Egypt slams Ethiopian power generation from Renaissance Dam

Egypt slams Ethiopian power generation from Renaissance Dam
On Sunday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed inaugurated the first operation to generate electricity from the Renaissance Dam. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2022

Egypt slams Ethiopian power generation from Renaissance Dam

Egypt slams Ethiopian power generation from Renaissance Dam

CAIRO: Ethiopia is “violating the commitments of the 2015 Declaration of Principles” by unilaterally starting electricity generation from the Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has warned.

The agreement — signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan — stipulates “cooperation on the basis of mutual understanding, mutual benefit, goodwill and the principles of international law.”

On Sunday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed inaugurated the first operation to generate electricity from the Renaissance Dam in the presence of senior officials, including former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and former President Malatu Tshome.

During a tour of the power plant, Ahmed said: “Water will continue to flow to Sudan and Egypt during power generation, and we succeeded in making the world see what we were talking about, which is that Ethiopia does not have any intentions to build a dam for the sake of starving our Egyptian and Sudanese brothers.”

Official media reported that the dam, located in western Ethiopia near the border with Sudan, had started generating 375 megawatts of electricity from one of its 13 turbines. 

Mohamed Abdel-Aty, Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation, has said his country is one of the most water-scarce in the world.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi recently stressed “the need to reach a fair, balanced and binding legal agreement on filling and operating the Renaissance Dam, in accordance with the rules of international law and the outcomes of the (UN) Security Council in this regard, within an appropriate timeframe and without any unilateral measures.”

Negotiations related to the dam have been officially suspended since last April. Egypt and Sudan reject Ethiopia’s insistence on filling the dam before reaching a binding agreement.

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Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis
Updated 15 sec ago

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

The head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah said he supports protesters in the country, agrees that all institutions should leave including the government, and there is no way to do that except through “election.”
Dbeibah’s comments come after protesters stormed the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk and staged the biggest demonstration for years in the capital Tripoli, in the west.


Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
Updated 24 min 44 sec ago

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
  • Numbers double in six months

JEDDAH: The number of executions in Iran has more than doubled in the past six months in a new campaign to intimidate anti-regime protesters, rights groups said on Friday.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, 251 Iranians were hanged compared with 117 in the first half of last year. The surge in executions has coincided with a series of nationwide protests over Iran’s economic collapse and the soaring price of basic food staples such as bread.
“There is no doubt that spreading fear to counteract the growing popular anti-regime protests is the main goal of these executions,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Iran Human Rights, an activist group in Norway.
“Only stronger international reactions and domestic campaigns against the executions can raise the political cost of these executions for the authorities and stop the increasing trend.”
Amiry-Moghaddam said 137 of the executions had been carried out since the latest wave of anti-regime protests in Iran began on May 7. Six women were among those executed, and eight prisoners were hanged at the Rajai Shahr Prison outside Tehran this week alone.
The group said its estimate of executions included only those published in official media or confirmed by at least two independent sources, so the real number was likely to be higher.
Activists also accuse Iran of executing a disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities, especially Baluch and Kurds. Iran Human Rights said it counted the executions of 67 prisoners from the Baluch minority, mainly Sunni Muslims who live in the southeast.
Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty in 2021 said that at least 19 percent of recorded executions in Iran were Baluch, although they make up only about 5 percent of the population.
There is also concern over the execution on June 20 of Firuz Musalou, a Kurd convicted on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged an insurgency in Turkey. His sentence was carried out in secret without his family being informed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern last month over the rise in executions, with Iran again executing drug offenders in high numbers and many people from ethnic minorities.
“The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to ‘most serious crimes’ and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for human rights.


Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive
Updated 57 min 29 sec ago

