Shoppers brawl as Lebanon’s currency collapse sparks store closures

Shoppers brawl as Lebanon’s currency collapse sparks store closures
Lebanese demonstrators protest against the fall in Lebanese pound currency and mounting economic hardships in Beirut as the political stalemate continued. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 March 2021

Shoppers brawl as Lebanon’s currency collapse sparks store closures

Shoppers brawl as Lebanon’s currency collapse sparks store closures
  • Sixty to 70 percent of the Lebanese people now need relief

BEIRUT: Fighting has broken out in Lebanon’s shops after the country’s continuing currency collapse sparked store closures.
There have been scenes of people rushing into supermarkets to snap up subsidized oil and cleaning supplies, with customers shouting and clashing with each other and retail staff.
Footage of squabbling in a supermarket in Beirut’s southern suburbs circulated online, with weapons appearing as some people tried to stop the fighting and insults leveled at Hezbollah.
The black market dollar exchange rate jumped to LBP13,500 on Monday noon, from LBP12,000 on Sunday, with politicians fearing that current events were a prelude to a “social catastrophe.”
Shopkeepers put small stickers on the door to say they were shut because they did not want to raise prices.
Nabil Fahd, who heads the Supermarket Owners Syndicate, denounced what was happening because it was not helping consumers, especially when it came to accessing subsidized items.
He said that the collapse of the Lebanese pound exposed people to danger.
“We will not be able to continue to buy goods to replace those that were sold to stack the shelves again. The instability of the exchange rate reflects a decline in the operating capital of institutions.”
He added that food stores should display their prices in dollars, just as other retailers had adopted this practice to maintain sustainability and for people to be able to buy goods at their real prices.
“But we cannot adopt this method currently in light of the existing financial and monetary chaos with four or five prices for the dollar, including the official rate, the platform rate, the parallel market rate and the bank rate,” he said.
In the Tariq Al-Jadida area, one of the capital’s popular neighborhoods affiliated with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, protesters went out on motorbikes and roamed neighborhoods, forcing exchange shops to close.
Many protesters went to Martyrs Square, in the center of Beirut.
People in Tripoli also protested the decline of the dollar exchange rate, while others blocked vital roads in Bekaa and the south.
Economic bodies called for a meeting with the General Labor Union, as some factories announced a suspension in production until further notice because of their inability to continue amid the volatile exchange rate.
Bechara Al-Asmar, leader of the General Labor Union, said it had been agreed during the meeting that it was necessary to lay “new foundations” for the relationship between employers and workers, including a pay boost to meet the high cost of living in Lebanon.
He and the other attendees met Hariri and briefed him on the current situation.
“He (Hariri) confirmed that he is working hard to form the government, but obstacles are standing in the way,” Al-Asmar told Arab News.
“The situation is very uncomfortable. What do we tell the workers? We need a government. Sixty to 70 percent of the Lebanese people now need relief.”
MP Yassine Jaber said the country was “crying out” for help.
“What is required is a decision-making authority in Lebanon, that is, the formation of an independent government that implements a reform program.”
He said the reserves of the Banque du Liban were declining monthly, and that everyone was calling for subsidy rationalization. “Nevertheless, there is no real effort to achieve this rationalization.”
Parliamentary committees will meet Tuesday to give a LBP1,500 billion ($995.02 million) Treasury advance payment to the national electricity company. Lebanon will otherwise enter darkness at the end of this month, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar has warned.


Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
Updated 7 min 9 sec ago

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
  • Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity
  • Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored

