Dozens injured in Lebanon as protests turn violent amid rising tensions

General Joseph Aoun was speaking while inspecting the army units deployed in the Bekaa Valley. (AFP/File Photo)
General Joseph Aoun was speaking while inspecting the army units deployed in the Bekaa Valley. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 17 July 2021

Dozens injured in Lebanon as protests turn violent amid rising tensions

General Joseph Aoun was speaking while inspecting the army units deployed in the Bekaa Valley. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Army commander says the military is the only functioning institution in the country, and the nation faces a difficult political and social fate
  • Trade unions call on workers to prepare for civil disobedience; Arab League and UN chiefs say Lebanon is going from ‘bad to worse’

BEIRUT: Riots left more than two dozen people injured in Tripoli on Friday, including 10 soldiers, as tensions continued to rise in Lebanon.

“The situation seems to be getting worse, and things are about to escalate because we are facing a difficult political and social fate,” said Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun as he inspected army units deployed to the Bekaa Valley.

Meanwhile the international community continued to call for progress in the country’s stalled political process. France, the EU and the US have urged Lebanese politicians to form a new government as a matter of urgency, and an international conference is being planned to support the efforts.

“All concerned parties need to work with urgency to put in place a government that’s able to implement reforms immediately,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday night in a message posted on Twitter.

The Arab League said its secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and his UN counterpart, Antonio Guterres, had agreed during a meeting in New York that the situation in Lebanon is going from “bad to worse.”

The former said he hoped that “the international community will succeed in helping the Lebanese overcome the crisis.”

As he inspected his forces on Friday, Aoun told them: “Our responsibility is great at this stage. We are required to preserve the security and stability of the homeland and prevent chaos.”

BACKGROUND

The Arab League said its secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and his UN counterpart, Antonio Guterres, had agreed during a meeting in New York that the situation in Lebanon is going from “bad to worse.”

He said he considers the military to be “the only institution that is still active,” and added: “The army is the deterrent to chaos. I know that you will not allow anyone to invade our land, and you will not allow these circumstances to make you lose your sense of belonging to your homeland, your identity and your land.

“What we are experiencing today is a temporary crisis and it will pass.”




Saad Hariri

Private companies and institutions allowed employees to leave work early on Friday so that they could get home before roads were blocked.

Angry crowds took to the streets for a second consecutive day to protest against fuel shortages and the continuing steep rise in the dollar exchange rate on the black market.

Demonstrations had broken out across the country on Thursday, immediately after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri announced his resignation after nine months of failed wrangling with President Michel Aoun over the formation of a new government.

The previous government resigned in August last year amid protests in the aftermath of the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port.

The Lebanese currency hit new lows in the wake of Hariri’s announcement, with dollars changing hands on the black market at a rate of more than 22,500 Lebanese pounds on Friday. The official government rate is just over 1,500 pounds.

The protests grew more fierce and violent on Friday, especially in poorer areas of Tripoli, such as Jabal Mohsen. Protesters destroyed property and burned tires. The army intervened, firing shots to disperse them.

According to the Lebanese Red Cross, dozens of civilian protesters were wounded as the army fired rubber bullets and rocks were thrown. Al Jazeera photographer Khaled Habshiti was injured by a grenade in Jabal Mohsen. The Red Cross said it sent three teams to help treat and move the wounded.

The angry activity and chaos on the streets stood in stark contrast with the state of inertia and anticipation that prevails on the political scene.

President Aoun has not yet set a date for parliamentary consultations to choose new prime minister designate to replace Hariri and resume the efforts to form a government. They are not expected to take place until after the Eid Al-Adha holiday next week.

Aoun said on Friday that “he will overcome the difficult circumstances.” He added that “nothing can bring the Lebanese down, even with all the hardships they are going through,” and he promised to “make all efforts to resolve the successive crises.”

Joanna Wronecka, the UN’s special coordinator for Lebanon, described the stalemate between Hariri and Aoun as a “setback” and expressed deep regret over “the inability of Lebanon’s leaders to reach agreement on the formation of a new government that is urgently needed to address the challenges.”

Adding that “there is no more time to lose,” she called for “swift measures to ensure the designation of a new prime minister, in line with constitutional requirements.”

