Lebanon PM threatens mass arrests over deadly clashes

Garbage bins, set on fire by demonstrators, block a road during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon on January 26, 2021 against the lockdown and worsening economic conditions amid the spread of the COVID-19. (REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim )
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Garbage bins, set on fire by demonstrators, block a road during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon on January 26, 2021 against the lockdown and worsening economic conditions amid the spread of the COVID-19. (REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim )
Lebanese soldiers prepare to move protesters from streets during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, on  Jan. 29, 2021 gainst deteriorating living conditions and strict coronavirus lockdown measures. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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Lebanese soldiers prepare to move protesters from streets during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, on Jan. 29, 2021 gainst deteriorating living conditions and strict coronavirus lockdown measures. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Lebanon PM threatens mass arrests over deadly clashes
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Prime Minister Hassan Diab. (AFP)
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Updated 31 January 2021

Lebanon PM threatens mass arrests over deadly clashes

Lebanon PM threatens mass arrests over deadly clashes
  • Tripoli violence ‘an assault on the state,’ claims Diab
  • Beirut shooting sparks fears of more unrest

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, broke his silence on Saturday to condemn days of violent protest in Tripoli, the country’s most impoverished city, as “an assault on the state and its integrity.”

“Everyone who participated in the riots will be arrested,” Diab said.

His comments followed deadly clashes during the week when protests at Lebanon’s extended coronavirus lockdown and worsening economic crisis turned violent.

Frustrations boiled over after 30-year-old Omar Taibi was shot by security forces during protests. The ensuing clashes left more than 220 people injured.

Protesters set fire to several buildings in Tripoli on Thursday as outrage grew.

Violence escalated quickly as molotov cocktails, hand grenades and stones were launched at the security forces, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and then live ammunition.

However, that did not deter others from expressing their outrage with the caretaker government as protests spread to other parts of the country.

On Saturday, groups of female protesters blocked the highway linking Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, with Akkar. The women complained that they were no longer able to secure basic needs for their families.

SPEEDREAD

The political dispute between Saad Hariri and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Gebran Bassil, worsened on Saturday as both men swapped accusations.

Another group of protesters marched to the Beirut home of Mohamed Fahmi, Lebanon’s interior minister, to voice their anger at the security forces’ handling of the Tripoli protests.

A shooting in Beirut’s Hamra commercial district late on Saturday sparked fears of worsening violence in the capital.

However, security forces described the attack as “an isolated incident.”

A security source told Arab News: “The problem started between a delivery driver and one of the residents. Young men from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party interfered and defended the Syrian delivery driver, then started shooting into the air.”

After nearby residents appeared on the street, troops arrived and cordoned off the site, the source said.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Fouad Siniora, the leader of the Future Movement’s parliamentary group, warned that the violence in Tripoli has deepened Lebanon’s political divisions, making the formation of a rescue government even more difficult.

“The most dangerous thing about the current situation is the inability of the political forces to take initiative in determining a national rescue destination,” he said.

“Every sectarian party is waging two battles: A fierce internal battle to impose itself as its sole representative, and a grinding battle against other sects to identify the sect’s quota in the government.”

The political dispute between Saad Al-Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by Gebran Bassil, worsened on Saturday as both men swapped accusations.

Bassil urged Al-Hariri to “head immediately to the Baabda Palace and form a government in agreement and full partnership with the president — a government that enjoys broad political and national support.”

The FPM described the demand for partnership in the government formation as “a right.”

However, the Future Movement responded later, accusing the FPM of “reducing the rights of Christians to the rights of a few men.”

 


Lebanon schools to reopen in cooperation with the Red Cross

Lebanon schools to reopen in cooperation with the Red Cross
Updated 20 min 36 sec ago

Lebanon schools to reopen in cooperation with the Red Cross

Lebanon schools to reopen in cooperation with the Red Cross
  • Minister of Education Tarek Majzoub said the move to return to blended learning is related to the rate of vaccination among teachers
  • Schools in Lebanon have relied on online learning since the beginning of the year – a surge in COVID-19 cases in schools following the holidays brought about their closing

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Education Ministry has decided to reopen all schools for blended learning as of April 21, after closing for more than three months.

Minister of Education Tarek Majzoub said the move to return to blended learning is related to the rate of vaccination among teachers.

But the head of the Lebanese Doctors’ Syndicate Sharaf Abu Sharaf warned that since the vaccination process started in February, it has covered only “5 percent of the Lebanese, with 10,000 persons working in the health sector who have still not received the vaccine.”

Majzoub said: “The education in Lebanon is in danger, especially the good education that used to be equally provided for poor, middle, and rich classes

“The harsh economic conditions have affected everyone. Therefore, we must cooperate to save the academic year. We have nothing left in Lebanon but education, and our goal as a ministry is to save this academic year.”

