Lebanon mourns as more victims of boat capsize recovered from sea

Special A man cries as he carries the body of a young girl during the funeral procession for seven people killed when a boat packed with migrants sunk over the weekend. (AP)
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A man cries as he carries the body of a young girl during the funeral procession for seven people killed when a boat packed with migrants sunk over the weekend. (AP)
Special People stand near stretchers that are prepared for dead bodies after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, at port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (Reuters)
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People stand near stretchers that are prepared for dead bodies after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, at port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 April 2022

Lebanon mourns as more victims of boat capsize recovered from sea

A man cries as he carries the body of a young girl during the funeral procession for seven people killed when a boat packed with migrants sunk over the weekend. (AP)
  • Around 84 people on board when vessel capsized off Tripoli
  • Public anger comes ahead of May 15 parliamentary elections

BEIRUT: Funerals were held on Monday in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli for those who died after the boat they were onboard capsized and sank.

The Lebanese flag flew at half-mast over the Lebanese Presidential Palace on Monday in mourning for the victims, with President Michel Aoun following up on the work of specialist military and security forces in their search for the missing passengers and the course of the investigation to uncover the circumstances and establish responsibility for the incident.

Commercial establishments in Tripoli closed their doors to mourn the victims.

The UNHCR estimated there were 84 passengers on board the vessel when it capsized 5.5 km off the coast of Tripoli. The number of missing people is around 30, and there are no more than 45 survivors.

Rescue teams searched the Mediterranean for survivors after the overloaded boat capsized while being pursued by naval forces.

On Monday morning, they found two bodies on the beach in Tripoli. One was Khadija Al-Nimri. The other was Amir Kaddour.




People stand near stretchers that are prepared for dead bodies after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, at port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (Reuters)

A hospital issued a call to anyone who knew Sarah Ahmed Talib to come forward to identify and receive her body.

Another victim was 25-year-old Mohammed Talib, who drowned three days after his engagement.

Most of those on board were families from Tripoli and the passengers were said to include Syrians and Palestinians.

They were sailing to Italy in search of a decent life.

Two of the victims —  18-month-old Taleen Mohammed Al-Hamwi and her mother Duha — were buried in Tripoli amid scenes of deep sorrow and heavy gunfire.

But there was calm in Tripoli’s neighborhoods following the heightened emotions of Sunday, when protesters attacked army checkpoints and outposts after it brought in reinforcements and strengthened its presence in the city.

The anger comes ahead of parliamentary elections on May 15 and against a backdrop of economic turmoil and deteriorating living conditions.

Protesters removed pictures of election candidates from the walls of the city, which has some of Lebanon's most impoverished neighborhoods, with people also targeting politicians in Beirut and further afield.

Protesters chased Energy Minister Walid Fayyad in the capital, pushing him against a wall and slapping him. The assault was filmed.  

“How dare you go out while people are still drowning in the sea? It's time to wake up,” they demanded to know.

Fayyad's office described his assailants as “a well-known group of saboteurs whose moral degeneration reached the point where they treacherously (and) physically assaulted the minister in the middle of the street.”

His office said the minister had decided “to personally prosecute everyone who incited, monitored, planned, and contributed to the attack.”

On social media, Lebanese activists posted a picture of Prime Minister Najib Mikati's yacht anchored in the French city of Nice.

The yacht is 79 meters long and valued at $100 million.

A sign raised in front of the yacht read in Arabic and French: “The people of Tripoli were assassinated by the owner of this yacht.”

While the Lebanese were dealing with the repercussions of the boat tragedy, UN peacekeepers were investigating rocket fire from Lebanon into Israel that prompted Israeli retaliation.

A Grad missile was fired on Sunday night from the Ras Al-Ain-Qlaileh area, south of Tyre, toward Israel.

Despite the Israeli side’s assertion that the missile “fell in an open area, and the warnings were not activated,” Lebanese Army Command said the border areas south of Tayr Harfa, Wadi Hamoul, Alma Al-Shaab, and the outskirts of the town of Zebqin were hit by Israeli artillery. No injuries or damage was reported.

The area was targeted by about 50 artillery shells.

Israel also fired about 40 flare bombs over the towns of Tayr Harfa, Naqoura, Shihin, and Bidias.

According to a statement by Army Command on Monday, an army unit found two 122mm Grad rockets installed on aluminum slings ready for launch. These were disabled by specialist units.

The breach was followed up in coordination with UNIFIL, which announced detecting "the firing of a missile from southern Lebanon toward Israel.”

The UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Maj. Gen. Aroldo Lazaro immediately contacted authorities on both sides of the Blue Line and urged them to exercise restraint.

But the Israeli army responded by firing dozens of shells into Lebanon.

Lazaro called on all parties to avoid further escalation, expressing concern over the “disproportionate response.”

UNIFIL said it had opened an investigation and called on both sides to exercise restraint.


Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens
Updated 9 sec ago

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

BEIRUT: The Lebanese have once again sporadically taken to the streets of Beirut and other urban areas to protest the continued strain on their living conditions, but no official nationwide movement has erupted to unify their anger.

