Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation

Special Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation
A general view shows the parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation

Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation
  • Najib Mikati, caretaker premier, enjoys the support of the traditional parliamentary blocs that will rename him to head a four-month government

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s political class was squabbling on Wednesday to agree on a Sunni figure to designate as the future prime minister, ahead of binding parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun on Thursday.

Parliamentary blocs attempted to communicate with each other but failed to agree on a name.

Najib Mikati, caretaker premier, enjoys the support of the traditional parliamentary blocs that will rename him to head a four-month government. Its term will conclude when Aoun’s term ends in October and a new president is elected. Meanwhile, many have been discussing designating Nawaf Salam, a former ambassador and judge on the International Court of Justice.

Hezbollah and its allies are seeking to establish a parliamentary majority for its political side and to secure the votes of 65 MPs for its candidate, with the head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc saying it must “realize the importance of resistance.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement refused to designate Mikati and is setting impossible conditions, such as requesting sovereign ministries, and most importantly, keeping control of the Energy Ministry.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the party’s MPs will not designate anyone “because the proposed candidates do not meet our criteria.”

The Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb Party have decided to designate Salam.

The Takaddom party’s MP Mark Daou and MP Najat Saliba have voiced their decision to designate Salam, while other independent and reformist MPs have refrained from announcing their decisions.

However, independent MP Nabil Badr said that he and 13 other MPs will designate Mikati, which will increase the latter’s chances with the support he will receive from the MPs of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and others.

It remains uncertain whether or not Mikati will be able to form a government that is acceptable to the ruling parties within a short time, especially after some recent governments took a year to form.

This new political confusion wreaked havoc on the management of the country’s affairs. Bakeries and shops ran out of bread on Wednesday, with the owners of mills and bakeries blaming the Economy Ministry.

Similar to gasoline and medicine, Arab bread made from subsidized wheat is now being sold on the black market at a very high price.

On Wednesday, Economy Minister Amin Salam referred the issue to the Financial Public Prosecution, in which he mentioned “the greed of those monopolizing people’s sustenance.”

The minister’s office said: “Some bakery owners sold subsidized flour for Arab bread on the black market at double prices. They have also been using it to make sweets, cakes and French bread, generating double profits. They are thus wasting public money.”

Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank governor, said in an interview that when he accepted to “lend the Lebanese state, it was because there were laws allowing it to borrow from the Banque du Liban, and depositors believe that the money they put in the banks was taken by the BDL, and this is not true.”

He added: “The wrong political decisions that were taken have led to the local currency’s depreciation. Those responsible are blaming BDL and me. I never imagined some would default or try to shut down banks and turn the economy into a cash economy.

“The secret for the BDL standing on its feet lies in our commitment to not implement any reckless policy and we were thus able to secure financing for the country. Without the BDL, the government would not have been able to purchase wheat and medicines. We devised plans that introduced dollars to the BDL, which allowed it to use its reserves to secure subsidies. We only used $2.2 billion from the end of 2021, until June 15. We still have $11 billion."

Salameh stressed: “Lebanon needs between $15 billion and $20 billion to get back on its feet. The BDL was not late in providing dollars to importers of medicines for chronic illnesses, including cancer medicines. Subsidized medicines were cut off and medicines sold in dollars are available. It is not my job to go after these dealers.”

Speaking about Lebanon’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund, he said: “An amount of $3 billion from the IMF is not enough. Lebanon needs $400 million every month to secure diesel and gasoline alone, in addition to $35 million to secure medicines, as well as it needs $300 million annually to secure wheat. However, Lebanon needs the IMF, through which it will regain trust.”

He added: “Mafias are taking over the pharmaceutical, wheat, and gasoline sectors, and the state feeds the mafias’ profits. Some are trying to blame the BDL, and I have confronted such attempts. I cannot give names, but it is clear who these parties are.”

Speaking about the politicians who transferred their money abroad, he said: “The banks provided us with information, not names, because they do not have the right to give out people’s names, but we can review the banks’ documents to see if these regulations were done properly.

“Political pressure is being exerted on me by my political opponents, who tell some judges what they should do. Those who want my head say so publicly.”


Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
Updated 20 sec ago

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
  • Country’s anti-torture unit lacks govt budget, laws and courts ‘ineffective’

LONDON: Lebanese authorities must protect people from torture and ill-treatment in detention, a group of organizations including Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The appeal came on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW, said: “Despite an improvement to Lebanon’s anti-torture framework on paper, torture remains prevalent, and accountability for torture and ill-treatment is elusive.

“Lebanon needs to show that it is serious about combating torture, and it should start by moving forward the many torture complaints that have been languishing before the judiciary without effective investigations.”

In 2019, 44-year-old Hassan Al-Dika died in custody reportedly as a result of torture. An HRW investigation found that judicial authorities failed to investigate Al-Dika’s allegations of torture before his death.