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

MADRID: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Sweden and Finland that he could still block their drives to join NATO if they fail to implement a new accession deal with Ankara.
Erdogan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit at which the US-led alliance formally invited the Nordic countries to join the 30-nation bloc.
The two nations dropped their history of military non-alignment and announced plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their bids were headed for swift approval until Erdogan voiced concerns in May.
He accused the two of providing a haven for outlawed Kurdish militants and promoting “terrorism.”
Erdogan also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
A 10-point memorandum signed by the three sides on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Tuesday appeared to address many of Erdogan’s concerns.
Erdogan lifted his objections and then held a warm meeting with US President Joe Biden that was followed by a promise of new warplane sales to Turkey.
Yet Erdogan told reporters at an impromptu press conference held as the summit ended that the memorandum did not mean Turkey would automatically approve the two countries’ membership.
New countries’ applications must be approved by all members and ratified by their respective parliaments.
Erdogan warned Sweden and Finland’s future behavior would decide whether he forwarded their application to the Turkish parliament.
“If they fulfil their duties, we will send it to the parliament. If they are not fulfilled, it is out of the question,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said the ratification process could come at the very earliest in late September and may wait until 2023, with parliament going into recess from Friday.
One Western diplomatic source in the hallways of the NATO summit accused Erdogan of engaging in “blackmail.”
Erdogan delivered his message one day after Turkey said it would seek the extradition of 12 suspects from Finland and 21 from Sweden.
The 33 were all accused of being either outlawed Kurdish militants or members of a group led by a US-based preacher Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.
But Erdogan appeared to up the ante on Thursday by noting that Sweden had “promised” Turkey to extradite “73 terrorists.”
He did not explain when Sweden issued this promise or provide other details.
Officials in Stockholm said they did not understand Erdogan’s reference but stressed that Sweden strictly adhered to the rule of law.
“In Sweden, Swedish law is applied by independent courts,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in a statement to AFP.
“Swedish citizens are not extradited. Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if it is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” Johansson said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday that Erdogan appeared to be referring to cases that had already been processed by officials and the courts.
“I would guess that all of these cases have been solved in Finland. There are decisions made, and those decisions are partly made by our courts,” Niinisto told reporters in Madrid.
“I see no reason to take them up again.”
Most of Turkey’s demands and past negotiations have involved Sweden because of its more robust ties with the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden keeps no official ethnicity statistics but is believed to have 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million people.
The Brookings Institution warned that Turkey’s “loose and often aggressive framing” of the term “terrorist” could lead to problems in the months to come.
“The complication arises from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond criminalizing participation in violent acts and infringes on basic freedom of speech,” the US-based institute said in a report.


European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2022

European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
  • Israel’s ‘escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations’ rapped

RAMALLAH: The European Commission has told Ramallah-based NGO Al-Haq Human Rights Organization that the 13-month suspension of €40,000 funding from the EU will be lifted after finding that the suspension was “illegal and was not devoid of political dimensions.”

Al-Haq is one of six Palestinian human rights organizations that the Israeli government declared on Oct. 19 to be “outlaws,” citing its association with the (leftist) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it classifies as a terrorist group. On May 21, Israeli authorities issued a military order to close Al-Haq’s headquarters.

Al-Haq was established 43 years ago. It received the prestigious Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights in June.

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq, told Arab News: “The importance of the decision lies in the (fact) that we are trying to defend ourselves against a terrible machine that has friends in the European Commission and the European Union. Israel is working against us politically and ideologically, and we are working professionally. And the truth has triumphed over their political attempts.”

The European Commission said in a letter to Al-Haq on June 28 that the suspension had been lifted “unconditionally and immediately” following an assessment by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

“This decision is based on several elements, including OLAF’s assessment, which did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation. Specifically, OLAF concluded that there is no suspicion of irregularities and fraud affecting EU funds in implementing (Al-Haq’s) EU-funded project,” the letter stated.

In a statement issued on June 30, Al-Haq said: “Since its imposition in May 2021, it was clear that the suspension was not prompted by any genuine concerns about the possible misuse of funding. Under the direct responsibility of the Hungarian EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, the suspension became a political initiative aimed at giving the Israeli government a tailwind in its attempts to disrupt and defame Palestinian civil society and to oppress the voices of Palestinian human rights organizations and defenders. No other conclusion can be drawn based on what we have experienced with this suspension in the past 13 months.”

Al-Haq had previously filed a case against the EC with the European Court and a hearing is scheduled to take place on July 4, Jabarin added.

Al-Haq said in its statement that it has no illusions about Israel’s escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations and its attempt to silence human rights defenders in Palestine, the culmination of which was Israel’s decision in October 2021 to designate Al-Haq and five other leading Palestinian NGOs — Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International — Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — as “outlaws.” The five other organizations do not received funding from the EU.

“We have challenged the commission’s lousy faith performance from the start of the suspension, contesting its necessity and proportionality and demanding clarifications of the grounds and information on which the suspension was based. Until today, the Commission has failed to provide these clarifications,” Al-Haq’s statement read.

