Pressure mounts for removal of Lebanese information minister over Gulf row

Pressure mounts for removal of Lebanese information minister over Gulf row
Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi arrives to meet with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai in Bkerke, Lebanon October 30, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 November 2021

Pressure mounts for removal of Lebanese information minister over Gulf row

Pressure mounts for removal of Lebanese information minister over Gulf row
  • King Salman praises Kuwait and Bahrain for their solidarity

BEIRUT: Pressure is mounting on Lebanese leaders to remove a Cabinet minister whose comments on the war in Yemen have triggered a diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia, even as the minister at the center of the crisis said that resigning from the government was not an option.

The Kingdom, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors from Lebanon, while also instructing Lebanon’s envoys to leave. The UAE has banned its citizens from traveling to Lebanon. 

The decisions follow remarks that Information Minister George Kordahi gave in an interview that was recorded before his appointment, saying the Iran-backed Houthis were defending themselves and that the war in Yemen should stop, with a video of the interview emerging last week.

In a televised speech on Sunday, amid the deepening crisis, Kordahi addressed those who had been urging him to quit. “Resigning from the government is not an option,” he said.

Lebanon has been calling US and French officials, asking them to intervene and help them find a way out of the crisis caused by his comments, which go against the country’s official position on the Yemen conflict.

King Salman called Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Sunday to express his appreciation for the measures that Kuwait had taken on Kordahi’s statements, reflecting the solidarity of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, according to Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Lebanon.

Al-Sabah said that “the measures of his country reflect the unity of GCC countries and the depth of relations among their peoples,” the embassy added.

King Salman also called King Hamad of Bahrain and “expressed his gratitude for the measures Bahrain has taken regarding the statements, reflecting Saudi-Bahraini solidarity and unity of the GCC countries.”

He reiterated “the depth of relations between the two brotherly countries and the solidarity among GCC countries.”

Lebanon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Fawzi Kabbara, announced on Sunday that he had returned to Beirut. He said that “restoring Lebanese-Saudi ties would be possible if Lebanon agrees to the conditions.”

Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in his Sunday sermon called for “decisive action,” suggesting that he wanted Kordahi to resign.

He said: “We are hoping that President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and everyone else involved in the case will take decisive action to save Lebanese relations with the Gulf. The most important achievement that political forces can make is not to be dragged into the game of states, especially during this critical phase in the region.”

He also said Lebanon had opted for “partnership” to establish peace, moderation and neutrality, and the state of law that was protected by a “just and fair” judiciary.

“The crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the Gulf countries in general, has multiple and accumulating causes and harms the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese,” he warned.

Mikati is in Glasgow for the COP26.

According to sources, he is expected to hold “several international and Arab meetings on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the current crisis between Lebanon and Gulf countries” on the sidelines of the summit.

The Lebanese-Saudi Business Council condemned Kordahi’s statements as well as those from former minister Charbel Wehbe and other officials they said had harmed the country’s relations with its Arab neighbors, “especially ones who have stood beside us during the difficult times – mainly Saudi Arabia.”

It urged that the necessary measures be taken to remove Kordahi who, it said, had caused “an unprecedented rift” with Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, because of “irresponsible statements over which he did not bother to apologize or resign” to maintain Lebanon’s relations with Gulf countries and protect national interests.

“Things should go back to the way they were and Lebanon should be brought back to its Arab and Gulf environment to protect the diaspora in Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, and the interests of farmers, industrialists, exporters, traders, contractors and those who need today, more than ever before, to protect their interests against absurdity and deterioration,” it said.

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, quoted Gebran Khalil Gebran on Sunday in a tweet: “A sinner would not commit a sin without a hidden will. Gebran Khalil Gebran uttered those words, and they were heard by the whole world. He is the master of words.” He left Lebanon on Saturday.

Former MP Mustafa Alloush, who is vice president of the Future Movement, said the situation would have been different had Kordahi resigned two days after what had happened. “But today, I am certain that harming Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia was intentional. Hezbollah is continuing its project by increasing hostility with Arab states," he told Arab News.

“But the whole case has to do with a long history of anti-Saudi statements and positions by Kordahi, former minister Wehbe and MP Gebran Bassil, along with the lack of addressing the Captagon-smuggling issue from Lebanon into the Kingdom, and Hezbollah’s continuing insults to Saudi Arabia and threats to its security.

