The return of Syrian refugees key topic in Cavusoglu’s talks in Lebanon

Special The return of Syrian refugees key topic in Cavusoglu’s talks in Lebanon
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) and his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib hold a joint-press conference in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 November 2021

The return of Syrian refugees key topic in Cavusoglu’s talks in Lebanon

The return of Syrian refugees key topic in Cavusoglu’s talks in Lebanon
  • President Aoun calls for increasing the quantity of Lebanese products exported to Turkey

BEIRUT: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for support for the Lebanese government in overcoming the country’s crises and holding parliamentary elections at a press conference in Beirut on Tuesday.

Cavusoglu stressed that “the Lebanese people should not have to pay the price of regional bargains,” referring to the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. “Lebanon is waiting for urgent solutions to its problems.”

Cavusoglu was speaking alongside his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib, after holding talks with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

He also devoted part of his visit to highlighting Turkey’s presence in Lebanon through several development projects funded by Ankara.

Cavusoglu was on his fourth visit to Lebanon since 2016. 

He said he was in Beirut to “stress Turkey’s support for Lebanon, as well as to invite (Prime Minister) Mikati to visit Turkey and make preliminary arrangements for the visit.

“We discussed how to develop tourism and energy fields, especially since the Lebanese people’s top destination is Turkey and the Turkish people are known for how much they love Lebanon.”

The minister added: “We discussed regional issues, since our countries are the most affected by the Syrian crisis; the brotherly Lebanese people should not have to pay the price of regional bargains.”

The Lebanese presidency’s media office noted that Aoun told the Turkish official that he welcomed “any assistance that Turkey can provide to ease the return of Syrian refugees to their homes, most of which have become safe, in terms of pressuring the international community to provide aid to refugees inside Syria, to encourage return.”

Aoun said he supported “coordinating regional efforts to that end with Turkey, Jordan and Iraq” and called for “increasing the share of Turkey’s imports of Lebanese products, especially since the trade balance is currently tilting in Turkey’s favor.”

The president also raised “a request to Turkey to help return the Maronite Cypriots to their villages in the northern part of Cyprus, after the delay that occurred for reasons related to logistics and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On the parliamentary elections scheduled for next March, Cavusoglu stressed the need to hold them on time.

“We have always given importance to the sovereignty, independence and security of Lebanon and provided the necessary support after the explosions in Beirut and Akkar,” Cavusoglu said. “We also support the army and security forces fighting for Lebanon’s stability and security.”

He added: “We renewed our support by extending (commitment to) the UN Interim Force in Lebanon for a year, and we have a unit working in this regard.”

Bou Habib stated he wished Turkey “to open its markets for the export of Lebanese products.”

The minister added that Lebanon “is keen on maintaining good relations with all countries and highly appreciates the Turkish support and aid, as well as its participation as a country within the UNIFIL.”

He said: “We, and the Turkish foreign minister, signed a cooperation agreement to enhance rapprochement between the two ministries and are working on a memorandum of understanding in other areas.”

Bou Habib noted that “Lebanon and Turkey are suffering from the burden of Syrian refugee issue.”

He called for “the necessity of unifying efforts to tackle the refugees’ issue and asking the international community to share the burden fairly among them or work on their return to their country.”


Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive
Updated 11 sec ago

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

MADRID: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Sweden and Finland that he could still block their drives to join NATO if they fail to implement a new accession deal with Ankara.
Erdogan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit at which the US-led alliance formally invited the Nordic countries to join the 30-nation bloc.
The two nations dropped their history of military non-alignment and announced plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their bids were headed for swift approval until Erdogan voiced concerns in May.
He accused the two of providing a haven for outlawed Kurdish militants and promoting “terrorism.”
Erdogan also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
A 10-point memorandum signed by the three sides on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Tuesday appeared to address many of Erdogan’s concerns.
Erdogan lifted his objections and then held a warm meeting with US President Joe Biden that was followed by a promise of new warplane sales to Turkey.
Yet Erdogan told reporters at an impromptu press conference held as the summit ended that the memorandum did not mean Turkey would automatically approve the two countries’ membership.
New countries’ applications must be approved by all members and ratified by their respective parliaments.
Erdogan warned Sweden and Finland’s future behavior would decide whether he forwarded their application to the Turkish parliament.
“If they fulfil their duties, we will send it to the parliament. If they are not fulfilled, it is out of the question,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said the ratification process could come at the very earliest in late September and may wait until 2023, with parliament going into recess from Friday.
One Western diplomatic source in the hallways of the NATO summit accused Erdogan of engaging in “blackmail.”
Erdogan delivered his message one day after Turkey said it would seek the extradition of 12 suspects from Finland and 21 from Sweden.
The 33 were all accused of being either outlawed Kurdish militants or members of a group led by a US-based preacher Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.
But Erdogan appeared to up the ante on Thursday by noting that Sweden had “promised” Turkey to extradite “73 terrorists.”
He did not explain when Sweden issued this promise or provide other details.
Officials in Stockholm said they did not understand Erdogan’s reference but stressed that Sweden strictly adhered to the rule of law.
“In Sweden, Swedish law is applied by independent courts,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in a statement to AFP.
“Swedish citizens are not extradited. Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if it is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” Johansson said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday that Erdogan appeared to be referring to cases that had already been processed by officials and the courts.
“I would guess that all of these cases have been solved in Finland. There are decisions made, and those decisions are partly made by our courts,” Niinisto told reporters in Madrid.
“I see no reason to take them up again.”
Most of Turkey’s demands and past negotiations have involved Sweden because of its more robust ties with the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden keeps no official ethnicity statistics but is believed to have 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million people.
The Brookings Institution warned that Turkey’s “loose and often aggressive framing” of the term “terrorist” could lead to problems in the months to come.
“The complication arises from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond criminalizing participation in violent acts and infringes on basic freedom of speech,” the US-based institute said in a report.


European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Updated 25 min 37 sec ago

European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
  • Israel’s ‘escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations’ rapped

RAMALLAH: The European Commission has told Ramallah-based NGO Al-Haq Human Rights Organization that the 13-month suspension of €40,000 funding from the EU will be lifted after finding that the suspension was “illegal and was not devoid of political dimensions.”

Al-Haq is one of six Palestinian human rights organizations that the Israeli government declared on Oct. 19 to be “outlaws,” citing its association with the (leftist) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it classifies as a terrorist group. On May 21, Israeli authorities issued a military order to close Al-Haq’s headquarters.

Al-Haq was established 43 years ago. It received the prestigious Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights in June.

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq, told Arab News: “The importance of the decision lies in the (fact) that we are trying to defend ourselves against a terrible machine that has friends in the European Commission and the European Union. Israel is working against us politically and ideologically, and we are working professionally. And the truth has triumphed over their political attempts.”

The European Commission said in a letter to Al-Haq on June 28 that the suspension had been lifted “unconditionally and immediately” following an assessment by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

“This decision is based on several elements, including OLAF’s assessment, which did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation. Specifically, OLAF concluded that there is no suspicion of irregularities and fraud affecting EU funds in implementing (Al-Haq’s) EU-funded project,” the letter stated.

In a statement issued on June 30, Al-Haq said: “Since its imposition in May 2021, it was clear that the suspension was not prompted by any genuine concerns about the possible misuse of funding. Under the direct responsibility of the Hungarian EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, the suspension became a political initiative aimed at giving the Israeli government a tailwind in its attempts to disrupt and defame Palestinian civil society and to oppress the voices of Palestinian human rights organizations and defenders. No other conclusion can be drawn based on what we have experienced with this suspension in the past 13 months.”

Al-Haq had previously filed a case against the EC with the European Court and a hearing is scheduled to take place on July 4, Jabarin added.

Al-Haq said in its statement that it has no illusions about Israel’s escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations and its attempt to silence human rights defenders in Palestine, the culmination of which was Israel’s decision in October 2021 to designate Al-Haq and five other leading Palestinian NGOs — Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International — Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — as “outlaws.” The five other organizations do not received funding from the EU.

“We have challenged the commission’s lousy faith performance from the start of the suspension, contesting its necessity and proportionality and demanding clarifications of the grounds and information on which the suspension was based. Until today, the Commission has failed to provide these clarifications,” Al-Haq’s statement read.