On Tuesday, protesters closed the offices of a mobile phone operator in Tripoli, north Lebanon, and asked employees to leave their offices in protest against the rise in prices.

There are growing concerns in Tripoli as thousands of families are unable to provide their basic daily necessities.

Security reports have indicated that nighttime crime is on the rise, punctuated by random shootings in popular neighborhoods. Fears have been compounded after a majority of people in Tripoli have stopped paying their private generator subscriptions, practically living in the dark 24/7, because they can no longer afford the fees.

Many Lebanese have also given up another basic service — the internet — after bundles were priced in dollars. Caretaker Minister of Communications Johnny Korm said: “The new cell phone bill is calculated by dividing the previous bill by three and multiplying it by the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate (25,300 LBP/USD) or multiplying it by 2.5 for the Ogero service.”

Korm added: “Indeed, we expect many to stop using cellphones altogether, but it is too early to give accurate figures. Consumption has so far decreased by 8 percent since the beginning of July.”

Protesters blocked roads in Beirut, complaining about the loss of access to the public water network for the third week, and lamenting the regular power cuts that have blighted all areas due to the suspension of production plants.

Just one power station, the Deir Ammar plant, has continued operations amid a scarcity of fuel coming from Iraq, which is less than the expected quantity as Baghdad battles its own power sector struggles.

Although the Ministry of Economy said that there is enough flour to meet Lebanon’s consumption needs, citizens are still queuing at bakeries that are only selling one bundle of bread per customer in an attempt to provide bread to the largest possible number of customers.

Meanwhile, some are selling bread on the black market amid fears that wheat will not be available after Eid Al-Adha since the Central Bank is yet to open credits for wheat imports.

MP Wael Abu Faour reported: “According to the security services, organized gangs are stealing subsidized flour and selling it on the black market.”

The World Bank country classifications by income level on July 1 showed that Lebanon has become a lower-middle-income country.

“For the eleventh consecutive year, Lebanon’s real GDP per capita fell in 2021, and the country also experienced sharp exchange rate depreciation,” the report stated, as the per capita gross national income in 2021 amounted to $3,450, after it was $5,510 in 2020.

Representatives from the General Labor Union, the Forces for Change groups, the private sector and civil society bodies discussed on Tuesday “a mechanism of action to end the government’s policies of starvation and humiliation and its petty decisions to increase prices, through the deliberate killing of the Lebanese people and the financing of corruption that has been rampant for many years.”

They unanimously agreed on “the absolute rejection of any increase in prices, especially telecommunications and the internet, because it is deliberate theft to continue financing the corrupt system and its groups that are holding on to their posts and suffocating citizens.”

They further called on the Lebanese to be ready to participate in the upcoming moves to restore their rights, the most basic of which are telecommunications services and the internet.

While Lebanon’s economic deterioration worsens and politicians fail to form a government that can approve the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund, the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission — which monitored the Lebanese parliamentary elections on May 15 — issued a report that slammed several aspects of how the elections were held.

Gyorgy Holvenyi, the head of the EU team, said during a press conference in Beirut: “The conclusion in the mission’s final report is that although preparations were affected by limited financial and human resources, the election authorities delivered the May 15 parliamentary elections in the scheduled time. However, these elections were overshadowed by widespread practices of vote-buying and clientelism, which distorted the level playing field and seriously affected the voters’ choice.”

In its report, the mission noted: “The campaign was vibrant but marred by various instances of intimidation (including on social media) and cases of campaign obstruction. Besides, the legal framework for campaign finance suffers from serious shortcomings concerning transparency and accountability.”

The mission included a series of recommendations to improve the electoral process in the future. “These recommendations are setting a framework for a gradual Lebanese-led reform process,” Holvenyi emphasized, adding: “The EU stands ready to support Lebanon in implementing these recommendations to improve future election processes if deemed necessary, feasible, and useful.”


Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations

Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations
Updated 5 min 56 sec ago

Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations

Tunisia’s president defends constitution from ‘dictatorship’ accusations

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Tuesday defended a draft constitution set for a referendum this month, after the drafting committee’s chief disavowed a document he said could return the country to dictatorship.

The new constitution is the centerpiece of Saied’s plan to remake the North African country’s political system, over a decade after its pro-democracy revolt which sparked copycat uprisings across the region.

But Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert who oversaw the drafting of the new constitution, said the final version Saied published last week was “completely different” from his committee’s draft, and warned that some articles could “pave the way for a dictatorial regime.”

On Tuesday, Saied’s office published an open letter arguing that “this draft was built on what the Tunisian people have expressed from the start of the revolution (in late 2010) up until the correction of its path on July 25, 2021.”

That was the day Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament and seized wide-ranging powers in moves opponents have called a coup against the only democratic system to have emerged from the Arab Spring revolts.

