Lebanon’s President Aoun reiterates support for impartial central bank audit

Lebanon’s President Aoun reiterates support for impartial central bank audit
Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for a Reuters Next conference in Beirut, Lebanon, November 23, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 February 2022

Lebanon’s President Aoun reiterates support for impartial central bank audit

Lebanon’s President Aoun reiterates support for impartial central bank audit
  • It comes amid political fallout from judge’s continuing attempts to summon the bank’s governor to answer questions in court

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday stressed that “the financial criminal audit of Banque du Liban (the country’s central bank) should reach practical results, while steering clear of personal interests.”

During a speech on Thursday to the recently formed National Anti-Corruption Commission, Aoun said the Lebanese people “have the right to know where their life savings went. Any party that says otherwise has certainly benefited from the wrong practices in managing the affairs of the state and its institutions, especially BDL. These parties are waging campaigns against me and continue to mislead public opinion.”

Judge Ghada Aoun, who is politically affiliated with the president, continues to insist that Riad Salameh, the governor of the bank, be prosecuted. On Wednesday, the judge decided to prosecute Maj. Gen. Imad Osman, head of the Internal Security Forces, for preventing officers from State Security from entering Salameh’s home in Rabieh on Tuesday.

The State Security officers were acting on a summons issued by Judge Aoun against Salameh after he failed to appear three times as a witness in a criminal case brought by the group The People Want to Reform the System over allegations of “unjust enrichment, money laundering and wasting public funds.”

The ISF’s General Directorate said: “The members in front of Salameh’s house have been stationed there for some time to protect him from any security threat and they are not authorized to interfere, report or prevent the implementation of any official memorandum. This was stressed during a call between Osman and the Director-General of State Security Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba as part of the continuous coordination between them.”

Observers see the ISF and State Security as having differing loyalties within Lebanon’s sectarian political system.

In April 2021, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, the public prosecutor, suspended Judge Aoun from cases related to major financial crimes and instead referred them to judicial inspection. Judge Aoun insisted on carrying on with her investigations, however, and issued a subpoena against Salameh as a witness, not a defendant. His lawyers submitted a request to dismiss Judge Aoun from the case but she refused to step down.

According to a BDL source quoted by Reuters: “Salameh is working normally from his office.”

Judge Aoun accused the security services of being “an accomplice” and added that she has the right “to punish any employee seeking to violate the rule of law.”

Her decision to take action against ISF chief Osman had political repercussions. MP Bahia Hariri, head of the Future Movement bloc, raised concerns with Prime Minister Najib Mikati. He assured her, according to a statement issued by his office, that he is “against Judge Aoun’s actions,” and said that Osman had correctly performed all his duties in complete coordination with the prime minister and the minister of interior.

Mikati added that the allegation against Osman “is pure slander and completely false.” He said he will take up the issue with Judge Oweidat and the justice minister to end “this persistence in attacking state institutions, their prestige and the dignity of those in charge of them.”

Hariri condemned “this suspicious silence on the part of judicial supervisory bodies regarding the legal violations committed by Judge Aoun in the name of the law, only to serve political goals and personal whims.”

President Aoun, meanwhile, criticized “incitement campaigns and false allegations by the Future Movement and those who go along with it.”

His media office said that the president will continue to demand answers about “the fate of $69 billion lost out of the $86 billion deposited by Lebanese banks in BDL, knowing that what the Lebanese state borrowed in foreign currencies from BDL did not exceed $5 billion.”

Economics expert Jassem Ajaka said there are several dimensions to the situation with Salameh.

“Should foreign banks find that there are legal risks in dealing with Lebanon, the BDL accounts may be closed,” he said. “This would have negative repercussions on imports and if the dollar exchange rate is affected, the budget deficit would increase and thus impact negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

“The monetary situation is directly related to Salameh, and the financial issue is indirectly related to him because the government that approved the budget needs him to ensure a stable exchange rate.”


Bethlehem prepares for ‘distinguished’ celebration of Christmas

Bethlehem prepares for ‘distinguished’ celebration of Christmas
Updated 20 sec ago

Bethlehem prepares for ‘distinguished’ celebration of Christmas

Bethlehem prepares for ‘distinguished’ celebration of Christmas
  • 100,000 tourists expected next month, with 80% hotel occupancy: Palestinian minister
  • Mayor Hanna Hanania highlights special arrangements for festive season targeting global visitors

RAMALLAH: Bethlehem was preparing for a “distinguished” celebration of Christmas next month with tens of thousands of visitors from around the world expected to descend on the city, officials said.

