Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast
Prime Minister Hassan Diab announcing his government's resignation amid popular outrage over the deadly Beirut port explosion. (AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast
  • Prime Minister Hassan Diab says blast was caused by endemic corruption
  • Demonstrations break out again in central Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government resigned on Monday less than a week after a massive blast in Beirut, with the prime minister telling the nation in a televised address that the scale of the tragedy was “too great to describe.”

The explosion of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate at a warehouse in the Port of Beirut has killed at least 160, injured thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the capital.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office last December, was already under pressure for the lack of progress in resolving the country’s dire financial and economic situation. Last week’s huge explosion intensified accusations of corruption, incompetence, negligence against the political elite.  

Read more: Analysis: Lebanon government steps down. So what?

In his address on Monday evening Diab spoke of “a system of corruption” that was rooted in the state.

“Rather, corruption is greater than the state, and it is not possible to confront this system or get rid of corruption.”

He said that the blast was “one of the examples of corruption in Beirut” and that the scale of the tragedy was “too great to describe.”

But he also appeared to shift the blame for his government’s inability to resolve the many challenges facing the country, saying that others were responsible for the lack of progress and reform.

“Between us and change, a very thick wall is protected by a class that resists with all dirty methods in order to control the state. We fought fiercely and with honor, but this battle has no equivalence.”

Communications continued throughout Sunday night by President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to discourage some ministers from submitting their resignations after the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad on Saturday.

On Sunday, Diab linked the government's resignation to the approval of a bill to shorten parliament’s term and call for early elections. It was a response to an announcement from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for parliament to convene on Thursday to hold the government accountable for the port disaster.

The blast was one of the examples of corruption in Beirut ... the scale of the tragedy is too great to describe.

Hassan Diab, Prime minister of Lebanon

Diab called Aoun on Monday and requested that the Council of Ministers’ session that was scheduled at the Presidential Palace be transferred to government headquarters, giving the impression that all efforts had failed to prevent the government from collapsing.

Samad, as well as Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, did not attend the session. Lebanon’s Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm attended the session and announced her resignation before it began.

She said: “Given the tragedy that afflicted the nation and the pain of the Lebanese, and what we witnessed in terms of street unrest and reactions that came confirming that Lebanon entered the stage of intensive care and has become requiring assertive stances to preserve community peace and avoid losing more lives and property, I submit my resignation from the government.”

Some ministers had their resignations on standby upon entering the Cabinet session, stressing that they would resign if the government did not collectively quit.

Iran has also pressured Lebanon.

Iranian Embassy spokesman, Abbas Al-Mousawi, said in a press conference from Tehran: “The explosion should not be used as a pretext for political goals, and the cause of the explosion must be carefully investigated. The US should also lift the sanctions imposed on Lebanon.”

The leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, feared that any new government would be similar to the previous one. He added: “The aim is to go to the core of the problem, that is, parliament.”

Diab was assigned to lead the government on Dec. 19, 2019, following street protests that toppled the government of his predecessor Saad Hariri.

His government won the confidence vote of parliament on Feb. 11 with the support of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement. The Lebanese Forces, Future Movement and Progressive Socialist parties did not take part in the vote.

His administration, which called itself a government of specialists, was given three months to achieve the reforms required to negotiate an IMF rescue deal to stave off the economy’s collapse.

But criticism of the government's performance soared after the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut, sparking outrage on the streets.

Public Works Minister Michel Najjar said upon leaving the last Cabinet session that he had “learned about the issue of storing ammonium nitrate in the port 24 hours before the explosion.”

Najm suggested referring the port explosion to the Judicial Council, which is the highest Lebanese judicial body. Its rulings are final.

The opposition has insisted on an international investigation into the blast due to a “lack of confidence in the local judiciary,” a demand rejected by the president.

Attorney General Judge Ghassan Oweidat on Monday continued his supervision of the investigations. There have been 19 arrests so far, including two former and current directors of customs and the director of the port.

Oweidat transferred those arrested on charges of negligence and causing harm to the Military Court to block any release, as the period of preventive detention usually does not exceed four days.

He instructed the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces to go to Cyprus to hear the testimony of the owner of the vessel that was transporting the ammonium nitrate to Mozambique but unloaded its cargo seven years ago in the Port of Beirut.

