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)
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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

  • 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.


Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

Updated 29 September 2020

Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

  • Opposition party submits parliamentary question on torture after villagers allegedly thrown from military helicopter

ANKARA: The mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey is under the spotlight again following allegations of torture and food poisoning.

Three politicians from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who were recently arrested said they were hospitalized with food poisoning during their detention, while Amnesty International has demanded the government investigate allegations that two Kurds were thrown out of a military helicopter.

The government accuses the HDP of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and thousands of its members have been prosecuted for the same reason, including its leaders. The HDP denies such links. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US.

The HDP politicians, including Ayhan Bilgen who is mayor of Van province, fell ill after eating food served at Ankara police headquarters.

Bilgen was not immediately taken to hospital, nor was he allowed to talk to his legal team until after HDP lawmakers had talked with government officials to have him hospitalized.

The trio are under arrest as part of a probe into violent protests that took place in Kobane in 2014. Their detention period was extended on Monday by another four days.

Amnesty International has urged the government to investigate allegations that two Kurds, aged 55 and 50, were thrown from a military helicopter in Van. The rights group voiced its concerns about the “allegations of torture and mistreatment” which it said were unacceptable under international human rights law and standards that Turkey was obliged to comply with.

The men alleged to have been thrown out of a military helicopter were arrested on Sept. 11 as part of an operation against the PKK. Both were hospitalized and had signs of heavy beatings on their bodies.

One of the men was shown to the media with a bloodied face. He is experiencing memory loss. The other man’s condition remains critical. He is suffering from brain trauma, broken ribs, a punctured lung, and has been in intensive care for more than two weeks.

Relatives of the villagers have demanded justice and the uncovering of the truth through a proper investigation.

Amnesty International wants Turkey to investigate the case impartially, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has submitted a parliamentary question about the allegations of torture.

HDP lawmaker Ali Kenanoglu said his party would follow up the mistreatment allegations at a domestic and international level.

“Kurds have become the scapegoat of the current regime because they are considered as the easiest target that doesn’t have any strong social support behind it,” he told Arab News. “Currently all policies involving war and violence are conducted by targeting Kurds. The mistreatment regarding this segment of society has not received strong backing so far, which opens more room for such efforts.”

Once the Kurdish lawmakers were arrested they were automatically under state protection, he said. “However, state impunity still prevails when it comes to the implementation of the rights of Kurdish community.”

On Monday, HDP deputies and officials were outside the parliament building to protest against the detention of their colleagues, who are accused of inciting violence in Kobane.

Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum, called for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment of Kurdish villagers.

“Those found to be responsible should be brought to justice in a fair trial,” she told Arab News. “Turkey is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, both of which it is a party to. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe is tasked with monitoring places of detention in member states and can ask questions regarding the cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment. As Amnesty International, we will continue monitoring the developments in this shocking case.”

Buyum said that people in detention must be allowed access to their lawyers once they were deprived of their liberty.

“The delay in speaking to the lawyers is concerning. The HDP representatives have been able to consult their legal representatives after four days. They still don't know the substance of the allegations they face as they have not yet been questioned.”

The rights group said that there was increased concern about detention conditions because of the pandemic, and that authorities should step up their efforts to ensure the health and safety of those in custody.

Separately, a Kurdish singer said on Monday that he had been warned by security and intelligence officials against singing in his mother tongue and to stay away from HDP events.

“You will be in trouble if you sing in Kurdish again,” Cesim Basboga was reportedly told. "You’ve been provoking people with songs.”

Basboga will file a complaint.