Nearly 60% Lebanese diaspora voter turnout for parliamentary elections

Nearly 60% Lebanese diaspora voter turnout for parliamentary elections
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A Lebanese expat (left) casts his vote for Lebanon's parliamentary election in Paris, France, on May 8, 2022. (REUTERS/Clotaire Achi)
Nearly 60% Lebanese diaspora voter turnout for parliamentary elections
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Lebanese youths hold a rally in Beirut's southern suburb on May 9, 2022, in support of the Shiite Hezbollah group and Amal movement candidates in the May 15 parliamentary elections. (Ibrahim Amro / AFP)
Nearly 60% Lebanese diaspora voter turnout for parliamentary elections
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Lebanese youths hold a motorbike rally in Beirut's southern suburb on May 9, 2022, in support of the Shiite Hezbollah group and Amal movement candidates in the May 15 parliamentary elections. (Ibrahim Amro / AFP)
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Updated 10 May 2022

Nearly 60% Lebanese diaspora voter turnout for parliamentary elections

Nearly 60% Lebanese diaspora voter turnout for parliamentary elections
  • Overseas polling began in Iran and ended in US

BEIRUT: There was almost a 60 percent voter turnout for Lebanon’s diaspora ahead of parliamentary elections on May 15, officials said Monday.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that between 128,000 and 130,00 Lebanese expatriates out of 225,000 registered voters had cast their ballots.

The percentage of expat voters in 2018 was close to 56 percent when about 46,000 out of 82,000 registered voters cast their votes.

Observers of the electoral process said the expat turnout “did not live up to expectations because the people who registered to vote abroad had a personal desire to vote, but it seems that many of them abandoned that later.”

The expat elections that began on Friday in Iran ended at dawn on Monday in the last polling station on the US West Coast.

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The highest turnout was recorded in Syria, reaching 84 percent, while the lowest was in Iraq.

“This percentage of the electoral cycle is good,” said Hadi Hashem, director of expat affairs at the ministry.

He described the electoral process abroad — the second of its kind after the 2018 elections — as “the largest logistical operation in the modern history of Lebanon, which involved 58 countries, 205 mega-centers, 598 polling stations, more than 2,000 employees, and 250 diplomats who worked day and night nonstop.”

The overseas ballots will be sent to Beirut for counting when polls close after nationwide voting on Sunday.

The electoral process will choose 128 MPs, and the percentage of polling abroad presents the candidates with a challenging week to mobilize their supporters for Sunday's elections.

The ministry waited for the return of the ballot boxes from abroad on Monday via DHL by air, except for the Russia box.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Moscow Shawki Bou Nassar is personally taking it to Beirut at dawn on Tuesday because DHL does not deal with Russia.

The ballot boxes will be deposited in the Central Bank in preparation for sorting on Sunday night.

According to preliminary disclosures on the voter lists, the percentage of voters in the UAE and France reached about 70. It was 59 percent in Germany. In Britain it was 75 percent, in North America it was around 50 percent, and it was around 54 percent in Australia.

Observers expected that the current week in Lebanon would be electorally hot in preparation for holding the polls for state employees on Thursday, followed by the elections for the general public on Sunday.

Those taking part in the polls have begun calculating the impact of the expat vote and whether the volume of participation might upset equations and produce unexpected results.

The head of the electoral machine for the "Beirut Confronts" list, former MP Salim Diab, told Arab News that the electoral machines could not capture the trends of voters through the expat ballot boxes.

“What we have now are numbers about the voting percentage, not who the voter voted for. It is difficult to know that now. But everyone tends to bring about change.”

Diab said that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who suspended the political activities of his Future Movement party, had given people the freedom to choose whomever they found appropriate and provided them with many options through the electoral lists.

“However, according to our follow-up to the mood of voters in Beirut, the battle has become between two or three lists. This battle requires a lot of effort from now until next Sunday,” he added.

On Thursday, 15,000 employees from official institutions are scheduled to vote.

It is unclear to what extent their worsening living conditions will affect their choices in light of the collapse in the value of their salaries and the devastation of their living standards.

However, thousands of them are affiliated with traditional parties or have been employed by these parties in government institutions.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections said its observers recorded “cases of pressure on voters by some political parties, which led to some problems in more than one place.”

LADE's report on Monday summarized alleged violations during the expat elections.

Among those who committed this kind of violation were the “Amal movement, Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces Party, and the Islamic Charitable Projects Association.”

The intensity of polling abroad was concentrated on the lists of Beirut’s first and second districts, the third northern district, and the Chouf and Aley districts, which observers believed to be in the interest of the change and opposition forces, despite attempts by those in authority to play the partisan and sectarian cards.

