Lebanon appoints Najib Mikati as new PM-designate

Lebanon appoints Najib Mikati as new PM-designate
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Lebanon's new Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati, talks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 26, 2021. (Reuters)
Lebanon appoints Najib Mikati as new PM-designate
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Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 27 July 2021

Lebanon appoints Najib Mikati as new PM-designate

Lebanon appoints Najib Mikati as new PM-designate
  • Exchange rate drops but living conditions continue to deteriorate
  • The country has an opportunity, says former PM Saad Hariri

BEIRUT: Lebanese MPs have tasked former Prime Minister Najib Mikati with forming a government, ending a year of political deadlock that has crippled the country.

Mikati, who has been prime minister twice before, received a majority of votes from MPs during parliamentary consultations held on Monday by President Michel Aoun to appoint a Sunni figure to assemble a rescue government.

Saad Hariri quit earlier this month as prime minister-designate after almost 10 months of trying to form a government amid the country’s economic and financial collapse, as well as the challenges presented by the pandemic and the devastating aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. He and Aoun blamed each other for the failure to agree on a cabinet lineup.  

Mikati won the votes of the most prominent blocs, including the Future bloc, Hezbollah's bloc, the Progressive Socialist Party bloc, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's bloc.

But the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) bloc, which is the political group affiliated with Aoun, refrained from nominating anyone as the FPM and Mikati failed to see eye-to-eye on the 2011 government’s political performance.

Mikati spoke to reporters shortly after he was appointed and said he would work to form a government and implement a French plan to save the country from its crippling financial crisis.
“I don’t have a magic wand and can’t perform miracles... but I have studied the situation for a while and have international guarantees,” Mikati said.
“We are in very difficult situation ... it is a difficult mission that can only succeed if we all work together,” he added.
France’s plan includes a government of specialists capable of initiating enough reforms to attract foreign aid. 

The positive political atmosphere was reflected in a sudden drop in the black market exchange rate to about LBP16,000 to the dollar, after exceeding LBP22,000 during the past week.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme asked importers and business owners to “reduce prices as quickly as possible before Tuesday morning.”

He warned that “severe penalties” would be taken against those who committed “price manipulation or fraud.”

But many believed that Mikati had already tried and failed in the past, while others said he was part of the same ruling system and would not be able to achieve reforms.

“We are cautiously looking forward to the possibility of Mikati's success in forming the government after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Ambassador Mustapha Adib failed to do so in less than a year,” political observers told Arab News, saying that Mikati would not give himself a long time to form a government. “If any obstacles arise, he will immediately step down,” they added.

Mikati comes to office as the Lebanese continue to struggle with deteriorating living conditions.

The European Union on Monday urged Lebanon’s political elite to form a government without delay.
“It is now of crucial importance that a credible and accountable government is formed in Lebanon without delay, one that is able to address the severe economic and social crises the country is facing,” the EU said in a statement.
“We call on the Lebanese political leaders to cooperate and allow for the swift formation of a credible and capable government, in the interest of the people of Lebanon,” it said. 
France urged the formation of a “competent and capable” government in Lebanon to carry out reforms 
The foreign ministry said it was “urgent” to form such a government and implement reforms “essential to the recovery of the country,” calling on “all Lebanese leaders to act in this direction as quickly as possible.”

People blocked roads on Monday, protesting about power cuts, a lack of medicine and medical supplies, and a lack of diesel to run private generators even on the black market.

Former MP Fares Souaid tweeted on Sunday: “In one of the most reputable hospitals, a girl got her eyelid stitched up without local anesthesia because the hospital did not have any.”

A man in Tripoli poured petrol over himself and set himself alight in the middle of the street in protest at his living conditions. 

“The country has an opportunity today,” said Hariri. “As you can see, the exchange rate is decreasing, and that is what’s important.”

During their meeting on Sunday, the former prime ministers laid down the foundations and principles to support Mikati’s mandate to form a government “of independent, non-partisan specialists, by steering clear of the dominance of political parties, under pretexts of blocking thirds or others that force governments to resign, provided that this government is harmonious and united, enjoys the confidence of the Lebanese and the Arab and international communities, and can lead Lebanon during the next stage.”

After meeting Aoun as part of the parliamentary consultations, Hariri said he nominated Mikati because he would follow the constitutional path agreed upon at the meeting of the former prime ministers and would form a government as soon as possible.

“We should not stop at petty things while the country needs a government,” he added.

Aoun met a delegation from the French Senate on Monday and said the next government would be a rescue government. One of its tasks was to also supervise the parliamentary elections next May, he added.

There were media reports that Mikati met FPM leader Gebran Bassil MP, who is Aoun’s son-in-law, on Saturday as part of the preliminary meetings before the parliamentary consultations.

Mikati's office and Bassil's office denied claims they had discussed the distribution of ministerial portfolios in the lineup that Mikati would put together and that Bassil wanted the Ministry of Interior, which would supervise the parliamentary elections.

