Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster. (AFP)
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Updated 07 December 2021

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials

BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.


Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
Updated 56 min 33 sec ago

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
  • Hospitals preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull
  • More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated

TEHRAN: As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic.
After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety.
Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago.
Drastic infection surges among the inoculated from the United States to Russia have revealed the vaccine’s declining defenses against infection even as its protection against hospitalization and death remains strong. Meanwhile, Iranians have received doses more recently and are feeling off the hook with their immunity still robust.
“A large number of people already have contracted the virus and huge vaccination has taken place in recent months,” health official Moayed Alavian said in an attempt to explain the sharp drop in infections easing the burden on Iran’s overwhelmed health system.
The virus has killed over 132,000 people by Iran’s official count — the highest national toll in the Middle East.
Iran’s recently elected president, conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has made it a mission to expedite imports of foreign-made COVID-19 vaccines. With hard-liners in control of all branches of government, the new administration is fast fulfilling a task that had been vexed by power struggles during former President Hassan Rouhani’s term.
The contrast is not lost on ordinary Iranians.
“I do not know what happened,” said Reza Ghasemi, a Tehran taxi driver. “Suddenly vaccination happened in a widespread and quick way after Raisi came to office.”
“By the way,” he added, “I am thankful.”
But skeptics question the presidents’ starkly different pandemic responses, criticizing the human cost of the country’s factional rivalries.
“We delayed vaccination because of political issues,” reformist lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian bluntly said last September.
Now under Raisi, Iran is riding high on its successes against COVID-19. Cases have fallen to about 7,000 a day from some 40,000 just months before. The death toll plummeted to 20 a day this month from peaks of over 700. His administration has provided 180 million vaccines since taking the reins in August.
More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated. Iran has administered booster shoots to 20 percent of its population. Last week the government announced it would make vaccines available to children under 18.


UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues

UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues
Updated 27 January 2022

UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues

UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues
  • The four leaders talked about the recent terrorist attacks against civilian sites and facilities in the UAE

DUBAI: Leaders from the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain on Wednesday held a summit to discuss current regional issues and how they could strengthen coordination and cooperation among their countries.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of Egypt, met in Abu Dhabi “over issues of common concern in addition to the latest regional and international developments and the common challenges facing the Arab region,” state news agency WAM reported.

The four leaders talked about the recent terrorist attacks against civilian sites and facilities in the UAE, including the thwarted launch of two ballistic missiles against the Emirates.

The continuing terror activities of the Houthis pose a serious threat to regional and international security and stability and violate all international laws and norms, the WAM report added.

The leaders renewed their call for the international community to take a firm stand against the militia and other terrorist forces along, with their supporters.

The King of Bahrain and Egyptian president re-affirmed their countries’ solidarity and support with the UAE’s steps in ensuring the country’s security and safety.


Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis

Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis
Updated 26 January 2022

Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis

Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis
  • An 18-year-old protester died on Wednesday after suffering a bullet wound to the head during protests last month

KHARTOUM: Thousands of Sudanese pro-military protesters rallied on Wednesday against a UN bid to resolve a political crisis in the country three months after a coup.

The demonstrators gathered outside the Khartoum office of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS, which launched talks with Sudanese factions this month.

They held up banners that read, “Down, down UN,” and others that urged UN special representative Volker Perthes to “Go back home.”

“We don’t want external intervention in our country,” protester Hamed Al-Bashir said.

On Jan. 10, Perthes said the consultations aimed “to support the Sudanese to reach an agreement on a way out of the current crisis.” But he added that “the UN is not coming up with any project, draft or vision for a solution.”

On Wednesday, UNITAMS said protesters had gathered outside the mission’s office demanding to expel the mission.

“We defend freedom of assembly & expression and offered to receive a delegation in our premises which they refused,” it said on Twitter.

Sudan has been rocked by a deadly crackdown against protests calling for civilian rule since an October 25 military coup led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

The country’s latest military takeover derailed a power-sharing transition between the army and civilians that had been painstakingly negotiated after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar  Bashir.

