Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, government resignation

Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, government resignation
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Lebanese anti-government protesters attack a vehicle belonging to a member of the parliament upon his arrival to the parliamentary session at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut, on August 13, 2020. (AFP)
Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, government resignation
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General view of the government palace before a protest following the blast in Beirut, Lebanon, August 10, 2020. (File/REUTERS)
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Updated 13 August 2020

Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, government resignation

Lebanese MPs meet for first time since blast, government resignation
  • 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.”

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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.


Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity
Updated 38 min 17 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.