Hariri pours cold water on Lebanon govt hopes

Hariri pours cold water on Lebanon govt hopes
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 23 December 2020

Hariri pours cold water on Lebanon govt hopes

Hariri pours cold water on Lebanon govt hopes
  • ‘We want ministers who will tell us when we are wrong,’ says caretaker PM

BEIRUT: Hopes that Lebanon would have a new government before the end of the year have been dashed with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri warning of “clear complications hindering the birth of the new leadership.”

Speaking on Wednesday after his 14th meeting with President Michel Aoun, Hariri said that despite attempts to halt Lebanon’s collapse, “the existing political problems are clear.”

He added: “We must be humble and think about the country’s interests. A government must be formed after the new year.”

The caretaker prime minister addressed the Lebanese people, saying: “Do not let anyone tell you that we cannot stop the current collapse, but President Aoun and I need a government of specialists and experts who know what they are doing, without being politicized.”

He added: “We want people who tell us ‘no’ when we are wrong. We want people who can actually benefit the country, so that we can carry out the reforms we want.”

Hariri said that trust between Lebanon’s political parties needed to be rebuilt, but warned “there is no time left — the country is rapidly collapsing.”

After a previous meeting with Aoun, Hariri was hopeful of forming a government before Christmas, saying “there is positivity and great openness.”

However, leaks in the lead-up to Wednesday’s meeting showed there was still a dispute over the interior, justice and energy ministries, which the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) insists on controlling as part of a political deal to break the government deadlock.

International pressure, especially from France, to form a government committed to reform has failed to end the stalemate.

Sources close to Hariri told Arab News that Aoun was “responsive” to the prime minister’s suggestions, “but there are those who interfered and overturned this response.”

Future bloc deputy Mohammed Al-Hajjar said: “It is Gebran Bassil (FPM president). He does not want to see Hariri heading a government of specialists.”

Former prime ministers met with Hariri before his Republican Palace visit and agreed to push on with the French initiative to form a government without links to the parties in power.

The political impasse raises fears over Lebanon’s growing poverty levels, with the number of poor likely to exceed half the population by 2021.

Lebanese people fear the start of the new year in light of talks about harsh measures needed to support basic materials subsidized by the state, including fuel, flour and medicine.

FPM deputy Alain Aoun said: “There has been no decision yet regarding the government. There are many unresolved issues. No team will waiver in favor of the other.”

Independent MP Jihad Al-Samad said: “There are 53 laws relating to the reform process, workflow regulations, and performance of ministries and official departments. These are locked in officials’ drawers and are not being applied. How can reform take place without applying the existing laws and provisions?”

Ghazi Wazni, the caretaker finance minister, said on Wednesday that banking secrecy will be lifted for a year and consultants Alvarez & Marsal asked to resume its financial audit of the central bank, ministries and public institutions.

The firm withdrew from the investigation on Nov. 20, saying it “did not obtain sufficient information to initiate the audit.”

At the time the central bank invoked secrecy laws on cash, credit and banking to avoid providing the required information.

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
Updated 26 January 2021

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
  • Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy

BEIRUT: The closure and curfew period in Lebanon has been extended for two more weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prompting people in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon to take to the streets.

The protests were spontaneous, considering that the neighborhoods from which they started are poor, where the residents work for daily wages.

The Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism in the caretaker government Ramzi Musharrafieh said on Tuesday that “230,000 families in Lebanon benefit from aid and have been receiving 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($263) per month since the beginning of the crisis.” He added that “25 percent of the Lebanese people do not need aid.”

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy and the failure to provide people with alternatives.

One of the protesters said: “Contracting COVID-19 and dying of it is easier than having my family and myself starve to death.”

Protesters in Tripoli took to Al-Nour Square on Monday after days of expressing their impatience and protesting outside the houses of the city’s officials.

One of the protesters said: “COVID-19 does not scare us. We cannot tolerate this life of humiliation anymore. The officials in power have starved and robbed us.”

The protesters clashed with the security forces — the army and the Internal Security Forces — hurling stones and water bottles at them. 

Their chants demanded financial compensation for the poorest families, who have not been able to work for two weeks and must wait a further two weeks before they can return to their jobs, resulting in a whole month without any financial income.

The protests spiralled out of control and turned into riots that ended with dozens of arrests. Several army personnel were deployed to control the situation in Al-Nour Square and its vicinity. Riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it brought in six ambulances as 41 people were injured during the protests. The organization transferred 12 people to hospitals, while 29 were treated at the scene.

In support of the Tripoli protests, dozens gathered at the Ring Bridge in central Beirut.

Activists gathered in Sidon’s Elia Square for a vigil, amid security measures. The protesters chanted slogans denouncing the political authority’s arbitrary decisions, which they argue worsened the economic collapse. 

Some protesters said that 60 percent of the poor people in Lebanon are suffering because of these decisions, which were not accompanied with support for people who were laid off due to lockdown measures.

The protests extended to Taalbaya in the Bekaa and the coastal town of Jiyeh. The protesters moved from the poor neighborhoods of Beirut to Corniche el Mazraa and blocked the road, but the riot police reopened it.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News: “Things are heading toward chaos, and the authorities’ decisions are ill-considered. When forcing people to stop working, it is important to give them incentives and compensation. There are 120,000 daily workers impacted by the closure, which has come amid a severe economic crisis.”

He added: “They must exempt the factories that suspended production so that they can survive and not lay off their workers if the closure results in stopping operation. 

“What can the factories that have agreements with clients abroad do to deliver their products? This is the only sector that is bringing Lebanon fresh money and giving people jobs.”

Al-Asmar said that aid provided by the government “covers 47,000 families, and a further 8,000 taxi drivers have been added to them. This is a small percentage compared to the need among the general population.”

He continued: “Employees are now receiving half a salary or a very meager salary if they don’t lose their jobs as employers prefer shutting down their businesses to continuous losses.”

Bechara added: “We are facing a major social crisis. The daily workers are complaining of their inability to put bread on the table, while the state is unable to hold coordination meetings, so how can it provide compensation for those affected?”