Lebanese bus, truck drivers block roads over soaring prices

Lebanese bus, truck drivers block roads over soaring prices
Lebanese security forces stand guard as protesters block the main seaside road in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon during a general strike by public transport and workers unions over the country's economic crisis, on January 13, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Lebanese bus, truck drivers block roads over soaring prices

Lebanese bus, truck drivers block roads over soaring prices
  • ‘Today is a day of anger,’ representative for fuel distributors says
  • Protesters calling for subsidies on bread, fuel and other necessities, labor leader says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public transport drivers blocked roads on Thursday, paralyzing traffic throughout the country in protest against the manipulation of exchange rates that has left them out of pocket.

A driver in downtown Beirut said: “We can barely afford hospitalization or medicine. We are begging healthcare associations for our rights that the state is supposed to secure for us.”

Banks did not open on Thursday, as employees were unable to get to work, while schools and universities were also closed.

In less than a year since the removal of subsidies, the price of a 20-liter canister of gasoline has increased tenfold to almost 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($264), while the minimum monthly wage of 675,000 pounds has remained unchanged.

Fadi Abou Shakra, a representative of Lebanon’s fuel distributors who took part in the protests, said: “Our issue with the state is the rise in the exchange rate. Officials did nothing to control the illegal platforms manipulating the exchange rate. It is not our hobby to block roads and create problems. Today is a day of anger and we’ll see what next week brings.”

Soldiers and other security forces were deployed to control the situation after disputes broke out between protesters and members of the public trying to use the blocked roads.

The protesters were supported by the head of the General Labor Union, Bechara Al-Asmar, who said the action was “a cry for officials to perform their role and duties toward the people.”

The protesters’ demands focused on maintaining subsidies on bread, fuel and other basic items, he said, adding that he was disappointed at the small number of people involved in the action.

Several public transport drivers said they were against the protest and would not take part and were not affiliated with the parties that initiated it.

Bassam Tlais, head of the Land Transport Union, said: “Today is directed against the government, which has not fulfilled its promises to support the land transport sector and stop violations. We could not care less about politics or the reasons for the Cabinet’s failure to convene.”

Political observers said Thursday’s protests were linked to the Cabinet impasse caused by ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement boycotting sessions. The labor unions are controlled by unionists loyal to the to the two parties.

Meanwhile, a huge explosion rocked the Nabatiyeh region at dawn on Thursday.

Lebanon’s National News Agency said: “A fire broke out in a private electricity generator. The flames quickly reached a diesel tank belonging to a cafe in Wadi Houmine. The fire spread to neighboring areas and caused the explosion of mines, cluster bombs and old unexploded ordnance from the Israeli aggression in July 2006.”

Residents of the towns of Houmine, Roumine and Deir Ez-Zahrani reported fires breaking out in the surrounding forests. Others said members of Hezbollah rushed to the scene of the explosion and cordoned off the area, preventing reporters from getting too close.


UN envoy concludes meeting with Yemeni public figures

UN envoy concludes meeting with Yemeni public figures
Updated 35 sec ago

UN envoy concludes meeting with Yemeni public figures

UN envoy concludes meeting with Yemeni public figures

LONDON: UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg concluded a two-day meeting with a diverse group of Yemeni public figures on Thursday.

The meeting comes as part of Grundberg's consultations with Yemeni groups on the way forward, including their priorities for economic, political, and security paths.

Attendees discussed the implementation and extension of the truce, as well as ways to capitalize on the momentum it has created to initiate a comprehensive political dialogue.

“This is the time to seize the window of opportunity provided by the truce. Our focus is to ensure the truce is extended for the benefit of Yemeni civilians while making progress on the peace process,” the envoy said.

Participants highlighted the need to continue prioritizing improving conditions and the livelihoods of civilians, including by lifting restrictions on the freedom of movement of individuals and commercial goods across the war-torn country.

They also highlighted the need to focus on the economy and challenges related to the payment of salaries, bank transfers, discrepancies in exchange rates, and the unification of the Central Bank.

Discussions highlighted the need to address the challenges faced by Yemeni women and ensure their meaningful participation in the peace process.

The envoy will continue his consultations with diverse Yemeni constituencies, including economic experts, civil society, women’s groups, and political parties during the next few weeks.