“Throughout 2021, the Commission consistently ignored our questions and requests. In early 2022, we appointed a Belgian lawyer to defend our rights vis-à-vis the Commission. On April 1, 2022, he launched an ‘amicable settlement’ procedure on our behalf, including our proposal on how the dispute between the parties should be resolved,” it continued.

“The decision to freeze funding was a crime against us,” Jabarin said. “The issue is not financial but political, in which the EU participated. Now the mistake has been corrected, as it has been proven that there is no misuse of money or financing for terrorism. This is a message to the Israelis and the European Union, who built their positions on false Israeli reports against us.”


Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
Updated 6 min 49 sec ago

Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • Subscribers ‘thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using 3G or 4G service’

BEIRUT: The adoption of new tariffs for phone services and subscriptions in Lebanon has caused concern.

Pricing will now follow the dollar exchange rate on the Sayrafa platform, which is about LBP25,200. Prices used to be calculated according to the official exchange rate of LBP1,515.

The tariff raise came into force on Friday.

People woke up on Friday to text messages sent by telecom operators calculating their balances according to the Sayrafa exchange rate, surprised by the value of their balance tumbling to below $1.

BACKGROUND

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

In May, the Cabinet approved the decision to increase the tariffs and fees for landline, mobile calls, and the internet starting July 1.

They will be calculated by dividing the previous dollar bill by three and then paying it in Lebanese pounds per the Sayrafa platform rate.

But people are struggling to accept the new prices, despite the help offered to students and security services by telecom companies Touch and Alfa.

Rabih, a 17-year-old student, said: “I had LBP75,000 in my balance, which used to amount to $49 according to the official rate. The amount shrank today to 30 (US) cents.”

Based on comparison tables between the prices in dollars and the prices adopted now, prices have fallen by about 300 percent in dollars, while their calculation according to the Lebanese pound rate shows a significant increase ranging from 500 to 700 percent.

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value, leading to significant price differences.

The price table circulated by telecom companies shows that a 30-day prepaid card which used to cost $22.7 — equivalent to about LBP34,000 per the official dollar exchange rate — now costs $7.58.

But, if calculated based on the Sayrafa rate, its cost rises to LBP191,000, which means an increase of about 560 percent.

The telecom companies confirmed that the step came in response to the “necessity to maintain the continuity of the telecom sector and the provided services, amid the economic and financial crisis and the increase of the high cost of power insurance for plants, and since this sector is one of the most important pillars of the national economy.”

Activists warned that “audio messages and videos should not be sent when using the 4G service because they will consume all phone data.”

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

The Lebanese are thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using the 3G or 4G service.

People relying on this service hesitate before opening any video received. Sending morning flowers and evening greetings has decreased significantly in recent days.

Abbas, a private internet service distributor, said: “We raised our prices but all distributors agreed to calculate their prices according to the rate of LBP10,000 for the dollar instead of the Sayrafa rate of about LBP25,000 to compete with the Ogero service affiliated to the Ministry of Telecommunications and maintain our subscribers. Our prices took into consideration the costs of transportation, generator subscriptions, and employees. I don’t deny that some subscribers decided to opt for the Ogero service because it is cheaper than ours by LBP60,000.

“But they forgot that Ogero is suffering from fuel shortage, preventing it from securing the service around-the-clock. Many operators are forced to turn off their machines as a result of their inability to secure dollars to buy diesel and operate the generators.

“Moreover, Ogero faces problems in installing new internet cables because of the high transportation cost of employees who have to move around between the clients’ houses to offer their services.”

The lifestyle of the Lebanese is undergoing major changes, especially young people who now have to reconsider the time they allocate for talking on the phone and internet use.

Abbas said that coffee shops offering free internet had “significantly raised” their food and beverage prices to provide their customers with this service. “If they start incurring losses, they might start slowing down the internet to reduce its use.”

Rabih said that he and his friends had decided to stay at home to use the home internet for their phone calls and chats, even though the home internet bill had increased from LBP100,000 to more than LBP400,000.

He feared the lifestyle they had become used to might change, and he worried about the state of their education next year if they returned to remote learning.

Telecom services are the only ones falling under the official dollar rate. Other services are priced based on the black market exchange rate, while the remaining subsidized medicines are in line with the Sayrafa platform rate.

But the tariff increases have not triggered any reaction in the streets as happened in 2019 when the Ministry of Telecommunications discussed the possibility of imposing a $6 fee on WhatsApp.