The ministry has announced the schedule for the official exams, which will be taken in person. The Grade 12 Baccalaureate exams will take place on July 26, and the required curriculum will be reduced. The exams, according to the minister, will not be “formal,” but “the difficulty level will be studied.”

The government canceled the official exams last year, instead granting certificates to students in line with their grades in school and from online learning.

The Grade 9 Brevet exams will be replaced by school tests, which will be prepared and controlled by the ministry. The exams will take place on July 12.

Schools in Lebanon have relied on online learning since the beginning of the year. A surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in schools following the holidays brought about their closing. Some private schools and universities violated closures by imposing attendance, while abiding by COVID-19 precautionary measures.

Abu Sharaf, who is also a pediatrician, said that “closing educational institutions has increased psychological problems among students, such as stress, introversion, social media addiction, obesity, and domestic violence. Western reports have even shown an increase in the suicide rate, in addition to a significant fall in the intellectual development of students, especially those under the age of 10.”

The decision to return students to schools excludes those with health issues, who can continue learning remotely. However, the return does not exclude students with special needs, those who have learning disabilities, or public schools’ students enrolled in the afternoon shift, such as Syrian refugees.

The return to schools has been taken during a crippling financial and economic crisis in Lebanon that has further deteriorated during the education shutdown.

A draft law proposed in July 2020 to allocate 500 million Lebanese pounds ($327 million) to support the education sector is still awaiting approval by parliament.

Majzoub said: “The country is going through a very delicate and exceptional situation, both on the health and economic levels. It is very easy for us to stop the whole education process and grant students pass certificates instead of going through the whole examination process, but this is not the ministry’s mission.”

He added: “A total of 17,000 vaccines have been secured for the teaching staff, to cover high school teachers in the first phase. The World Bank has supported us to become a priority in vaccinations, as well as UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Lebanese Red Cross. 

“However, the committee following up on the COVID-19 preventive measures said that not receiving the vaccine does not mean we cannot resume classes, in line with the preventive and precautionary measures.”

The ministry has introduced a new operation room to follow-up on news regarding blended education. It will work in cooperation with the Red Cross around the clock.

Majzoub’s decision has angered some parents and teachers, who accused him on social media of being “oblivious to the people’s situation and the impacts of his decision.”

Teachers expressed fears over “being unprotected” and expressed concern over “receiving AstraZeneca, the vaccine that has been allocated for them, due to reports about the possibility of the vaccine causing blood clots.”

Complaints against the minister’s decision were also made by some parents who said they are no longer capable of providing transport fees for their children to and from school, and others who said they cannot even give their children money to buy lunch at school.

Due to the worsening economic collapse, more than 50 percent of the Lebanese and 97 percent of Palestinian and Syrian refugees now live under the poverty line.

Jennifer Moorehead, director of Save the Children Lebanon, warned on April 1 that “the education for thousands of children in Lebanon is hanging by a thread.”

She added: “Many of them might never come back to school, either because they have missed so much learning already or because their families cannot afford to send them to school.”

According to the NGO: “Children not enrolled in schools are at a higher risk of falling victim to child labor, child marriage, and other forms of abuse and exploitation.”


Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action

Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action
Updated 16 April 2021

Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action

Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action
  • The Republican People’s Party (CHP) said $128 billion of foreign reserves were used during former Finance Minister Berak Albayrak’s tenure to stabilize the Turkish lira
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Feb. 24 that the massive sum of money was channeled into the country’s fight against coronavirus

ANKARA: 
Missing reserves of $128 billion from Turkey’s Central Bank has triggered a publicity campaign from the country’s opposition party demanding to know the money’s whereabouts and police action to stop the question from being asked.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) said $128 billion of foreign reserves were used during former Finance Minister Berak Albayrak’s tenure to stabilize the Turkish lira, which has been plummeting in value, and that it was a party’s constitutional right to probe where the country’s reserves were being spent.

It hung CHP banners up around the country asking about the missing money, while also trying to raise awareness about the financial hardships that Turkey was facing.

Police, using water cannons and armed vehicles, moved in to stop the party’s efforts. Banners hung up on balconies were removed by officers under the pretext of pandemic measures.

The CHP has vowed to keep displaying the banners on buildings and billboards for as long as the police keep removing them.

“We are asking about the money of the poor, those in need and orphans,” tweeted CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Hundreds of CHP lawmakers and party members changed their social media profile pictures to “128” in reference to the publicity campaign.

Naci Agbal, the Central Bank’s former governor, was reportedly fired after he tried to launch an investigation into the missing reserves.

The bank has changed governors four times in the last 20 months, each of them sacked through presidential decree without any reason given for their dismissal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Feb. 24 that the massive sum of money was channeled into the country’s fight against coronavirus.

The bank’s reserves are currently believed to stand at around $43.2 billion. 

