Lebanon's Aoun asks world’s help ‘trying to rise from its rubble’ at UN General Assembly meeting

In this image made from UNTV video, Michel Aoun, President of Lebanon, speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at UN headquarters. (UNTV via AP)
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Updated 24 September 2020

Lebanon's Aoun asks world’s help ‘trying to rise from its rubble’ at UN General Assembly meeting

  • Aoun said Lebanon is facing multiple crises that pose an unprecedented threat to the country’s existence
  • An explosion at Beirut port devastated large parts of the capital, killed almost 200 people

BEIRUT: Facing an economic meltdown and other crises, Lebanon’s president on Wednesday asked for the world’s help to rebuild the capital’s main port and neighborhoods that were blown away in last month’s catastrophic explosion.
President Michel Aoun made the plea in a prerecorded speech to the UN General Assembly’s virtual summit, telling world leaders that Lebanon’s many challenges are posing an unprecedented threat to its very existence.
Most urgently, the country needs the international community’s support to rebuild its economy and its destroyed port. Aoun suggested breaking up the damaged parts of the city into separate areas and so that countries that wish to help can each commit to rebuilding one.
“Beirut today is trying to rise from its rubble, and it is with the solidarity of all the Lebanese and your support that it will heal its wounds and rise as it has previously risen repeatedly throughout history,” Aoun said. “There is a great need for the international community to support the reconstruction of destroyed neighborhoods and facilities.”
The massive Aug. 4 explosion happened when about 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates — which had been rotting in a port warehouse for more than six years — ignited. Nearly 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured and a quarter of a million people were left with homes that were not fit to live in.
The cause of the blaze that ignited the chemicals still isn’t known, but the explosion is widely seen as the culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class.
It came on top of an unprecedented economic crisis which has seen the local currency lose up to 80 percent of its value and decimated people’s savings, feeding despair among a population that has long ago given up on its leaders. Poverty and unemployment are soaring, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
A local investigation into the blast is underway, but no one has been held accountable so far.
Aroun said Lebanon had requested technical assistance from certain countries, particularly soil samples and satellite images from the moment of the explosion.
“Teams from several countries came for technical assistance and to carry out the necessary research and we are still waiting for their information... as well as the satellite images to clear the ambiguity in this part of the investigation,” he added.
Earlier Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for swift formation of a government to be followed by tangible steps to implement economic, social and political reforms.
Lebanon’s government resigned under pressure in the wake of the port explosion, and Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib has been unable to form a new government amid a political impasse over which faction gets to have the Finance Ministry, as well as other disputes.
Guterres said the disastrous port explosion “must be a wake-up call.”
“Without such action, the country’s ability to recover and rebuild will be jeopardized, adding to the turmoil and hardship of the Lebanese people,” Guterres added.
Guterres made his remarks during a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings.


Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations”
  • Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.