Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates

Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates
The Electricite du Liban company building in Beirut. Lebanon was plunged into darkness as the country faces power shortage and economic crisis. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 August 2021

Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates

Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates
  • Acute fuel shortages have led the small Mediterranean country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with hospitals across the country sounding the alarm

DUBAI: Lebanon has been plunged into total darkness after its electric grid crumpled, piling further sorrows on a country teetering on the edge of collapse.

In a statement late on Sunday, the state-owned Électricité Du Liban announced that it had entered the stage of a complete blackout after “feeding reached an extremely low level.”

EDL had been supplying around one hour of electricity per day in the crisis-torn country with private generators struggling to fill the gaps, leaving residents with more than 15 hours of blackouts.

Eight feeding stations, which transfer power from Lebanon’s four main power plants onto its grid, have also been seized by angry residents, diverging electricity solely to their towns and villages.

The stations, located in southern Lebanon and Baalbek, have been seized for the better part of a week, with EDL calling on security forces to restore order.

“We’re in no man’s land, it’s simply not safe for employees to go to work anymore,” an EDL manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News.

With these stations effectively being run by untrained residents, the danger of an overload on a circuit becomes a possibility.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. To make matters worse, public-sector employees including EDL workers are expected to go on a full-fledged strike starting this week, he said.

“How do you expect an employee, living on $40 a month, with no gasoline, no medicine and no sense of security, to go to work,” he asked.

Acute fuel shortages have led the small Mediterranean country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with hospitals across the country sounding the alarm.

As dwindling diesel stocks threatened the lives of “40 adult patients and 15 children living on respirators” and another 180 others who are receiving dialysis treatment, one of Lebanon’s foremost university hospitals pleaded with concerned stakeholders for help.

These patients would die “within a matter of days,” the American University of Beirut’s Medical Center said on Saturday, before issuing a statement saying that it had replenished its stock for a week.

“After many calls that went unheeded, the AUB administration finally managed to get through to those who saw the dangers and were willing to take the initiative and help. Fuel suppliers, companies and citizens have stepped up, and AUBMC and other hospitals began to receive a resupply of fuel,” it said Sunday.

“AUBMC is gradually building back up its fuel supply and by tonight should have around a week of reserves,” it added.

The impending catastrophe comes on the heels of a tragic accident in the northern Akkar district that killed 28 people and injured scores of others.

At least 28 people were killed and 79 injured when a fuel tanker exploded in northern Lebanon early on Sunday, the health ministry said, after a seized fuel tanker exploded while residents flocked to replenish makeshift tanks.

Accounts varied as to what caused the explosion, from gunfire from the disgruntled tanker owner to reports that it was caused by a person who ignited a lighter.

With the country’s hospitals running on fumes and unable to care for patients amid fuel and medicine shortages, officials turned to friendly neighbors for help.

Three patients with severe burn wounds were airlifted to Turkey while Kuwait and Egypt sent over 10 tonnes of medical aid to Lebanon.

Speaking to his supporters Sunday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his Iran-backed party will begin importing fuel from Tehran.

The militant chief had previously said his group would be able to import fuel from Iran while bypassing Lebanon’s central bank to evade US sanctions.

“We will go to Iran and negotiate with the Iranian government… and buy vessels full of petrol and fuel oil and bring them to Beirut port,” he said, defying the “Lebanese state (to dare) to prevent the fuel and gasoline from reaching the Lebanese people.”


Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan
Updated 54 min 12 sec ago

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan
  • Latest developments come after government said it had thwarted a coup attempt on September 21
  • On Friday, Hamdok warned that the transition is facing its “worst and most dangerous” crisis

