Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests

Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests
Lebanese pound banknotes are seen at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon June 15, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 08 March 2021

Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests

Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests
  • Hundreds of people protested on Sunday night on motorcycles, roaming near the suburbs inhabited by a majority of Christians, which prompted the mobilization of security forces

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have ordered a crackdown on illicit foreign currency speculation as protests continue in Beirut.
The Attorney General Judge Ghassan Oweidat directed the Lebanese security services, including the Military Intelligence, the Internal Security Forces, the General Security, the State Security and the customs officials, to pursue money-changers who tamper with the national currency and are involved in illicit foreign currency speculation.
This move, not the first of its kind, is an attempt to dampen the widespread indignation that has continued for six days and intensified in street protests on Saturday and Sunday, which broke out after the dollar exchange rate hit 11,000 Lebanese pounds.
The protesters set up road blocks with rocks and burning tires on all major streets in Beirut and on the highways linking the regions. The Lebanese army reopened the blocked roads.
Hundreds of people protested on Sunday night on motorcycles, roaming near the suburbs inhabited by a majority of Christians, which prompted the mobilization of security forces. A clash took place in Choueifat between the protesters and a driver who drove through a blocked road, injuring seven protesters. The security forces arrested him.
The protests have moved from one area to the next without any visible leadership.
During the weekend, they went into areas that were not usually affected by protests, including the southern suburbs, the southern road, which Hezbollah deems forbidden to be blocked, and the city of Hermel in northern Bekaa, where people staged a sit-in and burned tires to protest over the poor living conditions.
Activists in Baalbek carried out a protest march opposite the city’s Roman citadel.
Political analyst Hanna Saleh said: “There is no explanation for the rise in the dollar exchange rate on Saturday night and the motorcycle protests except that it is an attempt to provoke a sectarian atmosphere to undermine the civil protests against the corrupt ruling authority.
“The goal is to resurrect President Michel Aoun, who, according to polls conducted by Hezbollah, is in a difficult situation and is no longer accepted by his public.”
Saleh added: “Every formula that provides cover for Hezbollah deepens the wounds of Lebanon. Hezbollah wants to run the game from behind the scenes. It has established a parallel economy. How can reforms take place in the presence of this parallel economy?”

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Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt
Updated 1 min 2 sec ago

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

CAIRO: Two agreements have been signed between the Egyptian Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (Vacsera), and the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech for biopharmaceuticals, to manufacture the coronavirus vaccine in Egypt.
The signing of the agreements comes as part of efforts to achieve technical cooperation in this vital field.
The plan is to take advantage of the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, a leader in research, development, production and marketing in pharmaceutical preparations, and exchange experiences to support Vacsera, a specialist in the manufacture of vaccines in Egypt.
The move is expected to contribute to limiting the spread of the virus.
Both agreements were signed by Heba Wali, Vacsera head and Sinovac Biotech vice president.
The first agreement concerns the manufacturing technology for the coronavirus vaccine, Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed said.
Under this deal, the Chinese company Sinovac gives Vacsera a limited license to use manufacturing technology and technical knowledge for the purpose of manufacturing the local final product of the COVID-19 vaccine, in Vecsera’s manufacturing sites inside Egypt — using the ready-made product of the vaccine provided by Sinovac.
This agreement also stipulates that the Chinese company will provide Vacsera with all technical information related to the vaccine and provide technical assistance.
It includes examining the manufacturing places of Vacsera, and manufacturing the local final product using the ready-made product provided by Sinovac.
This is in addition to testing the local end-product, manufacturing methods and technical processes used, as well as equipment, tools or machines, repair and maintenance of Vacsera’s manufacturing facilities.
Quality management and quality control are also part of this process.
The second agreement relates to the local manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine, Zayed said.
It provides for the Chinese company, Sinovac, to grant a permit to Vacsera to refill, package and manufacture the local final product of the COVID-19 vaccine in Vacsera’s own facilities.
It provides for Vacsera obtaining regulatory approvals, manufacturing technology and technical knowledge for the use of the ready-to-fill product provided by Sinovac, Zayed added.
The agreement stipulates that Vacsera will equip its current facilities or construct, build and equip new facilities to serve as manufacturing facilities.
An effective quality-management system will be set up for each step of production.
It enables the local manufacturer to meet the requirements, specifications and standards of operating procedures of Sinovac.
Sinovac will provide technical support and assistance to Vacsera in building and equipping manufacturing facilities to meet the required standards.
The agreement also stipulates that Sinovac is ready, at the request of Vacsera, to provide the necessary training for Vacsera employees in manufacturing facilities in Egypt or at its own facilities in Beijing, regarding final packaging and final quality-control operations.


Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem
Updated 42 sec ago

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem
  • Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police amid dispute over gatherings at Damascus Gate after iftar
  • Israeli police fired stun grenades and sprayed foul-smelling skunk water to disperse Palestinians, who discharged fireworks

JERUSALEM: Nightly clashes and other violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem during Ramadan have laid bare simmering tensions in the holy city.
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police amid a dispute over evening gatherings at Damascus Gate after iftar, the breaking of the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month.
Meanwhile, a video on social media app TikTok purporting to show a Palestinian slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on Jerusalem’s light rail train has drawn protests by Israelis and calls by some right-wing politicians for tougher police action.
The incidents, which followed the start of Ramadan on April 13, threaten to break a sustained period of relative quiet in a contested city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians say police have tried to prevent them from holding their usual Ramadan evening gatherings outside Damascus Gate, a historic landmark on the north side of Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
Israeli police have fired stun grenades and sprayed foul-smelling skunk water to disperse the Palestinians, who in turn have discharged fireworks toward them.
“Palestinians love to relax in this area after evening prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but the occupation (Israel) doesn’t like it. It’s a matter of sovereignty,” said Jerusalem resident Mohammad Abu Al-Homus, pointing to metal barricades thrown up by police in the area outside Damascus Gate in recent weeks.
Israel’s police have not said why they erected the barriers, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to Reuters’ repeated requests for comment.
In statements issued over the past week, the police said they had arrested several Palestinians for throwing stones and attacking officers.
There have also been some street skirmishes between Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Police arrested four people in one such fight on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday night, Israeli media reported.
“Jews won’t be scared to walk around Jerusalem!” said a leaflet distributed on WhatsApp calling for Jewish protests at Damascus Gate on Thursday night.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital.
Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem, including its Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, capital of a future state.


Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute

Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute
Updated 48 min 16 sec ago

Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute

Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute
  • Lebanese President warns against property destruction after removing judge from a financial corruption probe
  • Judge Aoun stormed the offices of a foreign exchange dealer, took folders and computers out

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned against the destruction of property on Thursday after removing a judge from a financial corruption probe last week prompted her and her supporters to storm a currency exchange bureau.
Aoun made the remarks in a statement after a security meeting that included caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the interior minister and other officials.
On Wednesday, judge Ghada Aoun and others had stormed the offices of a foreign exchange dealer in defiance of her removal from the investigation, with some of them breaking down doors, local media reported.
It was the second such attempt to enter the bureau by judge Aoun, who is not directly related to the president and whose supporters appeared largely to back President Aoun’s party.
Judge Aoun, chief prosecutor of the Mount Lebanon region, took folders and computers out of the building with her, the state news agency reported.
Security forces deployed to the scene.
Aoun, who had also sought to question central bank chief Riad Salameh, has objected to her removal from financial crimes cases last week by Lebanese public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.
The row has spilled out into the streets and all over local media, with critics saying it laid bare the political grip on the judiciary in a country battered by a financial crisis rooted in graft and debt.
The collapse has sunk the currency, paralyzed banks and trapped savers out of their deposits.


Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon

Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon
Updated 22 April 2021

Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon

Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon
  • Spokesman: Pontiff ‘reiterated his closeness to the Lebanese people’
  • Pope met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in the Vatican

ROME: During a private audience in the Vatican with Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Pope Francis on Thursday confirmed that he wants to visit the country as soon as possible.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told a press briefing attended by Arab News that the pope “reiterated his closeness to the Lebanese people, who live in a time of great difficulty and uncertainty.”
Bruni said the pope confirmed to Hariri his desire to visit Lebanon “as soon as the conditions will allow it,” and expressed his wish that the country, “with the help of the international community,” will once again be a land of “coexistence and pluralism.”
Pope Francis announced his intention to visit Lebanon on his return flight from Iraq last month.
Hariri was tasked nine months ago with forming a government that is supposed to allow Lebanon to negotiate with the West long-awaited financial aid to overcome the country’s economic crisis.
A source in the Vatican told Arab News that Hariri asked the pope to intercede with Lebanese President Michel Aoun to help him form a new government.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch of Lebanon, has called for an international conference to save the country from financial collapse.
Hariri also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is in charge of its relations with states.
On Thursday night, Hariri is expected to meet with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.


Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave

Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave
Updated 22 April 2021

Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave

Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave
  • Iran is now reporting its highest-ever new coronavirus case numbers — more than 25,000 a day
  • At the massive Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, already reeling from the pandemic, workers laid cinder-block rows of new graves

TEHRAN: As Iran faces what looks like its worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic yet, Tehran commuters still pour into its subway system and buses each working day, even as images of the gasping ill are repeatedly shown on state television every night.
After facing criticism for downplaying the virus last year, Iranian authorities have put partial lockdowns and other measures back in place to try and slow the virus’ spread.
But in this nation of 84 million people, which faces crushing US sanctions, many struggle to earn enough to feed their families. Economic pressure, coupled with the growing uncertainty over when vaccines will be widely available in the Islamic Republic, have many simply giving up on social distancing, considering it an unaffordable luxury. That has public health officials worried the worst of the pandemic still may be yet to come.
“I cannot stop working,” said Mostafa Shahni, a worried 34-year-old construction worker in Tehran. “If I do, I can’t bring home bread for my wife and two kids.”
Iran is now reporting its highest-ever new coronavirus case numbers — more than 25,000 a day. Its daily death toll has surged to around 400, still below the grim record of 486 it reached in November.
During the peak of Iran’s last surge, around 20,000 coronavirus patients were hospitalized across the country. Today, that figure has topped 40,000. The health ministry warns the number will climb to 60,000 in the coming weeks. Iran remains among the hardest-hit countries in the world and the worst-hit in the Middle East.
Across Tehran, Associated Press journalists have seen signs of the pandemic’s toll.
At Tehran’s Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital, orderlies pushed the bodies of two victims of the coronavirus across a parking lot to its morgue, one wrapped in white, the other in a black body bag. All of its wards on five floors of the hospital are reserved for coronavirus patients. One empty gurney held a bouquet of roses left for a recently deceased man. A heart-shaped balloon hovered over a still respirator.
At the massive Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, already reeling from the pandemic, workers laid cinder-block rows of new graves. Mourners in black wept at a stream of funerals. Officials plan to open a new morgue at the site to handle the wave of death, much wrought by what Iranians simply call “corona.”
Saeed Khal, the director of Tehran’s main cemetery, said workers buried 350 bodies there on Tuesday alone — at least 150 had died of coronavirus. The cemetery had never processed that many burials in a single day, not even during Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s that saw 1 million people killed.
It was “one of the hardest and saddest days for my colleagues in the half-century-history of the cemetery,” Khal told state TV.
So much is the influx that some burials are being delayed by a day, unusual for Iran which follows the Islamic practice of immediately burying the dead.
Outside the gates of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital complex, where the capital’s poor can receive free treatment at its 1,300 beds, scores crowded around one recent day as guards turned away routine cases and allowed in only test-confirmed coronavirus cases.
“They say the wards are full of corona patients,” said Manijeh Taheri, who sought a regular thyroid treatment for her mother at the hospital. “I have no idea where to take her when such a huge complex has no place for my mother.”
Field hospitals are being prepared in Tehran and other major cities. State TV has shown images at hospitals outside the capital with patients being treated in hallways.
“We are not going out of the red zone any time soon,” Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi told state media.
President Hassan Rouhani blames the current surge on the fast-spreading variant of the virus first found in Britain, which the government says arrived from neighboring Iraq. Travel between the countries has been restricted since March, though people and commerce continue to cross each day. Overall, Iran has seen 2.2 million reported cases and 67,000 deaths in total.
Lawmaker Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi blamed government mismanagement and continued US sanctions for the virus’ spread.
“Sanctions, challenges and wrong decisions will continue. We do not have sufficient vaccines so protect yourself and your relatives through personal health measures,” he wrote on Twitter.
As of now, Iran has administered over 500,000 vaccine doses, according to the WHO. Supplies, however, remain limited. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned US and British-made coronavirus vaccines, saying their import is “forbidden” because he does not trust those nations. Khamenei has approved the import of vaccines from “safe” countries, such as China and Russia, and has backed national efforts to produce a homegrown vaccine with help from Cuba.
But officials keep changing when they say the wider public will be vaccinated as it remains unclear when Tehran will have a promised 60 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Amir Afkhami, an associate professor at George Washington University, said that over the past year, Iran’s leadership could point to superpowers like the US struggling to contain the virus. With vaccines rolled out in the West and economies reopening, this could become much more difficult to do, he said.
“Ultimately Iran is not self-sufficient when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine development, and it doesn’t have the (intensive care unit) beds to absorb the patients it needs to so it really needs external help,” Afkhami said.
Authorities across Iran have closed mosques, restaurants and parks during Ramadan, the Islamic holy fasting month being observed by Muslims around the world. An evening curfew for private cars is in place and travel between cities is banned. Parliament has been suspended for two weeks.
But the wider fatigue from the virus has seen people ignore warnings and host fast-breaking meals known as iftars indoors. Already, authorities blamed celebrations around the Iranian New Year known as Nowruz in March for contributing to this wave.
Masoud Mardani, an infectious disease specialist on Iran’s COVID-19 national task force, has demanded a public curfew. But none so far has come.