Former premiers say subpoena against Diab ‘dangerous, unprecedented step’

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following the tragedy, although he has stayed on in a caretaker capacity until a new administration is formed. (Reuters)
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following the tragedy, although he has stayed on in a caretaker capacity until a new administration is formed. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 August 2021

Former premiers say subpoena against Diab ‘dangerous, unprecedented step’

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following the tragedy, although he has stayed on in a caretaker capacity until a new administration is formed. (Reuters)
  • In a letter to the prosecutor, the secretary general of parliament said the subpoena fell outside Bitar’s jurisdiction
  • Exclusion of President Aoun, who was aware of danger and did nothing to avoid disaster, questioned

BEIRUT: There is fury in Lebanon after the judge leading the probe into last year’s Beirut blast hit the country’s prime minister with a subpoena, a decision described as a “dangerous and unprecedented step” affecting the highest political position in the Sunni community.

At least 215 people died and thousands more were wounded when tons of ammonium nitrate exploded on Aug. 4, 2020.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following the tragedy, although he has stayed on in a caretaker capacity until a new administration is formed.
Senior political figures accused Lebanese President Michel Aoun of negligence, saying he was aware of the danger that the ammonium nitrate posed but “did nothing to avoid a possible disaster.”
“The subpoena affects the highest political position of the Sunni community in Lebanon and excludes Aoun, who was aware of the danger these tons of ammonium nitrate pose and did nothing to avoid a possible disaster,” according to the former prime ministers.
“Never, in the history of Lebanon, has a subpoena been drawn up against a prime minister like the one Judge (Tarek) Bitar issued,” they said, as they rejected his “selective justice and politicized judiciary.”
They added that the “dangerous (and) unprecedented step represented a not-so-innocent action” that took advantage of the law and the anger of the families of the victims to undermine Diab’s position, excluding all other high-ranking positions in the country which were responsible for the crime.
“This step is fraught with political suspicions because it goes in line with years-long attempts to overturn the Taif Agreement (a power-sharing arrangement between Christians and Muslims) and weaken the prime minister’s stature. Such actions have been committed over the past couple of years to disrupt the formation of a government and limit the constitutional powers of the prime minister-designate.
“Aoun personally admitted that he knew of the presence of these large quantities of ammonium nitrate at the port 15 days before the date of the explosion. These materials were brought to Lebanese territory without prior permission from the Cabinet and the relevant military and security authorities, because of the enormous danger these materials pose. Fifteen days is a long enough period to dismantle a nuclear bomb, so why not dispose of explosive materials?

HIGHLIGHTS

• Senior political figures accused Lebanese President Michel Aoun of negligence, saying he was aware of the danger that the ammonium nitrate posed but ‘did nothing to avoid a possible disaster.’

• Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah has been criticizing Bitar for weeks, demanding he provide evidence to support his decision to summon current and former officials for questioning.

“The president’s immunity should be lifted with regard to this serious crime, and then the judicial investigator will be freed from articles that do not give him legal and constitutional rights to try presidents and other officials.”
The Consultative Gathering, a Sunni parliamentary bloc affiliated with Hezbollah and its allies, also criticized Bitar’s decision.
“Bitar disregarded all those who covered and participated for years in the negligence that turned into a crime against the homeland and decided to target Diab and make allegations against him,” they said. “He made a dangerous, unprecedented step by issuing a subpoena against him. Bitar would not have dared to do so had Diab been a leading sectarian figure in this country that has turned into a sad laughing stock. The decision to accuse Diab of violating his duties ought to be made by Parliament, according to Article 70 of the constitution. Bitar committed a constitutional violation.”
They stressed that they opposed “defying” the prime minister’s stature and “treating this position as a scapegoat.”
Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah has been criticizing Bitar for weeks, demanding he provide evidence to support his decision to summon current and former officials for questioning. “The investigation is politicized. Either it works clearly, or the judiciary must find another judge,” he said.
On Friday, the Parliament’s General Secretariat reacted to Bitar’s action by saying it was not up to the judiciary to decide on his jurisdiction. “Parliament follows up on this matter in preparation for the necessary procedures.”
The immunity of former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, Youssef Fenianos and Nohad Machnouk has not yet been lifted to allow Bitar to interrogate them, after he accused them of negligence.
Bitar also does not have permission to pursue the heads of General Security, State Security, and judges.
Lebanon’s Public Prosecution hinted that it might reject the subpoena against Diab because it was “impossible to implement it, as he is a current prime minister and not a former one, and since all the security services are affiliated with him.”
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian also raised the subpoena scandal during a Friday sermon at the inauguration of a new mosque in Beirut. The inauguration was attended by Diab and Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati.
“The prime minister’s position is just as important as any other leading position in Lebanon, and targeting the caretaker prime minister is reprehensible as well as it is an offense to the way of behaving with a prime minister,” Derian said, calling on Parliament to issue a law to lift “all immunities” for the probe.
“Let justice take its course by all means, without any selectiveness, discretion and maliciousness,” added the cleric.