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The investigations are focusing on the pre-explosion phase, specifically between 2013 and 2020, when the ammonium nitrate was stored in Ward No.12 inside the port, and the circumstances of the explosion.

On Monday, Lebanese Army Command announced: “The rescue teams of the army, in cooperation with the Civil Defense teams, the fire brigade, and the Russian and French search and rescue teams, were able to retrieve five bodies of the victims of the blast, and the search for the remaining missing will continue.”




The funeral in Batroun of Lebanese army corporal Estephan Rouhana, who was killed in the Beirut explosion. (AFP)

 


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.


US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
Updated 08 May 2021

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
  • US State Department: Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations"

WASHINGTON: The United States called Friday for de-escalation in annexed east Jerusalem, and warned against carrying out a threatened eviction of Palestinian families that has sent tensions soaring.
“The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem ... which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people,” a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan.”
He said Washington was calling on Israeli and Palestinian officials to “act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence.”
And he warned it was “critical” to avoid any steps that could worsen the situation — such as “evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
An earlier State Department statement said Washington was concerned in particular about the “potential eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan neighborhood and Sheikh Jarrah,” two areas of east Jerusalem where tensions have been running high.
It noted that some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have “lived in their home for generations.”
The comments came as more than 160 people were wounded after Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound late Friday, capping a week of violence in the Holy City and the occupied West Bank.
Earlier Friday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank, police said.
The unrest came on Al-Quds Day – named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem – an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran, the arch-enemy of Israel.
The nation’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “not a country, but a terrorist base,” and in a televised speech said that fighting the Jewish state was “everyone’s duty.”


Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
Somali opposition soldiers pose for a photograph in Mogadishu as they move to their barracks after reaching an agreement with the prime minister. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2021

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
  • Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three

MOGADISHU: Opposition fighters withdrew from the Somali capital on Friday, ending a tense standoff with pro-government troops after a dispute over delayed elections triggered the country’s worst political violence in years.
Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.
Under a deal reached by the warring sides this week, opposition troops began leaving their positions in the capital, and key roads sealed off with sandbags and machine guns were opened once more.
“We are sending our forces back to the frontline position to defend the country and its people,” said Mahad Salad, an opposition lawmaker, at a camp outside Mogadishu where troops assembled after pulling out of the city.
Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule.
But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.
Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three.
The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.
Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohammed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks.
“These forces came to the rescue of the people, and have taught a new lesson which will be remembered in future. They refused a dictatorship, and have forced the democratic governance process to continue,” opposition lawmaker Salad said.

FASTFACT

Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.

Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.
But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms.
Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.
In early May, Mohammed relaunched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.
Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote.
The international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon, and warned the political infighting distracted from the fight against Al-Shabab, the militants who control swathes of countryside.
Maj.-Gen. Ali Araye Osoble told opposition troops outside the capital that it was time to return to duty.
“I order that you return to your positions and fulfil your commitments in the fight against Al-Shabab,” the opposition commander said.


Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
People wearing protective face masks walk in Tunis, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Tunisia, April 29, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 May 2021

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
  • Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed

TUNIS: Tunisia ordered a partial lockdown from Sunday for the week-long Eid Al-Fitr holidays, warning that any further increase in coronavirus infections could overwhelm specialist care facilities.
Announcing the measure on Friday, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said Tunisia was going through “the worst health crisis in its history.”
Mosques, markets and nonessential businesses will be closed under the new restrictions, which come as Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadan, said Mechichi.
“Health institutions are at risk of collapse,” Mechichi said, adding that medics were stretched to the limit, with around 100 people a day dying of COVID-19.
More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, an unprecedented number that has required medics to set up field hospitals, and the North African country is struggling to meet the demand for oxygen.
Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed.
Tunisians are encouraged to leave their homes only for what is strictly necessary, government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.
The Mediterranean country, with a population of around 12 million, has recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases and over 11,200 deaths.
Tunisia’s economy has lurched from one crisis to another since the country’s 2011 revolution, with GDP estimated to have contracted by a record 8.2 percent last year.
Mechichi had said several times in recent weeks that Tunisia is unable to afford to repeat the restrictions put in place in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.