Lebanon suicides blamed on ‘hunger’

Lebanon suicides blamed on ‘hunger’
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Medics carry the coffin of man who committed suicide onto an ambulance in the capital Beirut's Hamra street on July 3, 2020. (AFP)
Lebanon suicides blamed on ‘hunger’
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A demonstrator carries a placard (R) which reads in Arabic “He did not commit suicide, he was killed in cold blood” as they gather to denounce the death of a man who committed suicide in Beirut on July 3, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2020

Lebanon suicides blamed on ‘hunger’

Lebanon suicides blamed on ‘hunger’
  • A 61-year-old man from the eastern region of Hermel shot himself outside a cafe
  • A second suicide, by an unemployed van driver near the southern city of Sidon, was also apparently linked to the economic collapse

BEIRUT: Two suicides in Lebanon on Friday, apparently linked to the country’s spiralling economic downturn, sparked angry protests over the government’s handling of the crisis.

A 61-year-old man from the eastern region of Hermel shot himself outside a cafe on a busy Beirut shopping street shortly before noon, leaving a Lebanese flag, a note and a copy of his clean criminal record at the scene.

Shocked onlookers said that his suicide was linked to the economic crisis that has been ravaging the country.

“He killed himself because of hunger,” the man’s cousin screamed as the security forces carried away the body.

The death sparked street protests in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood, denouncing the government for its handling of the country’s worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

“He did not commit suicide, he was killed in cold blood,” read one sign.

Protesters denounced “a government that does not represent them and does not care about inflation, the high dollar exchange rate and power outages.”

A second suicide, by an unemployed van driver near the southern city of Sidon, was also apparently linked to the economic collapse, according to local officials.

The 37-year-old man hanged himself in his home in the town of Jadra and his body was found early on Friday.

Officials said the man, who was married and had a daughter, was struggling financially.

The protests come amid a currency collapse, with the Lebanese pound reaching more than 9,000 to the dollar this week on the black market.

Prices have soared almost as fast as the exchange rate has plummeted, leaving companies, institutions and small businesses with little room to maneuver.

Growing anger among the population prompted Jan Kubis, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, to issue a warning to government officials.

“Do not count on the endless patience of the Lebanese. They have faced enough of the complete absence of reforms, starting with the electricity sector, of the lack of unified vision and effort to deal with the collapse and their growing misery,” he tweeted.

Hopes of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue package also dimmed, with Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni saying negotiations “are on hold, awaiting Lebanon’s implementation of reforms.”

Political differences have halted reforms demanded by the international community to pull the country out of its financial crisis.

Wazni called for “a unified approach between the government and Parliament,” saying there was “no time for delay.”

Disagreements over the government’s submission to the IMF have led to calls for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government to quit and former leader Saad Hariri to head a new leadership.

However, Hariri said that “the password for rescue is reform.”

He told reporters on Thursday that his conditions for heading the government “have not changed, so the work style must be changed and quotas must end.”

Referring to Hezbollah, he said: “We cannot understand how a government is asking Arabian Gulf countries to provide money to Lebanon when, within this government, there are people who clap when a Houthi missile hits Riyadh or any region in Saudi Arabia. Logic says that the two things do not go together.”

Hariri added: “There is a movement (the Free Patriotic Movement) that wants to quarrel with everyone in the Cabinet, whether Amal Movement, Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, or the Lebanese Forces. How will the government function?”

The former prime minister said that he “is not at odds with President Michel Aoun or anyone else” — referring to the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil.

Hariri said that supported a financial crime audit of the central bank “because we have nothing to hide.”


Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity
Updated 26 min 14 sec ago

Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity
  • First elections in 15 years “will usher in badly needed democracy”
  • The PA will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31

AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement of the first parliamentary and presidential elections in 15 years has raised hopes of an end to longstanding divisions, but skeptics doubt it will bring about serious change.
According to decrees issued by the presidential office on Friday, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
Hanna Naser, head of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, told a packed press conference a day earlier that the decrees will usher in a badly needed democratic process.
Naser said the elections will be transparent and will deliver a functioning legislative council, adding: “After 15 years without a legislative body, it is important to have accountability through a council elected by the people.”
Jibril Rajoub, secretary of the Fatah movement and a key force behind the election deal, said on Palestine TV that the decrees are a major breakthrough and reflect a Palestinian commitment to democratic principles.
Rajoub said that the elections commission will be responsible for all aspects of the poll, and that a meeting of all Palestinian factions next week in Cairo will help resolve any remaining issues.
Hussein Sheikh, minister of civil affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, tweeted that the presidential decrees are “an important step to strengthen democracy and partnership in a unified political regime that ensures the end of the split and will create a unified vision for a cooperative effort aimed at ending the occupation and accomplishing freedom and liberty for our people.”
Hamas welcomed the decrees, which include a commitment by all participants that the PLO represents Palestinians, and is responsible for foreign affairs and negotiations.
The decrees stipulate elections for a 132-member legislative council that will include Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on a full proportional basis.
Presidential elections will follow in July and the Palestine National Council will hold elections wherever possible for candidates in different locations. All lists must have a woman as the third and fourth candidates on the list, with at least 26 percent of the next council to be female.
However, Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University and a former minister, told Arab News that while he strongly supports the elections, he is worried about the quality of the poll.
“I am concerned that the elections will reflect the wishes of the political elite since the lists will be national and will be made up by political leaders who might not give enough attention to local communities and their needs,” he said.
Khatib, who founded the Jerusalem Center for Communication Studies, said that polls show Fatah could win the coming elections if it can present a unified list.
Hani Masri, director of the Masarat think tank, said that holding elections before national reconciliation is complete is a “formula for trouble.”
“Issuing presidential decrees for elections before reconciliation is doing things in reverse order,” he said. “To have elections, the land mines must be removed. If we don’t address some of these problems, we are inviting trouble,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
One suggestion to overcome this issue has been that the two main parties, Fatah and Hamas, agree on a joint list and a single nominee for president.
Marwan Muasher, vice president of Carnegie Endowment for International Studies, told Arab News that national unity is a necessary first step.
“National elections serve to renew Palestinian legitimacy, which has been significantly affected,” he said.
Palestinians are also unsure if Israel will allow East Jerusalem residents to take part in the elections. Under the Oslo accords, Jerusalem residents can vote at local post offices.