Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut
  • Lebanese president confirms parliamentary elections will go ahead on time
  • Disgruntled customer surrenders after ‘stealing’ $50,000 from bank in armed raid

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday reiterated his determination to work in cooperation with parliament and the government as the country prepares to begin its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

Speaking during the traditional annual meeting with members of the diplomatic corps, the president also confirmed that the parliamentary elections would take place on time.

Aoun expressed his support for the criminal audit of the central bank and other departments, institutions and councils. He also highlighted his keenness to achieve reforms and approve a financial and economic recovery plan in the coming weeks in preparation for the discussions with the IMF.

His remarks came as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Beirut from the UAE after a long absence. It was reported Hariri plans to reorganize the Future Movement party and resolve the issue of its participation in the upcoming elections.

Hariri also visited Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, and the tomb of his late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in Beirut.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced his unwillingness to run again for the parliamentary seat.

He said he wanted to “make way for a serious change, by making way for new blood, young and clean thought, aspiring for pure national goals, respecting the demands of the rebellious people and seeking change.”

Free Patriotic Movement leader, MP Gebran Bassil, confirmed that his party “will run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in all regions.”

He also commented on his electoral alliance with Hezbollah in an interview with the Anadolu Agency.

“The feud is obvious and major with the party when it comes to internal matters, and if these issues are resolved, the question of electoral alliances will be determined on their basis,” Bassil said.

But he showed for the first time his backing for Hezbollah’s position on the role of the judicial investigator in the 2020 Beirut port explosion case.

Judge Tarek Bitar’s work was “discretionary,” he said, and rejected claims that the matter had been “politicized.”

Hezbollah has led the campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of bias after he pursued some of its political allies.

Hezbollah and Amal said this month they would end a boycott of Cabinet sessions, opening the way for ministers to meet after a three-month break.

In preparation for a Cabinet session on Monday, Finance Minister Youssef Khalil is expected to hand over the 2022 draft budget to the prime minister on Friday.

Meanwhile, the judiciary has begun an investigation after a Lebanese man was arrested for staging an armed robbery at a bank in his hometown of Jeb Jenin in the western Bekaa on Thursday.

Abdullah Al-Saii is reported to have held employees at gunpoint and thrown gasoline at them while threatening to burn the bank down unless he was given access to his savings that had been frozen.

A security source told Arab News that Al-Saii “emptied (cash) drawers at the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries branch and forced employees to open the main safe.”

He managed to withdraw $50,000 and was on his way home to give it to his wife when he surrendered to the security services. He gave himself up in the belief he would later be released as “he had regained his right and was not stealing.”

The Lebanese judiciary issued an arrest warrant for Al-Saii’s wife, who said she would go on hunger strike until her husband was released.

The security source said: “If Al-Saii is not held accountable for his actions, others will do what he did, and then chaos and the law of the jungle will prevail.”

The incident has led to a division between those who sympathize with Al-Saii and activists who demand accountability for the banking policies that led to the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

Some people expressed support for Al-Saii on social media, saying that “what was taken by force can only be recovered by force.”

Others described his actions as “heroic.”

One person wrote that “the state has turned its citizens into criminals and terrorists with its plan to seize depositors’ money.”

But the judiciary, banking and security authorities condemned Al-Saii’s act.

The Executive Council of the Federation of Banks’ Employees Syndicates asked: “Are we in a state of law or on a farm run by the powerful, authoritarians and outlaws?”

The incident would have led to a massacre if the BBAC management had not responded to the depositor’s request, it added.

Authorities imposed restrictions on bank transactions in 2019 and set a ceiling on withdrawals and transfers to accounts abroad.

Over the past two years, angry depositors have carried out dozens of protests in front of the central bank and private lenders in a bid to recover their money. The protests have led to ATMs and banks being vandalized — a closed branch in Beirut was burnt down — and staff being threatened. But Al-Saii is the first to make such a direct threat.

About $3.8 billion was withdrawn from banks between October and November 2019 following the protest movement that swept the country. By the end of that year, banks had frozen all withdrawals.


Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis
Updated 16 sec ago

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs ODAWARA Kiyoshi met with the Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak on Wednesday to discuss ways to enhance bilateral ties between the two countries.

