200 European observers to monitor Lebanese elections; Aoun warns of low voter turnout

200 European observers to monitor Lebanese elections; Aoun warns of low voter turnout
The aim of the mega centers Aoun favors is to allow voters to cast their ballots outside the areas in which they are registered. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 April 2022

200 European observers to monitor Lebanese elections; Aoun warns of low voter turnout

200 European observers to monitor Lebanese elections; Aoun warns of low voter turnout
  • As a result of the financial crisis in the country, increasingly impoverished citizens are prioritizing food over healthcare, Doctors Without Borders warns
  • ‘Opposition forces that claim to confront the ruling authority and corruption are no longer concerned with people’s suffering but are focusing on their own ambitions,’ said workers union chief

BEIRUT: Gyorgy Holvenyi, the head of the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission, said on Thursday that about 200 observers will monitor the Lebanese parliamentary elections on May 15 and will do so with “all transparency and impartiality.”

Part of the team arrived in Lebanon on March 27 and will remain there until June 6, he told Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Holvenyi said the observers will produce a detailed assessment of the election process, as was done during the previous electoral cycle. They will also monitor the voting process for expatriates in several European countries in accordance with the same standards and rules applied in Lebanon, he added.

Aoun said that “work is underway to overcome obstacles to holding the elections despite the difficult economic and financial conditions that Lebanon is going through, which could have been mitigated for voters if mega centers had been adopted.”

He blamed the legislative authority for this. The aim of the mega centers Aoun favors is to allow voters to cast their ballots outside the areas in which they are registered, meaning they would not have to return to their hometowns to vote. There were concerns among some, however, that if the creation of such centers was approved for the current election cycle it could lead to delays or postponement.

Aoun expressed concern that the rejection of the mega centers will result in low voter turnout because rising fuel prices as a result of the financial crisis in the country will mean additional expense for voters who have to travel further to vote.

A judicial source told Arab News that 45 judges in Lebanon have so far rejected the possibility that they will oversee the vote-counting process. Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat previously submitted a letter about this to the Ministry of Justice and urged the appointment of alternatives.

The source said: “The judges will refrain from participating given the economic conditions and the low wages they would receive for more than 24 hours of work.”

The source also expressed concern that “staff in public institutions could refrain from supervising the electoral process amid the low wages and long working hours.”

On Thursday, Aoun signed a law, approved by parliament, authorizing an extraordinary allocation in the 2022 general budget for the General Directorate of Political Affairs of the Ministry of Interior, the General Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cover the costs of the elections at home and abroad.

The total amount is 620 billion Lebanese pounds ($31 million, based on the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate of 20,000 pounds to the dollar). It will be distributed as follows: 260 billion pounds for the Ministry of Interior, 300 billion pounds to cover the costs of issuing 1 million Lebanese passports, and 60 billion pounds to cover the expense of organizing polling in other countries for expatriates.

Political parties have been organizing special events in an effort to encourage hesitant or reluctant voters since the official electoral lists were announced. Despite this there is still widespread skepticism that the elections will take place next month as scheduled.

However, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Thursday: “Ever since the government was formed, we keep hearing people deliberately doubting everything we do in this country — as if they want to prevent Lebanon from rising once again and achieving financial, economic and social recovery.

“I call on all people to find common ground and steer clear of tensions.”

He added that that there is great hope attached to the elections, especially among the younger generation.

Political analysts believe that many people are questioning the realistic chances of the elections going ahead because of the prevailing poor living conditions in the country as a result of the financial crisis, and public resentment of a political elite that is once again standing for election under unconvincing slogans.

The financial situation has also created power supply problems across the country, which could disrupt the provision of electricity to polling stations and vote counting centers in all regions.

Mikati confirmed during a cabinet session on Wednesday that his government will not surrender “in the face of the difficult social and economic situation.” He stressed the need to invite all sections of society to cooperate to overcome the “difficult situation we are experiencing, and not spread panic and despair among the Lebanese.”

On Thursday, Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, warned that financial pressures are forcing people to prioritize the purchase of food over healthcare in a country where privatization of medical services is rampant.

The organization, which has organized health projects in Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon, one of the poorest parts of the country, said: “To avoid spending money, people delay seeking care until their health condition deteriorates and reaches a critical degree. Sometimes, it will be too late.”

