Probe into Beirut port blast halted for 2nd time in fortnight

Probe into Beirut port blast  halted for 2nd time in fortnight
The destruction is pictured on October 26, 2020 at Beirut's port following the August 4 massive chemical explosion at the site which that caused severe damage across swathes of the Lebanese capital. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 October 2021

Probe into Beirut port blast halted for 2nd time in fortnight

Probe into Beirut port blast  halted for 2nd time in fortnight
  • Lebanon’s former state prosecutor claims calls for removal of investigation judge are ‘unfair’

BEIRUT: The judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port blast has been forced to halt his inquiry for the second time in two weeks.

Tarek Bitar was notified on Tuesday by the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation of a new dismissal case submitted by defendants, former ministers, and current MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter.

Bitar got the call five minutes after issuing an arrest warrant in absentia for Lebanon’s former finance minister, Khalil, who failed to appear for questioning on Tuesday. Khalil does not currently have immunity, which means he could be arrested.

Politicians accused of “negligence and causing the death and injury of hundreds of people” in the devastating explosion have made numerous requests for Bitar to be removed from the probe in an attempt to evade questioning before Oct. 19, when they regain immunity once Parliament reconvenes.

On Monday, Khalil and Zeaiter submitted a request for Bitar’s dismissal before the Fifth Chamber of the Civil Court of Cassation, but the chamber’s chief judge, Jeannette Hanna, rejected it on the grounds of “lack of jurisdiction.”

Later the same day the MPs submitted a further request to the First Chamber of the Civil Court of Cassation and a decision is expected from its chief judge, Naji Eid, on Wednesday. A judicial source said Eid would most probably follow suit with Hanna.

Khalil and Zeaiter had previously filed a similar plea before the Civil Court of Appeals, but that too was thrown out by the chief judge, Nassib Elia, on Oct. 4.

Bitar had been due to quiz Zeaiter and former minister Nohad Machnouk on Wednesday and the go-ahead for the session now hinges on the Civil Court of Cassation’s ruling on Zeaiter and Khalil’s request.

Lebanon’s former state prosecutor, Judge Hatem Madi, told Arab News he had been dismayed by the “many requests to dismiss Bitar,” adding that there was “an exaggeration and abuse of the rights granted by law.”

He said: “We have never had a similar scenario happen with any other judge in the history of the judiciary. I think that Bitar is doing his duty correctly, and no one has the right to know what is happening in the investigation. Not even the president of the republic has the right to ask Bitar to know the course and content of the investigation.

“Politicians are accusing Bitar of being politicized because they have no other argument; they have nothing to say about his work.

“The pressures exerted on Bitar mean that none of the judges will agree to investigate the crime after him. He is the second investigator to be pressured to stop his inquiry after the first investigator Judge Fadi Sawan was removed. But at the end of the day, the investigation continues,” Madi added.

On why some of the defendants in the inquiry had failed to appear for questioning, Madi said: “If they are certain they are innocent, they ought to appear before Bitar; their rights are preserved, and their lawyers can always be present.

“Part of the campaign against Bitar may be caused by his performance, such as his failure to listen so far to President Michel Aoun, who said that he knew about the ammonium nitrates 10 days before the explosion.

“It could also be the fact that he is yet to charge all the ministers of public works who were in office throughout the seven years during which these hazardous materials were stored at Beirut port. The requests to remove Bitar are unfair to him. This must end,” he added.

Hezbollah has now entered an open confrontation with the judiciary, particularly since Wafiq Safa, the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, threatened to “uproot Bitar” from his position.

On Monday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused Bitar of “implementing a political agenda and exploiting the blood of martyrs.” He claimed that he “relies on discretion,” and warned of “a great disaster in the country should Bitar continue like this.”

In an address to the Supreme Judicial Council, Nasrallah said: “What is happening has nothing to do with justice or the law, and it must take action to resolve this. If the Supreme Judicial Council fails to do so, the Cabinet should resolve the issue. We are speaking on behalf of a large segment of this country, and it is our right that you answer us.”