This polarization will be evident on Tuesday when Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the candidate at the head of a list of the Amal Movement with Hezbollah in the south, will speak.

Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah is urging the party's supporters in the south, the southern suburbs of Beirut, and Baalbek-Hermel to back the party and its allies.

He claimed that the electoral battle was “a fateful battle for the resistance and its weapons in the face of foreign agendas hostile to the axis of resistance in Lebanon and the region.”


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
Updated 8 sec ago

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.

Lebanon unlikely to comply with Interpol request to hand Carlos Ghosn over to French authorities

Carlos Ghosn. (Reuters)
Carlos Ghosn. (Reuters)
Updated 44 min 13 sec ago

Lebanon unlikely to comply with Interpol request to hand Carlos Ghosn over to French authorities

Carlos Ghosn. (Reuters)
  • Red notice received for tycoon as prosecutors investigate millions of dollars in alleged suspect payments

BEIRUT: Lebanon has received an Interpol red notice for the arrest of businessman Carlos Ghosn at France’s request but is unlikely to extradite him, according to a judicial source.

The 68-year-old car industry tycoon, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, fled to Lebanon in December 2019 while awaiting trial in Japan. He had been under house arrest since 2018.

The Lebanese judiciary received the notice on Thursday. It is based on an international arrest warrant issued by the French authorities about a month ago.

A judicial source told Arab News that Lebanon’s prosecutor general, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, received the warrant based on hearings held by a delegation of French judges who visited Lebanon for the first time in June 2021. They listened to Ghosn over the course of four days in regard to a lawsuit filed against him in Paris.

Ghosn was chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi and CEO of Renault when he was arrested in 2018 on charges of “not disclosing his full wages and using company funds for personal purposes.”

France accuses him of being responsible for “over €15 million ($15.8 million) in suspicious payments between his Renault-Nissan alliance and activities Ghosn held at the opulent Palace of Versailles, including knowingly using company resources to host a party for personal purposes.”

The source added that Judge Oueidat was expected to refer the Interpol notice to the discriminatory attorney general, Judge Imad Qabalan, who attended the hearings of the French judicial delegation with Ghosn.

Based on the notice, Judge Qabalan may interrogate Ghosn and decide whether he should be arrested, the source said.

“If Judge Qabalan finds Ghosn guilty of any crime, he can request his full file from the French authorities and try him in Lebanon under the Lebanese Penal Code,” the person added.

“In the event that the crimes charged against Ghosn are not mentioned in the penal code, or if they are charges that the Lebanese penal code does not criminalize, he will leave him be.”

The source said that although Lebanon and France had an extradition treaty, Ghosn would be prosecuted in Lebanon as he had Lebanese nationality, adding that Lebanon had banned the executive from traveling.

Lebanon confiscated Ghosn’s passports in 2020 and he has not submitted a request to get them back.

The tycoon made his escape from Japan by hiding in luggage on a private plane that took off from Kansai International Airport. He has been in Lebanon ever since and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

An American father and son helped Ghosn flee Japan. The US handed them over to Japanese authorities and they confessed in a Tokyo court that they had been paid $1.3 million to do so. They face a prison sentence of up to three years.

Meanwhile, Lebanese judicial authorities on Thursday released 72-year-old Ziad Taqi Al-Din, whose name had been linked to lawsuits related to charges of fraud and forgery filed in Paris against former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Taqi Al-Din, who has dual Lebanese and French nationality, was arrested in Beirut in 2020 based on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol. He was later released on bond with a travel ban and his passport was confiscated.

The Lebanese judiciary requested his file from Paris for trial in Beirut, refusing to hand him over to the French judiciary.


Turkey, Iran race to fill Russian ‘void’ in Syria

A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 May 2022

Turkey, Iran race to fill Russian ‘void’ in Syria

A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
  • Ukraine crisis likely to increase Damascus regime’s dependence on Tehran, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The withdrawal of tens of thousands of Russian troops from Syria to bolster its forces in Ukraine may mark a turning point in the Syrian conflict, and lead to a race between Tehran and Ankara to fill the void left by Moscow in the country, leading analysts suggest.  

Russia, Iran and Turkey are guarantor countries of the Astana talks on Syria that aim at brokering a permanent peace deal by bringing warring sides together.

However, Russia has been the balancing force in this trio, preventing the uncontrolled entrenchment of Iranian-backed militia.

But now abandoned Russian bases are believed to have been transferred to Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah, while Tehran is expected to send more troops into Syria to fill the gap left by Ukraine-bound Russian military personnel.