VIENNA: Iran and global powers resumed talks on Thursday to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment and what it called Israeli sabotage at a nuclear site.
Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade material, in response to an explosion at its key Natanz facility on Sunday.
Calling the move “provocative,” the United States and the European parties to the deal warned that Tehran’s enrichment move was contrary to efforts to revive the accord abandoned by Washington three years ago.
Tehran’s refusal to hold direct talks with its old adversary the United States forced European intermediaries to shuttle between separate hotels in Vienna last week when Iran and the other signatories held what they described as a first round of “constructive” talks to salvage the pact.
“Don’t worry about Iran. We have always remained committed to our obligations,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“Even today, if we wish, we can enrich uranium at 90% purity. But we are not seeking a nuclear bomb ... If others return to full compliance with the deal ... we will stop 60% and 20% enrichment.”
The 2015 deal was designed to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb in return for lifting sanctions.
Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored and made efforts to achieve a breakthrough before the June 18 Iranian presidential election harder.
“The seriousness of Iran’s latest decisions has hurt this process and raised tensions,” said the senior Western diplomat.
“We will have to see how in the coming days we address these violations with the will to press ahead in the talks.”
The deal’s remaining parties — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have agreed to form two expert-level groups whose job is to marry lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet.
A delegate at the talks said events in Natanz should not distract, and that this round needed to focus on what the Americans were actually prepared to do.
“They still have not said what they mean,” the delegate said. “We need the Americans to say which sanctions they are prepared to lift.”
Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first, warning that it may stop negotiations if the measures are not lifted. Washington wants Iran to reverse the breaches of the deal that it made in retaliation for tough sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump.
“We will underline that Tehran does not want to hold corrosive negotiations. Our aim is not just talks for talks. In case of having a constructive outcome, we will continue the negotiations. Otherwise the talks will stop,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state TV.
Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognize, opposes the deal, an accord that Iran and US President Joe Biden are trying to revive after Trump quit it in 2018 and reinstated sanctions. Israel has not formally commented on Sunday’s Natanz incident.


Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran

Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran
Updated 15 April 2021

Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran

Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran
  • ‘We know that Iran is a threat. A threat to Israel. To the Middle East’

Former Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon urged President Biden Wednesday not to appease Iran and called for tougher changes to force Iran to adhere to a new nuclear arms agreement.

Danon, who is the chairman of World Likud, the political party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also urged the Palestinian leadership to engage in face-to-face peace talks, saying there is room for a Palestinian state.

Appearing on The Ray Hanania Show broadcasting on the US Arab Radio Network, Danon called Iran a threat and said it would be better if the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), were scrapped.

“We know that Iran is a threat. A threat to Israel. To the Middle East. To the stability of the world. The second assumption I want to make, that the agreement that was signed in 2015 was a bad agreement, the JCPOA,” Danon said.

“Today it is not better, it is even worse. Now the question is what will the US do? I hope the new administration will not re-enter the JCPOA as it is, without any amendments. That would be bad. That would be a sign the administration is trying to appease the Iranians.”

In a wide-ranging radio interview, Danon said that if the JCPOA is not scrapped, then the agreement should be amended.

“The second option is they would try to improve the agreement. And if they would try to do that, we have a few ideas of what should be improved in the agreement,” Danon said.

“The inspections. The ballistic missile test. The sunset clause. The billions of dollars they give to proxies and promote terrorism. We would be able to walk with the US on that. But still it’s not clear whether Biden is willing to push for amendment or whether he is willing to go back to the agreement.”

Danon said that the sanctions on Iran are the only reason why Iran is negotiating. He said Biden and the European nations should not let their guard down with Iran, arguing that any easing of sanctions would embolden Iran’s plans to build a nuclear weapon.

“You cannot say that the sanctions didn’t help. The reason that they are negotiating today is because of the sanctions. I think we should continue with the sanctions against the regime,” Danon said.

“On the other end, they play for the long run. We look at cycles of four years. President Trump. President Biden. Prime Minister Netanyahu. They look for the long run and that is why they are so dangerous.”

Danon said Israel supports a Palestinian state, but he cautioned that any agreement or final borders must all be negotiated face-to-face between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

“We think we should negotiate directly with the Palestinians Eventually it will have to be both sides entering the room and talking directly to each other,” Danon said.

“But you need a leader for that. I don’t think President Abbas is the right leader. I think he wants to finish his term in history not being the one who is actually signing the agreement or actually making the compromises. It is unfortunate because we are going to have to wait for the next generation to emerge and hopefully negotiate on that.”

Danon pointed to the negotiations conducted between Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin as an example of how peace can be achieved through compromise and mutual respect.

“Four years after a bloody war that we had in 1973, Anwar Sadat landed in Israel, approached the Israeli parliament and we believed him. We believed that he was a partner,” Dannon said.

Asked if he supports a Palestinian state, Danon said, “My goal is to give as much freedom as possible to the Palestinian people without risking the well-being and security of the Israelis. So, the question is where you draw the line.