He added that it was the judges who had permitted the unloading of the ammonium nitrate shipment at the docks in the first place.

“Just as judges can only be tried before the Supreme Judicial Council, presidents and ministers should only be tried before the Supreme Council for the trial of presidents and ministers,” he added.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese Ministry of Interior for the second time refused to give permission to prosecute the director general of general security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, while the Supreme Defense Council also blocked a similar bid to bring a case against the director general of state security, Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba.

Meanwhile, head of the Tripoli Bar Association, Mohammed Al-Murad, said: “Judicial order is the first condition for restoring the state’s stature, so politicians and non-politicians ought to stop interfering in it. The judiciary is not an arena for plotting or settling accounts, and it is not a means of power.”


US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process

US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process
Updated 12 sec ago

US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process

US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process
  • Egyptian and Algerian foreign ministers met to discuss Libya, Sudan, Mali, and the Sahel and Sahara regions
  • Arab League chief and UN envoy to Libya also held talks

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss efforts to promote the democratic process in Libya, the State Department said on Sunday.
Efforts to lead Libya into elections at the end of December were thrown into disarray when the country’s electoral commission said a vote could not take place, citing what it called inadequacies in the electoral legislation and the judicial appeals process.
Blinken also spoke about the recent informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting, that was held in the western French city of Brest on Friday as part of the French presidency of the Council of the EU. 
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had reiterated following the meeting on Friday his view that talks to revive a 2015 Iran nuclear deal are progressing “much too slowly to be able to reach a result.”
“We now have to conclude and come to a decision: Either the Iranians want to complete this, in which case we have the impression that there will be flexibility in the Americans’ stance.
“Or they don’t want to complete this, and in that case we will be faced with a major proliferation crisis,” Le Drian said.
“There will be nothing more to negotiate if nothing happens,” he warned.
Negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal resumed in late November after they were suspended in June as Iran elected a new, ultraconservative government.
“Secretary Blinken reiterated the United States’ firm commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continued Russian aggression and discussed US resolve to respond swiftly and strongly to any further Russian invasion into Ukraine,” the State Department also said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Algerian counterpart Ramdane Lamamra in Cairo to discuss developments in Libya, Sudan, Mali, and the Sahel and Sahara regions.
The two ministers stressed the need to intensify coordination within the framework of joint African action in a way that enhances efforts to achieve peace and security on the African continent, especially in light of the various security challenges imposed by the successive developments in the region, the Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said on Facebook.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit stressed the importance of encouraging the Libyan institutions to assume their responsibilities toward the Libyan people during this important and critical stage that would lead to the desired electoral process.
He was speaking during a meeting with Stephanie Williams, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on Libya, in the Egyptian capital, the Arab League’s General Secretariat said in a statement.
The two parties agreed on the importance of holding elections that will reflect the will of the Libyan people, while continuing the security, military and economic agenda.
(With AFP and Reuters)


Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies

Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies
Updated 16 January 2022

Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies

Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies
  • “During every protest they fire tear gas inside the hospital where I work,” one doctor, Houda Ahmad, said
  • “They even attack us inside the intensive care unit,” she added at the rally

