France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon

France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon
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President Michel Aoun (C) meets with Patrick Durel (C-L), advisor to the French president for North Africa and the Middle East, in Baabda on the outskirts of Beirut. (AFP)
France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon
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Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri (R) meets with Patrick Durel (R), an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, in the capital Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 13 November 2020

France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon

France urges speedy government formation in Lebanon
  • Durel said: “France will keep providing urgent assistance to Lebanon in several fields, especially education”
  • Macron’s rescue initiative has not led to the formation of a government yet, three months after its launch

BEIRUT: France urged Lebanon to “speed up the formation of an efficient government, accepted by all political parties” to enact badly needed reform and provide proper leadership amid tensions and a severe economic crisis.
The adviser to the French president for the affairs of the Middle East and North Africa, Patrick Durel, held a series of meetings on Thursday and Friday, with officials and the heads of the eight parliamentary blocs, including the representative of Hezbollah, Mohammed Raad, and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil.
French President Emmanuel Macron had previously met with these figures at the Pine Palace during his two visits to Beirut in the wake of the explosion at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4 and again on Sept. 1.
During his meeting with President Michel Aoun on Thursday, Durel said: “France will keep providing urgent assistance to Lebanon in several fields, especially education.”
He said: “The international community’s fulfilment of its obligations toward Lebanon is linked to the implementation of reforms.”
Macron’s rescue initiative for Lebanon has not led to the formation of a government yet, three months after its launch. Then prime minister-designate, Mustafa Adib, apologized on Sept. 26 for his inability to form a government. His successor, Saad Hariri, is still facing formation obstacles since his designation on Oct. 22.
Pessimism over the possibility of resolving the stalemate is rising amid ongoing disagreement over the government’s form, the number of portfolios and the names of the ministers, in light of the FPM’s inflexibility, Hezbollah and the Amal movement’s position on the finance portfolio, and the objection of Hezbollah’s allies for not having the party represented in the next government.
US sanctions against Bassil, on the grounds of corruption charges, have increased his supporters’ intransigence.
Aoun’s office said he assured the French envoy that “Lebanon adheres to the French initiative for the benefit of Lebanon,” but stressed the need for “a broad national consensus to form a government that can achieve the required tasks, in cooperation with parliament, to pass necessary reform laws.”
A spokesperson continued that Aoun complained to Durel: “The financial forensic auditing process in the accounts of the Lebanese Central Bank, which is considered one of the foundations of these reforms, is facing many obstacles” adding that “a three-months extension has been made for Alvarez & Marsal to secure what facilitates its mission.”
The president added that “the US sanctions targeting Lebanese politicians (has) made matters more complicated,” suggesting “conducting a broad national consultation at this delicate stage so that the authorship comes in line with the French initiative.”
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri described the meeting with the French envoy as “good.”
Berri reiterated to Macron’s adviser his adherence to “the French initiative and the necessity to implement reforms, especially in the field of energy and fighting corruption.” He added that “creating a government whose ministers are specialists and have the parliament’s confidence is the only means for Lebanon’s salvation.”
Hariri has so far refused to go into any details related to the formation of the government and the obstacles he is facing. His media adviser, Hussein Al-Wajh, told Arab News: “Any statement or analysis regarding the fate of the government issued by any party is a personal opinion and Hariri has nothing to do with it.”
The French envoy’s visit was accompanied by questions about whether he wanted to convey a final warning to the politicians who backed away from their commitments to Macron and inform them of the possibility of postponing the international conference in support of Lebanon, which France promised to organize by the end of this month.
The immediate outcome of Durel’s visit did not show signs of a rapid breakthrough, to stir the stagnant waters of the French initiative.
Durel reiterated: “The French initiative is the only valid option on the table to save Lebanon, otherwise the cost will be much worse than what is happening now, if the time factor is ignored.”
According to what a participant in the French envoy’s meetings with party leaders told Arab News, Durel stressed “the French side’s adherence to a government of specialists and not partisans, that has acquired broad internal consensus.”


Egypt seeks to free citizens kidnapped by pirates off Nigerian coast

Updated 35 min 28 sec ago

Egypt seeks to free citizens kidnapped by pirates off Nigerian coast

Egypt seeks to free citizens kidnapped by pirates off Nigerian coast
  • Maria Samir, Samir’s sister, said her brother was last contacted as he was about to move from Nigeria to Cameroon

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it was coordinating with Nigerian authorities to free two of its citizens after they were kidnapped by pirates.

According to media reports, Saad Shawky and Kyrolos Samir were taken while they were on board a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria’s southernmost state of Bayelsa.

There are also three Lebanese, four Indians and a Cameroonian in the crew.

The ministry said it had contacted the Egyptian consulate in Abuja about the circumstances and with the latest updates, and that instructions had been issued “to communicate with all officials at the highest level to follow up on ensuring the safety of kidnapped Egyptians.”

Egyptian media reported the two men were on board a Lebanese cargo ship called “Milan-1” that was heading from Nigeria to Cameroon. They also said the ship was owned by a Lebanese national, Adnan El-Kot.

El-Kot said in statements that he had rented the ship to a man called Tavo Lawrence and that the vessel was raising the flag of Saint Kitts. He learned about the kidnapping last Thursday, receiving a call from a Thuraya mobile phone from the pirates who demanded a $1.5 million ransom to release the ship.

The ransom dropped to $300,000, and El-Kot explained that he had told the kidnappers that the ship had been rented to another person living in Nigeria after he made sure all the ship crew were safe.

Maria Samir, Samir’s sister, said her brother was last contacted as he was about to move from Nigeria to Cameroon.

She said in an interview that contact with him was lost a few hours after he moved from Nigeria, adding that it naturally happened due to being in the open seas. She was following up the ship’s route through an app that revealed the vessel had stopped in the middle of the sea and did not move.

She said her brother graduated from university a year ago and that it was his first job for six months. She added he was working on a ship on the Red Sea route and moved to work on board “Milan-1.”

Sherouk Shawky, who is Shawky’s sister, said: “My brother and his colleague Kyrolos Samir have been working together onboard the ship for two years and a half.”

She said her brother left Nigeria en route to Cameroon and they had last contacted each other last Wednesday.

She added: “By Saturday, as he didn't contact us, we became extremely worried about him since the route from Nigeria to Cameroon is only two days. So we contacted Adnan El-Kot, the ship owner, who told us that pirates from Nigeria kidnapped the ship's 10-member crew, which includes officers, engineers and cooks. He said the pirates kidnapped 10 crew members and left one to inform Adnan of the kidnapping.”