Goldman Sachs said in November that the bank had misspent over $100 billion of its reserves to stop the lira’s depreciation during the first 10 months of 2020.

“NASA’s budget for 2020 is $22.6 billion,” tweeted prominent journalist Serif Turgut. “We could have even gone to Mars with $128 billion.” 


CHP lawmaker 
Kamil Oktay Sindir said the missing reserves showed the lack of financial transparency in the country, where several public-private partnership projects had been exempted from the audit of Turkey’s Court of Accounts.

He explained that one of the key missions of lawmakers, who were representatives of the people’s will, was to monitor Turkey’s budget and financial resources.

“We derive this right from the constitution,” he told Arab News. “Turkish people, who are already paying huge taxes, deserve accountability from the government about each penny it spends. Such moves of the Central Bank seriously undermine the Turkish economy’s credibility and they discourage foreign investors from investing in the country, as their trust in the functioning of the economy is getting eroded. The economic functioning of a country shouldn’t be so dependent on a one man-rule.”


Western powers condemn attacks in Kurdish Iraq

France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 16 April 2021

Western powers condemn attacks in Kurdish Iraq

France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone
  • Around 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office

BERLIN: France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday.

“Together, our governments will support the government of Iraq’s investigation into the attacks to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable,” they said.

The Western powers said they were “united” in the view “that attacks on US and Coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and reiterate our steadfast commitment to the fight against Daesh.”

An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone, according to the Kurdish interior ministry, in an unprecedented escalation of the arms used to target US soldiers based there.

No one was hurt in the blast but a building was damaged.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry condemned a drone attack targeting US forces stationed at Erbil airport in northern Iraq late on Wednesday. Click here for more.

A Turkish soldier was killed by rocket fire at around the same time at a military base 50 kilometers east in Bashiqa, Ankara said, but there was no immediate confirmation of any link between the two attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the airport drone attack.

But a shadowy pro-Iranian group calling itself Awliyaa Al-Dam (Guardians of Blood), which claimed responsibility for a similar attack at the airport in February, hailed the blast in pro-Tehran channels on the messaging app Telegram.

Around 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office at the end of January.

Dozens more took place over the preceding 18 months, with Washington consistently blaming pro-Iran factions.

Washington and Tehran are both allies of Baghdad, but remain sharply at odds over Iran's nuclear programme.

Pro-Iran groups have been ratcheting up their rhetoric, vowing to ramp up attacks to force out the “occupying” US forces, over a year after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the American troops.

Washington last week committed to withdrawing all remaining combat forces from Iraq, although the two countries did not set a timeline for what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion.


Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits
Updated 16 April 2021

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits
  • Lenderking and Griffiths are working to encourage the delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks
  • In the UAE, Lenderking met with officials to discuss the importance of fully implementing the Riyadh Agreement

LONDON: US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking discussed the importance of reaching a lasting solution to the conflict in the country during a recent visit to Berlin.
Lenderking also discussed taking action to mitigate the humanitarian and economic crisis in the war torn country with representatives from the UN Security Council permanent member states, as well as Germany, Kuwait, Sweden, and the EU.
Ending the Houthi assault on Marib, facilitating a UN inspection and repair of the Safer oil tanker, and supporting the legitimate government’s efforts to stabilize the Yemeni economy and ease the humanitarian crisis were steps highlighted to end the conflict during the discussions in Berlin.
In the UAE, Lenderking met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the importance of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
The Yemen envoy arrived in Germany on Monday, traveled to the UAE on Wednesday and returned to the US on Friday.
Lenderking and the UN’s Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths are working side-by-side to encourage the swift delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks with the support of the Omani government, a US State Department statement said.
It called on all parties to commit seriously and negotiate in good faith.


Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found
Updated 16 April 2021

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found
  • A survivor said that the boat had 41 migrants on board, who had set off from Sfax in hope of reaching the Italian coast
  • The port city has become a common exit point for Europe-bound migrants escaping conflict or poor living conditions

TUNIS, Tunisia: Tunisian authorities said they recovered the bodies of 21 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, including nine women and a baby, whose boat sank Friday off the central port city of Sfax. The cause of the sinking was unclear.
Commander Housemeddine Jebabli, of the National Guard, told The Associated Press there were only three survivors, who were rescued by the coast guard with the help of civil protection divers.
Jebabli said that authorities are continuing to search the area of the sinking, as there are indications that 17 people could be missing.
Jebabli said a survivor told him that the boat had 41 migrants on board, who had set off the day before from Sfax in hope of reaching the Italian coast.
The port city has become a common exit point for Europe-bound migrants escaping conflict or poor living conditions.
Last month, on March 9, two boats ran aground in the same area killing 39 people, while 165 migrants were rescued. Most were sub-Saharan nationals.