring them back here, to normality, before it’s too late to stop their radicalization and violence. This is a good way to fight against terrorism and radicalization.”