Beirut emergency law sparks fears of army crackdown

Beirut emergency law sparks fears of army crackdown
Lebanese army soldiers are deployed during a protest in the aftermath of the deadly explosion in Beirut. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 August 2020

Beirut emergency law sparks fears of army crackdown

Beirut emergency law sparks fears of army crackdown
  • In its first meeting since the blast, Lebanon’s parliament on Thursday backed legislation allowing the army to ban gatherings deemed threats to national security
  • Human rights groups warned that the emergency law will give the Lebanese military extensive powers to quell protests and leave activists at the mercy of military courts

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament has approved a two-week state of emergency in Beirut that gives sweeping powers to the army, prompting warnings of a crackdown on protests in the city.

The green light for the tough new measures comes 10 days after a deadly explosion in the capital killed more than 170 people, wounded 6,500 others and forced the Cabinet to step down.

In its first meeting since the blast, Lebanon’s parliament on Thursday backed legislation allowing the army to ban gatherings deemed threats to national security and expanding the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.

Human rights groups warned that the emergency law will give the Lebanese military extensive powers to quell protests and leave activists at the mercy of military courts.

The Lebanese parliament met in Beirut’s Unesco Palace complex after its headquarters were heavily damaged in the explosion.

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A decree imposing a state of emergency was issued by Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government the day after the explosion.

The government resigned five days later amid angry protests demanding “revenge” for the blast, which has been widely blamed on negligence by the authorities.

Sources told Arab News that the Lebanese judiciary is waiting on a report by French experts who joined rescue efforts and investigated the site of the explosion to determine its causes.

The Lebanese judiciary concluded that “according to investigations with officials under arrest and witnesses, the incident was due to negligence that allowed the storing of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse in the port for seven years without taking precautionary measures.”

A source said that “the investigator in charge of the case has listened to the testimony of security officials.”

Investigators will also interview former public works ministers Ghazi Aridi, Ghazi Zaiter and Youssef Fenianos along with former justice and finance ministers, including Salim Jreissati and Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi.

Meanwhile, complications surround the appointment of a judicial investigator.

Arab News has been told that the Higher Judicial Council considered appointing judge Tareq Al-Bitar, who was proposed by the caretaker justice minister. However, Al-Bitar declined the role.

Sources said that “Al-Bitar later was pressured by two Free Patriotic Movement ministers to retrieve his resignation, which led to the Higher Judicial Council expressing reservations over his nomination.”

Eight MPs — Nadim Gemayel, Paula Yacoubian, Sami Gemayel, Elias Hankach, Michel Moawad, Neemat Frem, Henry Helou, and Marwan Hmadeh — have resigned following the explosion. The parliament session was boycotted by members of the Lebanese Forces bloc.

Protesters gathered near the Unesco Palace during the parliamentary session, chanting slogans and waving Lebanese flags.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri accused MPs who resigned of neglecting their duties while “the country is dying right in front of us.”

He called for the prompt formation of a new government “with a primary goal of fighting corruption and restoring Lebanese unity.”

The parliamentary session lasted for only 40 minutes but brought divisions between those calling for a parliamentary investigative committee and others demanding an international inquiry.

MP Usama Saad warned that the state of emergency will hinder public freedom.

“At this time we want the army and security forces to be a support to the people rather than being coercive agencies,” he said.

The White Shirts medical group, which treats people injured during protests, claimed that security forces had used lethal “shredded” bullets — an explosive projectile that causes massive internal injuries — against protesters in recent days.

The volunteer group held a press conference to show X-rays detailing shocking injuries among protesters taken to hospital.

Former health minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh was among the first to warn on Twitter against use of the bullets.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered in Martyrs’ Square to help remove rubble and broken glass from houses, office blocks and shops throughout the devastated city.

More than 180 aircraft had carried emergency aid to Lebanon by Thursday. The relief operation is being coordinated by the Lebanese army, which is storing and distributing material including food, tents and medical supplies.

