Lebanon signs request for IMF aid

Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab signs a request for assistance from the International Monetary Fund at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon May 1, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 May 2020

Lebanon signs request for IMF aid

  • International donors have long demanded that Lebanon institute major economic changes and anti-corruption measures to unlock $11 billion in pledges made in 2018
  • The request for IMF aid comes as thousands of people lose their jobs and key sectors buckle

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni have signed a request for aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Diab called it an “historic moment” in the history of Lebanon. “We have taken the first step on the path of saving Lebanon from the deep financial gap and it would be difficult to get out of it without efficient and impactful help,” he said.

Lebanese politicians have traded blame over who is responsible for the country’s financial crisis, the worst since its 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

International donors have long demanded that Lebanon institute major economic changes and anti-corruption measures to unlock $11 billion in pledges made in 2018. 

But the country’s economic crisis deepened, and the cash-strapped government announced in March it was defaulting on its sovereign debt for the first time.

The request for IMF aid comes as thousands of people lose their jobs and key sectors buckle under the double-whammy of a worsening economic situation and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lebanese Ministry of Labor said it had received 234 requests between Oct. 17, 2019, and April 30, 2020, to terminate employment contracts.

The figure means 5,012 registered workers have lost their jobs, but it is believed that this number is not realistic and that hundreds of institutions have terminated employment contracts with their employees without informing the ministry.

Acting president of the General Labor Union, Hassan Fakih, said that more than 75 percent of institutions, especially those in the tourism, industrial, commercial, and transport sectors, had closed because of dire straits.

“More than 60 percent of workers and employees have left their workplaces, while the rest are working in dangerous conditions in hospitals, retail stores, food factories, and transportation,” he told Arab News.

“Some of them are receiving half or quarter a salary. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off. Many of them did not even receive compensation in light of the disrupted judiciary. The government has not taken the appropriate, rapid, and transparent measures, and it suspiciously slowed the distribution of planned aid, leaving people to two options: Dying of hunger or allowing the coronavirus epidemic to claim their lives.”

Coca-Cola said Thursday that it would permanently shut down in Lebanon and lay off all its employees, the second time it has ceased operations in the country. The first time was during the civil war.

The news followed the prestigious Le Bristol Hotel in Beirut saying that it was closing its doors permanently and laying off its employees.

The worsening situation and the return of the political old guard, despite a new government promising reforms, has led people to resume their protests amid the coronavirus shutdown.

Labor Day, an official holiday in Lebanon, gave activists the chance to reoccupy public squares and restore the tents that security forces had removed to prevent gatherings during the pandemic.

The activists took to Riad Al-Solh and Martyrs’ squares in the center of Beirut. They staged a sit-in outside the Banque du Liban on Hamra Street, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

They also demonstrated in Aley in Mount Lebanon, in Nabatieh, Tyre, and Rachaya in the south, and in Tripoli in the north. There were chants against corruption and “the officials who looted the country.” People waved the Lebanese flag and raised banners on which they wrote their demands.

Activists believe that the reform plan approved by the government on Thursday aims to burden people with the economic collapse while relieving those in power of accountability.

Army units were brought in to prevent riots. Some banks resorted to shielding their glass windows with iron plates to avoid damage after riots in some areas affected branches.  

Retired Brig. Gen. George Nader, who is involved in the movement, said they had no confidence in a government of “disguised” advisers. “The economic plan has not addressed any of the main files,”  he added. “The solution is to recover the stolen money — there is no other solution.”

Ján Kubiš, the UN secretary-general’s representative in Lebanon, tweeted that peaceful protests were not only a right, they were a “critical necessity” to continue pressing on the government and, at times, reluctant political forces to implement deep structural reforms for a better, just and dignified future for the Lebanese. “They will always have full support of the UN,” he added.

According to World Bank estimates, 45 percent of Lebanese people live in poverty, while the proportion of extreme poverty expanded from 8 percent to 20 percent.

Minister of Labor Lamia Yammine promised to follow up on labor protection policy by announcing an emergency plan to address cases of mass layoffs.

Yammine said that 30 percent of institutions in Lebanon were closed, while 20 percent were paying salaries reduced by half.

Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

Updated 30 November 2020

Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran
  • President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”

TEHRAN: Debate raged in Iran on Sunday over how and when to respond to a top nuclear scientist’s assassination, blamed on arch-foe Israel, as his body was honored at Shiite shrines to prepare it for burial.
Two days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran, parliament demanded a halt to international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear program, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.
President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap.”
Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian military nuclear program, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.
The scientist’s body was taken for a ceremony on Sunday at a major shrine in the holy city of Qom before being transported to the shrine of the Islamic republic’s founder Imam Khomeini, according to Iranian media.
On Monday live video from Tehran, shared by national outlet Iran Press, showed uniformed men gathering around images of Fakhrizadeh seemingly ahead of a procession.
His funeral will be held in the presence of senior military commanders and his family, the defense ministry said on its website, without specifying where.
Israel has not officially commented on Fakhrizadeh’s killing, less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office after four years of hawkish foreign policy under President Donald Trump.
Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and then reimposed and beefed up punishing sanctions as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
Biden has signalled his administration may be prepared to rejoin the accord, but the nuclear scientist’s assassination has revived opposition to the deal among Iranian conservatives.
The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.”
Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished.
Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf called Sunday for “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.
For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.
“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the deal, it said.
The UAE, which in September normalized ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.
The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region...
“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.
Britain, a party to the nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region.”
In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.
Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll.”
Iran has responded to the US withdrawal from the 2015 deal by gradually abandoning most of its key nuclear commitments under the agreement.
Rezai called on Iran’s atomic agency to take “minimum measures” such as “stopping the online broadcast of cameras, reducing or suspending inspectors and implementing restrictions in their access” to sites, ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s parliament said the “best response” to the assassination would be to “revive Iran’s glorious nuclear industry.”
It called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, said the legislature’s news agency ICANA.
Some MPs had earlier accused inspectors of acting as “spies” potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
But the spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRNA on Saturday that the issue of inspectors’ access “must be decided on at high levels” of the Islamic republic’s leadership.