Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos

Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos
Libyans celebrate the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence at the Martyrs Square in Tripoli on Dec. 24, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 02 June 2022

Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos

Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos
  • The fighting underscored the fragility of Libya’s relative peace that has prevailed for more than a year but it also looked like history was repeating itself

CAIRO: For many Libyans, clashes that erupted in the capital of Tripoli last month were all too familiar — a deja vu of street fighting, reverberating gunfire and people cowering inside their homes. A video circulated online on the day, showing a man shouting from a mosque loudspeaker “Enough war, we want our young generation!“

The fighting underscored the fragility of Libya’s relative peace that has prevailed for more than a year but it also looked like history was repeating itself. Now, observers say that momentum to reunify the country has been lost and that its future is looking grim.

Once again, there are two competing governments vying for control in Libya, already torn by more than a decade of civil war. The clashes in the capital broke out after one of Libya’s two prime ministers challenged the other by coming to Tripoli, his rival’s seat.

Libya has for years been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments. The Mediterranean nation has been in a state of upheaval since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

But a plan had emerged in the past two years that was meant to put the country on the path toward elections. A UN-brokered process installed an interim government in early 2021 to shepherd Libyans to elections that were due late last year.

That government, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, briefly unified the political factions under heavy international pressure. But the voting never took place, and since then, the plan has unraveled and left the country in crisis.

Lawmakers in Libya’s east-based parliament, headed by influential speaker Aguila Saleh, argued that Dbeibah’s mandate ended when the interim government failed to hold elections.

They went ahead and chose Fathi Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, as new prime minister. Their position gained the endorsement of powerful commander Khalifa Haftar whose forces control the country’s east and most of the south, including major oil facilities.

Dbeibah has refused to step down, and factions allied with him in western Libya deeply oppose Haftar. They maintain that Dbeibah, who is also from Misrata with ties to its powerful militias, is working toward holding elections.

Analysts are skeptical.

Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, described the Bashagha-Dbeibah rivalry as “a feud over legitimacy,” with “both governments claiming they are legitimate.”

“I don’t think they will be able to hold elections this year,” she said, and also expressed doubts that UN attempts to get Libyan parties to reach a constitutional consensus on the elections will make any progress.

The power struggle came to a head on May 17, when Bashagha entered Tripoli and attempted to install his government there. He had help from the powerful Nawasi Brigade militia, led by Mustafa Qaddur, deputy head of Libya’s intelligence agency.

But Bashagha faced stiff resistance from militias loyal to Dbeibah, leading to hourslong clashes that rocked the city until Bashagha withdrew and a day later set up his government headquarters in the coastal city of Sirte, half way between Libya’s power centers in the east and the west.

The withdrawal emboldened Dbeibah, who promptly sacked Qaddur and another military official, Osama Juwaili, who heads the military intelligence agency. The dismissal of Qaddur was subsequently reversed by the presidential council — an apparent crack within Dbeibah’s camp.

According to an official close to Dbeibah, the Tripoli-based prime minister is convinced Bashagha could not have entered the Libyan capital without “approval or coordination” with Juwaili, a powerful figure from the western city of Zintan, and also Qaddur.

Juwaili’s forces, the official said, manned checkpoints and control areas near Gharyan, a town south of Tripoli, where Bashagha’s convoy passed on its way to the capital. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence details.

Even after Bashagha’s withdrawal, tensions remain high in Tripoli.

Some, like Libya researcher Jalel Harchaoui, believe Bashagha could make another move on Tripoli — or at least attempt to galvanize more support in the area.

“Given the scars that are now out in the open, such a scenario” is entirely possible, he said.

Meanwhile, Libya’s prized light crude is again being used as a tool in the power struggle. Tribal leaders have shut down crucial oil facilities, including the country’s largest oil field in the south controlled by fighters loyal to Haftar, who supports Bashagha.

The oil blockade — which comes as oil prices are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine — was likely meant to deprive Debeibah’s government of funds and empower his rival. Bashagha and Saleh have said the facilities would be reopened on condition that oil revenues be temporarily frozen until rival factions agree on a mechanism to distribute oil funds.


Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace

Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace
Updated 1 min 9 sec ago

Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace

Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace

DUBAI: Japan’s Foreign Minister HAYASHI Yoshimasa met with Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi on Sept. 22.