After arriving in Beirut on Thursday, David Hale, US state undersecretary for political affairs, said in a statement: “Economic and fiscal reforms are needed, and an end to dysfunctional governments and empty promises.

“All Lebanese want to see a Lebanon guided by the Lebanese people that fulfills their ambitions and needs, not those of others.

“The US is ready to support a Lebanese government that reflects and responds to the will of the people, and genuinely commits and acts for real change."

Hale said that the FBI will join Lebanese and international investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese "in order to help answer questions that I know everyone has about the circumstances that led up to this explosion and to work with Lebanon in this regard.”

Florence Parly, France’s armed forces minister, also arrived in the capital, while Mohammad Jawad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, is due to arrive on Friday.


UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold

UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold
Updated 52 min 25 sec ago

UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold

UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold

DUBAI: UAE Foreign Minster Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said Tuesday the sanctions imposed by the US Caesar’s Act complicate Syria’s return to the Arab fold. 

The return of Syria to the Arab League is in the interest of Syria and other countries of the region, he said.

The minister made the remarks during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Abu Dhabi. 

He also announced that the UAE is looking forward to developing relations with Russia in various fields, saying: "Russia is a reliable friend and partner."

Meanwhile, Lavrov said that Russia has been in contact with UAE officials on developments in the Gulf and the region’s the stability.


UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant

UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant
Updated 09 March 2021

UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant

UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant
  • The Nawah Energy Company became authorized to operate the second unit over the next 60 years

DUBAI: The UAE announced the issuance of a license to operate the second unit of the Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra region, state news agency WAM reported on Tuesday.
The Nawah Energy Company – which is responsible of operating unit one to four of the power plant - became authorized to operate the second unit over the next 60 years, the report said.
The extensive evaluation process during the past five years included a review of the design of the nuclear plant, and a geographical and demographic analysis of its location.
The evaluation process also included the cooling and safety systems of the nuclear reactor, security measures, emergency preparedness procedures, radioactive waste management, and other technical aspects.
The authority also reviewed the readiness of the Nawah Energy Company in making available all the necessary procedures and measures to ensure the safety and security standards of the power plant.
“Today’s announcement represents a milestone in the UAE’s journey and realization of the vision of the wise leadership. It is considered a strategic achievement that culminates in the efforts exerted over the past 13 years,” Permanent Representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UAE Hamad Al-Kaabi said.


Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq

Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq
Updated 09 March 2021

Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq

Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq

DUBAI: A US-led coalition airstrike has destroyed a site housing 10 militants from the Daesh group in Nineveh, north of Iraq, according to the country’s state news agency Tuesday. 

“The international coalition warplanes carried out an air strike in Mount Adaya, within the Nineveh sector of operations, which resulted in the destruction of a den containing about 10 members of the Daesh terror group,” the agency reported. 

A brigade from the Iraqi army searched the targeted area after the coalition strike and neutralized two other Daesh militants wearing explosive-laden belts, the report said.


With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry

With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry
Updated 09 March 2021

With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry

With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry
  • Rights groups say at least 10 people were killed when security forces opened fire on fuel porters in Sistan-Baluchistan
PARIS: After Iran last month imposed an Internet shutdown lasting several days in a southeastern region during a rare upsurge of unrest, activists say the government is now using the tactic repeatedly when protests erupt.
Rights groups say at least 10 people were killed when security forces opened fire on fuel porters around Saravan in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan on February 22, prompting protests where live ammunition was used on unarmed demonstrators.
But little information filtered out due to a near total shutdown of the Internet in the impoverished region bordering Pakistan, which has a large ethnic Baluch population and has been a flashpoint for cross-border attacks by separatists and Sunni extremists.
The Internet shutdown was a “measure authorities appear to be using as a tool to conceal gross human rights violations and possible international crimes such as extrajudicial killings,” freedom of expression groups Access Now, Article 19 and Miaan Group said in a joint statement with Amnesty International.
Campaigners say such shutdowns, which recall those seen in recent months during street protests in Belarus and Myanmar, have a dual purpose.
They seek to prevent people from using social media messaging services to mobilize protests but also hinder the documentation of rights violations that could be used to rally support at home and abroad.
Iran in November 2019 imposed nationwide Internet limits during rare protests against fuel hikes that the authorities suppressed in a deadly crackdown.
Rights groups fear the same tactic risks being used again during potentially tense presidential elections this summer.

