Voting for members of interim Libyan authority begins in Geneva

Voting for members of interim Libyan authority begins in Geneva
This handout picture made available by the United Nations (UN) shows acting UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams (C) and representatives at the opening of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on February 1, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 February 2021

Voting for members of interim Libyan authority begins in Geneva

Voting for members of interim Libyan authority begins in Geneva
  • No clear winners in first round of contest to elect three members of Presidency Council; voting will now move to second phase
  • Ahead of the vote, candidates presented their visions for the nation’s future to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum

NEW YORK: Efforts by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) to elect a three-member Presidency Council will move to the next stage after none of the candidates secured the required 70 percent of the vote during a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.

The forum, which was established late last year to advance the political peace process, is made up of 75 women and men from across the country who are described by the UN as reflecting the full social and political spectrum of Libyan society.

During talks in Tunisia in November, the LPDF agreed a plan to elect an interim executive authority that includes a prime minister and a three-member Presidency Council with one representative from each of Libya’s eastern, western and southern regions.

They will be tasked with guiding the country toward the “sacred goal” of holding constitutionally based national elections, said Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s acting representative for Libya, who convened this week’s meeting in Switzerland.

“This project is not about power sharing or dividing the cake,” said Williams. “Rather, it is to form a temporary government composed of patriots who agree to shoulder and share the responsibility to put Libyan sovereignty — and the security, prosperity and welfare of the Libyan people — above narrow interests and far from the specter of foreign interference.”

It would be the first such unified government in the country since the 2011 revolution that overthrew the Qaddafi regime.

The top three contenders that emerged on Tuesday were: Abdul Majeed Ghaith Seif Al-Nasr, who received 42.9 of all votes for southern candidates; Aguila Saleh, head of the parliament in eastern Libya, who received 39.1 percent of the votes for candidates from that region; and Khaled Mishri, leader of the High State Council, who received 22.2 percent of votes for candidates from the west of the country.

All fell far short of the required 70 percent of support, so the next round of voting will be based on a list system. Many observers expect the three top candidates on Tuesday will ultimately be the winners.

In all there are 24 candidates, who previously delivered 30 minute presentations to forum delegates, followed by 10 minutes of questions.

Also on Tuesday, 21 candidates for prime minister presented their credentials and visions for the future, after which they faced 20 minutes of questions. Delegates have until Friday to choose their preferred candidate for prime minister.

Almost all of the hopefuls listed the holding of elections as top priority, and vowed to reunify the nation’s institutions. As one of them put it: “One budget, one state, one army.”

Other popular pledges included a return to pre-civil war levels of oil production, the strengthening of the Libyan currency, the provision of security measures to ensure a safe election, prominent roles for women and young people in the new government, efforts to crack down on corruption, checks and balances to ensure no one is above the law and, crucially, an end to foreign interference in Libyan affairs.

Southern candidate Mona Jarrari said she decided to run so that Libyans “can get accustomed to a woman candidate.” She urged her fellow candidates to steer clear of slogans and to be realistic in setting their goals, the implementation of which, she added, will be impossible without an executive authority.

“Elections are our salvation,” said Jarrari, who also presented a plan to combat COVID-19 as another top priority.

“It is a positive sign that this process – your process – has inspired a high degree of buy-in and enthusiasm,” Williams told the participants. “While the selection of the interim unified executive is not an election in the traditional sense, open competition is good for democracy. This is the kind of competition that can only take place when the guns are silent.”

Hafed Al-Ghwell, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University followed Tuesday’s events with a feeling of deja-vu.

Ghassan Salame, the UN’s former envoy to Libya who resigned last year as a result of stress, had submitted the proposal for a similar gathering, and the group meeting now in Geneva was set to meet in April 2019.

“The plan would have worked,” said Al-Ghwell. “And it would have been much less controversial (at that time).”

However 10 days before the forum was due to gather, the Libyan National Army launched an assault on Tripoli, where the Government of National Accord is based.

“So now, to go back to the same process without taking into account the serious changes that happened on the ground — including 12 months of constant bombardment of the capital, thousands of dead, hundreds of thousands of displaced people — even if you come up with the right (executive authority), a lot of people on the ground who have lost their loved ones are not going to accept it,” said Al-Ghwell.

While conceding that “a meeting is better than killing each other,” he also questioned the selection process in Geneva. Especially problematic for him is the background of some of the candidates. He singled out Aguila Saleh in particular, who backed the attack on the capital.

“If he’s in the Presidential Council, what will stop him from making decisions that exclude everybody else? Or opening the door to foreign intervention like he did when he was the speaker of the parliament?” said Al-Ghwell.