The central West Bank city is of special religious and historical importance to Christians, and Bethlehem Municipality, and the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism, have this year launched Christmas activities under the title, “From Bethlehem to the World: The spirit of Christmas Brings us Together.”

Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Hanania said: “All the eyes of the world are currently turning toward Bethlehem in preparation to mark the birth of the child Jesus.”

He pointed out that despite current world crises the event offered an opportunity to unite faithful and peace-loving people and promote freedom and dignity for all.

And by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Hanania noted that visitors were showing their support for the Palestinian presence.

The civic leader told Arab News that the municipality had started gearing up for this year’s Christmas festivities four months ago.

The occasion coincides with the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Bethlehem Municipality and the 10th anniversary of the inclusion of the Church of the Nativity on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

He said: “Bethlehem wears a new suit of joy, and hope has returned to the hearts of the city’s citizens after a long absence, and we look forward to a distinguished Christmas this year.

“Bethlehem and the Holy Land are in dire need of the blessing of peace that does not come at any price, as its highest price is justice, as peace cannot be achieved without justice and love among people.”

He added that the municipality’s aim had been to organize special Christmas celebrations in an atmosphere of joy, starting with a tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 3, Christmas market, and other related activities at the Bethlehem Peace Center and throughout the city.

Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Minister Rula Maayah said this year had witnessed a sharp rise in the number of tourists with post-coronavirus pandemic visitor numbers already reaching 600,000, with a further 100,000 expected next month, pushing hotel occupancy levels up to 80 percent.

Elias Al-Arja, head of the Palestinian Hotels Association and owner of the Bethlehem Hotel, told Arab News that he anticipated many hotels in Bethlehem to be full during the Christmas holidays and new year period.

He said that in recent months he had joined several Bethlehem hotel owners, backed by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, in promoting the city at international tourism exhibitions in Spain, Italy, Romania, the UK, and Turkey.

“We have begun to feel and sense the presence of a Christmas atmosphere in Bethlehem early this year,” he added.

Al-Arja noted that the tourism sector in Bethlehem — that has a Christian-dominated population of around 30,000 — had been the first to suffer from the impact of the pandemic and the last to recover from it.

Fifty percent of Bethlehem’s economy relies on tourism with the city having 56 hotels with a combined 4,500 rooms that can accommodate 9,000 people, almost 100 oriental antique stores, 400 traditional craft workshops, and 20 large restaurants.

The Palestinian Central Statistics Center revealed that in 2020 to 2021 the tourism sector lost $1.5 billion due to the pandemic.

Jeries Qumsiyeh, director at the Palestinian Ministry of Archeology and Antiquities in Bethlehem, told Arab News that this year the ministry was looking to spotlight the religious, heritage, and tourism components of not only Bethlehem but the cities of Jerusalem and Nazareth too.


Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident
Updated 27 November 2022

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident
  • Crew survived and no damage caused on the ground after technical malfunction
  • Another technical malfunction caused a fighter plane to crash during training in June

CAIRO: An Egyptian fighter plane crashed on Sunday while training, the Egyptian army said.

Gharib Abdel-Hafez, a military spokesman, said on Facebook that the crew survived and that no damage was caused on the ground. He did not identify the location of the crash, which he said was caused by a technical malfunction.

Another technical malfunction caused a fighter plane to crash during training in June. The pilot survived that accident, the spokesman added.

Separately, the British Red Arrows arrived at an air base in southern Egypt to take part in the Hurghada Air Show 2022 over the city of Sahl Hasheesh on Wednesday.

According to the spokesman, the Red Arrows will join the Egyptian Silver Stars team for the event.


Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 27 November 2022

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi
  • Center also performed region’s first autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation on an MS patient, who has reported an improvement in her overall condition

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center has performed the region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on a patient suffering from multiple sclerosis, Emirates News Agency reported. 

This achievement marks a major advance in cell therapy and regenerative medicine capabilities to treat a range of diseases, including cancer and immune disorders.

Doctors at ADSCC performed the region’s first autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation on a patient with MS earlier this month and the patient has since reported an improvement in her overall condition. The treatment aims to “reset” a person’s immune system and can be used for those with relapsing forms of MS.