The two officials met in New York during the United Nations General Assembly and discussed the development of the relationship between Jordan and Japan.

Minister Hayashi expressed his gratitude for King Abdullah II’s visit to Japan to attend the state funeral for former Prime Minister ABE on Sept. 27.

The two also exchanged views on Israel and Palestine, reaffirming their commitment to achieving peace in the region based on a “two-state solution.”

Hayashi said that Jordan’s role in hosting a large number of refugees is important for the stability of the region, and also explained Japan’s support this year through UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) in light of the global food and fuel price hikes that are making life more difficult for the refugees.

In response, minister Safadi appreciated Japan’s position and contribution regarding the Middle East Peace.

The ministers reviewed the Japan-Egypt-Jordan trilateral consultations on the Middle East, the second DG-level meeting of which was held this month, andwelcomed their efforts are coming to fruition and concurred to further promote cooperation among the three parties.

The ministers agreed to hold the third Strategic Dialogue between the foreign ministers in the near future to further strengthen bilateral relations and regional stability, and confirmed that they will continue to work closely together.

Originally published in Arab News Japan


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province
Updated 26 min 30 sec ago

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province
  • Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16

TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”


Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days
Updated 26 September 2022

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

DUBAI: Lebanon expects a written offer from US mediator Amos Hochstein concerning the demarcation of a maritime border with Israel by the end of the week, Lebanon’s presidency tweeted on Monday.
Lebanon’s deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab met with Hochstein last week during a visit to New York and briefed President Michel Aoun on the outcome, the presidency added.
Hochstein has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel — enemy states with a history of conflict — in a bid to forge a compromise over the maritime boundary that would allow both to explore for offshore energy reserves.
A deal would defuse one potential source of conflict between Israel and the heavily armed, Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has warned against any Israeli exploration and extraction in the disputed waters.


Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
Updated 26 September 2022

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
  • Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly

BEIRUT: Banks in crisis-hit Lebanon partially reopened Monday following a weeklong closure amid a wave of heists in which assailants stormed at least seven bank branches earlier this month, demanding to withdraw their trapped savings.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said last Monday it was going on strike amid bank holdups by depositors and activists — a sign of growing chaos in the tiny Mideast nation.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks had last closed for a prolonged period back in October 2019, for two weeks, during mass anti-government protests triggered by the crisis. That year, the banks imposed strict limits on cash withdrawals, tying up the savings of millions of people.
The country’s economy has since spiraled, with about three-quarters of the population plunged into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
The frustrations boiled over this month, with angry and desperate depositors — including one armed with a hunting rifle — started holding up the banks. One of them, Sali Hafez, broke into a Beirut bank branch with a fake pistol and retrieved some $13,000 in her savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
However, only a handful of bank branches opened Monday — accepting only customers with prior appointments for corporate transactions. The partial reopening was to continue indefinitely, until banks can secure the safety of their employees.
Crowds of anxious Lebanese gathered around ATM machines.
“I’ve been here for three hours, and they won’t let me in or schedule an appoint,” Fadi Al-Osta told The Associated Press outside a bank branch in Beirut. “The security guards can let us in one at a time and check for weapons. Isn’t that their job?”
George Al-Hajj, president of Lebanon’s Federation of Bank Employees Syndicates, said branches have downsized, to have a larger number of security guards per branch.
“Our goal isn’t to harm anyone, but we want to go to work feeling safe and secure,” Al-Hajj said. “We’re also human beings.”
Tensions were simmering in the southern city of Sidon, where State Security forces armed with assault rifles stood outside some bank branches. Some police officers and army soldiers, whose salaries have lost over 90 percent of their value, unsuccessfully tried to break into a bank branch to collect small cash bonus recently granted by the government.
Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly, with authorities failing to implement critical reforms, including restructuring the banking sector and lifting banking secrecy laws. Last week, a visiting IMF delegation criticized the government’s slowness to implement desperately-needed financial reforms.


Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response
Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response
  • Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: US attempts to violate Iran’s sovereignty over the issue of protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody will not go unanswered, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.
The case has drawn international condemnation. Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic.
“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told Nour news, which is affiliated with a top security body, in a statement.