“The UN says there are more than 250,000 displaced people in Tripoli. How are these people going to accept the legitimacy of a council if it has somebody like Aguila Saleh, who supported the war on the capital?”

In a country that has still to re-establish its institutions, the personality and credibility of a candidate is of paramount importance, Al-Ghwell said.

He also questioned the choices of the 75 members of the forum, some of whom have never lived in Libya, but added that what the UN has achieved with the implementation of the LPDF is very important nonetheless.

“Stephanie Williams and UNSMIL (the UN Support Mission in Libya) found that there’s a parliament and a state that have been major obstacles to implementing UN resolutions in Libya and the unification of its institutions,” said Al-Ghwell.

“Therefore Williams create a third body, the 75-member LPDF. This group is not going anywhere in the near future. If the parliament does not approve the (interim) government within 21 days, the matter will go back to the 75 to decide. So she created this UN-chosen, third body (and added it) into the Libyan mix.”


UK’s new aircraft carrier launches first strikes against Daesh

UK’s new aircraft carrier launches first strikes against Daesh
Updated 18 min 15 sec ago

UK’s new aircraft carrier launches first strikes against Daesh

UK’s new aircraft carrier launches first strikes against Daesh
  • Latest attacks come amid warnings of terror group’s resurgence in Syria, Iraq

LONDON: The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has launched its first direct military operation against Daesh.
British and American F-35B Stealth jets took off from the decks of the new carrier to strike the terror group’s positions in Syria and Iraq. Defense officials said several Daesh positions were destroyed.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described the role of the £3.5 billion ($4.8 billion) HMS Queen Elizabeth in the operation as “a physical embodiment of global Britain.”
Kurdish groups have warned that the number of Daesh attacks is rising. More than 20 Iraqi and Kurdish security force members have been killed by the group in the last few months.
On Jan. 21, Baghdad suffered its deadliest suicide bombing in three years, with 32 people killed and over 100 injured after an explosion ripped through a market.
Warnings have also come from European allies, with French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly recently saying his country “considers Daesh is still present, we could even say that there is a resurgence of Daesh in Syria and Iraq.”
Wallace said: “The ability to operate from the sea with the most advanced fighter jets ever created is a significant moment in our history, offering reassurance to our allies and demonstrating the UK’s formidable air power to our adversaries.”
Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group Cdre Steve Moorhouse said: “HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first missions against Daesh will be remembered as a significant moment in the 50-year lifespan of this ship. It also marks a new phase of our current deployment ... Now we are ready to deliver the hard punch of maritime-based air power against a shared enemy.”


How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis

 How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis
Updated 22 June 2021

How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis

 How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis
  • The hunt for metal is taking place amid soaring unemployment and a dollar shortage in the small Mediterranean country

Lebanon’s waste management system is the newest target in a trend of metal thefts that officials believe are being carried out by residents rendered desperate by the country’s unprecedented economic collapse.

The latest casualty? One of two landfills servicing the greater Beirut area was forced to shut down over the past week because of rogue scavengers.

The landfill, located in Jdeideh, on the outskirts of the capital, had become a hunting ground for residents scouring for metal and other valuables that can fetch a hefty price on the market.

For decades, Lebanon has been producing more waste than it could manage, culminating in mountains of trash filling streets in 2015 as mass protests erupted condemning the government’s failure to come up with an effective waste management strategy.

Built in 2018 for what was supposed to be a temporary fix to the region’s endemic garbage problem, the landfill has undergone numerous expansions as authorities failed to conjure up a sustainable solid waste management plan.

Instead, successive governments have elected to keep piling trash higher, reaching a height of some 20 meters.

Toufic Kazmouz, the project manager at a local contracting company managing the landfill, told Arab News that the landfill was being expanded while still receiving 1,200 tons of garbage per day before being forced to shut down.

“This is definitely not a sustainable solution to the garbage problem, but the scavengers have made it even worse and have forced us to close shop,” Kazmouz said.

Hundreds of people were trespassing into the landfill daily, he said, forcing the company to halt both construction and operations last week.

According to Kazmouz, scavengers would wait patiently for a dump truck to empty its load before entering the site, armed with plastic bags.

Several scuffles had erupted between scavengers and workers in an environment filled with heavy machinery and equipment.

“It’s simply become an unsafe work environment for everyone involved,” Kazmouz said.

With the landfill shut down, piles of garbage have lined the streets of the Metn and Kesourwan districts after the waste management company Ramco stopped collecting trash.

