Tunisians emerge from lockdown into mosques and cafes

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Tunisians cooks sell a local version of the donut in the village of Sidi Bou Said, some 20 kilometers northeast of Tunis, on May 30, 2020, after shops reopened following a 3 month shutdown. (AFP)
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Tunisians walk in a street in the village of Sidi Bou Said, some 20 kilometers northeast of Tunis, on May 30, 2020, after shops reopened following a 3 month shutdown due to COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 04 June 2020

Tunisians emerge from lockdown into mosques and cafes

  • Schools will stay closed to most students until the start of the new academic year in September
  • The government still restricts social gatherings at homes and urges the wearing of masks

TUNIS: Tunisians returned to mosques and cafes on Thursday as the country ended most lockdown restrictions after largely containing the spread of the novel coronavirus for now.
Sitting with friends at the Brazil coffeeshop in the Ibn Khaldoun district of Tunis, schoolteacher Nizar Jamal said he was glad to resume his daily chats with friends.
“We are again breathing the air of life. We missed the smell of coffee a lot,” he said.
Tunisia in March closed its international borders, stopped all movement between towns and cities, shuttered mosques, shops, schools, cafes and restaurants, imposed a nightly curfew and stopped people leaving homes at day for most reasons.
It has recorded 1,048 cases of the coronavirus and 48 deaths, compared with nearly 10,000 cases in neighboring Algeria. The only recent cases came from people arriving into quarantine from abroad.
Schools will stay closed to most students until the start of the new academic year in September and the government still restricts social gatherings at homes and urges the wearing of masks. International borders will reopen fully in late June.
In another Tunis district, Menzah 9, a cafe owner who gave only his first name, Mahmoud, said he was relieved to have reopened.
“This cafe provides work for 20 families. We have suffered a lot from stopping work for three months and we hope to make up for it soon,” he said.
Tunisia’s government has announced compensation measures to help businesses and needy families with the economic effects of the lockdown and has agreed a package of financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.


Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, US envoy due in Beirut

Updated 9 min ago

Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, US envoy due in Beirut

  • Senior US official David Hale is expected in Beirut later on Thursday to stress the urgent need for financial and governance reformsman
  • Some 30-40 people are still missing more than a week after the blast

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces deployed heavily in Beirut on Thursday, stopping protesters from reaching a conference center where MPs began meeting for the first time since the catastrophic chemicals explosion last week that killed 172 people.
Senior US official David Hale is expected in Beirut later on Thursday to stress the urgent need for financial and governance reforms, ending endemic corruption and bringing transparency, among other messages, the US Embassy said.
The Aug. 4 blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material in Beirut port injured some 6,000, left around 300,000 without habitable housing and wrecked swathes of the city, which was already in a deep financial crisis.
The authorities say the blast was caused by more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years without safety measures.
Roads to the UNESCO Palace on the southern outskirts of the capital, where parliament has met during the COVID-19 pandemic, were blocked with metal gates in anticipation of the protest by demonstrators furious at a political elite they blame for the blast.
“They are all criminals, they are who caused this catastrophe, this explosion,” said Lina Boubess, 60, a protester who was trying to reach UNESCO Palace.
“Isn’t it enough that they stole our money, our lives, our dreams and the dreams of our children? What more do we have to lose. They are criminals, all of them means all of them.”
As two cars with tinted windows passed through one of the barricades toward the UNESCO Palace, a small group of protesters hit the vehicles with Lebanese flags.
Others angry at the lawmakers said they had stayed away from the building in anticipation of the security cordon.
Some 30-40 people are still missing more than a week after the blast.
Outrage at the explosion has fueled protests in which hundreds of people have been injured in confrontations between security forces and demonstrators. The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned earlier this week.
The parliamentary session started with a minute of silence.
The agenda includes a discussion of a state of emergency declared by the government, said a senior political source. The resignation of eight MPs who quit after the blast are also expected to be confirmed.
But Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a pillar of the sectarian elite, also “wants to give a political message — that the parliament exists — despite all this talk about early elections and the resignations of MPs,” said the source.
Humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not provide funds to help pull Lebanon from economic collapse without action on long-demanded reforms to tackle systemic graft, waste, mismanagement and negligence.
Authorities have estimated losses at $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay: it defaulted on its enormous sovereign debt in March, citing critically low foreign currency reserves.
The government’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had stalled.
Politicians are in early consultations over forming a new cabinet, a complicated process in a country riven by political divisions and governed by a sectarian power-sharing system.
The government, which stays on in a caretaker capacity, came to office in January with backing from parties including the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful party. Together with its allies, they have a majority of seats in parliament.
The United States proscribes Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Hale “will underscore America’s willingness to support any government that reflects the will of the people and is genuinely committed to and acting upon such a reform agenda,” the US Embassy said.