Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned
Jim Fitton of Britain, left, and Volker Waldmann of Germany, center, are escorted by Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 22, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 22 May 2022

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned
  • James Fitton and Volker Waldmann have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport
  • According to customs officers, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics; Waldmann had two pieces, but denied they were his

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court on Sunday adjourned for two weeks the trial of a Briton and a German man accused of trying to smuggle antiquities after a defense lawyer called for more investigations.
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist, have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport as they wound up their holiday.
According to statements from customs officers and witnesses, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann allegedly had two pieces, but denied they were his.
The two men did not know each other before they traveled to Iraq on an organized tour, and both say they had no intention of breaking the law.
The trial was adjourned until June 6 to allow time for further investigations, at the request of Waldmann’s defense lawyer, Furat Kuba.
During initial investigations, “certain important aspects were not examined,” Kuba said, citing the report of an expert committee that said the fragments found with the men were antiquities.
“We don’t have any more details: what site do these pieces come from? What era, what civilization do they date back to?” Kuba asked, adding there were also outstanding questions relating to the site where the fragments were collected.
“Is it fenced and protected?” Kuba asked. “Are there signs indicating that these are ancient pieces that it is forbidden to collect?“
Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who had been present at the site to give evidence in court as to whether the tourists had received instructions prohibiting them from picking up fragments.
Their trial comes with the war-ravaged country, whose tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, timidly opening to visitors.
Iraq has also been trying to recover antiquities that were looted over a period of decades from the country whose civilization dates back thousands of years.
The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of “intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity.”
Fitton, at the start of the trial, when asked why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, cited his “hobby,” saying he was interested in “geology and ancient history and archaeology,” and was not aware that taking the fragments was illegal.
Waldmann has denied the pieces allegedly found in his luggage were his, but they belonged to Fitton.


Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king
Updated 17 min 11 sec ago

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan’s Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to the king

Jordan's Prince Faisal bin al-Hussain sworn in as deputy to his brother King Abdullah II of Jordan, Petra news agency reported on Friday.

Born in 1963, Prince Faisal is the son of King Hussein and Princess Muna. He is the younger brother of King Abdullah II. He has periodically served as regent during his brother's absences abroad.

He holds a private pilot's licence and received helicopter training while serving in the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

He has served as the president of the Jordan Olympic Committee since 2003.


Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
Updated 01 July 2022

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
  • Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country

DUBAI: Abdullah al-Alimi, a member of Yemen’s Presidential Council, warned that the Houthi militia’s mobilization, regrouping and constant breaches of the UN truce continue to threaten the peace process. 

The comments were made when al-Alimi met with Stephen Fagin, US Ambassador to Yemen, state news agency SABA reported on Thursday.

Al-Alimi said that the Houthi militia must honor its commitment by lifting the siege on Taiz, opening roads in and out of the city, and allowing Yemeni people to move safely and freely across the country. 

Fagin agreed that the commitment on the Houthi’s part is crucial to honor the UN truce, and he confirmed the US’ continuous support for Yemen's internationally-recognized government by helping it perform its responsibilities.

Meanwhile, al-Alimi pointed out that the Presidential Leadership Council has a clear work-plan to tackle challenges faced in the economic, service, security, and military fields, in addition to combating terrorism in the country. 

The two also spoke about ways to promote mutual relations between the two countries. 

Al-Alimi and Fagin addressed issues of common interest during their meeting, which include regional security and the latest methods for combating terrorism. 

Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Fagin also praised the positive position of the Presidential Leadership Council and the government in tightening the humanitarian truce and supporting all efforts for achieving peace in Yemen.


Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
Updated 01 July 2022

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
  • Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president published a planned new constitution on Thursday that he will put to a referendum next month, expanding his own powers and limiting the role of parliament in a vote most political parties have already rejected.
Kais Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside the parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving toward one-man rule and vowing to remake the political system.
His intervention last summer has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted former autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation.
With most of the political establishment opposed to his moves and urging their supporters to boycott the vote, analysts say the measure is likely to pass, but with only limited public involvement.
None of the major parties, including the Islamist Ennahda which is the biggest in parliament and has played a major role in successive coalition governments since the revolution, issued immediate comment on the draft constitution.
Meanwhile, many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.
An online ‘consultation’ Saied held from January-March in preparation for drafting the constitution received scant attention from Tunisians, with very few taking part.

