Protests follow murder of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim

Protests follow murder of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim
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People gather around the statue of Samir Kassir to honour and remember Luqman Slim, a Lebanese intellectual and activist, who was found dead in his car in southern Lebanon two days ago, in Beirut, on February 6, 2021. (AFP)
Protests follow murder of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim
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Activists gather two days after the killing of prominent Hezbollah critic Luqman Slim demanding a transparent investigation into the crime, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 6, 2021. (Reuters)
Protests follow murder of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim
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Activists gather two days after the killing of prominent Hezbollah critic Luqman Slim demanding a transparent investigation into the crime, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 6, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 February 2021

Protests follow murder of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim

Protests follow murder of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim
  • Slim made documentaries and led efforts to build an archive on Lebanon’s 1975-1990 sectarian civil war
  • He was a vocal critic of what he described as armed group Hezbollah’s intimidation tactics

BEIRUT: Activists on Saturday protested the murder of anti-Hezbollah activist Luqman Slim, who was found shot dead in his rented car earlier in the week.

They demanded a transparent investigation into his death, and chanted that the one who killed him also assassinated the writer and journalist Samir Kassir and the journalist Gebran Tueni.

A medical report, which Slim's family had requested from a private doctor who examined his body in a Beirut hospital, showed that he was killed at 2 a.m. on Thursday. There were bruises on his body, indicating that he may have been tortured.

Slim, who was a leading secular voice in Lebanon’s Shiite community, was routinely threatened because of his stance against Hezbollah.

The Popular Nasserist Organization, led by MP Osama Saad, condemned the murder.

Saad stressed the “rejection of the methods of political assassination, terrorism, threats, accusations of betrayal, and the approach of oppression, domination and exclusion because that leads to tyranny and political desertification.”

Ali Al-Amin, a journalist and political opponent of Hezbollah, believed that Slim’s assassination had brought about “a state of restlessness” within the Shiite community because there were no articles from Hezbollah supporters gloating over the murder like there had been after other killings.

“In the downturn, the allies usually rise and reconsider their accounts,” he told Arab News. “The position of the (Hezbollah-allied) Free Patriotic Movement and Osama Saad may be in this direction. Saad, who is considered a leader in Sidon, has begun to feel that Hezbollah has erased much of this leadership. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) believes that its ally is just watching, so the movement decided to reconsider its accounts.”

Although the loyalty of Hezbollah supporters was a “foregone conclusion,” the people inside the Shiite community that usually supported the party's positions were dissatisfied with this crime, he added.

“The most evident proof of this is that the party is defending itself and is surprised at being accused of killing an individual. This means that people are asking: ‘Why did you kill an individual who did not harm anyone?’”

A further sign of trouble in pro-Hezbollah circles came in the form of a statement from the FPM, which is headed by the president’s son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil. It said that an agreement signed with Hezbollah 15 years ago was no longer needed.

The agreement, which transformed the country’s political scene, was signed between the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and the FPM's leader at the time Michel Aoun, who is now president, in Mar Mikhael Church.

The FPM statement, issued on Saturday, came on the anniversary of the signing of the understanding. 

It said: “This understanding has not succeeded in the project of building the state and the rule of law, and it is no longer needed if those committed to it do not succeed in the battle of building the state and the honorable Lebanese victory over the alliance of the corrupt, which is destructive for any resistance or struggle."

The FPM has rejected the government line-up that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri handed to Aoun on Dec. 10 because the president was not a partner in choosing the ministers or determining the number of members in the government.

It has also refused Hariri as prime minister-designate although its allies, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, are clinging to him as head of the next administration.

MP Asaad Dergham, from the FPM, gave a statement to Al Markazia-Central News Agency. 

He said: “Recently, specifically since the beginning of the era of President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah did not contribute with us to the issues of building the state and fighting corruption. He was satisfied with monitoring and we, as the FPM, were not able to complete the files presented by us in parliament due to Hezbollah's standing by its ally, Speaker Nabih Berri.”


Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens
Updated 18 June 2021

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens
  • Threat to military ‘leaves entire country at risk,’ defense ministers warn summit

BEIRUT: Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun on Thursday expressed confidence that the military will overcome what he described as a “crucial and delicate period” facing Lebanon.

The military chief warned of an increasingly untenable situation, but said that the institution remains strong.

“We believe that we will overcome this crucial and delicate period thanks to the strong will of our soldiers, and to the support of the Lebanese people and the friendly countries,” Gen. Aoun said.

His remarks came as 20 members of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG), in addition to European and Arab countries, the UN, EU and other international organizations attended a virtual conference on Thursday to support the army.

Discontent is brewing among Lebanon’s security forces over a currency crash that has wiped out most of the value of their salaries. Lebanon’s pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar since late 2019.

The conference, organized by France in collaboration with Italy and the UN, aimed to mobilize support through in-kind aid for the Lebanese Army such as food, medicine and spare parts for its military equipment, in light of the collapse of the pound and the effect of the country’s struggling economy on the military.

Lebanon is facing a political deadlock and the biggest economic crisis in its history, and there are expectations that the army will step in to protect public safety in the event of a full collapse — much feared by the international community.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said: “We are concerned that the Lebanese army remains capable of fulfilling its duties in maintaining security and stability.”

Her Italian counterpart, Lorenzo Guerrini, highlighted the importance of “quickly responding to the needs of the army by providing it with basic support requirements.”

Joana Wronecka, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, said that the army must be kept “cohesive and operative.”