KHARTOUM: Sudanese doctors protested Sunday against violent attacks by security forces targeting medical personnel during pro-democracy rallies following last year’s military coup.
“During every protest they fire tear gas inside the hospital where I work,” one doctor, Houda Ahmad, said at the rally in Khartoum.
“They even attack us inside the intensive care unit,” she added at the rally, where medical personnel carried pictures of colleagues they said had been killed.
The demonstration was the latest in the crisis-hit north-east African country, where protesters in the north also blockaded roads to vent their anger against an electricity price hike announced last week, and that has since been frozen.
Sudan’s October 25 coup led by military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule, that had started with the 2019 ouster of strongman Omar Al-Bashir following youth-led mass protests.
The military power grab has sparked an international outcry and triggered a new wave of street demonstrations, with another rally expected on Monday.
During the turmoil of recent months, prime minister Abdulla Hamdok was detained and later reinstated but then quit, warning that Sudan was at a dangerous crossroads threatening its very “survival.”
Deadly crackdowns have claimed the lives of 64 protesters, according to pro-democracy medics. A police general has also been killed in the street violence that has rocked Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries.
The UN World Health Organization said last week there had been 11 confirmed attacks on Sudanese health facilities since November.
The WHO said it was “also aware of the interception of ambulances, medical personnel and patients during their attempts to seek safety.”
It called for the attacks to “stop now,” pointing out that they threaten health care services needed more than ever during the Covid pandemic.
Covid-19 is a “grave threat” for Sudan, where 94 percent of the population has not been vaccinated, said the WHO.
Sudan has confirmed 93,973 coronavirus infections and about 4,000 deaths. In September, it said 64 percent of about 1,000 health workers tested had been found to be Covid-positive.
Sudan’s 45 million people have also been dealing with a severe economic crisis and inflation approaching 400 percent.
On Sunday, hundreds blocked key roads in the Northern Province, 350 kilometers (229 miles) from the capital, angered by recent news electricity prices would double — a move that was then frozen, but not officially abolished.
“No vehicle will pass until the authorities have canceled this increase, because it signs the death certificate of our agriculture,” protester Hassan Idriss told AFP by phone.
The protests that led to the 2019 ouster of Bashir had started after the government decided to triple the price of bread.
During the recent protests, Sudan has also often shut down the Internet and moved to limit reporting on the unrest.
In the latest move it revoked the license of Al Jazeera Mubasher, the live TV unit of the Qatar-based network, accusing it of “unprofessional” coverage of protests, the channel said.
The United Nations is now seeking to organize talks involving political, military and social actors to resolve the crisis.
UN special representative Volker Perthes announced the bid last week saying it was “time to end the violence and enter into a comprehensive consultative process.”
The mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, said Sunday it would accept the offer of dialogue if it were to revive the transition to civilian rule.
Sudan’s military in April 2019 put an end Bashir’s three-decade rule, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of the autocrat and many regime officials.
Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
An imprisoned former foreign minister under Bashir, Ibrahim Ghandour, has begun a hunger strike along with several ex-regime officials, his family said Sunday.
They will only end it “once they have been freed or brought before an impartial tribunal,” his family said in a statement.
The public prosecutor’s office had recently ordered the release of several ex-officials, but Burhan instead ordered they stay in detention.
Ghandour’s family decried the “interference in judicial affairs.”
The protester movement however accuses Burhan, who was Bashir’s ground forces commander, of helping old regime figures come back to power.


Coalition in Yemen kills more than 280 Houthis in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda

Coalition in Yemen kills more than 280 Houthis in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda
Updated 16 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen kills more than 280 Houthis in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda

Coalition in Yemen kills more than 280 Houthis in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda
  • Coalition forces carried out 64 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Al-Bayda and Marib
  • A total of 30 military vehicles were destroyed during the operations

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Sunday that more than 220 Houthi militants were killed in airstrikes on Marib province, Saudi Press Agency reported.
The coalition added that 17 military vehicles were also destroyed during 45 operations targeting the Iran-backed Houthi militia in the oil-rich Marib province over the last 24 hours.
The coalition also said it had carried out 19 other operations targeting the Houthis in Al-Bayda province, killing more than 60 fighters and destroying 13 vehicles.
Meanwhile, Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said the government strongly condemned the targeting with mortar shells a hospital in Taiz, which has been providing services to thousands of people since the war began.

“Since the coup, Al-Thawra Hospital and the government, private hospitals, schools, facilities, infrastructure, private objects, citizens’ homes in Taiz was subject to indiscriminate attacks by the militia, which killed and wounded thousands of civilians,in flagrant violation of international laws,” Al-Eryani said in a tweet.
He also said they were surprised by the international community’s silence, including the UN and US envoys, “regarding the war crimes and crimes against humanity against Taiz, which accommodates largest population in Yemen.”
He called for adopting firm stances to stop the Iran-backed Houthi from sniping and bombing civilians civilian objects in Taiz.