Marcelo Fernandez, the head of the MSF mission in Lebanon, said: “With the increasing poverty rates, communities living on the edge of the poverty line are likely to neglect preventive care or try to treat diseases on their own.

“What we are witnessing in Wadi Khaled is a vivid example of that and people in fragile conditions are the most affected.”

The National Federation of Trade Unions and Employees in Lebanon has announced that it will take to the streets on Labor Day, May 1, in a comprehensive show of civil disobedience to protest against poor working conditions and the greed its says it said is manipulating prices and the black market.

Castro Abdullah, the federation’s president, said food prices have increased by 1,500 percent, while hospitals are failing to meet required moral and humanitarian standards.

He accused candidates standing for election next month of exploiting the prevailing conditions in the most horrific ways.

“The opposition forces that claim to confront the ruling authority and corruption are no longer concerned with the people’s suffering but are rather focusing on their own ambitions, claiming that change can only be achieved through parliament,” said Abdullah.


Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam

Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam
Updated 47 min 53 sec ago

Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam

Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam
  • Cairo, Khartoum fear it will reduce their share of Nile waters
  • Egypt says it will take all necessary measures to protect national security

CAIRO: In a letter to the UN Security Council, Egypt has warned of cracks in the concrete facade of the sub-dam linked to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Cairo said this is particularly alarming due to Ethiopia’s failure to comply with its duty to conduct the required environmental and socioeconomic impact studies.

The letter, sent to the UNSC president, said Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Aty had received a message about Ethiopia’s intention to unilaterally resume filling the GERD during the current rainy season.

Abdel-Aty said Ethiopia’s decision comes in the absence of an agreement between it and Egypt and Sudan on the rules governing the filling and operation of the dam, constituting a violation of the 2015 Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries.

He stressed that Cairo holds Ethiopia fully responsible for any significant harm that may be caused to Egypt by these repeated violations.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the country reserves its right guaranteed in the UN Charter to take all necessary measures to ensure and protect its national security, including against any harm that Ethiopia’s unilateral measures may cause.

The GERD has raised tensions between Ethiopia on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other.

The latter two countries are demanding a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam, which they fear will reduce their share of the Nile’s waters.

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UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey

UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey
Updated 11 August 2022

UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey

UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey
  • 4-year-old George Jack Temperley-Wells visited Antalya with his mother to see his father

LONDON: Police in the UK have asked for help to locate a 4-year-old boy who is thought to be missing after traveling to Turkey.

George Jack Temperley-Wells is believed to have gone to visit his father Scott Nigel Wells in the city of Antalya on June 29 with his mother Brogan Elizabeth Temperley. Antalya is a popular summer holiday destination for Britons.

Durham Police said anyone in contact with Temperley should notify authorities in Turkey or the UK immediately with information on her whereabouts, adding that they have serious concerns for the welfare of her son.

The police said the boy has red hair, a pale complexion and dark eyes, while his mother is described as being slim with long dark hair and dark eyes.

The force released two images of the trio dining in the area at a restaurant recently, where they were seen smiling together.

People in Turkey with information should visit their nearest police station or call 112/115. Anyone in the UK with information should contact Durham Constabulary on 101, and quote the incident number 325 for June 30.


UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs

UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs
Updated 11 August 2022

UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs

UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs
  • Italian Embassy: Project will improve housing for vulnerable people affected by port blast

LONDON: The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and the UN Program for Human Settlements have signed an agreement in Beirut to finance the rehabilitation of the public park of the Mar Mikhael train station in the Lebanese capital.

The program will also restore some of the housing damaged by the Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020.

The Italian Embassy in Beirut reported the signing, hosting a ceremony at the Italian diplomatic headquarters in Baabda. It was attended by Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Nicoletta Bombardiere.

The project, titled “Ensuring safe public spaces and adequate housing for all within the city of Beirut,” is being funded by the agency and will be implemented by the UN program alongside Lebanese authorities.

The embassy said the project will improve “housing conditions for vulnerable populations affected by the explosion of the port of Beirut, in particular in the vicinity of the old Mar Mikhael railway station.”

It added that the project intends to increase “access to safe and inclusive public spaces within the railway station, also revitalizing the urban fabric of the city.”

Bombardiere said: “This project will allow the citizens of Beirut to rediscover the old Mar Mikhael railway station and its historical relevance.