Wronecka also stressed the need to form a government able to implement the reforms required to put Lebanon on the road to economic recovery ahead of free and fair elections in 2022.

The US State Department expressed concern over Hariri’s resignation. It said: “The political class need to put aside partisan differences, instead of trading blame, to form a government capable of addressing this concerning situation.”

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he regrets “the ongoing political gridlock in the country and the lack of progress in the implementation of the urgent reforms.”

The National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Trade Unions in Lebanon called on “workers, farmers and low-income members to form local committees whose mission is to prepare for civil disobedience.”

The federation described this as “the perfect, and only, option to bring the political class down and hold it to account in the streets.”

It added that politicians are responsible for “the lowest points of the economic collapse: starvation, death, poverty, unemployment, and a salary lower than $30.”

The volatile dollar exchange rate caused chaos in Lebanese retail markets. Many shop owners decided to close their stores because they were unable to set a stable price for goods. Other sellers put the sale of their products on hold avoid losses.

A black-market money changer told Arab News: “Trade has been limited to selling dollars, as people are eager to make profits.”

He added that he has been surprised by the “continuous increase of the dollar exchange rate, controlled by the electronic platforms, despite the low demand for it.”

The protests continued on Friday night and were not limited to pro-Hariri Sunni areas; they also took place in communities that traditionally support Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and his party, the Amal Movement.

An Amal supporter in Zokak Al-Blat told Arab News: “Aoun considers himself victorious. This must not persist.” He added that the president “must know that the resentment of the people is really great. He previously destroyed the country in order to remain president and what happened then? The same thing will happen now. He must not think, even for a second, that he is capable of controlling everything.”

A number of people in Beirut told Arab News that “the promise the president made to us has become true: we are living in hell.”

Tony, who owns a bakery, said: “If the situation persists, my family and I will starve. I laid off an employee because I was no longer able to pay him. The dollar exchange rate on the black market has reached 25,000 pounds and there is not one official that feels what we are going through.

“They told us we were headed to hell. They were right. This is hell. But what is next? Are there no solutions?”

Nadia, a Lebanese woman who was standing outside a public institution, said: “They all claim that they are worried about the country’s fate and that they are defending their sects and their interests.

“We do not want anything from them. Let them leave us alone. We cannot take it anymore.”

Mohammed, the owner of a barber shop, said: “The country is divided into two groups. The first group of people can take it because they are getting paid in fresh dollars. The second group, the one I belong to, is not even capable of leaving this cursed country.

“Politicians only care about their interests. The president is insisting on his son-in-law as the next president and Hezbollah controls us.”


Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Updated 8 sec ago

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row
DUBAI: Amnesty International has urged Yemen’s Houthi militia to free four journalists facing the death penalty for “espionage” in the war-torn country, ahead of an appeal court hearing on Sunday.
The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram Al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must quash the death sentences and order the immediate release of four Yemeni journalists who are facing execution following a grossly unfair trial,” the rights group said in a statement on Friday.
In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of “treason and spying for foreign states.”
“This has been a sham of a trial since the beginning and has borne a terrible toll on the men and their families,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Lynn Maalouf, according to the statement.
One of the detained men, Mansouri, is in a “critical health condition” with heart and other ailments, Amnesty said.
“Pending their overdue release, the journalists must be provided with urgent medical care — the denial of medical treatment for the seriously ill is an act of cruelty which amounts to torture and other ill-treatment,” the statement said.
At the time of their trial, Amnesty criticized their sentencing on “trumped-up charges,” while Reporters Without Borders called the verdict “totally unacceptable.”
Their arrest was motivated by their reporting on “human rights violations committed by Houthis,” the International Federation of Journalists and the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate have said.
An appeal will be heard by the Specialized Criminal Appeals Division in Sanaa on Sunday.

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW
Updated 20 May 2022

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW
  • ‘Officials should be very clear on how forces will avoid harming Somali civilians during military operations’
  • Biden signed order reversing Trump administration decision to withdraw nearly all 700 troops

LONDON: US military forces redeploying to Somalia must make civilian protection “a priority,” Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an order reversing a Trump administration decision to remove nearly all 700 American troops from the East African state and redeploy them as part of a joint operation with the Somali government to tackle Al-Shabab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

“US officials should be very clear on how forces will avoid harming Somali civilians during military operations,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW.