“We are extremely proud of our achievement at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center to become the first centre in the region to perform the BMT on a MS patient. It fills us with great pride to make such a life-saving treatment here in Abu Dhabi,” said ADSCC’s CEO Dr Yendry Ventura. 

The AHSCT procedure carried out by ADSCC is a “standard of care” and not just a “clinical option” under the updated European Group for Blood & Marrow Transplantation and American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation guidelines from 2019, which reviewed the clinical evidence of AHSCT on MS patients. 

The transplant success follows ADSCC’s ground-breaking work on COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic. These included UAECell19, which was used as a stem cell therapy to help regenerate lung capacity in thousands of COVID-19 patients.

 


Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video
Updated 27 November 2022

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video
  • “O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video
  • “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power,” she said

DUBAI: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s niece, a well known rights activist, has called on foreign governments to cut all ties with Tehran over its violent crackdown on popular unrest kindled by the death in police custody of a young woman.
A video of a statement by Farideh Moradkhani, an engineer whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister, was being widely shared online after what activist news agency HRANA said was her arrest on Nov. 23.
“O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video. “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power.”
Khamenei’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed in more than two months of nationwide unrest as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors. It said 60 members of the security forces had been killed, and 18,173 protesters detained.
The protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for “inappropriate attire,” pose one of the strongest challenges to the country’s clerical establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, a member of parliament from the mainly Kurdish city of Mahabad, said on Sunday that as many as 105 people had been killed in Kurdish-populated areas during the protests. He was speaking in a debate in parliament as quoted by the Entekhan website.
Widespread opposition 
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters from all walks of life have burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the downfall of Iran’s Shiite Muslim theocracy.
The video was shared on YouTube on Friday by her brother, France-based Mahmoud Moradkhani, who presents himself as “an opponent of the Islamic Republic” on his Twitter account, and then by prominent Iranian rights activists.
On Nov. 23, Mahmoud Moradkhani reported her sister’s arrest as she was heeding a court order to appear at the Tehran prosecutor’s office. Farideh had been arrested earlier this year by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and later released on bail.
HRANA said she was in Tehran’s Evin security prison. Moradkhani, it said, had earlier faced a 15-year prison sentence on unspecified charges.
Her father, Ali Moradkhani Arangeh, was a Shiite cleric married to Khamenei’s sister and recently passed away in Tehran following years of isolation due to his stance against the Islamic Republic, according to his website.
Farideh Moradkhani added in her video: “Now is the time for all free and democratic countries to recall their representatives from Iran as a symbolic gesture and to expel the representatives of this brutal regime from their countries.”
On Thursday, the United Nations’ top human rights body decided by a comfortable margin to establish a new investigative mission to look into Tehran’s violent security crackdown on the anti-government protests.
Criticism of the Islamic Republic by relatives of top officials is not unprecedented. In 2012, Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was sentenced to jail for “anti-state propaganda.”
Iranian authorities released on bail the activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi on Nov. 26 to undergo medical treatment, according to his brother writing on Twitter.
Concerns had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month. 


Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’
Updated 27 November 2022

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’
  • US ambassador renewed his country's condemnation of the Houthi terrorist attacks on oil facilities
  • Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen said the Houthi attacks on oil ports are “terrorist operations”

The Houthis must be classified as a terrorist group, Yemen’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, told on Sunday the US Ambassador to Yemen, Steven Fagin. 

The Yemeni government is planning on designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, Mubarak said, stressing the importance of the international community's support for those decisions.

The two sides discussed the challenges that face the peace process, and the Houthis threat to international navigation and international peace and security, state news agency SABA reported.

Mubarak said that the Houthis aimed to “brainwash society” and impose a “racist identity” instead of the national one, the report said.

The US ambassador renewed his country's condemnation of the Houthi terrorist attacks on oil facilities, stressing the United States’ support for the security, stability and unity of Yemen.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed bin Saeed al-Jaber, said that the Houthi attacks, using Iranian weapons, on oil ports are “terrorist operations.”  He added that Houthi attacks on civilian facilities harm the interests of Yemeni people.

“The international community is working to support the truce, and we encourage those efforts,” the ambassador said.

“We hope that international efforts will contribute to pushing the Houthis to support the peace process.”

He also the Arab Monetary Fund will help the Central Bank of Yemen to stabilize the economy.