Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out
French President Emmanuel Macron, center, flanked by International leaders pose for a family photo during a conference on Libya in Paris Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 12 November 2021

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out
  • Friday’s conference is co-chaired by France, Germany, Italy, Libya, and the United Nations
  • A leading rights group questioned Thursday whether Libyan authorities can hold free and fair elections

PARIS: World powers on Friday told Libya to stick to a plan for holding presidential elections on December 24, adding that foreign mercenaries should also leave and allow the country to turn a page in its history.
French President Emmanuel Macron hosted leaders and diplomats in Paris for an international conference, declaring that Libya was now as a “crossroads” that would determine its future.
The North African country has been mired in civil war since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising, with the bloodshed drawing in competing Libyan factions and extremist groups, as well as regional powers.
The presidential vote on December 24 is the core part of a United Nations plan to help restore stability, but the calendar has been under pressure as tensions flare once more between rival camps.
“We urge all Libyan stakeholders and candidates to respect their commitments toward holding elections on 24 December 2021 (and) to accept the results of free, fair and inclusive elections,” the powers said in a statement after the talks.
The scheduling has remained unclear, after Libya’s parliament in early October pushed back legislative elections until January.
“Libya is once again at a crossroads. There have been 10 years of disorder and upheaval in which the international community is not without responsibility,” said Macron.
“The next six weeks will be decisive,” he added.
The world powers also warned that sanctions could be imposed against anyone deemed to be impeding the process.
“We affirm that individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition will be held accountable and may be designated” by UN sanctions, their statement said.
Key players attending the meeting included US Vice President Kamala Harris and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, one of Paris’s closest allies in the Middle East.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi were also present. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin were conspicuous by their absence.
Libya was represented by transitional presidential council head Mohamed Al-Menfi as well as Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah who said: “Concrete guarantees must be obtained that the election results will be accepted and that those who reject them will be sanctioned.”
Earlier this week, Libya opened registration for election candidates, with speculation mounting over possible presidential bids by eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar or even Qaddafi’s son Seif Al-Islam, both deeply divisive figures.
The conference to endorse a plan for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, with the statement giving “full support for the comprehensive Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces from the Libyan territory.”
Turkey had sent in troops as well as pro-Ankara militia units from Syria to shore up the Tripoli government.
Observers also accuse Moscow of deploying mercenaries belonging to the Wagner group, which is allegedly controlled by a close ally of Putin.
Pro-Haftar forces said in a statement ahead of the conference that 300 foreign mercenaries fighting on their side would leave the country, “at the request of France.”
The nationality of the fighters was not specified and no timeline was given. The UN estimates that 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters are deployed in Libya.
“The mercenary withdrawal plan must be implemented. Russia and Turkey must withdraw their mercenaries without delay,” Macron said, welcoming the announcement that 300 mercenaries would leave as a “first step.”
“This is only the beginning, but it is an essential beginning which finally gives credibility to a process that we have been talking about for too long,” said Macron.
France has faced accusations of backing the pro-Moscow and staunchly secular Haftar but has always insisted it has been fully objective in the conflict.
Merkel commented that Turkey had “reservations” about the process of withdrawing mercenaries.
But she added: “It’s a good thing that we can see a first withdrawal, it will serve as an example. Things have started.”


Jordan's Prince Faisal bin Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan's Prince Faisal bin Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king
Updated 7 sec ago

Jordan's Prince Faisal bin Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan's Prince Faisal bin Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan's Prince Faisal bin Hussain sworn in as deputy to King Abdullah II of Jordan, Petra news agency reported on Friday


Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
Updated 45 min 35 sec ago

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
  • Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country

DUBAI: Abdullah al-Alimi, a member of Yemen’s Presidential Council, warned that the Houthi militia’s mobilization, regrouping and constant breaches of the UN truce continue to threaten the peace process. 

The comments were made when al-Alimi met with Stephen Fagin, US Ambassador to Yemen, state news agency SABA reported on Thursday.

Al-Alimi said that the Houthi militia must honor its commitment by lifting the siege on Taiz, opening roads in and out of the city, and allowing Yemeni people to move safely and freely across the country. 

Fagin agreed that the commitment on the Houthi’s part is crucial to honor the UN truce, and he confirmed the US’ continuous support for Yemen's internationally-recognized government by helping it perform its responsibilities.

Meanwhile, al-Alimi pointed out that the Presidential Leadership Council has a clear work-plan to tackle challenges faced in the economic, service, security, and military fields, in addition to combating terrorism in the country. 

The two also spoke about ways to promote mutual relations between the two countries. 

Al-Alimi and Fagin addressed issues of common interest during their meeting, which include regional security and the latest methods for combating terrorism. 

Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Fagin also praised the positive position of the Presidential Leadership Council and the government in tightening the humanitarian truce and supporting all efforts for achieving peace in Yemen.


Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
Updated 01 July 2022

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
  • Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president published a planned new constitution on Thursday that he will put to a referendum next month, expanding his own powers and limiting the role of parliament in a vote most political parties have already rejected.
Kais Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside the parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving toward one-man rule and vowing to remake the political system.
His intervention last summer has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted former autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation.
With most of the political establishment opposed to his moves and urging their supporters to boycott the vote, analysts say the measure is likely to pass, but with only limited public involvement.
None of the major parties, including the Islamist Ennahda which is the biggest in parliament and has played a major role in successive coalition governments since the revolution, issued immediate comment on the draft constitution.
Meanwhile, many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.
An online ‘consultation’ Saied held from January-March in preparation for drafting the constitution received scant attention from Tunisians, with very few taking part.