“They will need to work closely with the Somali and African Union authorities to avoid repeating past laws of war violations and promptly and appropriately respond to civilian loss.”

HRW said past American operations in Somalia had not only resulted in loss of life and Somali property, but that the US had neither recognized these losses nor provided redress.

US military activities have been conducted in Somalia since at least 2007, but 2017 witnessed a marked increase in airstrikes before the Trump administration ordered the troop withdrawals in late 2020.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud welcomed the news that some 500 US troops would be returning, with HRW saying Al-Shabab has continued to conduct indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and forcibly recruited children.

Nonetheless, Bader said the return of US military personnel must include a course correction that ensures it takes all allegations of civilian harm seriously and credibly investigates them.

“A culture of impunity for civilian loss breeds resentment and mistrust among the population and undermines efforts to build a more rights-respecting state,” she added.

“The US government recognizes the need to credibly investigate and compensate for civilian harm, but the military has yet to make this a reality.”


Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW

Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW
Updated 20 May 2022

Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW

Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW
  • This is ‘another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements’
  • Country rocked by ongoing labor strikes, protests over rising pric

LONDON: Iran has arrested several prominent activists on what Human Rights Watch described on Friday as “baseless accusations” amid ongoing labor strikes and protests over rising prices.

Citing news outlets close to Iran’s intelligence apparatus, HRW said the arrested are accused of “contact with suspicious foreign actors,” although no evidence was provided to back the claim bar the assertion by authorities that they had arrested two Europeans earlier this month.

“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at HRW.

“Instead of looking to civil society for help in understanding and responding to social problems, Iran’s government treats them as an inherent threat.”

Since May 6, people have gathered in at least 19 cities and towns to protest the news that Iran will experience price-rises for essential goods in the coming months, with MPs saying at least two people have been killed in the protests so far.

In the last week of April, dozens of teachers’ union activists were arrested after calling for nationwide protests to demand reforms of the pay scale system.

HRW said over the past four years there has been a spike in widespread protests in Iran, organized by major unions, over economic inequalities stemming from declining living standards.

It added that security forces have responded to protests with excessive, lethal force, and have arrested thousands, using prosecution and imprisonment based on illegitimate charges as the main tool to silence prominent dissidents and human rights defenders.

Since these latest protests kicked off at the start of May, authorities have heavily disrupted internet access in multiple provinces.

“Iranian authorities have long sought to criminalize solidarity among members of civil society groups inside and outside the country,” said Sepehri Far.

“The intention is to prevent accountability and scrutiny of state actions that civil society provides.”


Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 

Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 
Updated 20 May 2022

Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 

Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 
  • Al-Maqashi highly praised the US administration's efforts to establish peace in Yemen and its support for the government

DUBAI: Yemen’s minister of Defense, Mohammed al-Maqdashi, met with Colonel Mark Rittman, American Military and Security Attaché in the country’s US embassy on Thursday. 

The two discussed ways they can fight terrorism, in addition to military and security cooperation between the two nations. 

Al-Maqashi highly praised the US administration's efforts to establish peace in Yemen and its support for the government. 

Separately, Al-Maqashi met with the British Military Attaché in the UN embassy in Yemen to discuss bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense.


Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’

Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’
Updated 20 May 2022

Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’

Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’
  • The two sides discussed ways “to better serve the interests of their people”

DUBAI: UAE and Russian officials met on Thursday to discuss ways to enhance “strong ties” between the two countries, state news agency WAM reported. 

Chairman of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Abdullah Mohamed Al-Mazrouei, held meetings with Chairman of the Russian-Emirati inter-parliamentary Group, Аrsen Bashirovich Kanokov, in Abu Dhabi. 

During the meeting, which was also attended by Mohamed Helal Al Mheiri, Director-General of Abu Dhabi Chamber, the two sides discussed ways “to better serve the interests of their people,” according to WAM.

Al-Mazrouei highlighted that both the UAE and Russia possess the necessary capabilities to strengthen relations in areas such as trade, artificial intelligence and innovation. 

Kanokov expressed Russia’s keenness to enhance relations with the UAE in addition to strengthening ties between the business community in Abu Dhabi and Russia. He added that the goal is to build on what has been accomplished between the two sides over the years.

Kanokov also extended his condolences on the passing of the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, and congratulated Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for being elected as UAE President.