“Throughout 2021, the Commission consistently ignored our questions and requests. In early 2022, we appointed a Belgian lawyer to defend our rights vis-à-vis the Commission. On April 1, 2022, he launched an ‘amicable settlement’ procedure on our behalf, including our proposal on how the dispute between the parties should be resolved,” it continued.

“The decision to freeze funding was a crime against us,” Jabarin said. “The issue is not financial but political, in which the EU participated. Now the mistake has been corrected, as it has been proven that there is no misuse of money or financing for terrorism. This is a message to the Israelis and the European Union, who built their positions on false Israeli reports against us.”


Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
Updated 02 July 2022

Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • Subscribers ‘thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using 3G or 4G service’

BEIRUT: The adoption of new tariffs for phone services and subscriptions in Lebanon has caused concern.

Pricing will now follow the dollar exchange rate on the Sayrafa platform, which is about LBP25,200. Prices used to be calculated according to the official exchange rate of LBP1,515.

The tariff raise came into force on Friday.

People woke up on Friday to text messages sent by telecom operators calculating their balances according to the Sayrafa exchange rate, surprised by the value of their balance tumbling to below $1.

BACKGROUND

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

In May, the Cabinet approved the decision to increase the tariffs and fees for landline, mobile calls, and the internet starting July 1.

They will be calculated by dividing the previous dollar bill by three and then paying it in Lebanese pounds per the Sayrafa platform rate.

But people are struggling to accept the new prices, despite the help offered to students and security services by telecom companies Touch and Alfa.

Rabih, a 17-year-old student, said: “I had LBP75,000 in my balance, which used to amount to $49 according to the official rate. The amount shrank today to 30 (US) cents.”

Based on comparison tables between the prices in dollars and the prices adopted now, prices have fallen by about 300 percent in dollars, while their calculation according to the Lebanese pound rate shows a significant increase ranging from 500 to 700 percent.

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value, leading to significant price differences.

The price table circulated by telecom companies shows that a 30-day prepaid card which used to cost $22.7 — equivalent to about LBP34,000 per the official dollar exchange rate — now costs $7.58.

But, if calculated based on the Sayrafa rate, its cost rises to LBP191,000, which means an increase of about 560 percent.

The telecom companies confirmed that the step came in response to the “necessity to maintain the continuity of the telecom sector and the provided services, amid the economic and financial crisis and the increase of the high cost of power insurance for plants, and since this sector is one of the most important pillars of the national economy.”

Activists warned that “audio messages and videos should not be sent when using the 4G service because they will consume all phone data.”

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

The Lebanese are thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using the 3G or 4G service.

People relying on this service hesitate before opening any video received. Sending morning flowers and evening greetings has decreased significantly in recent days.

Abbas, a private internet service distributor, said: “We raised our prices but all distributors agreed to calculate their prices according to the rate of LBP10,000 for the dollar instead of the Sayrafa rate of about LBP25,000 to compete with the Ogero service affiliated to the Ministry of Telecommunications and maintain our subscribers. Our prices took into consideration the costs of transportation, generator subscriptions, and employees. I don’t deny that some subscribers decided to opt for the Ogero service because it is cheaper than ours by LBP60,000.

“But they forgot that Ogero is suffering from fuel shortage, preventing it from securing the service around-the-clock. Many operators are forced to turn off their machines as a result of their inability to secure dollars to buy diesel and operate the generators.

“Moreover, Ogero faces problems in installing new internet cables because of the high transportation cost of employees who have to move around between the clients’ houses to offer their services.”

The lifestyle of the Lebanese is undergoing major changes, especially young people who now have to reconsider the time they allocate for talking on the phone and internet use.

Abbas said that coffee shops offering free internet had “significantly raised” their food and beverage prices to provide their customers with this service. “If they start incurring losses, they might start slowing down the internet to reduce its use.”

Rabih said that he and his friends had decided to stay at home to use the home internet for their phone calls and chats, even though the home internet bill had increased from LBP100,000 to more than LBP400,000.

He feared the lifestyle they had become used to might change, and he worried about the state of their education next year if they returned to remote learning.

Telecom services are the only ones falling under the official dollar rate. Other services are priced based on the black market exchange rate, while the remaining subsidized medicines are in line with the Sayrafa platform rate.

But the tariff increases have not triggered any reaction in the streets as happened in 2019 when the Ministry of Telecommunications discussed the possibility of imposing a $6 fee on WhatsApp.

It backtracked on this plan in response to public pressure.