During their meeting, Mubarak praised the “distinguished and historical” bilateral relations between Japan and Yemen, which extend to several fields including political, economic and developmental.

He also expressed the Yemeni government’s appreciation of Japan’s long-term support to the humanitarian response in Yemen, as well as efforts aimed at supporting the peace process.

Mubarak praised the strength of bilateral relations, and Japan’s support for the Presidential Leadership Council, stressing that the Council is strenuously working to reach a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis and bring Peace to the county through carrying out its role in fulfilling the peace process led by the United Nations, in reference to the concessions made by the government for the success of the armistice agreement.

The minister reiterated his government’s pledges under the truce to stop hostilities and facilitate the attainment of a political solution to the Yemeni crisis that meets the aspirations of the country’s people, urging Japan and the international community to apply pressure on the Houthi militia to complete the implementation of the truce agreement by lifting the seven-year siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city. Mubarak also called for the need to use the revenues from oil shipments coming from the port of Hodeidah to pay public sector salaries.

Mubarak added that the food crisis that the world is witnessing has exacerbated the existing food-security issues in Yemen and that the country has become “more threatened than ever before to reach the brink of famine.” He called on Japan to provide assistance through the provision of food commodities, especially imports of wheat, in order to enhance food security.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan


Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
Updated 19 May 2022

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
  • “Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” said the military

JERUSALEM: Israel activated its missile defenses on Thursday after mistakenly identifying a threat near the border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
The incident also set off air raid sirens in parts of northern Israel.
“Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” the military said.


Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs
The plan also seeks to promote productive partnerships with the private sector. (WAM)
Updated 19 May 2022

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs
  • The restructuring plan comes as part of the government’s mission to increase productivity and develop comprehensive strategic plans to achieve the organizations’ objectives

Dubai’s government has announced plans to improve services in the municipality and land departments by 20 percent, while reducing operational costs by 10 percent, state news agency WAM reported.

The restructuring plan comes as part of the government’s mission to increase productivity and develop comprehensive strategic plans to achieve the organizations’ objectives, report added. 

The plan also seeks to promote productive partnerships with the private sector and create new business opportunities worth $2.723bln per year, according to WAM.

The restructuring plan for Dubai Land Department also aims to improve the competitiveness of Dubai’s real estate sector and improve operational efficiency by 20 percent.

WAM reported that the plan also has a focus on making Dubai one of the world’s highest ranked cities in real estate market indicators and enhancing investment in the sector. 

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and First Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Council, and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Second Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Council, met with Mattar Al Tayer, Commissioner-General for Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Wellbeing and Member of the Dubai Council on Wednesday to discuss the initiative. 

“The comprehensive restructuring plan of Dubai Municipality and Dubai Land Department forms part of Dubai’s efforts to transform itself into the world’s best city to live and work and ensure its services and operations keep pace with the evolving global environment,” Sheikh Hamdan said. 

“The teams in the two departments have a great responsibility to lead and manage Dubai’s strategic projects. We will be closely following their progress and supporting them to achieve their objectives.”


Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’
Updated 19 May 2022

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’
  • FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup

LONDON: Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday urged football’s governing body FIFA pay compensation equal to the total 2022 World Cup prize money for migrant workers “abused” in host nation Qatar.
The call, backed by other rights organizations and fan groups, follows allegations that FIFA was slow to safeguard against the exploitation of workers who flooded into the tiny Gulf state to build infrastructure in the years leading up to the tournament that starts November 21.
“FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup,” Amnesty said in a statement accompanying a report.
The London-based group urged FIFA president Gianni Infantino “to work with Qatar to establish a comprehensive remediation program.”
It alleged that a “litany of abuses” had taken place since 2010, the year FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar “without requiring any improvement in labor protections.”
“Given the history of human rights abuses in the country, FIFA knew — or should have known — the obvious risks to workers when it awarded the tournament to Qatar,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general.
Amnesty said some abuses persist and described $440 million as the “minimum necessary” to cover compensation claims and to ensure remedial initiatives are expanded for the future.
The sum is roughly the total prize money for this year’s World Cup. Amnesty’s call was backed in an open letter to Infantino also signed by nine other organizations, including Migrant Rights and Football Supporters Europe.
When asked for comment, FIFA said it was “assessing the program proposed by Amnesty” for Qatar, highlighting that it “involves a wide range of non-FIFA World Cup-specific public infrastructure built since 2010.”
Qatar’s World Cup organizers said they have “worked tirelessly” with international groups for the rights of workers on stadiums and other tournament projects. Much of the criticism has however been directed at construction outside the official tournament where hundreds of workers are said to have died in the past decade.
“Significant improvements have been made across accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, health care provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers,” said a spokesperson for the organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
“This tournament is, and will continue to be a powerful catalyst for delivering a sustainable human and social legacy ahead of, during, and beyond the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Workers’ claims range from unpaid salaries, “illegal” and “extortionate” recruitment fees averaging $1,300 to secure jobs, and compensation for injuries and deaths.
Amnesty welcomed initiatives by FIFA and Qatar, including improvements made on World Cup construction sites and labor legislation reforms introduced since 2014.
Qatar in 2017 introduced a minimum wage, cut the hours that can be worked in extreme heat, and ended part of a system which forced migrant workers to seek employers’ permission to change jobs or even leave the country.
Workers can go to labor tribunals and more government inspectors have been appointed.
Foreign workers, mainly from South Asia, make up more than two million of Qatar’s 2.8 million population.
But Amnesty said only about 48,000 workers have so far been green-lighted to claw back recruitment fees.
It said the requested $440 million represents only a “small fraction” of the $6 billion in revenues FIFA is expected to make over the next four years, much of it from the World Cup.


Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce
Updated 18 May 2022

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce
  • The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from Sanaa airport on Monday after the Yemeni government allowed passengers with passports issued by the Houthis to leave the country

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A second commercial flight carrying dozens of passengers landed at the Houthi-held Sanaa airport on Wednesday as international mediators and world powers continue to pressure Yemen’s warring parties to extend the two-month truce.

The plane took off from Amman in the morning and landed at Sanaa airport at 2 p.m., further boosting hopes of the resumption of flights to other destinations, and the strengthening of the ceasefire.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s Yemen envoy who had helped to negotiate the peace pact, announced the departure of the second flight from Jordan’s capital.

“A second commercial flight took off from Amman to Sanaa carrying Yemeni passengers at 10:30 a.m. today, as per the terms of the truce agreement and is scheduled to return back from Sanaa to Amman with Yemeni passengers at 4 p.m.,” Grundberg tweeted.

The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from Sanaa airport on Monday after the Yemeni government allowed passengers with passports issued by the Houthis to leave the country.

The resumption of the flights from Sanaa is one of several terms of the truce that came into effect on April 2. Under the agreement, the Yemeni parties would stop fighting on all fronts, allow fuel ships to enter Hodeidah seaports, and work with the UN to open roads in Taiz and other provinces.

At the same time, the UN envoy said on Wednesday that he resumed his meetings with Yemeni economists, politicians and security figures in Amman to produce ideas for his peace plan.

“The UN envoy for #Yemen resumes today his consultations to identify economic, political & security priorities for the multi-track process. Today he meets with a diverse group of Yemeni public figures, experts & civil society actors,” his office tweeted.

In his remarks to the press after his closed briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Grundberg said that he discussed extending the pact with various Yemeni parties. “Yemenis can’t afford to go back to the pre-truce state of perpetual military escalation and political stalemate. I continue to engage the parties to overcome outstanding challenges and to ensure the extension of the truce,” he said, adding that the Houthis have not nominated their representatives for a meeting with the Yemeni government that would discuss ending their siege on Taiz.

Tim Lenderking, the US’ envoy to Yemen, also urged the warring factions to uphold and extend the truce, and to jointly work on opening roads in Taiz.

“We hope the resumption of flights to & from Sanaa brings relief to Yemenis. We must ensure the freedom of movement of people & goods, incl opening roads to Taiz. We call on the parties to adhere to & extend the @UN truce,” Lenderking tweeted.

In the besieged Taiz, residents have intensified their campaigns on the ground and on social media to draw attention to their daily suffering.

“This siege has turned the city of Taiz into a large prison and caused a real human tragedy. They opened Sanaa airport and ports and ignored Taiz’s suffering from the siege,” Ahmed Al-Qaidhy, an activist from the area, told Arab News.