They had also tasked the same security agency that Al-Dika accused of torture with investigating his claims.

And in the case of actor Ziad Itani, who was accused and later exonerated of spying for Israel, Lebanese justice authorities have yet to take action regarding his claims of torture at the hands of State Security officials.

The Lebanese Parliament passed a law criminalizing torture in 2017. Two years later the government appointed five members to the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

But the unit has yet to be allocated a budget to allow the fulfillment of its mandate.

“The Lebanese authorities should promptly and impartially investigate all complaints of torture, allocate a sufficient budget to allow the torture prevention unit to get to work, and bring the anti-torture law in line with international standards,” Majzoub said.

Torture remains prevalent in Lebanon, despite complaints regularly being filed under the 2017 law.

The HRW warned that the 2017 law fails to abide by Lebanon’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, because it fails to criminalize cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.


Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday
Updated 27 June 2022

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

CAIRO: Bahraini Royal Court says Egyptian President to visit kingdom on Tuesday, will hold talks with King, the state-run news agency said.  

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will receive President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his accompanying delegation upon his arrival in Bahrain tomorrow, Bahrain news agency said. 

During  the visit, the leaders will hold talks related to bilateral relations, in addition to the latest developments on the regional, Arab and international arenas.


Sudan to recall ambassador to Ethiopia after alleged executions

Sudan to recall ambassador to Ethiopia after alleged executions
Updated 27 June 2022

Sudan to recall ambassador to Ethiopia after alleged executions

Sudan to recall ambassador to Ethiopia after alleged executions

KHARTOUM: Sudan said Monday it will recall its ambassador to Addis Ababa for “consultations” following accusations that the Ethiopian army executed seven captured Sudanese soldiers and a civilian.
“In an act that contravenes all laws and customs of war and international humanitarian law, the Ethiopian army executed seven Sudanese soldiers and a citizen who were their captives,” the Sudanese armed forces said late Sunday.
The army said “this treacherous act will not pass,” vowing to respond to “this cowardly behavior.”
Tensions have risen in recent years, sparking sporadic armed clashes, over the Al-Fashaqa border strip which is close to Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region.
There was no immediate response from Ethiopia.
A Sudanese military official who requested anonymity told AFP the soldiers were taken into captivity from a border area close to the Al-Fashaqa region.
On Monday, Sudan’s foreign ministry said it “will immediately recall its ambassador to Ethiopia for consultations” and submit a complaint with the UN Security Council.
“The Ethiopian ambassador to Khartoum will also be summoned to inform him of Sudan’s condemnation of this inhumane behavior,” the ministry said.
Relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa have soured over Al-Fashaqa, a fertile strip long cultivated by Ethiopian farmers but claimed by Sudan, sparking sporadic deadly clashes between the Sudanese and Ethiopian sides.
Tensions were heightened further after fighting erupted in Tigray in November 2020, sending tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into Sudan.
Khartoum and Addis Ababa have since been locked in a tense war of words, trading accusations of violence and territorial violations.
The border dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s controversial Blue Nile dam.
Sudan and Egypt, both downstream countries, have been opposed to the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and pushed for an agreement over the filling of its reservoir and the operation of the dam.
In February, Khartoum and Cairo slammed Addis Ababa for unilaterally deciding to start power generation at the dam.


Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production

Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production
The company’s website appeared to be out of service. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production

Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production
  • The state-owned Khuzestan Steel Company said in a statement that experts had determined the firm was unable to continue operations “due to technical problems and will be closed until further notice” following “cyberattacks”

DUBAI: One of Iran’s biggest steel companies said on Monday it was forced to halt production after being hit by a cyberattack, apparently marking one of the biggest such assaults on the country’s strategic industrial sector in recent memory.
The state-owned Khuzestan Steel Company said in a statement that experts had determined the firm was unable to continue operations “due to technical problems and will be closed until further notice” following “cyberattacks.” The company’s website appeared to be out of service.
A local news channel, Jamaran, reported that the attack failed to cause any structural damage to the steel mill since the factory happened to be non-operational at the time due to an electricity outage.
The company did not blame any specific group for the assault, which constitutes just the latest example of an attack targeting the country’s services in recent weeks. Iran has previously accused the United States and Israel for cyberattacks that have targeted and crippled the country’s infrastructure.
Khuzestan Steel Company, based in Ahvaz in southwestern Iran, has a monopoly on steel production in Iran along with two other major state-owned firms. Founded before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the company for decades afterward had some production lines supplied by German, Italian and Japanese companies.


Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal
“The ball is in Washington’s court now,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal
  • The statement comes amid expectations that talks to save the pact will resume soon after the top EU diplomat’s trip to the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: Iran said on Monday that the revival of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers depends on Washington, amid expectations that talks to save the pact will resume soon after the top EU diplomat’s trip to the Islamic Republic.
“The ball is in Washington’s court now,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly televised news conference.