Lebanese bid farewell to 2021 amid health and security alerts

Special Lebanese bid farewell to 2021 amid health and security alerts
A woman riding a motorcycle points at party hats and accessaries sold by a street vendor, ahead of the New Year's Eve celebrations in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on December 31, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2021

Lebanese bid farewell to 2021 amid health and security alerts

Lebanese bid farewell to 2021 amid health and security alerts
  • Parties for vaccinated, negative PCR holders and dollar spenders

BEIRUT: The Lebanese bid farewell to 2021 amid health and security alerts, cautiously awaiting what 2022 holds.

Security services and civil defense members were deployed throughout the country on New Year’s Eve, setting up 60 checkpoints along the Lebanese coast from Anfeh to Naqoura, and in mountainous areas known to host parties this time of year.

An awareness hashtag #DontLetLaughterTurnToTears was launched for citizens, warning them to drive with caution so that the joy of the coming New Year does not turn into a tragedy.

The Ministry of Tourism demanded that restaurants, nightclubs and hotels deny entry to those without a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test in the past 48 hours, all while abiding by current COVID-19 preventive measures.

Many rushed to bakeries, supermarkets and catering services on the last day of 2021, as the majority of citizens are spending the night at home or in chalets, while the well-off and expatriates who returned home for the holidays are celebrating at hotels and nightclubs.

Almost all television stations broadcast entertainment programs on Friday, giving out various gifts to callers, such as cheese wheels, dinner vouchers and a few dollars, which are now worth a fortune amid the financial crisis Lebanon is experiencing.

Although most Lebanese artists are singing at parties abroad this New Year’s Eve, the cost of attending a party during which several artists are singing ranges between $100 and $750, provided that only 30 percent of the venue’s capacity is filled, per the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.

Meanwhile, the committee that follows up on COVID-19 preventive measures had imposed a curfew on unvaccinated persons, but this measure has not been not taken seriously by all.

Ahead of New Year’s Eve, the Ministry of Health confirmed 4,537 new COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths. 

As Lebanon escaped a lockdown over the holidays, Minister of Health Dr. Firass Abiad fears a health disaster that would force the concerned authorities to impose a full lockdown, which may harm the academic year that is supposed to resume on Jan. 10, 2022.

The Minister of Education and Higher Education Abbas Al-Halabi called on all officials of public and private educational institutions to make sure all employees take two vaccine doses, or face taking a PCR test twice a week at their own expense.

Assem Araji MP, a cardiologist who heads Parliament’s health committee, seemed concerned about the increasing omicron cases. “We face an outbreak; an increase in cases is imminent,” he said.

He expressed concerns about “the hospitalization rate rising following New Year’s Eve parties, especially since we are running low on COVID-19 beds in several hospitals amid the shortages in medical staff and medical supplies. We will thus be facing a painful health reality.”

Araji called on the public to “abide by preventive measures, or we will pay.”


Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests
Updated 6 sec ago

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests
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 43 min 47 sec ago

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.


British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss

British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss
Updated 01 July 2022

British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss

British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss
  • Fitton’s family has criticized the British government for what it calls a poor response to the case

LONDON: The UK government is lobbying for the release of a British archaeologist imprisoned in Iraq, it was revealed on Thursday.

Jim Fitton was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June for attempting to smuggle artifacts out of the country, a crime that can also carry the death sentence.

Fitton’s family has criticized the British government for what it calls a poor response to the case, however UK foreign secretary Liz Truss told ITV News that work was being carried out to convince the Iraqi government to release the archaeologist.

“I know our ambassador is working on that, as is our ministerial team,” she said. “Ultimately this is a decision for the Iraqi authorities, but we’re doing all we can to secure this release.”

Fitton was found by Iraqi officials with a dozen small stones and bits of pottery from the desert on March 20, and was arrested as he tried to leave the country.

He asserted in his defense that he believed the items to be worthless and was merely taking them as a memento of his trip to Iraq. 

In court, he was charged and convicted — but another man also on trial with him, German national Volker Waldmann, was found not guilty.

Fitton has appealed in a bid to reduce his sentence or have his conviction quashed completely.

Fitton’s local member of parliament, Wera Hobhouse, said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should have taken a stronger stance with Iraq to ensure his release.

“It seems that German officials took a much tougher stance and intervened a lot earlier, and were much more visible in their opposition, versus the Foreign Office (who) took the approach of softly, softly,” she told ITV.

“We have got two outcomes: One prisoner is now free, and Jim Fitton, our British citizen, is not free.