Lebanon Information Minister to resign

Lebanon Information Minister to resign
Updated 4 sec ago

Lebanon Information Minister to resign

Lebanon Information Minister to resign
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi said he would resign on Friday to “give Lebanon a chance.”
“I will resign this afternoon,” Kordahi told AFP. “I do not want to cling to this position, if it can be useful, I want to give Lebanon a chance.”
An official at the presidency confirmed to AFP that President Michel Aoun had received a call from Kordahi confirming he would submit his resignation.

France’s Macron meets UAE’s ‘MBZ’ at start of Gulf tour

France’s Macron meets UAE’s ‘MBZ’ at start of Gulf tour
Updated 3 min 27 sec ago

France’s Macron meets UAE’s ‘MBZ’ at start of Gulf tour

France’s Macron meets UAE’s ‘MBZ’ at start of Gulf tour
  • Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar

DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour with some lucrative deals set to be signed including several for Rafale fighter jets.
Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed, known as “MBZ,” after which they are expected to announce a series of contracts and agreements.
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defense industry with 4.7 billion euros from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defense Minister Florence Parly.


Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog
Updated 03 December 2021

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog

Saudi Arabia calls on Syria to comply with chemical weapons watchdog

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has urged Syrian authorities to cooperate with the chemical weapons watchdog and implement all decisions related to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Kingdom’s position on the matter was reiterated by the Saudi permanent representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ziyad Al-Attiyah.

He said: “The use of chemical weapons and toxic chemicals as weapons anywhere by any person and under any circumstances is reprehensible and completely contradicts the provisions of the convention and the legal rules and standards of the international community.”

His comments came during the 26th session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention on Thursday in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

Al-Attiyah also highlighted the importance his country attached to implementing its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, believing in its objectives, and based on its consistent policy to strengthen cooperation to ban weapons of mass destruction and prevent their spread.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia was keen to help free the Middle East of all WMDs, a move that would increase international peace and security.

Al-Attiyah thanked the organization’s director general, Fernando Arias, for his efforts toward the cause, adding that the Kingdom would be supporting his reappointment for a second term.


Civilians among 10 dead in north Iraq attack blamed on Daesh: officials

Civilians among 10 dead in north Iraq attack blamed on Daesh: officials
Updated 03 December 2021

Civilians among 10 dead in north Iraq attack blamed on Daesh: officials

Civilians among 10 dead in north Iraq attack blamed on Daesh: officials
  • The jihadists attacked the village of Khidir Jija, south of Irbil

IRBIL: At least three civilians and seven Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed in northern Iraq in an attack blamed on the Daesh jihadist group, the forces said Friday.
The jihadists attacked the village of Khidir Jija, south of Irbil, killing three civilians, a statement said. The peshmerga, Kurdistan’s armed forces, launched an operation in response, and seven fighters died when “an explosive device planted by Daesh elements” blew up.


Iran nuclear talks to break on Friday with formal meeting – officials

Iran nuclear talks to break on Friday with formal meeting – officials
Updated 31 min 58 sec ago

Iran nuclear talks to break on Friday with formal meeting – officials

Iran nuclear talks to break on Friday with formal meeting – officials
  • The US and Iran both sounded pessimistic about the chances of reinstating the deal,

DUBAI/VIENNA: The seventh round of indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which began this week, will end on Friday with a formal meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, European and Iranian officials said.

The meeting of Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China is in a format known as the Joint Commission which has bookended previous rounds of talks. The Iranian official said the meeting would be held around noon (1100 GMT). The aim is to resume the talks next week, the European diplomat said.

“The Europeans want to return to their capitals for consultations ... We are ready to stay in Vienna for further talks,” an Iranian official close to the talks said.

On the fourth day of indirect US-Iran talks on bringing both nations fully back into the deal, the United States and Iran both sounded pessimistic about the chances of reinstating the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.