Lebanon officials vow arrests after violent protests

Anti-government protesters wave a Lebanese national flag while standing on a concrete wall that was installed by the authorities to block a road leading to the parliament building during ongoing protests against the Lebanese government in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, June 14, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 15 June 2020

Lebanon officials vow arrests after violent protests

  • Hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces at the weekend
  • In Tripoli, young men attacked banks and shops and threw rocks at security forces

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities toughened their tone on protests Monday, promising arrests for “vandalism” after several days of angry demonstrations sparked by the country’s deepening economic crisis.
Hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces at the weekend across the country whose currency has collapsed amid the worst financial crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
Relative calm returned on Sunday evening, with protesters holding a peaceful rally in the capital Beirut, while dozens marched to a central square in the northern city of Tripoli, AFP reporters said.
That came after three nights of violence in which demonstrators, angered by sky-rocketing prices and the government’s apparent inability to tackle a dizzying devaluation of the Lebanese pound, blocked highways and scuffled with security forces in the capital and the country’s north.
In Tripoli, young men attacked banks and shops and threw rocks at security forces who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Medical services reported dozens of injured.
President Michel Aoun on Monday afternoon discussed the protests with the country’s top security body including ministers and military officials.
“Such acts of vandalism will not be allowed after today,” he said after the meeting of the Higher Defense Council.
Aoun called for “a wave of arrests, including of those who planned and carried out” such acts, according to a statement read on television after the meeting.
He ordered authorities to beef up “preemptive” operations to prevent similar violence from reoccurring.
In a sperate statement released before the meeting, Prime Minister Hassan Diab condemned acts of “sabotage” committed by “thugs” in Beirut and Tripoli.
“Thugs have no other motive than vandalism, and they should be thrown in jail, period,” said a statement released by his office.
The official National News Agency later reported that the Lebanese army had launched a series of raids in Tripoli to arrest perpetrators of vandalism and violence.
The latest wave of demonstrations come almost eight months after the start of a mass protest movement over Lebanon’s crumbling economy and perceived official corruption.
The Lebanese pound plumbed new lows on Thursday, hitting 5,000 to the dollar for the first time.
The next day, authorities vowed to pump greenbacks into the market to limit the rout. A Beirut money-changer told AFP on Monday that the dollar was selling for up to 4,400 pounds.
Diab on Monday called for an investigation into the rapid devaluation of the Lebanese pound, calling the fluctuation a “deliberate” act committed by currency manipulators.
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which has led to soaring unemployment and forced the country to default on its sovereign debt for the first time, has sparked an outpouring of anger at a political elite seen as incompetent and nepotistic.
The government has put together a reform package to relaunch the economy and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund to access desperately needed financial aid.
Inflation is expected to top 50 percent this year, in a country where 45 percent of the population live under the poverty line and over a third of the workforce are out of jobs.
The economy has been hit hard by years of war in neighboring Syria.
On Saturday in Tripoli, protesters blocked trucks suspected of smuggling food products into Syria.
But the UN World Food Programme in statement said it had sent the convoy of 39 trucks carrying food aid bound for the war-torn country.


Jets hit Libya’s Al-Watiya Air Base where Turkey may build base

An image grab taken from a video released on July 3, 2020, by the Turkish Defence Ministry shows Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (C) greeting Libyan officials upon his arrival in Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2020

Jets hit Libya’s Al-Watiya Air Base where Turkey may build base

  • Turkish support was vital to the GNA in turning back the LNA offensive with advanced air defenses and drone strikes that targeted Khalifa’s supply lines and troop buildups

BENGHAZI: Warplanes struck overnight at an air base that was recently recaptured by Libya’s internationally recognized government from eastern forces with help from Turkey, a military source with the eastern forces and a resident nearby said.
The strikes were carried out by “unknown aircraft,” the military source with the Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said.
A resident at the nearby town of Zintan said explosions were heard from the direction of the base.
Al-Watiya’s recapture in May by the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli marked the start of a sudden collapse of the LNA’s 14-month assault to seize the capital and its retreat along the coast to the new frontlines.
Turkish support was vital to the GNA in turning back the LNA offensive with advanced air defenses and drone strikes that targeted Khalifa’s supply lines and troop buildups.
A Turkish source said last month that Turkey was in talks with the GNA to establish two bases in Libya, one of them at Watiya, the most important air base in western Libya.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was in Tripoli for meetings with the GNA on Friday and Saturday and Akar swore to do all that was necessary to help it, a Turkish Defense Ministry statement said.
Last month, the US said Russia had sent at least 14 MiG29 and Su-24 warplanes to an LNA base via Syria, where their Russian airforce markings were removed.
Turkish involvement in Libya has also angered France and Greece and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has warned of new sanctions on Ankara.
The GNA and LNA are now mobilizing forces at the new frontlines between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.