 


Swedish citizen risking Iran execution is ‘hostage’: Amnesty

Swedish citizen risking Iran execution is ‘hostage’: Amnesty
Updated 50 min 56 sec ago

Swedish citizen risking Iran execution is ‘hostage’: Amnesty

Swedish citizen risking Iran execution is ‘hostage’: Amnesty
  • Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death in 2017 on espionage charges that are deemed baseless by Stockholm
  • His supporters and Iranian media reports say he could be hanged by May 21

PARIS: An Iranian-Swedish citizen facing imminent execution in Iran is being held as a hostage by Tehran in a bid to force Belgium and Sweden to make concessions in two cases concerning former Iranian officials, Amnesty International said Thursday.
Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death in 2017 on espionage charges that are deemed baseless by Stockholm and his supporters, and Iranian media reports say he could be hanged by May 21, a punishment that officials have repeatedly insisted will be carried out.
The risk to his life comes as anger grows among families of Western nationals often held for years on end by Iran, who they say are being held as pawns in a game over which the innocent detainees have no control.
“Mounting evidence strongly indicates that the Iranian authorities are holding... Djalali hostage and threatening to execute him to compel third parties to swap him for former Iranian officials convicted or on trial abroad, as well as to refrain from future prosecutions of Iranian officials,” Amnesty International said.
In an unprecedented case, a Swedish court is trying Hamid Noury, a former prison official, over his alleged involvement over massacres in Iranian prisons in 1988, with the verdict expected on July 14.
Noury, who was arrested in Sweden in November 2019, is being tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows states to investigate serious crimes that were committed abroad.
Meanwhile, Assadollah Assadi, a former Iranian diplomat, is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for his role in a thwarted 2018 bomb attack in France that was targeting a meeting of an exiled opposition group.
Before his arrest in Iran in April 2016, Djalali was a visiting professor in disaster medicine at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a research university in Brussels.
Sweden later granted citizenship to Djalali, who had been a resident in the country, in February 2018.
“The Iranian authorities are using Ahmadreza Djalali’s life as a pawn in a cruel political game, escalating their threats to execute him in retaliation for their demands going unmet,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The authorities are attempting to pervert the course of justice in Sweden and Belgium, and should be investigated for the crime of hostage taking,” she said.
The London-based NGO says that since at least late 2020, the Iranian authorities had been “conditioning” Djalali’s fate on seeking a “deal” with Belgium to swap him for Assadi, and with Sweden for Noury.
The UN Human Rights Office had said Tuesday that it was “deeply alarmed” by reports that Djalali’s execution was imminent, saying his hanging would “constitute an arbitrary deprivation of life.”
Djalali’s supporters, led by his wife Vida Mehrannia, have also sought to keep up the pressure, with his 10-year-old son holding up a sign reading “Free My Dad” at a protest in Stockholm last week where he was joined by his classmates.
Over a dozen Western nationals are being held in Iran in what activists argue is a policy of hostage-taking aimed at extracting concessions from the West. Two more French citizens were detained earlier this month.
Meanwhile, German citizen Jamshid Sharmahd and Swedish citizen Habib Chaab are being tried on security-related charges for which they could be sentenced to death. Activists believe both were abducted by Iran while abroad.
These controversies are coming at an acutely sensitive time for Iran, as world powers are still seeking to revive a 2015 deal over its nuclear program, and as the country is confronting protests over price rises.
Families and supporters of foreign detainees held in Iran, including French tourist Benjamin Briere and French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, issued a statement Thursday saying Iran has “settled into a systematic policy of hostage-taking.”
Calling on Europe to cut diplomatic ties with Iran, the statement said that “it has become politically and morally unbearable to continue to feed the hostage-taking machine.”


US sanctions Lebanese businessman, his companies over Hezbollah links

US sanctions Lebanese businessman, his companies over Hezbollah links
Updated 22 min 6 sec ago

US sanctions Lebanese businessman, his companies over Hezbollah links

US sanctions Lebanese businessman, his companies over Hezbollah links
  • Abdallah, five of his associates and eight of his companies in Lebanon and Iraq were sanctioned
  • Lebanese businessman is a a Hezbollah official and an active member of its global financial network: Treasury

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury Department on Thursday issued new Hezbollah-related sanctions, designating Lebanese businessman and the Iran-backed group’s financial facilitator, Ahmad Jalal Reda Abdallah, and his companies.
Abdallah, five of his associates and eight of his companies in Lebanon and Iraq were sanctioned and added to the sanctions list of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the department said.
Abdallah is a Hezbollah official and an active member of its global financial network, according to the Treasury. He has supported Hezbollah for decades, carrying out commercial activities in various countries where the profits are transferred to the Iran-backed group, the department said.
Founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and classified by the United States and other Western countries as a “terrorist organization,” Hezbollah is a powerful group in Lebanon because of a heavily armed militia that fought several wars with Israel. It grew stronger after joining the war in Syria in 2012 in support of President Bashar Assad.
The United States said Abdallah used his senior employees and relatives to establish new businesses throughout the Middle East on behalf of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah on Sunday faced an electoral setback when the group and its allies lost their parliamentary majority in elections in Lebanon.
 