In early April, Luna Chebel, a top adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, told the BBC that assistance and expertise from Iranian forces are welcome, hinting at the possibility of Iran having greater sway in Syria.

Iran is believed to have created a new militia, similar to its elite forces, to assume the tasks previously handled by Russian troops. The new force, under the control of Hezbollah and the IRGC, is stockpiling drones, chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.

Ankara and Tehran back rival sides in the Syrian conflict, with Iran supporting the Assad regime, while Turkey backs the Syrian opposition.  

Russia’s maritime supply of its forces in Syria has been complicated in recent months by Ankara’s decision under the Montreux Convention to restrict the use of Turkish straits by Russian warships based in the Black Sea.

However, Mehmet Emin Cengiz, research fellow at Al-Sharq Strategic Research, believes Russia is unlikely to give up its presence in Syria.

“Russia has invested a lot in Syria over the years, and there has been a long-standing rivalry between Russia and Iran for influence in Syria. Even if Russia relocates some of its soldiers or withdraws them from Syria, it will not leave the field entirely to Iran,” he told Arab News.  

Cengiz believes that with the Ukraine crisis allowing Iran to fill some of the gaps left by Russia in Syria, it is likely that the conflict will increase the regime’s dependence on Iran.

“After the Ukraine crisis, contacts between Syrian and Iranian officials increased. Recently, Bashar Assad paid a visit to Tehran. He might receive economic assistance from Tehran in the face of a deep economic crisis in Syria,” Cengiz said.

According to Aron Lund, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation think tank, the Ukraine war has upset the balance between Turkey and Russia in Turkey’s favor, which could be consequential for Syria.

“It could end up destabilizing a long-frozen situation, but it won’t necessarily lead to renewed conflict,” he told Arab News.

“Even under pressure in Ukraine, Russia may be able to deter advances by Turkey-backed forces in Syria, and Turkey may still want Russia’s cooperation to secure its own interests,” he added.

Lund believes that both countries could trade concessions and favors in ways that avoid trading territory, or waging war, in Idlib.

“For example, Russia could agree to be more flexible on humanitarian issues, including an upcoming vote in the UN Security Council in July that Turkey really wants to pass. Or Russia could lend support to Turkish cross-border operations against Kurdish forces, which it has previously been reluctant to do,” he said.

Last week, Geir O. Pedersen, UN special envoy for Syria, recently sent invitations to the Syrian regime and opposition for the eighth round of talks starting in late May.

Lund expects new deals regarding the UN-brokered Syrian constitutional committee.

“But renewed fighting in Idlib remains a live risk, either because of a breakdown in the balance or as a way to test the strength and determination of the other side,” he said.

Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, believes that although Turkey and Iran have cooperated in the past against PKK-affiliated groups against a shared threat, this time Iran may recognize the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, a Syrian affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as a different faction and be open to assuming Russia’s role in negotiation and coordinating between the Assad regime and administrative authorities in northeastern Syria.

“As Iran expands its role in Syria, Turkey will likely seek opportunities to confront Assad regime forces and their partners for expanded territory or trade near Manbij or Tal Rifaat, or even near Ayn Issa, especially as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s previous operations have proven popular and as public support for forced refugee return to Syria has increased,” he told Arab News.

“Assad’s forces still seek to launch another phase of the Idlib operation, and Iran may consider supporting one in the future to destabilize NATO’s southern flank, depending on nuclear negotiations and other factors, but Iran is not prepared to do so at this point,” Ringler said.

However, the current disagreements between Turkey and Iran are not limited to Syria, with disputes over transboundary waters and dam construction further straining bilateral ties.

Turkey’s dam projects on the Tigris and Aras rivers angered Tehran, which fears the schemes could reduce water flow in the Tigris and Euphrates, and pose an environmental threat as shown by recent dust storms.

However Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has said that Ankara is open to any “rational and scientific cooperation” with Iran.

The illegal transit of Afghan refugees to Turkey from its border with Iran has also angered Ankara, which claims that Tehran facilitated the uncontrolled passage.

“Relations between Iran and Turkey have become increasingly strained on a number of files: Dam construction; Ankara’s warming relations with Israel; tensions with Iran-backed militias in Iraq; and now Russia’s shifting of resources from Syria to Ukraine will add further complications,” said Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against a Nuclear Iran.

A new Pentagon report claimed that Iran-backed militias have been coordinating with the PKK for attacking Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

“All of these developments have the potential to shift the balance in Syria given the crowded landscape there. In 2020, Iran’s advisory center in northern Syria issued a warning to Turkish forces that they could be targeted after they retaliated following 33 Turkish soldiers being killed in a Syrian airstrike in Idlib,” Brodsky told Arab News.