Power
The draft constitution published in the official gazette late on Thursday would bring most political power under Saied, give him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.
Previously, political power was more directly exercised by the parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.
Under the new constitution, the government would answer to the president and not to parliament, though the chamber could withdraw confidence from the government with a two-thirds majority.
Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or sack government ministers and appoint judges, the gazette said.
He could serve two terms of five years each, but extend them if he felt there was an imminent danger to the state, and would have the right to dissolve parliament while no clause allows for the removal of a president.
The constitution would allow Saied to continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament through an election expected in December.
It would also create a new ‘Council of Regions’ as a second chamber of parliament, but it gives few details on how it would be elected or what powers it would have.
Saied, a political independent, has promised a new electoral law. Though he has not yet published it, he has indicated that voters would only choose candidates as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Meanwhile, although Islam will no longer be the state religion, Tunisia will be regarded as part of the wider Islamic nation and the state should work to achieve Islamic goals. The president must be Muslim.
However, Saied has maintained most parts of the 2014 constitution that enumerated rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, the right to organize in unions and the right to peaceful gatherings.
However, judges, police, army and customs officials would not have a right to go on strike. Judges have recently been on strike for weeks in protest at Saied’s moves to curtail judicial independence. 
 


Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
Updated 30 June 2022

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
  • Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict

GENEVA: Libya talks in Geneva ended on Thursday without making enough progress to move toward elections, the United Nations Libya adviser Stephanie Williams said in a statement.

The talks between the House of Representatives and High State Council legislative bodies were aimed at agreeing on a constitutional basis and interim arrangements for holding elections that were originally scheduled for December 2021.

Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict.

Since the planned December election was abandoned, Libya’s rival factions have moved to a standoff over control of the government with both sides backed by armed forces in western areas of the country.

Williams said that in the Geneva talks and earlier meetings in Cairo the two sides had resolved previous disputes on the makeup of a future legislature, the powers of a future president and government, and how to allocate state revenues.

“Disagreement persists on the eligibility requirements for the candidates in the first presidential elections,” Williams said, adding that she would make recommendations on alternative ways forward.

Disputes over the eligibility of several controversial candidates were the trigger for the collapse of December’s election.


Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
Updated 30 June 2022

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
  • Ninety-three flights carrying expatriates arrived in Lebanon, while pilgrim number decreased amid high prices

BEIRUT: Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is perhaps the only active official facility in Lebanon these days.

Caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamiyeh said Thursday: “Ninety-three flights arrived at Beirut airport on Wednesday, carrying 15,444 passengers coming to spend summer vacation here.

“The number of planes arriving in Beirut will increase in the coming days,” Hamiyeh expected.

Lebanon is counting on summertime travel to pump hard currency into the economic cycle amid accumulated political and economic crises and their impact on the living situation of the Lebanese people.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is also PM-designated, warned Thursday during the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “Every delay in coming up with solutions to crises costs Lebanon $25 million a day.”

A source at the Middle East Airlines told Arab News: “As a result of the economic crisis, COVID-19 precautionary measures, and the decline in the financial capabilities of the Lebanese, only a few thousand pilgrims will be traveling to perform Hajj this year. Their numbers reached over 25,000 in previous years.”

On Wednesday, an MEA flight carrying the first batch of Lebanese pilgrims landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. MEA is the only authorized airline in Lebanon to transport pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.

The economic collapse and the national currency’s depreciation made the pilgrimage more difficult for those wishing to go to Makkah.

Former MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar complained about “the inability of the Lebanese to travel to perform Hajj because the vaccine against meningitis, which Saudi Arabia requires from pilgrims for their safety, is not available in the Ministry of Health for lack of funding, or in pharmacies.”

Abdelrahman Al-Taweel, who is in charge of the Foutowa campaign for Hajj and Umrah, said: “The number of pilgrims this year did not reach 2,700, which is the quota allocated to Lebanon. The main reason is the high cost of the trip, which amounts to $6,000 per pilgrim. Everything is more expensive nowadays, [including] airline tickets, the price of which has risen globally as a result of the high cost of fuel, as well as tents and other supplies, and other additional fees.”

Al-Taweel noted: “The unavailability of the meningitis vaccine, which the Ministry of Health is supposed to provide to people, prompted the pilgrims to buy it at their own expense. It costs $60, which is equivalent to 1,800,000 LBP, according to the black-market exchange rate.”

Lebanon is trying to convey the image that it is doing well — despite the crises plaguing it — to visitors, including the Arab foreign ministers whom officials encouraged Thursday to hold their consultative meeting in Beirut ahead of the Arab Summit.

However, public-sector employees went on strike and will only resume work once their demands — including increased salaries, transportation allowances and health and educational benefits — are met.

In the absence of solutions, it seems that the general strike will continue, paralyzing the entire country.

MP Ghassan Hasbani, member of the Strong Republic bloc, warned after the Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “The government is yet to present a final financial…reform plan in order to interpret laws. The government must refer this plan to parliament as quickly as possible with a legislative roadmap and laws ready for implementation to speed up recovery and approve a budget that reflects the required reforms.”

It remains unknown whether the composition of the new government that Mikati handed over to President Michel Aoun on Wednesday morning will get the latter’s approval.

Less than 24 hours after the non-binding parliamentary consultations, Mikati drafted a government formation consisting of the current government, with some amendments, particularly to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Economy.