Egypt, UK ministers talk climate change agenda ahead of COP27

Egypt, UK ministers talk climate change agenda ahead of COP27
Updated 16 January 2022

Egypt, UK ministers talk climate change agenda ahead of COP27

Egypt, UK ministers talk climate change agenda ahead of COP27
  • Both parties promised to work together through 2022 and beyond to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target within reach
  • Also agreed to support the efforts of developing countries in adapting to negative effects of climate change

CAIRO: Egypt and the UK have committed to tackling climate change in a “critical decade” following a ministerial meeting.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, president-designate of COP27, and COP26 President Alok Sharma, discussed climate change issues, priorities and areas of cooperation as part of a post-COP26 meeting to prepare for the next session of the summit, which Egypt will host this year.

In a joint statement after the meeting, the two sides promised to work to advance the guidelines of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris Agreement.

The statement said: “As the current and incoming UNFCCC COP Presidencies, we affirm our joint commitment to accelerating the fight against climate change during this critical decade.

“In this context, we agreed that the UK and Egypt would strengthen bilateral cooperation to fight climate change and to maintain and build on the current momentum for global climate action.”

Both parties promised to work together through 2022 and beyond to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target within reach, and to support the efforts of developing countries in adapting to the negative effects of climate change.

The UK will “extend its full support to Egypt to achieve ambitious results during COP27,” the statement added.

“We will work together to encourage all parties to meet their commitments across mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage and finance; requesting that by the end of 2022, parties revisit and strengthen their 2030 emissions target to align with the Paris temperature goals and make progress towards doubling of adaptation finance on 2019 levels, as envisaged in the Glasgow Climate Pact,” the statement said.

“To this end, we agree to continue close consultations in the months ahead, both on the ministerial and technical levels.”


Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary

Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary
Updated 16 January 2022

Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary

Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary
  • Adelkhah, 62, is an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France's prestigious Sciences Po university
  • She was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport and sentenced to five years' imprisonment

TEHRAN: French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was jailed anew for breaking house arrest restrictions, an official from the Islamic republic’s judiciary authority said on Sunday.
Her Paris-based support group had on Wednesday announced “with great shock and indignation” her reincarceration, which comes during sensitive talks in Vienna aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal which offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“Ms Adelkhah... has unfortunately knowingly violated the limits of house arrest dozens of times,” Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of the judiciary, was quoted as saying by Mizan Online, the authority’s news agency.
“She has insisted on doing so despite repeated warnings from judicial authorities. So now, like any other prisoner who has violated the same rules... she has been returned to prison,” he added.
Adelkhah, 62, an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university, was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport.
She was sentenced in May 2020 to five years’ imprisonment for conspiring against national security, accusations her supporters have always denounced as absurd. In October of that year, she was placed under house arrest with an electronic bracelet.
The French foreign ministry said the reimprisonment “can only have negative consequences on the relationship between France and Iran and reduce confidence between our two countries.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called the decision “entirely arbitrary,” adding that “the whole of France” was “mobilized for her release.”
Gharibabadi insisted that Adelkhah is “a citizen of the Islamic republic of Iran,” adding that Tehran “firmly condemns the intervention of other countries in (its) judicial process.”
Iran does not recognize dual nationality so denies French consular staff access to Adelkhah.
“It is very unfortunate that the French authorities... by issuing hasty statements, make baseless and unfounded remarks that are definitely unacceptable,” Gharibabadi said.
She is one of at least a dozen Western nationals believed to be held in Iran who rights groups abroad say are being detained for political reasons to extract concessions from the West.
Talks between Tehran and global powers on the 2015 nuclear deal entered the New Year with positive signals emerging, including the European Union saying on Friday that a deal remained possible.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman last week cited “good progress” but French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday reiterated his view that the talks were progressing “much too slowly to be able to reach a result.”
Then-president Donald Trump had pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.