As Russia in the past has tried to reduce tensions between Turkey and the Syrian government in the area, Brodsky believes that Moscow’s troop withdrawal could empower the Assad regime as well as Iran in Idlib.

“This is not to say Russia will be completely absent, but if it is shifting resources to contend with Ukraine, that has the potential to scramble the battlefield dynamics in Idlib,” he added.

 


US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
Updated 20 May 2022

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
  • Hezbollah and its allies lost a parliamentary majority in the elections

LONDON: The US on Friday welcomed that parliamentary elections in Lebanon were held on time and without major security incidents, but urged the country's leaders to quickly form a government to resolve the ongoing economic crisis.

Last weekend’s elections led to Hezbollah and its allies losing a parliamentary majority.

“We congratulate the Lebanese people on their participation despite challenging circumstances, we also recognize the important role the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces played in supporting the process and maintaining security,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.

“As Lebanon looks ahead, we urge those elected and the country’s political leaders to heed the Lebanese people’s call for change and to work seriously, and with urgency, to take the necessary actions to rescue the economy,” he added.

 

Price said the US was urging the swift formation of a new government able to carry out the “hard work required to restore the confidence of the Lebanese people and the international community.”

After videos surfaced reportedly showing Hezbollah supporters swapping vote ballots, ripping up others and ransacking voting booths in Baalbek, Price voiced the US’ worries.

“We share the concerns raised by our partners in the international community of allegations of vote-buying, clientelism, and reports of intimidation,” he said.

Lebanon’s cabinet on Friday passed an economic recovery plan designed to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown.

Ministers agreed the measure in the cabinet’s final session just before losing decision-making powers, following the election, that is set to designate a new prime minister.

The World Bank has called Lebanon’s financial crisis is one of the worst the world has seen in over 150 years.


Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi
Updated 20 May 2022

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi
  • UK-based Anton Hammerl was killed by pro-regime forces in Libya 2011
  • Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl says South African government has not made clear how it obtained her deceased husband’s passport

LONDON: The widow of a UK-based photographer murdered by Col. Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011 is urging the South African government to release information she believes is crucial to locating her husband’s body.

Anton Hammerl was held captive for 44 days before being killed in the May 2011 incident that resulted in the kidnap of James Foley, who was later beheaded by Daesh, but despite a years-long campaign by widow Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl, his body has never been found.

The Guardian reports that at issue is how Hammerl’s passport came to be in the hands of the South African government, who returned it to Sukhraj-Hammerl, who believes disclosing that information will help in the efforts to locate the photographer’s body.

“(The passport) was posted to my office in mid-2016. I was quite overwhelmed as I didn’t expect it,” she told the Guardian, explaining that her husband would have been carrying his ID document at the time of his death in a photographer’s waist pouch he wore.

Despite repeated efforts, including a freedom of information request, to find out how South Africa came into possession of the passport, the government has continuously stonewalled requests, with the Guardian claiming this led to Sukhraj-Hammerl going public.

“It’s been nearly a year since I first wrote to you and your government to request a meeting regarding the case of my late husband … who was murdered by Gaddafi forces in Libya in April 2011,” she wrote to South Africa’s high commissioner in London, Nomatemba Tambo, copied to the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, earlier this week.

“During this time, we have signalled publicly and privately on several occasions that we would like to meet urgently to discuss a matter of serious concern in the handling of our case. More than a decade since Anton’s death, we still don’t know the location of his remains.

“We still don’t have a grave to visit. We still don’t know the truth. Your administration’s response? Silence.”

Sukhraj-Hammerl told the Guardian: “I’m baffled by their response. They’ve demonstrated no regard for accountability. We’ve requested meetings that have not been granted.

“I feel that they had information that they should have shared with us. So many officials involved that I find it hard to believe that someone doesn’t know something as significant as how a passport came to be handed over.”

South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, led the family to believe he would raise the issue on a visit to Tripoli in the last days of Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, although no evidence exists that he did so. 

Zuma has subsequently been caught in a series of financial scandals, including allegations that he received $30 million from Gaddafi, with whom he had a close relationship, to hide on his behalf.

Sukhraj-Hammerl added: “I think we’re calling for justice and truth. We’ve not had the due — as family, we should have had (it). It’s been really distressing. It’s horrid (to) realise (the South African government) had an opportunity to do more and choose deliberately (to) ignore us.

“We have a right to know. They owe us an explanation. It is least that they can do.”