“At the same time, we continue our commitment to respond to basic needs, such as social housing, restoring the cultural and social fabric of the districts most affected.”


Hostage situation: Armed man storms Lebanese bank, demands release of frozen assets

Hostage situation: Armed man storms Lebanese bank, demands release of frozen assets
Updated 6 min 46 sec ago

Hostage situation: Armed man storms Lebanese bank, demands release of frozen assets

Hostage situation: Armed man storms Lebanese bank, demands release of frozen assets
  • The gunman entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in the Hamra neighborhood in west Beirut with a firearm, security source said

BEIRUT, LEBANON: A gunman has taken employees of a bank in Beirut’s Al Hamra Street hostage, demanding he is repaid savings held at the branch which he says have been withheld as part of measures taken by the Banque du Liban since 2019.

Named as Bassam Sheikh Hussein, 42, the gunman poured gasoline into the bank hall and then brandished a weapon threatening to burn himself and kill those in the bank unless he obtained the $2,000 so he can pay for his father’s hospital costs.

The security services have cordoned off the area and are still trying to communicate with Hussein.

 


The man entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in the Hamra neighborhood in west Beirut just before noon on Thursday with a firearm, the security source told Reuters.
Some customers in the bank managed to flee before he shut the doors on the rest, said the source, who was not able to specify how many clients or employees were in the branch.

 


Two shots were subsequently fired, according to Lebanese media station Al-Jadeed.
A Reuters witness could see a bearded man in a black shirt behind the gated entrance to the bank speaking to several men in plainclothes on the outside.
“Let them give me back my money!” he was heard telling them.

 

The following is a live update of the events as they unfold. All timings are GMT:

11:05 am - Man outside the bank tells gathered media he has been commissioned by the hostage-taker to negotiate on his behalf.

 

 

10:47 am - Al-Akhbar tweets footage of demonstrators outside the bank chanting "Down with the banks ruling" of Lebanon.

 

 

10:29 am – Al Arabiya news channel reports that eight hostages are being held inside the bank.

10:20am – The face of the gunman (Reuters)

10:11 am – Video of the gunman appears to show his hostages pleading with him.

 

 

09:30am - Al Jadeed Television confirms that Basem Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, has taken hostages in a branch of Federal Bank Lebanon in Hamrah Street in Beirut, demanding his money back.

He has $210,000 and his brother has $500,000 in accounts in the bank. Direct negotiations are ongoing between the families of the hostages and Hussein.


Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton
Updated 11 August 2022

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton
  • ‘The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction’
  • US Justice Department: Plan likely in retaliation for the killing of Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “fiction” Thursday US allegations it had plotted to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton in retaliation for the assassination of one of its top commanders.
The US claim comes at a crunch moment in talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that Washington had abandoned in 2018 but has said it wants to rejoin, with Iran now considering what European Union mediators have called a “final” text.
“The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.
“This time they have come up with a plot involving individuals like Bolton whose political career has failed,” Kanani scoffed.
“The Islamic republic warns against any action that targets Iranian citizens by resorting to ridiculous accusations.”
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill Bolton.
The plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, the department said.
Guards member Shahram Poursafi is also alleged to have dangled the possibility of a second target he said would earn the ostensible assassin $1 million.
The court papers did not identify that alleged target, but according to US media outlet Axios, it was former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo.
The person Poursafi was dealing with was actually an informant for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the court filings.
Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which carries up to 10 years in prison; and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.
The Justice Department said Poursafi remains at large and is believed to be in Iran.
“Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” current White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned after the charges were announced.
Soleimani, a revered figure in Iran, was killed in a US drone strike just after he landed at Baghdad’s airport on January 7, 2020.
Since his death, Tehran has vowed to take revenge, and the United States has ramped up security for prominent current and former officials, including Pompeo, who was leading the State Department when Soleimani was killed.
Bolton, like Pompeo a strong critic of Iran, was national security adviser in the White House of former president Donald Trump from April 2018 to September 2019.
He was strongly opposed to the 2015 deal putting limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and supported the Trump administration’s unilateral pullout from the pact in May 2018.
Bolton blasted Iran’s government as “liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States” in a statement on Wednesday.
Kanani said the US Justice Department’s “baseless claims” were a smokescreen to “avoid being held to account for the numerous crimes in which the US government has been directly implicated, like the cowardly assassination” of Soleimani.