Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon

Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon
Anti-government protesters attack a member of Lebanese police intelligence in Beirut after they saw him taking pictures of protesters. (File/AP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon

Aoun okays $197 million treasury loan to avoid blackout in Lebanon
  • Internet will stop if fuel is unavailable, warns telecoms minister 

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun has approved an exceptional loan of up to LBP300 billion ($197 million) for the state electricity company to import fuel before supplies run out, according to an official statement.

His approval came days before the country was due to experience a total power blackout.
The hours for electricity rationing in various regions reached minimum levels on Monday morning, with supply to some areas no longer exceeding half an hour a day, and there were increased protests from people after generator owners hiked their service tariffs so that bills became more than LBP700,000 a month, whereas the minimum wage is LBP675,000 a month.
The head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers in Lebanon, Bechara Al-Asmar, said that less than 5.51 percent of the population enjoyed the “blessing of electricity, fuel, communications and food in their palaces, not concerned with the daily deaths at the doors of hospitals, the oppression and the anger in people’s hearts every moment.”
He warned of a “great explosion” that would spare nobody, no matter how high up they were or what position they occupied.
On May 28, the finance minister in the caretaker government, Ghazi Wazni, sent a request to the Banque du Liban (BDL) to open four credits worth $62 million to supply electricity production plants with fuel, but the BDL requested government approval.
On Monday afternoon, Aoun agreed to issue the “exceptional approval” for the credits so that Electricite du Liban (EDL) could purchase fuel through the treasury advance.
“The rationalization of subsidies will not currently include fuel or diesel used by generators,” a Finance Ministry source told Arab News.
“It is currently limited to gasoline, along with medicines for incurable diseases and wheat, in order to ensure the continuation of pumping life into the arteries of the state.”
The source also said that the BDL governor, Riad Salameh, had “reduced the reserves from $15 billion to $14 billion in order to be able to spend.”
Telecommunications Minister Talal Hawat tried to reassure people that Lebanon would not return to the “carrier pigeon” and the telecoms sector would not be cut off as long as the BDL secured the necessary funds to purchase fuel.
“Of course, if fuel is not available the internet will stop, but we are not currently at this stage as the energy minister provides us with the required quantity to run the work of all terrestrial and cellular networks. Today we need three times the amount that we used to use previously, that is from 25,000 tons to 70,000 tons per day, due to power outages.
“The network’s electricity generators for emergencies can cover about eight hours, but they are currently working between 20 and 21 hours a day, and there are malfunctions that must be fixed. The budget for operating and maintaining the ground network allocated LBP48 billion from the budget approved by the previous government, and this number is very small with the high exchange rate of the dollar.
“We are working to add an amount of LBP30 billion so that we can pay the obligations until the end of the year and complete the maintenance work. Otherwise, services will be reduced.”
The head of the Association of Power Generator Owners, Abdo Saadeh, said generator owners would adopt a rationing program, meaning the machines would stop daily for between four and five hours.

BACKGROUND

• On May 28, the finance minister in the caretaker government, Ghazi Wazni, sent a request to the Banque du Liban to open four credits worth $62 million to supply electricity production plants with fuel, but the BDL requested government approval.

• On Monday afternoon, President Michel Aoun agreed to issue the ‘exceptional approval’ for the credits so that Electricite du Liban could purchase fuel through the treasury advance.

He said the reason for this move was the “harsh rationing” applied by the EDL and the lack of diesel in the market.
Saadeh spoke about the difficulty in collecting service tariffs from people because a large percentage of them were unable to pay the bills. He rejected the description of generator owners as “mafias.”
“When the ruling class managed the electricity service for tens of years, it looted the $47 billion allocated for electricity and failed to improve it, so who is the mafia?”
The diesel shortage is accompanied by a gasoline shortage as a result of the monopoly,  smuggling to Syria, and the emergence of a black market for fuel. The price of a gasoline canister is LBP100,000.
On Sunday, a man in the Bekaa town of Al-Qaa burned his car because he was unable to fill it with fuel, according to the National News Agency.
As people queued in front of petrol stations to obtain 20 liters, Lebanese Army Command announced on Monday that units in the Bekaa and the north had arrested seven nationals and one Syrian in the past three days.
They thwarted a plot to smuggle about 42,750 liters of diesel and 3,850 liters of gasoline to Syria, in addition to a ton of cement.
The materials were loaded into three trucks, five cars, two vans and a bus.


Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Updated 29 min 51 sec ago

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19

DUBAI: About two-thirds of people eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 have now received two doses of the vaccine in Dubai, the tourist and business hub of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said.
Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and has one of the world’s busiest airports.
For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, initially using a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and then adding the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots and Russia’s Sputnik V.
DHA deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh Ali told Dubai Television late on Saturday that 83 percent of people aged over 16 — or about 2.3 million people — had now received at least one dose of a vaccine and that 64 percent had received two doses in the emirate.
The UAE recently said nearly 85 percent of its total eligible population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, without saying how many people had had both doses.
The UAE, which does not break down the number of cases by emirate, has seen a rise in the number of infections in the past month. It recorded 2,281 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total so far to around 596,000 cases. Daily cases peaked at almost 4,000 a day in early February.
DHA said 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in Dubai hospitals were unvaccinated, without specifying when that statistic was recorded.


Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says
Updated 21 min 33 sec ago

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

ALGIERS: The results of an Algerian parliamentary election in which fewer than a third of voters took part will be announced within a few days, the head of the voting authority said late on Saturday.
The ruling establishment has tried to use elections along with a crackdown on dissent as a way to end two years of political unrest, with Algeria facing a looming economic crisis.
Supporters of the “Hirak” mass protest movement said it showed the system lacked legitimacy. Two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, and the opposition figure Karim Tabbou, were detained last week but released on Saturday.
Politicians said the turnout of 30.2 percent, the lowest ever officially recorded for a parliamentary election in Algeria, was “acceptable.”
“The election took place in good conditions. Voters were able to vote and choose the most suitable candidates to serve Algeria,” said election authority head Mohamed Chorfi on television.
The protests erupted in 2019 and unseated veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, continuing weekly until the global pandemic struck a year later. After a year-long pause they resumed in February but police mostly quashed them last month.
Many Algerians believe real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.
“We have grown accustomed in the past to high turnout due to fraud,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, an Algerian analyst, saying the authorities had manipulated the results of elections before the Hirak protests to suggest greater enthusiasm.
After Bouteflika was forced to step down, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.
The old parties that traditionally dominated have been tarred with corruption and abuse scandals, giving space to independents and moderate Islamist parties that hope to gain a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Those that win a lot of seats are likely to be included in the next government.
During parliament’s coming five-year term, Algeria is likely to face a fiscal and economic crunch, after burning through four fifths of foreign currency reserves since 2013.
The government has maintained expensive social programs and the state’s central role in the economy despite plummeting oil and gas sales.
Reforms to strengthen the private sector contributed to corruption that fueled the Hirak. Spending cuts could trigger a new wave of protests against the ruling establishment.
Laws passed by the outgoing parliament to encourage foreign and private investment and strengthen the energy sector have so far had little effect.


Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing
Updated 39 min 19 sec ago

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country.
A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than six million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.
In a report released this month, the World Bank warned that Lebanon’s economic collapse is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.


Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
Updated 13 June 2021

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule

Israel to swear in government, ending Netanyahu’s long rule
  • The Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate

JERUSALEM: Israeli lawmakers are to vote Sunday on a “change” coalition government of bitter ideological rivals united by their determination to banish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
The crunch Knesset vote will either terminate the hawkish premier’s uninterrupted 12-year tenure or return Israel to a stalemate likely to trigger a fifth general election since 2019.
Netanyahu, who is battling a clutch of corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has pushed Israeli politics firmly to the right over the years.
On Saturday night, around 2,000 protesters rallied outside the 71-year-old’s official residence to celebrate what they believe will be his departure from office.
“For us, this is a big night and tomorrow will be even a bigger day. I am almost crying. We fought peacefully for this (Netanyahu’s departure) and the day has come,” said protester Ofir Robinski.
A fragile eight-party alliance, ranging from the right-wing Jewish nationalist Yamina party to Arab lawmakers, was early this month cobbled together by centrist politician Yair Lapid.
On Friday, all coalition agreements had been signed and submitted to the Knesset secretariat, Yamina announced, a moment party leader Naftali Bennett said brought “to an end two and a half years of political crisis.”
But the ever-combative Netanyahu has tried to peel off defectors that would deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority.
If the new government is confirmed, Bennett, a former defense minister, would serve as premier for two years.
Coalition architect Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party and is a former television presenter, would then take the helm.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.
The improbable alliance emerged two weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.
“We will work together, out of partnership and national responsibility — and I believe we will succeed,” Bennett said Friday.
Sunday’s crucial Knesset session is due to open at 4:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT), with Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu all set to speak before the vote.
Netanyahu has heaped pressure on his former right-wing allies to defect from the fledgling coalition while attacking the legitimacy of the Bennett-Lapid partnership.
He has accused Bennett of “fraud” for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by the premier’s Likud party supporters have resulted in security being bolstered for some lawmakers.
Netanyahu’s bombastic remarks as he sees his grip on power slip have drawn parallels at home and abroad to former US president Donald Trump, who described his election loss last year as the result of a rigged vote.
The prime minister has called the prospective coalition “the greatest election fraud in the history” of Israel.
His Likud party said the accusations refer to Bennett entering a coalition that “doesn’t reflect the will of the voters.”
Sunday’s vote arrives hot on the heels of police crackdowns on Palestinian protests over the threatened eviction of families from homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, a month after similar clashes fueled the latest war between Israel and Hamas.
It also comes amid right-wing anger over the postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march.
Netanyahu favored finding a way to allow the so-called “March of the Flags,” originally scheduled to take place last Thursday, to proceed as planned.
He took that position despite the original route envisaging the march unfolding close to flashpoint areas including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, where clashes last month triggered the Gaza conflict.
The premier’s insistence saw his opponents accuse him and his allies of stoking tensions to cling onto power via a “scorched-earth” campaign.
If Netanyahu loses the premiership, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity in regard to his corruption trial.
The controversial flag march is now slated for Tuesday and ongoing tensions surrounding it could represent a key initial test for any approved coalition.


Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign
Updated 13 June 2021

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign

Oman reports spike in COVID-19 cases amid mass vaccination campaign
  • A total of 338 patients are in intensive care rooms, according to a June 11, 2021 report by the country’s Ministry of Health
  • Tens of thousands of people in the Sultanate have been vaccinated in private hospitals, as part of the country’s inoculation effort

DUBAI: Oman has reported an increase in daily coronavirus cases amid the start of mass vaccination campaign in the Sultanate.
Hospitals have exceeded the limit allocated to coronavirus patients in Intensive Care Units, reaching 157 percent in two hospitals, local daily Times of Oman reported.
A total of 338 patients are in intensive care rooms, according to a June 11, 2021 report by the country’s Ministry of Health.
Oman’s daily infection rate has more than tripled in the past 30 days, with the number of people testing positive with COVID-19 approaching 2,000 this week.
“The indicators of this wave are very worrisome, and this recent spike in numbers is because of gatherings that took place during Eid,” Dr Faryal Al-Lawati, a Senior Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Royal Hospital, told local radio station Shabiba FM.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in the Sultanate have been vaccinated in private hospitals, as part of the country’s inoculation effort.
Private hospitals and clinics have contributed to the campaign against COVID-19 by offering vaccinations to walk-in patients and those who have registered in advance.
“Those who wish to get vaccinated at private hospitals will need to pay a fee, which depends on the type of vaccine they choose to take,” the report said.
A doctor at Badr Al-Sama’a Hospital, a private medical center that is taking part in the immunization campaign, said: “the cost of the vaccine will be borne by patients. Those who want to take the vaccine can walk in to any of our clinics, where they will be administered a vaccine of their choice, provided it is in stock.”
After taking the vaccine, patients will be required to wait 15 minutes at the hospital, where they will be examined for any symptoms.