Saied wants a presidential system to replace the country’s 2014 constitution, which enshrined a mixed presidential-parliamentary system often beset by deadlock and marred by corruption. “This draft which is proposed to you expresses the spirit of the revolution, and in no way threatens rights or freedoms,” Saied’s letter read.

He dismissed “those who slander and pretend” the document could return the country to tyranny, saying they had not read it in detail.

He urged Tunisians to vote to approve the new draft in the vote set for July 25, the first anniversary of his power grab.

“Say ‘yes’ so the state does not fail, so the revolution’s aims are achieved, so there will be no misery, terrorism, hunger, injustice and suffering,” he wrote.

Wheat crisis

Tunisian farmer Mondher Mathali surveys a sea of swaying golden wheat and revs his combine harvester, a rumbling beast from 1976 which he fears could break down at any moment.

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

The small North African country, like its neighbors, is desperate to prevent food shortages and social unrest — but for farmers on the sun-baked plains north of Tunis, even the basics are problematic.

“I’d love to buy a new combine harvester, but I could only do it with help from the government,” said Mathali, 65. He reckons his outdated machine wastes almost a third of the crop. With spare parts hard to find, he fears a breakdown could cost him his entire harvest.

But even a second-hand replacement would cost him an unimaginable sum: $150,000.

“Our production and even the quality would go up by maybe 50 percent, even 90 percent” with government help, he said. “But our situation is getting worse and the state isn’t helping us.”

Tunisia’s wheat production has suffered from years of drought and a decade of political instability, with 10 governments since the country’s 2011 revolution.


Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center

Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center
Updated 52 min 53 sec ago

Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center

Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center
  • The showroom will provide customers with a cutting-edge shopping experience, allowing them to browse the latest Sony technology and products

MANAMA: Ashrafs Bahrain, one of the most popular shopping destinations in the Kingdom, is showcasing Sony's extensive product line at its new electronics showroom at Bahrain City Center.

Chairman Farouk Yousif Almoayyed, YK Almoayyed & Sons, Executive Director Amal Yousif Almoayyed, Deputy Managing Director Ashrafs and Jobin Joejoe, and Sony Middle East and Africa were present at the showroom's opening.

The new store will provide customers with a cutting-edge shopping experience by allowing them to browse the latest Sony technology and electronic products, the company stated.Customers will be able to choose from a wide variety of home entertainment, smart devices, premium audio accessories, mobile phones, and ecosystem products.

"We are delighted to announce our presence at the new Ashrafs Bahrain. Shoppers in the kingdom can now enjoy a world class shopping experience and discover a range of Sony products." Joejoe said.

"Consumers in Bahrain are very tech-savvy, and we are excited for Sony fans, including movie buffs, sports fans and gamers, to try our ecosystem of products and enjoy a truly immersive experience," he stated.

The new store will also feature Sony's new Bravia XR series and the Sony WH-1000XM5.


Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London
Updated 05 July 2022

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London
  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.


6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot
Updated 05 July 2022

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot
  • Distraught residents search for missing relatives
  • Al-Qaeda known to be active in area

AL-MUKALLA: At least six people were killed and more than 30 injured on Tuesday when two massive explosions destroyed an arms warehouse in the southern Yemen province of Abyan.

The first blast happened in the morning inside a busy popular market near the weapons depot in Lawder, a large town in the province. As dozens of people milled around after the explosion, a second blast detonated in the two-story building containing the arms depot.

Officials said they could not give a precise number of casualties as the dead and injured were still arriving at Al-Shaheed Mahnef hospital in Lawder. Residents rushed to the hospital to searching for missing relatives and friends, and medical staff called for blood donations. The poorly equipped and understaffed hospital was forced to refer critical cases to larger hospitals in Abyan and Aden.

Authorities launched an investigation into the explosions, but Al-Qaeda are known to be active in the area and twin explosions a short time apart are a terrorist tactic to increase the number of casualties.

Abyan is a contested province between the internationally recognized government and separatists loyal to the Southern Transitional Council. It was the site of fierce battles in 2019 and 2020 that claimed the lives of many soldiers and Houthi terrorist militia fighters.

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda exploited the anarchy in the province to make a comeback.

Suspected Al-Qaeda militants in the province are still holding five UN workers who were abducted in February while returning to neighboring Aden after finishing a field mission.

Local officials and tribal mediators have failed to convince the abductors to release the workers. The kidnappers insist on swapping them with allied prisoners in Aden and demand a ransom of thousands of dollars.

Elsewhere in Yemen, EU envoys have asked the Iran-backed Houthi militia to de-escalate and implement the elements of the UN-brokered truce, mainly lifting their siege on the city of Taiz.

The ambassadors of France and Germany and the Swedish special envoy to Yemen called Hussein Al-Azi, a Houthi leader, to ask him to accept the UN proposal on opening roads in Taiz and work on achieving peace after he threatened to resume military operations in the central province of Marib.

The ambassadors asked the Houthi leader to constructively engage with the UN Yemen envoy’s proposal and create “positive public rhetoric.”

It was “time to continue delivering on the expectations of Yemenis, who want and need peace,” the EU mission in Yemen said.