The Sistan-Baluchistan shutdown saw mobile Internet services halted, effectively shutting down the net in an area where phones account for over 95 percent of Internet use.
“It is aimed at harming documentation and the ability of people to mobilize and coordinate,” Mahsa Alimardani, Iran researcher with the Article 19 freedom of expression group, told AFP. “It helps the authorities to be able to control the narrative.”
State media said there were attacks on government buildings in Saravan and that a policeman was killed when unrest spread to the provincial capital Zahedan.
The governor of the city’s region, Abouzarmahdi Nakahei, denounced “fake” reports of deaths in the protests, blaming “foreign media.”
Alimardani noted that targeting mobile Internet connections made the shutdown different from the one seen in November 2019.
Then, Iranians were cut off from international Internet traffic but were able to continue highly-filtered activities on Iran’s homegrown Internet platform the National Information Network (NIN).
She said the documentation of atrocities was the authorities’ biggest fear. “It is a big rallying call when these videos go viral,” she said.


Unlike some other minority groups in Iran like Arabs and Kurds, the Baluch do not have major representation in the West to promote their cause and draw attention to alleged violations on social media.
Most Baluch adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam rather than the Shiism dominant in Iran and rights groups also say Baluch convicts have been disproportionately targeted by executions.
According to information received by Amnesty from Baluchi activists, at least 10 people were killed on February 22 when Revolutionary Guards “unlawfully and deliberately used lethal force” against unarmed Baluchi fuel porters near Saravan.
The crackdown came after the security forces blocked a road to impede the work of the porters, who cross between Iran and Pakistan to sell fuel.
Amnesty added that security forces also used unlawful and excessive force against people who protested in response to the killings, as well as bystanders, leaving another two dead.


Amnesty’s Iran researcher Raha Bahreini told AFP that the toll was a “minimum figure” that Baluchi activists verified after confirming the victims’ names.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran have an even higher toll of 23 dead, citing local sources.
The Internet shutdown “severely restricted the flow of information to rights defenders from contacts and eyewitnesses,” Bahreini told AFP.
“The authorities are fully aware they are preventing the outside world from learning about the extent and gravity of violations on the ground,” she added.
She said such unlawful shutdowns had turned into a “pattern” in Iran.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said that the shutdown has impeded precise verification of the death toll and had “the apparent purpose of preventing access to information about what is happening there.”
The CHRI said Iran blocked Internet access “to kill protesters indiscriminately and out of the public eye and prevent protesters from communicating and organizing.”
“Security forces killed hundreds of protesters with impunity in November 2019, and they are doing it again now,” said its director Hadi Ghaemi.
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Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam

Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam
Updated 09 March 2021

Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam

Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam

CAIRO: Egypt hopes to resume talks soon with Ethiopia over the controversial mega-dam to reach an agreement that serves the interests of the three parties involved in the dispute, its foreign minister said.   

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said his country has been communicating with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam, which Cairo fears it will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the Nile River.

No talks on the matter were made outside the framework of the African Union (AU), Shoukry was cited by local daily Al-Masry El-Youm . The AU has been mediating the talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. 

Egypt and Sudan have voiced their concern about the possible threats posed by the dam and how it could negatively affect their water share if Ethiopia abstained from signing a binding and legal agreement on the dam operation and the process of filling its reservoir.