“We stopped collecting trash because we had nowhere to dispose of it,” Walid Bou Saad, director of Ramco, told Arab News.

Scavengers have forced Kazmouz to shut down the landfill twice since April, despite both the “Internal Security Forces and Lebanese intelligence sending patrols to cordon off the area.”

Discussions are currently ongoing with the Interior Ministry to increase security, he said.

“Municipality workers are expected to be stationed at the site starting today, but we’ll face the same problem again later,” Kazmouz noted.

The hunt for metal is taking place amid soaring unemployment and a dollar shortage in the small Mediterranean country that has caused the local currency to lose some 90 percent of its value while the prices of basic goods and commodities skyrocket.

“It’s metal,” Kazmouz pointed out. “People are really suffering and looking for any means to make some money.” 

Metal has become an increasingly valuable commodity in Lebanon, with desperate residents even stealing manhole covers and metal supports from electricity pylons.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told AFP in February that he attributed the theft of manhole covers to the fact that they “are made out of cast iron, which has become much more expensive.”

The covers, weighing up to 60 kg, can fetch up to $100 when sold for scrap. At the current black-market rate, this is equivalent to some LL1.5 million, or more than double the current monthly minimum wage.

The dire situation has also pushed thieves to target Lebanon’s already deficient electricity grid, causing the collapse of a 55-meter pylon connecting one of the country’s four power plants to the region of the Bekaa.

After its metal supports had been stolen, the pylon was no match for the high winds that blew across Lebanon in the winter season.


Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say
Updated 13 min 37 sec ago

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

CAIRO: Eight people were injured in a collision between two carriages on Alexandria/Cairo train at the Alexandria Station on Tuesday, Egyptian media reports say.

The Egyptian Railways Authority said in a statement that the accident left several people injuried, and they were transferred to hospitals in the city.  

It also said those responsible for the accident were arrested and transferred to the Public Prosecution.


Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
Updated 22 June 2021

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
  • Settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families
  • Threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Palestinians and Jewish settlers hurled stones, chairs and fireworks at each other overnight in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood where settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families, officials said Tuesday.
The threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war and pose a test for Israel’s new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settler parties but is hoping to sideline the Palestinian issue to avoid internal divisions.
Israeli police and border officials said they arrested four suspects in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It was unclear who started the brawl. One woman was reportedly injured when she was hit in the back by a stone, police said.
The Red Crescent emergency service said its crews treated 20 Palestinians, including 16 suffering from pepper spray and tear gas and others wounded by rubber-coated bullets. Two other people were wounded, including an elderly man who was hit in the head, it said.
The Red Crescent said settlers threw stones at one of its ambulances and Israeli forces sprayed skunk water on a second ambulance belonging to the service.
The eruption of violence is the latest friction in Sheikh Jarrah, where weeks of unrest captured international attention ahead of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war last month. The cease-fire took effect on May 21, but the long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families continues.
And so the cycle of tension endures, in a stark early test for Israel’s new coalition government, which is just over a week old.
At the helm under a rotation agreement is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party. In two years, he’ll be replaced by Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid. And leading the opposition is Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted from the premiership after holding the post for 12 years.
An intervention by Israel’s attorney general at the height of the unrest has put the most imminent evictions on hold. But rights groups say evictions could still proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.
The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the so-called Holy Basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers say the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim such property, a right denied to Palestinians who lost lands and homes in the same conflict.


Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
Updated 22 June 2021

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
  • Group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia undermine peace efforts

DUBAI: The Houthi escalation in attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia will not go unpunished and government forces are ready to thwart the Iran-backed group’s violence after its rejection of peace efforts, senior Yemeni officials said.

The government and the Yemeni people stand with all their capabilities behind the national army, the popular resistance and the tribesmen until the restoration of the state and ending the Houthi group and its racist project supported by Iran, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said, state news agency Saba reported.

The escalation in the attacks carried out by the Houthi militia and its repeated targeting of those displaced and the civilians in Marib, Hodeidah and elsewhere, as well as against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, will not go unpunished, Abdulmalik added.

Muamar Al-Eryani, the minister of information, culture and tourism, stressed that the group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia have undermined peace efforts or worse, a rejection of peaceful solutions.

“This hysteric and dangerous escalation confirms Houthi militia’s continuation of its coup and loyalty to Iranian agenda and destructive policies aiming at spreading chaos and terrorism in the region,” Al-Eryani said in a statement.

Al-Eryani added that the military escalation coincided with the recruitment of child soldiers and brainwashing them in summer camps, and again called on the international community to denounce the violence and pressure the militia to respond to peace efforts.