Jordan king places half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest

Jordan king places half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest
Updated 19 May 2022

Jordan king places half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest

Jordan king places half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest
  • Jordanian authorities announced in April last year that they had foiled a bid to destabilise the country
  • The king said his recent action aims to turn a page on the “dark chapter in the history” of Jordan and his family

LONDON: Jordan’s King Abdullah has placed his half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest, restricting his communications and movements.

In a letter published on Thursday, the king said that he would not allow anyone “to put their interests above the nation’s interest, and I will not allow even my brother to disturb the peace of our proud nation.”

Authorities in Jordan announced in April last year that they had foiled a bid to destabilize the country.

Two former officials were sentenced to 15 years in jail in July after they were found guilty of conspiring to topple the king in favour of Prince Hamzah.

The former crown prince announced last month that he was “renouncing the title of prince,” a month after a royal court statement said he had apologized to the king for the attempted coup.

“We do not have the luxury of time to deal with Hamzah’s erratic behavior and aspirations. We have many challenges and difficulties before us, and we must all work to overcome them and meet the aspirations of our people and their right to a dignified, stable life,” the king said.

The king said his recent action, taken on the advice of a council formed in accordance with the Royal Family Law, aims to turn a page on the “dark chapter in the history” of Jordan and his family.

He said that he has come to the conclusion that Prince Hamzah will not change after more than a year during which “he exhausted all opportunities to restore himself on the right path, in line with the legacy of our family.”

The king said that “Hamzah continues to ignore all facts and undisputable evidence, manipulating events to bolster his false narrative.”

He continued: “Unfortunately, my brother truly believes what he claims. The delusion he lives in is not new; other members of our Hashemite family and I have long realised that he reneges on his pledges and is persistent in his irresponsible actions that seek to sow unrest, unconcerned with the ramifications of his conduct on our country and our family.”

The king accused Prince Hamzah of putting his interests before the nation and living “within the confines of his own reality rather than recognizing the great stature, respect, love, and care we have given him.”

He continued: “He presented a false narrative of his role in the sedition case, disregarding facts that the public became aware of regarding his suspicious relationship and communications with the traitor Bassem Awadallah, and Hassan bin Zeid, whom my brother knew had approached two foreign embassies to ask about the possibility of their countries supporting what he had described as regime change.”


North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 

North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 
Updated 19 May 2022

North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 

North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 
  • IDMC report noted the numbers of internally displaced people in the region remained ‘concerningly high’
  • IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak: ‘Peacebuilding and development initiatives are needed to resolve the underlying challenges that hold displaced peoples’ lives in limbo’

LONDON: North Africa and the Middle East have hit a 10-year low in refugees as conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Syria deescalated, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre. 

Nonetheless, the IDMC report noted the numbers of internally displaced people in the region remained “concerningly high,” warning the trend toward long-term displacement would “never be reversed” without safe and sustainable conditions for IDP returnees. 

IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak said: “Peacebuilding and development initiatives are needed to resolve the underlying challenges that hold displaced peoples’ lives in limbo.”

Furthermore, the report pointed to “unprecedented numbers” of people being displaced by violence in Afghanistan and Myanmar over the course of 2021, with similarly high numbers for Somalia and South Sudan. 

Globally, the number of displaced people reached 38 million, 94 percent of whom were forced to flee from weather-related disasters, with more than 25 million under the age of 18. 

While contending more data was needed to assess longer-term impacts, Bilak said it was clear protecting and supporting displaced children and young people was crucial for the future, noting that “a healthy happy child” would be more likely to contribute to an “equitable society and functioning economy.”

She added: “Children and young people are agents of change. Recognising them as such is vital to protect development gains and reduce the risk of future crises. Preparing the world of tomorrow must start with their active participation and leadership.”