The ruling Sovereign Council — formed by Al-Burhan after the coup with himself as chairman — has welcomed the UN-led dialogue, as have the US, Britain, neighboring Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The Forces for Freedom and Change, Sudan’s main civilian bloc, has also said it would join consultations “to restore the democratic transition.”

In a Wednesday press conference, FFC leader Omar Al-Degeir called on the international community to stand by “the Sudanese people to achieve its demands to reverse the coup.”

Stephanie Khoury, UNITAMS director of political affairs, said earlier: “Our role at this stage of consultations for a political process for #Sudan is to hear Sudanese stakeholders; ensure we actively listen to their views, document their visions & suggestions.”

An 18-year-old protester died on Wednesday after suffering a bullet wound to the head during protests last month, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.

His death brought the number of people killed in the crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations to 77, including others who were also shot in the head, it said.


UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks

UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks
Updated 27 January 2022

UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks

UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks
  • The joint statement expressed full support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their legitimate national security concern
  • The Quint called for urgent and comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni conflict

LONDON: Senior representatives of the governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, the UK, and the US, along with UN special envoy, Hans Grundberg, met in London on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Yemen.
“The Quint strongly condemned the Houthis’ repeated attacks against civilians within Yemen, including US local staff in Sanaa, and their continued heinous terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia and more recently the UAE,” they said in a joint statement.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia have stepped up cross-border attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia and have attempted to strike the UAE capital twice in the last two weeks. The Houthis have also continued their brutal offensive on the Yemeni province of Marib, which has served as a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons who have been fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.

The Quint said “such actions are obstructing peace efforts and exacerbating suffering,” and stressed that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security,” and the need to hold perpetrators accountable and brought to justice.
The joint statement expressed full support for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and their legitimate national security concerns and called for an immediate end to attacks by the Iran-backed militia.
“The Quint acknowledged the legitimate right of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend themselves against terrorist attacks in accordance with international (and) humanitarian law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm,” it said.
The meeting also condemned the Houthis’ seizure of the UAE flagged Rwabee vessel off the coast of Yemen, and called for the need to find an urgent solution to the abandoned SAFER tanker, urging the Houthis to allow UN access to the vessel.
They said these highlight the Houthis’ significant risk to the maritime security of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
“The Quint discussed the illicit Iranian provision of missiles and advanced weaponry to the Houthis in violation” of UN Security Council resolutions, the statement added.
The Quint called for urgent and comprehensive political solution to the conflict and re-affirmed their support for the UN special envoy’s efforts.
It also called for additional economic support from the international community to stabilize Yemen’s economy, coupled with essential reforms to improve financial transparency.
They agreed to meet on a regular basis to coordinate a response to the Yemen crisis and support the UN envoy.


Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge
Updated 27 January 2022

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

ALGIERS: Algeria’s health minister on Tuesday urged people to get vaccinated and save hospitals from collapse as the North African nation faces a surge of COVID-19 infections.

Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant and the highly contagious omicron variant, which now accounts for 60 percent of COVID-19 infections.

On Monday, health officials reported a daily record of 2,215 cases and 13 deaths.

“I urge you to get vaccinated and break the chain of infections which risk bringing our health institutions to their knees,” Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said at a media conference in the capital, Algiers. “For now, the hospitals’ staff are managing. The question is, how long can they hold on?”

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

The inoculation rate in Algeria remains low. Less than a quarter of the population has had even one vaccine dose despite the government’s robust vaccination campaign in state media and on social networks that includes pro-vaccine posts from famous Algerian actors, singers, athletes and influencers.

Algeria has a stock of vaccines that can largely ensure coverage of vaccination needs for two years, the minister said. Overall, only 13 percent of Algeria’s 45 million inhabitants, have been inoculated, the minister said. Of eligible adults, only 29 percent have received two vaccine doses, he said.

In December, Algeria started requiring a vaccine passport to enter many public venues, seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused.

The pass is also required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for entering sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and other sites like hammams — bath houses that are popular across the region.

Official figures show Algeria has seen 6,508 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, but even members of the government’s scientific committee admit the real figure is much higher. Out of fears of being blamed for getting the virus, some Algerians keep their infections secret, which then puts others at risk.