KHARTOUM: Hundreds of pro-military Sudanese protesters rallied for a second day Sunday, aggravating what Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the “worst and most dangerous crisis” of the country’s precarious transition.
The protesters rallying in Khartoum are demanding the dissolution of Sudan’s post-dictatorship interim government, saying it has “failed” them politically and economically.
“The sit-in continues, we will not leave until the government is dismissed,” Ali Askouri, one of the organizers, told AFP.
“We have officially asked the Sovereign Council,” the military-civilian body that oversees the transition, “not to interact with this government anymore,” he added.
The protests come as Sudanese politics reels from divisions among the factions steering the rocky transition from three decades of iron-fisted rule by Omar Al-Bashir.
Bashir was ousted by the army in April 2019 in the face of mass protests driven by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a civilian alliance that became a key plank of the transition.
The latest demonstrations, left undisturbed by security forces, have been organized by a splinter faction of the FFC. Critics allege that these protests are being driven by members of the military and security forces, and involve counter-revolutionary sympathizers with the former regime.
The protesters have converged on the presidential palace where the transitional authorities are based, shouting “One army, one people” and demanding “a military government.”
Poverty stricken Sudan has undergone dramatic changes since the ouster of Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, where a conflict that began in 2003 killed 300,000 people.
The United States removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist in December 2020, eliminating a major hurdle to much-needed aid and investment.
But domestic support for the transitional government has waned in recent months amid a tough package of IMF-backed economic reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound.
The latest developments come after the government said on September 21 it had thwarted a coup attempt which it blamed on both military officers and civilians linked to Bashir’s regime.
On Friday, Hamdok warned that the transition is facing its “worst and most dangerous” crisis.
Hamdok’s Minister of Finance Jibril Ibrahim on Saturday addressed the crowd demanding the resignation of the government.
The mainstream faction of the FFC said the crisis “is engineered by some parties to overthrow the revolutionary forces... paving the way for the return of remnants of the previous regime.”
Jaafar Hassan, spokesman for the FFC, called the pro-military sit-in “an episode in the scenario of a coup d’etat.”
Its aim, he told AFP, was “to block the road to democracy because the participants in this sit-in are supporters of the former regime and foreign parties whose interests have been affected by the revolution.”
The demonstration heightens tensions ahead of a rival rally planned for Thursday by the opposite side, to demand a full transfer of power to civilians.
Hassan said the FFC organizers aim for “a demonstration of one million people ... to show the world the position of the Sudanese people.”


Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment
Updated 17 October 2021

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment
  • Turkey wants a return for its investment in the F-35 program and that talks on the issue are ongoing
  • Te US removed Turkey from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after purchasing missile defense systems from Russia.
Reuters reported earlier this month that Turkey made a request to the United States to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
Speaking to reporters before departing for a trip to West Africa, Erdogan said Turkey wants a return for its investment in the F-35 program and that talks on the issue are ongoing.
“There is the payment of $1.4 billion we have made for the F-35s and the US had such a proposal in return for these payments,” Erdogan said.
“And regarding this, we said let’s take whatever steps are needed to be taken to meet the defense needs of our country,” he said, adding that the new F-16 jets would help develop its fleet.
Ankara had ordered more than 100 F-35 jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp, but the US removed Turkey from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on Syria policy, Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow, its naval ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, US charges against a state-owned Turkish bank and erosion of rights and freedoms in Turkey.
Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s has also triggered US sanctions. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.
Since then the US has repeatedly warned Turkey against buying further Russian weaponry. But Erdogan has indicated Ankara still intends to buy a second batch of S-400s from Russia, a move that could deepen the rift with Washington.
The request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from the US Congress, where sentiment toward Turkey has soured deeply over recent years.
There is bipartisan support in US Congress to push the Biden administration to put further pressure on Ankara, primarily over its purchase of Russian weapons and its human rights track record.
Ankara has said it hopes for better ties under US President Joe Biden.


Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence

Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence
Updated 17 October 2021

Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence

Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence
  • Thursday’s spasm of violence saw seven Shiite Muslims killed

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, the top Christian cleric, said on Sunday the country’s judiciary should be free of political interference and sectarian “activism” amid tensions over a probe into last year’s blast at Beirut port.
Rai also said that it was unacceptable for any party to resort to threats or violence after last week’s deadly unrest around the investigation — which was Lebanon’s worst street bloodshed in more than a decade and stirred memories of the ruinous 1975-1990 civil war.
“We must free the judiciary from political interference, sectarian and partisan political activism and respect its independence according to the principle of separation of powers,” he said in his sermon.
Rai, head of the Maronite church, has an influential role as religious leader of the biggest Christian community in Lebanon, where political power is divided between its main Christian, Muslim and Druze sects.
The inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut, has made little headway amid pushback from powerful political factions. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has called Judge Tarek Bitar — the lead investigator — biased and politicized.
“The rise in doubts over the (integrity of the) judiciary that has been going for a while has not only undermined the judiciary but also the reputation of Lebanon,” said Rai.
Seven Shiite Muslims were killed on Thursday as crowds were on their way to a protest against Bitar in a demonstration called by the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah group and its Shiite ally Amal.
The violence added to concerns over the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with an economic meltdown.
“The democratic system has afforded us peaceful means for freedom of expression whether in support or opposition so it’s not acceptable that any party should resort to threats or violence and setting up party checkpoints or tribal ones to get what they want through force,” said Rai.
Hezbollah blamed the Christian Lebanese Forces party for the deaths on Thursday, an accusation the head of that party, Samir Geagea, denied.
The perpetrators should be held to account, the pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen TV quoted a Hezbollah representative in the Lebanese parliament as saying on Sunday.
“What the criminals ... did is a massacre and it will have important ramifications,” MP Hassan Fadallah said, according to the Beirut-based channel. “Those who incited, planned ... and opened fire should be held to account all the way up to the top.”
On Thursday, the army initially said rounds were fired on at protesters as they passed through the Teyouneh traffic circle dividing Christian and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods. It later said there had been an “altercation and exchange of fire” as protesters were on their way to the demonstration.
Defense Minister Maurice Selim said on Saturday that a stampede and a clash in Teyouneh led to gunfire by both sides, adding that the exchange of fire had preceded the sniper fire.
Families of the victims of the port blast expressed their support for judge Bitar on Saturday after a spokesman for one of their groups surprisingly changed tack on Friday night by saying he should leave.
His sudden change of stance prompted a flurry of speculation on social media that he had been threatened.


Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden

Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden
Updated 17 October 2021

Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden

Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden
  • Iranian destroyer Alborz was escorting two oil tankers when they were attacked by five pirate ships

TEHRAN: An Iranian warship on Saturday prevented an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden, the country’s naval chief said.
“Navy commandos were successful in repulsing this morning the attack by pirates against an Iranian commercial convoy in the Gulf of Aden,” said navy commander Admiral Shahram Irani, quoted on Saturday by the official IRNA news agency.
“The destroyer Alborz was escorting two oil tankers when they were attacked by five pirate ships,” he said, noting that Iranian shots were fired, forcing “the attackers to leave the area.”


Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners

Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners
Updated 17 October 2021

Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners

Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners
  • Mohamed Al-Sadat has become an unofficial negotiator advocating on behalf of figures imprisoned under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi

CAIRO: The fate of dissidents languishing in Egypt’s prisons has long been under scrutiny, but one veteran is leveraging his political prowess in a bid to have them released.
Mohamed Al-Sadat, 66, nephew of former president Anwar Al-Sadat, the first Arab leader to strike peace with Israel, has long been a fixture of Egypt’s political scene.
Now, he has become an unofficial negotiator advocating on behalf of figures imprisoned under the uncompromising administration of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“Dialogue with the state’s institutions isn’t just a one-man job, there are many others in close contact... but lately we’ve been successful in using a language that is being listened to,” he said in his plush office in an upscale Cairo suburb.
“This has been effective in some cases (of political prisoners) being re-examined,” he said.
Forty-six prisoners were freed in July, including prominent activists such as rights lawyer Mahienour el-Massry.
But as many as 60,000 political prisoners are serving time in Egyptian jails, according to human rights defenders.
El-Sisi, a former army chief, became president in 2014 after leading the military ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi a year earlier.
He has since overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent.
Those jailed for criticizing the political status quo have included academics, journalists, lawyers, activists, comedians, Islamists, presidential candidates and MPs.
But Sadat is less concerned about the conditions that led to their arrest than with securing their release.
“There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in these security agencies where they undertake an examination of specific cases that we’ve raised, whether from a humanitarian or legal perspective,” he explained.
With a portrait of his uncle, a Nobel laureate for the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, gazing down on him, Sadat was careful not to appear too critical of El-Sisi’s human rights record.
He insisted that on-off pressures imposed by US President Joe Biden’s administration have not influenced Egypt’s willingness to improve its often condemned record on human rights.
“I don’t agree that it (reform efforts) all stems from international pressures or a new US administration, that’s not really appropriate to say,” he maintained.
El-Sisi enjoyed a close working relationship with former US president Donald Trump who said the Egyptian leader was doing “a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” in reference to counter-terrorism and regional instability.
But Biden kicked off his term this year by vowing no more “blank checks” to El-Sisi.
However, with Cairo’s critical role in brokering a cease-fire between the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Israel after fighting broke out in May, ties with Washington have significantly warmed.
Leading an “International Dialogue” delegation comprised of lawmakers and media personalities to Washington last week, Sadat went on a “charm offensive,” according to one attendee of the meetings.
The dialogue included meetings with State Department officials, think tanks, policymakers and Egyptian activists.
“Sadat’s not the boss. He is there as a figurehead or elder statesman,” the source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.
“Maybe El-Sisi wants to get his DC invitation and this is the way,” the participant added.
Sadat, who once mulled a presidential run in 2018 against El-Sisi, describes himself as an “honest broker” and “messenger” but not the decision-maker.
“We’re told by judicial officials that some inmates will be released after looking over their case files again. We then tell their families. That’s the process in a nutshell,” Sadat said.
For one former detainee unable to leave Egypt because he is on a no-fly list, Sadat’s role has been crucial in negotiating his case with the interior ministry.
Describing him as “genuinely sympathetic,” the detainee, who requested anonymity, said: “He’s treading a very delicate line ... He’s interfacing with security agencies and civil society activists.”
“He’s the man of the hour really when it comes to human rights.”