“So there’s quite a clear contrast, which makes one wonder whether the Foreign Office approach has been correct,” she added.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq, and continue to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities.”


Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi

Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi
Updated 01 July 2022

Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi

Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi
  • Robert Pether reportedly gravely ill and rapidly deteriorating
  • UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says fraud conviction unlawful, also seeks release of Egyptian colleague Khalid Radwan

LONDON: The prime minister of Australia has raised with his Iraqi counterpart the case of an engineer jailed in Baghdad, whose health is worsening in detention, it was reported on Friday.

Anthony Albanese spoke with Mustafa Al-Kadhimi about Robert Pether’s condition, which is “rapidly deteriorating” due to the engineer being “gravely ill,” according to a Guardian report.

Australian Pether has been held in a Baghdad prison for more than 14 months over a deal-gone-wrong between his engineering firm and the central bank of Iraq to build its new headquarters in the capital. According to his family, Pether is not guilty of a crime and his trial was “unfair.”

According to the Guardian report, Pether has been made aware of Albanese’s quizzing of Al-Kadhimi and plans to write a letter of thanks to the Australian premier.

“He is afraid to be ‘hopeful,’” Pether’s wife Desree told the Guardian Australia. “But he is immensely grateful to Anthony Albanese and (foreign minister) Penny Wong for stepping up and taking action pretty much straight away.”

She continued: “Robert is gravely ill, he is completely grey. He is 47 and looks 74. He is also still suffering from dizziness and low blood pressure. He is declining rapidly.”

Al-Kadhimi’s office confirmed a discussion was held with Albanese, but made no reference to the Pether case, only saying the two leaders covered “bilateral relations between the two countries and stressed the importance of strengthening joint cooperation.”

Pether, and Egyptian colleague Khalid Radwan, were arrested on their return to Iraq in April 2021 when they were attempting to resolve a dispute between their firm, CME Consulting, and the Iraqi government.

After their trial, which rights groups have deemed “deeply compromised,” both men were found guilty of fraud, sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay back $12 million they were alleged to have misspent instead of paying architects and subcontractors.

Amid allegations of mistreatment in their Baghdad prison, the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a report released in March that both Pether and Radwan’s detention was “arbitrary” and a breach of international law. The group has demanded both men be immediately released.


Iranian man who shot daughter in honor killing claims it was a mistake

Iranian man who shot daughter in honor killing claims it was a mistake
Updated 01 July 2022

Iranian man who shot daughter in honor killing claims it was a mistake

Iranian man who shot daughter in honor killing claims it was a mistake
  • Mohammad Kazem Lashkari killed 15-year-old with a shotgun after seeing her with an unknown man
  • Relative claims Tehran is suppressing details of the story in a country where 62 percent of murdered women are killed by relatives

LONDON: An Iranian man killed his daughter in a suspected honor killing before claiming it was a tragic accident, in an incident a relative claims is being hushed up by the regime in Tehran. 

Mohammad Kazem Lashkari, 43, reportedly killed his teenage daughter Ariana, 15, with a shotgun after seeing her in a park with an unknown man.

He was arrested by police in the Iranian city of Nurabad on June 27, telling them: “After an argument, Ariana went to my mother’s house and I could not control my anger.

“I went there with my shotgun to scare her. I really did not mean to kill my daughter. I fired involuntarily.”

However, Lashkari’s story has been called into question, with one relative telling human rights activist Masih Alinejad: “Ariana was a girl who didn’t enjoy being oppressed by her father.”

The relative added: “She wanted to choose her own lifestyle and have a free mind. Accepting her views was hard for her father.

“Ariana was a quiet girl who went to school every day full of hopes. This girl was very kind and caring. All of her friends and classmates adored her. I’m still in shock. It’s unbelievable that Ariana is gone.”

A neighbor suggested that Lashkari had been addicted to drugs, and had previously threatened Ariana, as well as his other daughter.

The unnamed relative also suggested that the Iranian government was pushing for details of the story to be suppressed. 

“The regime is trying hard for this tragedy not to get published in the media,” he said.

“I hope this innocent girl’s blood is not going to be trampled on like many other girls who have been murdered in this way.”

In Iran the murder of a child or grandchild by a father or paternal grandfather carries a maximum sentence of just 10 years, and is considered different to other murders, for which the penalty is usually death. 

Up to 62 percent of all women murdered in Iran are killed by relatives, and between 15-18 percent of murders in the country are considered honor killings. 

The investigation into Ariana’s death continues.