(Reuters, AFP, and AP)


Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era

Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era
Updated 20 min 36 sec ago

Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era

Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era
  • The long-time leader had risen to power in 1999 on a wave of popular support as his amnesty offer to Islamist militants helped bring an end to a devastating decade-long civil war

TUNIS: Algerians looked back on two decades of “missed opportunities” as flags flew at half mast Sunday ahead of the funeral of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
His death at age 84 was announced late Friday, more than two years after the former strongman quit office.
The long-time leader had risen to power in 1999 on a wave of popular support as his amnesty offer to Islamist militants helped bring an end to a devastating decade-long civil war.
But 20 years later, mass protests broke out in response to his announcement that he intended to stand for a fifth term, and the army stepped in to force his resignation.
Bouteflika, a fighter in the war for independence from France, had suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 that affected his speech, and he was forced to use a wheelchair.
Dubbed “Boutef” by Algerians, he had won respect as a foreign minister in the 1970s to his mentor, Algeria’s second president Houari Boumediene.
Algerian journalist Adlene Meddi said it was nostalgia for the heady Boumediene days of the late 60s and 70s that had given Bouteflika his initial honeymoon period as president.
“For some, he was a reassuring presence, reviving memories of the ‘glorious’ years under Boumediene, when Algeria was the leader of the developing world — all in sharp contrast with the smoldering ruins of Algeria of the late 1990s,” Meddi wrote on online news outlet Middle East Eye.


Hasni Abidi, head of the CERMAM studies center in Geneva, said Bouteflika had also benefited from high oil prices of the era which had inflated government coffers.
“His popularity was guaranteed by a high (price of a) barrel and a ‘civil concord’ law negotiated by the army” that put an end to the war with the Islamists, he said.
“Unfortunately, Bouteflika missed his rendezvous with history — he was the president of missed opportunities.
“He became a man of power and intrigue and not a statesman.”
University of Algiers politics lecturer Louisa Dris Ait Hamadouche said the nation had suffered a “litany of missed opportunities” as Bouteflika “failed to achieve his own ambitions or those of the Algerian state.”
He wanted “to surpass Boumediene, enshrine the presidency, bring all military institutions under its command, boost Algeria’s influence on the regional stage, be the one to turn the page on the black decade (of civil war),” which killed around 200,000 people, Dris Ait Hamadouche said.
“But the outcome has been that in 2021, the institutions of the state have never been so weakened, so divided or so discredited.”
Dris Ait Hamadouche said that for many younger Algerians, the only memory they would keep of their former president would be the “distressing image of an old man in a wheelchair.”
More than half the country’s population is younger than 30.
She said she regretted that death had spared him having to answer for “the mistakes committed during the exercise of his duties.”
Bouteflika faced criticism from rights groups and opponents who accused him of being authoritarian.
Samir Yahiaoui, a Hirak reform movement activist in the Algerian diaspora in France, said he too regretted that Bouteflika had “taken so many secrets with him.”
“It’s just unacceptable,” he said. “It shows that he served a clan, a regime, and was never a statesman.”


Abu Dhabi Police lead convoy of vehicles after COVID-19 Dubai border checks lifted

Abu Dhabi Police lead convoy of vehicles after COVID-19 Dubai border checks lifted
Updated 6 sec ago

Abu Dhabi Police lead convoy of vehicles after COVID-19 Dubai border checks lifted

Abu Dhabi Police lead convoy of vehicles after COVID-19 Dubai border checks lifted

DUBAI: A fleet of cars entered Abu Dhabi Sunday shortly after midnight as the emirate’s new decision to ease entry COVID-19 testing requirements came into effect. 

Jubilant drivers could be heard honking and cheering as they drove behind police cars to cross the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border.

Over the past year, people have reduced their visits to Abu Dhabi due to stringent border testing requirements, which restricted entry into the emirate to those with a negative PCR test.

But on Saturday Abu Dhabi canceled COVID-19 testing requirements to enter the emirate for travelers from within the UAE, for all citizens, residents and tourists.  

Earlier, the emirate removed the need to quarantine for all vaccinated travelers arriving from international destinations.


Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan
Updated 19 September 2021

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan
  • Motegi said he hopes for the success of Expo 2020 Dubai
  • Motegi and Al Nahyan exchanged views on global issues such as climate change

TOKYO: Japanese Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu said he appreciated the United Arab Emirates’ support provided during the evacuation of staff members at the Embassy of Japan in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

According to a statement released by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Motegi had a telephone conversation on Friday. Japan’s FM stated that the Asian country highly praised the crucial role the UAE has taken with regards to Afghanistan, such as temporarily accepting evacuees and providing humanitarian support.

In addition, Motegi said he hopes for the success of Expo 2020 Dubai, which will take place on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE, and will be the first International Registered Exhibition to be held in the Middle East region. 

The two ministers confirmed that they will continue to further promote cooperation in a variety of fields towards the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE in 2022. 

Motegi and Al Nahyan exchanged views on global issues such as climate change and agreed to continue close coordination, according to the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Last two prison-break Palestinian fugitives recaptured: Israeli army

Last two prison-break Palestinian fugitives recaptured: Israeli army
Updated 2 min 26 sec ago

Last two prison-break Palestinian fugitives recaptured: Israeli army

Last two prison-break Palestinian fugitives recaptured: Israeli army
  • The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank
  • The six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6, exposing security flaws from the vaunted "Israeli Guantanamo"

JERUSALEM: The last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago were rearrested early Sunday, the Israeli military said.
The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, closing an intense, embarrassing pursuit that exposed security flaws after the six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6.
Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for Israeli police said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance from a house where they had taken refuge and were taken for questioning.
Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”
The escapes set off a massive pursuit operation that captured the first four inmates in two separate operations in northern Israel. All six inmates come from Jenin.
Five of the prisoners are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas.
For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
  • The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
“The violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad,” Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: “But I’m not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”
The Tehran-aligned group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. He said: “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe.”
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.