“Whether Kordahi resigns now or not, this is no longer relevant. The Lebanese government has become a hostage and the proof is that the positions of Mikati and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry were not decisive nor firm. Mikati had to be firm and order the removal of Kordahi and threaten to dissolve the government.”

The Foreign Ministry reiterated in a statement on Sunday that Lebanon’s “great concern (was) to have the best relations with its Gulf and Arab brothers."

The ministry also referenced the position of Oman’s Foreign Ministry calling on everyone to “show restraint, avoid escalation and address the dispute through dialogue and understanding to preserve the supreme interests of states and peoples and maintain stability, security and cooperation, on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs.”

A committee formed at Mikati’s request to resolve the Kordahi crisis has so far failed to find a solution. It recommended waiting on the results of the international calls being made.


Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed
Updated 27 November 2021

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed
  • After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces said they shot dead a convicted militant on Saturday as he tried to escape from a prison with two accomplices.
The three prisoners, all members of the Daesh group, were serving life sentences at the Taji penitentiary north of Baghdad, the security services said in a statement.
They were spotted as they tried to break out of jail by climbing over an external wall, the statement said.
Guards opened fire “when they refused to heed warnings,” it said, adding one prisoner was killed while the two others “surrendered.”
“The three terrorists had been sentenced to life in jail,” the statement said without identifying them.
The Daesh group swept across swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014 where they set up so-called caliphate.
Iraq officially declared victory over Daesh in 2017, and two years later they were defeated in Syria.
But sleeper cells continue to be active in both countries where they frequently carry out attacks.
After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants.
Only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be against capital punishment.


Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 
Updated 27 November 2021

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 
  • Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin was messaging UK-based fiance when dinghy began to sink
  • 27 people died while attempting perilous journey from French coast to UK

LONDON: A Kurdish woman from northern Iraq has been named as the first identified victim of this week’s mass drowning in the English Channel.

Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, 24, was messaging her UK-based fiance when the dinghy she was traveling on began to sink on Wednesday. 

She was one of 27 people who died while attempting the perilous journey from the French coast to Britain, which has claimed dozens of lives this year.

Her fiance told the BBC that she tried to reassure him that they would be rescued while they were sinking, but she perished along with 26 others. Just two passengers survived. 

There were 17 male casualties, six women — one of whom was pregnant — and three children. 

The two survivors, a Somali and an Iraqi, have been discharged from a French hospital and are expected to be questioned about the incident.

Amin had attempted the journey with a female relative, both hoping to join family in Britain.

She was messaging her fiance on social media app Snapchat moments before the dinghy began to capsize. 

She hailed from Souran, a town in northeast Iraqi Kurdistan. Her family are awaiting the return of her body for a funeral.

A relative said: “Her story is the same as everyone else — she was looking for a better life. One of her uncles was one of the people closest to me. He cared for us when my father was a political prisoner. But the family have had such a tragic life.”


President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
Updated 27 November 2021

President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
  • Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.


Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.


Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant
Updated 27 November 2021

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

DUBAI: Oman, UAE and Egypt joined a series of countries worldwide who banned direct flights from seven African countries temporarily in response to the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

Starting from Nov. 28, directs flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini would be blocked and a range of measures would be introduced for any travellers arriving from such countries via indirect flights, whether for transit or otherwise. 


Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike
Updated 27 November 2021

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike
  • Several high profile politicians remain in custody

CAIRO: Sudan’s former minister of cabinet affairs Khalid Omer Yousif was released from detention along with others less than a day after beginning a hunger strike, the country’s information ministry said in a statement early on Saturday.
An army takeover on Oct. 25 halted a power sharing deal between the military and civilians from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance, and a number of ministers and top civilian officials were detained.
Also released on Saturday were former Khartoum State governor Ayman Nimir and anti-corruption taskforce member Maher Abouljokh.
Several high profile politicians remain in custody.
Yousif and others had began the hunger strike, according to the Sudanese Congress Party, to protest their continued detention despite the signing of a deal between military leaders and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok which provided for the release of all civilian detainees.
Several other prominent civilian politicians and activists had been released on Monday and Friday.
Protests calling for the military to exit politics and be held to account for the deaths of civilian protesters have continued https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/hundreds-sudanese-protest-against-deal-between-pm-hamdok-military-2021-11-25 since the announcement of the deal between military leaders and Hamdok.
A call has been issued for more mass rallies on Sunday.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said late on Friday that 63 people had been injured during the dispersal of protests on Thursday, including one by gunshot wound in the city of Bahri.