“I think it is not a problem of land. I am very familiar with the land in Judea and Samaria. I can tell you — I just traveled there last week with my family — the majority of the land in Judea and Samaria is vacant. It is desert. There is nothing there. It is not a problem that we are actually fighting over land. There is a place for the Palestinians. There is a place for the Jews. It is more about recognition. It is more about actually recognizing the fact that both sides will stay here and eventually we will have to work together.”

During the radio interview broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network on WNZK AM 690 in Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Washington D.C., Danon said that he believes the Abraham Accords negotiated by former President Donald Trump can serve as a blueprint for peace throughout the Middle East, including with the Palestinians.

“I think it is an important step in the right direction. I think it will help the process. Eventually it will help the Palestinians to take tough decisions,” Danon said.

“I personally believe that when we start negotiating with the Palestinians, we should have those leaders in the room. We should think about regional challenges and regional opportunities. The Palestinians are here, we are here to stay. We have to learn to live together to work together. But I do believe that the presence of other moderate leaders in the process can be helpful.”

But Danon said he fears Palestinian elections which are scheduled to be held on May 22 for the Palestinian Legislative Council and on July 31 for the Palestinian presidency will be dominated by Hamas, which is accused of engaging in terrorism and violence to undermine a comprehensive peace accord and will eventually control the Occupied West Bank territories, in addition to the Gaza Strip where it is now based.

“Actually, I have a feeling that Hamas will be able to take over. It happened in the past during the election. It can happen again. I am not involved and we are not interfering in the process,” Danon said.

“But you see there are a few factions in the PA coming from the Fatah side and Hamas is running with one list. I don’t know what will happen there but the last thing we want to see is Hamas taking over Judea and Samaria.”

Danon also offered greetings for Ramadan, saying, “I want to take this opportunity and wish a Ramadan Kareem, a Happy Ramadan to all of my colleagues from all around the world.”

For more information on The Ray Hanania Show, visit ArabNews.com.


Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
Updated 15 April 2021

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
  • There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients
  • Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

DUBAI: Oman has reported on Wednesday a record number of coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit as the Sultanate renewed night curfew, daily Times of Oman reported.

There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 264 in ICU, for the first time since the pandemic started, the report said.

Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. local time throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply, media and three-ton trucks are exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
Updated 15 April 2021

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
  • Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi
  • Cavusoglu said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers

ISTANBUL: A Turkish delegation will visit Egypt next month as part of Ankara’s efforts to mend ties, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
“Egypt invited a delegation from Turkey. The delegation will go in early May,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the private NTV broadcaster.
“We will discuss openly how to normalize relations.”
Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi, who forged close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That year, both countries expelled each others’ ambassadors and Cairo had then declared the Turkish envoy “persona non grata.”
But Turkish officials last month said Ankara had established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 as part of wider efforts to repair relations with other Middle Eastern rivals.
Cavusoglu on Thursday said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers, ahead of a contact between the ministers.
“I hope we will all together further improve relations,” he said.


US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel
Updated 15 April 2021

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel
  • He also addressed Iran’s cooperation and work with Hezbollah
  • The official also addressed the current economic and political crisis in the country and Hezbollah’s activities


DUBAI: The US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale said on Thursday they are ready to facilitate a Lebanese-Israeli agreement on the maritime borders.

“These negotiations have the potential to unlock significant economic benefits for Lebanon,” Hale said during a press conference at Baabda palace in Lebanon.

The official also addressed the current economic and political crisis in the country and Hezbollah’s activities.

“(The) Lebanese people are suffering cause the leaders failed to put the interests of the country first,” Hale said.

“Hezbollah’s accumulation of dangerous weapons, smuggling and other illicit and corrupt activities undermine legitimate state institutions, they rob the Lebanese the ability to build a peaceful and prosperous country,” he added.

He also addressed Iran’s cooperation and work with Hezbollah.

“It’s Iran that’s fueling and financing this challenge to the state and its distortion of Lebanese political life,” Hale added.

The Under Secretary for Political Affairs also said that those who stand in the way may face punishment.

“Those who continue to obstruct progress on the reform agenda, jeopardize their relationship with the United States and our partners and open themselves up to punitive actions,” Hale added.