Zeina Akar, Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister, said: “Taking into consideration the unstable environment — full of upheaval and uncertainty — that surrounds Lebanon, the army is a guarantee for stability and for the security of the Lebanese people.”

The minister said the army is facing the same problems as the Lebanese people.

“Its purchase power is eroding and it needs strong support to keep performing its duties. The army’s personnel need support in order to provide livelihood for their families.”

Gen. Aoun reviewed the army’s requirements at Thursday’s talks, saying that there is “an incremental need today to support it so that it remains tenacious and capable of doing its duties.”

He said that the depreciation of the Lebanese pound had stripped military salaries of 90 percent of their value.

Gen. Aoun warned that “the continuous retreat of the economic and financial situation in Lebanon will eventually lead to the collapse of institutions, including the military institution, which will render the whole country vulnerable on the security level.”

Soldiers “need support as individuals to overcome this precarious period,” he added.

“The army is the guarantee for security and stability in Lebanon and the region. Jeopardizing its role will lead to the collapse of Lebanon and to the spread of chaos.”

France, which has led international efforts, has sought to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after failed attempts to agree a new government and launch reforms.

“The participants highlighted the dire and steadily degrading economic and social conditions in Lebanon. In this context, they stressed that the Lebanese army, though overstretched, remains a crucial pillar of the Lebanese state,” the French Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement.

“Their cohesiveness and professionalism remain key to preserving the country’s stability.”


How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq
Updated 18 June 2021

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq
  • Iran-backed groups willing to kidnap, kill to protect corrupt revenue streams: Experts
  • Iraq ranked 160 out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.

At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.

“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”

Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.

At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.

Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.

“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.

“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”

But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.

“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.

Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.

“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.

“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”

Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.

It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”

Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”

Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”

This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.

“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”


Bahrain crown prince discusses Middle East security with UK PM Johnson

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
Updated 18 June 2021

Bahrain crown prince discusses Middle East security with UK PM Johnson

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. (BNA)
  • The two leaders discussed the global effort against COVID-19 and deepening cooperation on green technology
  • Prince Salman also met with Prince Charles, conveying greetings from King Hamad to Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON: Bahrain and the UK vowed to boost economic and security cooperation as Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad held talks with the British prime minister on Thursday.
Prince Salman said relations with the UK continued to evolve toward more advanced and solid partnerships in various fields, based on their close history spanning decades, Bahrain News Agency reported.
“The bilateral partnership between the two countries are based on opening wider horizons for the development of solid relations at all levels, in a manner that reflects the aspirations of the two countries,” Prince Hamad said during his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street.
He praised Britain’s strategic and vital role in maintaining security and stability in the region, and developing cooperation in areas such as military, economic and trade.
“They reflected on the close and historic partnership between the UK and Bahrain and agreed to further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation,” Downing Street said in a statement, adding the two leaders discussed the global effort against COVID-19, support for international initiatives to combat the pandemic, including COVAX, and deepening cooperation on green technology and the transition to renewable energy.
“They also spoke about regional security issues and defense collaboration, and the prime minister commended the Bahraini government’s steps to normalize relations with Israel,” the statement added.
Prince Salman also met with Prince Charles, conveying greetings from King Hamad to Queen Elizabeth II.


Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains
Updated 17 June 2021

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

DUBAI: Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have come closer than ever to an agreement, but essential issues remain to be negotiated, the top Iranian negotiator said on Thursday.
The Islamic Republic and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for both sides to take. The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
“We achieved good, tangible progress on the different issues .... we are closer than ever to an agreement but there are still essential issues under negotiations,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as telling Al Jazeera television.
Araqchi said Iran’s presidential election on Friday would have no effect on the negotiations and the Iranian negotiating team will continue the talks regardless of domestic policy.
The sixth round of talks resumed on Saturday with the remaining parties to the deal — Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union — meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel.
The US delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
Since former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter-measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
“We want to make sure that what happened when Trump pulled out of the deal will not be repeated by any other American president in the future,” Araqchi told the pan-Arab satellite TV network.
Russia’s envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, added a note of caution, saying progress had been made in the last few days but talks were tough.
“Some difficult and time-consuming topics still remain unresolved,” he said.
France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday there were still significant disagreements.
Iran’s new president is expected to name his Cabinet by mid-August. Current President Hassan Rouhani’s term ends on Aug. 3, a government spokesman said.


Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
Updated 17 June 2021

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
  • The Gulf country in February banned entry of non-citizens to limit the spread of the virus
  • Foreign travellers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson

KUWAIT: Kuwait announced Thursday it would allow foreigners who have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to enter the country from August 1, after a months-long suspension.
The Gulf country in February banned the entry of non-citizens in a bid to limit the spread of the virus, but has started to ease some of its Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks.
Government spokesman Tareq Al-Mizrem said foreign travelers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of the four vaccines that the Gulf country has approved — Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Passengers must also hold a negative PCR test conducted a maximum of 72 hours before travel, and undergo another test during a seven-day quarantine in the country, Mizrem told a press conference.
Meanwhile, only Kuwaiti citizens who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to travel abroad from August 1, he said, although some exceptions would be made, such as for pregnant women.
Previously, Kuwaitis were required to have had at least one jab in order to travel.
Mizrem also announced that Kuwait would allow access to large shopping malls, gyms and restaurants from June 27 only for those who have been fully inoculated.
“The government has decided to allow those who have received a (full) Covid-19 vaccine... to enter restaurants and cafes, gyms, salons, shopping malls more than 6,000 square meters,” said Mizrem.
Kuwait has officially recorded more than 332,000 coronavirus cases, over 1,800 of them fatal.