It backtracked on this plan in response to public pressure.


Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests
Updated 01 July 2022

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests
  • The US and others in the international community condemned the violence in this East African nation
  • Sudanese military authorities have met the protests with a deadly crackdown, which has so far killed 113 people, including 18 children

CAIRO: Thousands took to the streets Friday in Sudan’s capital, a day after nine people were killed in demonstrations against the country’s ruling generals.
The United States and others in the international community condemned the violence in this East African nation, which has been rocked by near-weekly protests since an Oct. 25 coup upended its fragile transition to democracy.
The rallies on Thursdays were the largest seen in months. Sudanese military authorities have met the protests with a deadly crackdown, which has so far killed 113 people, including 18 children.
In and near Khartoum, large funeral marches took place for some of those killed the day before, while others gathered after Friday prayers at mosques in the country’s capital. Online, photographs of the dead were posted, in some cases in an effort to identify them.
The Sudan’s Doctors Committee, a medical group that monitors casualties from demonstrations, said security forces shot and killed nine people, including a child, in or near Khartoum during the rallies on Thursday. The demonstrations coincided with widespread Internet disruptions. Internet monitors and activists say the government has crippled communications to prevent gatherings and slow the spread of news on days when large protest turnout is expected.
Sudan’s leading pro-democracy groups — Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change and the Resistance Committees — had called for nationwide protest against the coup. The takeover upended the country’s short-lived transition to democracy following the 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir.
Since the coup, the UN political mission in Sudan, the African Union, and the eight-nation east African regional Intergovernmental Authority in Development group have been trying to broker a way out of the political impasse. But talks have yielded no results so far.
In a joint statement tweeted Friday the three bodies expressed “disappointment over the continued use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
Thursday’s protests also fell on the third anniversary of a 2019 mass rally that forced the generals to sit down at the negotiating table with pro-democracy groups and eventually sign a power-sharing agreement that was expected to govern Sudan during a transitional period, until general elections were to be held. The coup last October scuttled this arrangement.
Western governments have repeatedly called on the generals to allow for peaceful protests, but have also angered the protest movement for sometimes engaging with the leading generals. Pro-democracy leaders call for the generals to leave power immediately.
“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of life in yesterday’s protests,” the US Embassy in Sudan said in a statement Friday. “We urge all parties to resume negotiations and call on peaceful voices to rise above those who advocate for or commit violence.”
From Geneva, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was alarmed by Thursday’s killings, especially “after the police had announced they would not use lethal force to disperse the demonstrators.”
“In no case is force permissible to dissuade or intimidate protesters from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, or to threaten them with harm for doing so,” she said.
Police said Friday an investigation was launched after a video circulated online, appearing to show security forces prodding and kicking a badly injured protester in the street the day before. According to pro-democracy groups, the protester later died. In a statement released on the website of the country’s state-run news agency, police said the video shows security personnel violating orders to not approach demonstrations with firearms. It said those involved would be held accountable.
The country’s interior ministry, which oversees the police, has continuously denied the use of live fire on protesters, despite evidence from activists and pro-democracy groups to the opposite.


Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort
Updated 01 July 2022

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort
  • The Famagusta district court also revoked the tourist's driving licence for 18 months
  • The Briton was involved in the killing of Camilla-Christina Pamdahl

NICOSIA: A Cypriot court jailed a 25-year-old British tourist for one year on Friday after convicting him of the hit-and-run death of a Swedish mother in a holiday resort on the island.
The Famagusta district court also revoked the tourist’s driving license for 18 months but authorities did not release his name.
The Briton was involved in the killing of Camilla-Christina Pamdahl, 46, who was on holiday with her five-year-old daughter, on May 4.
She was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run accident at a pedestrian crossing in the popular resort of Ayia Napa.
The Briton was found guilty of causing death due to a reckless or dangerous act, driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs, abandoning the scene of an accident and failing to report it.
The 25-year-old was driving a rented beach buggy at the time of the accident and fled the scene on foot, leaving the rental vehicle behind.
Police said the driver was nearly five times over the legal alcohol limit of 9 mg with a test reading of 44 mg. He also tested positive for cannabis in his system when arrested.
Ayia Napa is known for attracting partying British tourists every summer.