Power
The draft constitution published in the official gazette late on Thursday would bring most political power under Saied, give him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.
Previously, political power was more directly exercised by the parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.
Under the new constitution, the government would answer to the president and not to parliament, though the chamber could withdraw confidence from the government with a two-thirds majority.
Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or sack government ministers and appoint judges, the gazette said.
He could serve two terms of five years each, but extend them if he felt there was an imminent danger to the state, and would have the right to dissolve parliament while no clause allows for the removal of a president.
The constitution would allow Saied to continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament through an election expected in December.
It would also create a new ‘Council of Regions’ as a second chamber of parliament, but it gives few details on how it would be elected or what powers it would have.
Saied, a political independent, has promised a new electoral law. Though he has not yet published it, he has indicated that voters would only choose candidates as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Meanwhile, although Islam will no longer be the state religion, Tunisia will be regarded as part of the wider Islamic nation and the state should work to achieve Islamic goals. The president must be Muslim.
However, Saied has maintained most parts of the 2014 constitution that enumerated rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, the right to organize in unions and the right to peaceful gatherings.
However, judges, police, army and customs officials would not have a right to go on strike. Judges have recently been on strike for weeks in protest at Saied’s moves to curtail judicial independence. 
 


Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
Updated 30 June 2022

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
  • Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict

GENEVA: Libya talks in Geneva ended on Thursday without making enough progress to move toward elections, the United Nations Libya adviser Stephanie Williams said in a statement.

The talks between the House of Representatives and High State Council legislative bodies were aimed at agreeing on a constitutional basis and interim arrangements for holding elections that were originally scheduled for December 2021.

Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict.

Since the planned December election was abandoned, Libya’s rival factions have moved to a standoff over control of the government with both sides backed by armed forces in western areas of the country.

Williams said that in the Geneva talks and earlier meetings in Cairo the two sides had resolved previous disputes on the makeup of a future legislature, the powers of a future president and government, and how to allocate state revenues.

“Disagreement persists on the eligibility requirements for the candidates in the first presidential elections,” Williams said, adding that she would make recommendations on alternative ways forward.

Disputes over the eligibility of several controversial candidates were the trigger for the collapse of December’s election.


Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
Updated 30 June 2022

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
  • Ninety-three flights carrying expatriates arrived in Lebanon, while pilgrim number decreased amid high prices

BEIRUT: Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is perhaps the only active official facility in Lebanon these days.

Caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamiyeh said Thursday: “Ninety-three flights arrived at Beirut airport on Wednesday, carrying 15,444 passengers coming to spend summer vacation here.

“The number of planes arriving in Beirut will increase in the coming days,” Hamiyeh expected.

Lebanon is counting on summertime travel to pump hard currency into the economic cycle amid accumulated political and economic crises and their impact on the living situation of the Lebanese people.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is also PM-designated, warned Thursday during the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “Every delay in coming up with solutions to crises costs Lebanon $25 million a day.”

A source at the Middle East Airlines told Arab News: “As a result of the economic crisis, COVID-19 precautionary measures, and the decline in the financial capabilities of the Lebanese, only a few thousand pilgrims will be traveling to perform Hajj this year. Their numbers reached over 25,000 in previous years.”

On Wednesday, an MEA flight carrying the first batch of Lebanese pilgrims landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. MEA is the only authorized airline in Lebanon to transport pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.

The economic collapse and the national currency’s depreciation made the pilgrimage more difficult for those wishing to go to Makkah.

Former MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar complained about “the inability of the Lebanese to travel to perform Hajj because the vaccine against meningitis, which Saudi Arabia requires from pilgrims for their safety, is not available in the Ministry of Health for lack of funding, or in pharmacies.”

Abdelrahman Al-Taweel, who is in charge of the Foutowa campaign for Hajj and Umrah, said: “The number of pilgrims this year did not reach 2,700, which is the quota allocated to Lebanon. The main reason is the high cost of the trip, which amounts to $6,000 per pilgrim. Everything is more expensive nowadays, [including] airline tickets, the price of which has risen globally as a result of the high cost of fuel, as well as tents and other supplies, and other additional fees.”

Al-Taweel noted: “The unavailability of the meningitis vaccine, which the Ministry of Health is supposed to provide to people, prompted the pilgrims to buy it at their own expense. It costs $60, which is equivalent to 1,800,000 LBP, according to the black-market exchange rate.”

Lebanon is trying to convey the image that it is doing well — despite the crises plaguing it — to visitors, including the Arab foreign ministers whom officials encouraged Thursday to hold their consultative meeting in Beirut ahead of the Arab Summit.

However, public-sector employees went on strike and will only resume work once their demands — including increased salaries, transportation allowances and health and educational benefits — are met.

In the absence of solutions, it seems that the general strike will continue, paralyzing the entire country.

MP Ghassan Hasbani, member of the Strong Republic bloc, warned after the Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “The government is yet to present a final financial…reform plan in order to interpret laws. The government must refer this plan to parliament as quickly as possible with a legislative roadmap and laws ready for implementation to speed up recovery and approve a budget that reflects the required reforms.”

It remains unknown whether the composition of the new government that Mikati handed over to President Michel Aoun on Wednesday morning will get the latter’s approval.

Less than 24 hours after the non-binding parliamentary consultations, Mikati drafted a government formation consisting of the current government, with some amendments, particularly to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Economy.