US delegation urges Lebanon to speed up government formation

Lebanese parliament members attend the first session of the newly-elected assembly at its headquarters in the capital Beirut on May 31, 2022. (AFP)
Lebanese parliament members attend the first session of the newly-elected assembly at its headquarters in the capital Beirut on May 31, 2022. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 19 July 2022

US delegation urges Lebanon to speed up government formation

US delegation urges Lebanon to speed up government formation
  • Public sector workers strike for better pay, conditions
  • Proposal to divide Beirut municipality sparks criticism

BEIRUT: A delegation from the American Task Force for Lebanon has stressed the importance of “establishing a social economic program before it is too late.”

The call came after the delegation — accompanied by US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea — held talks with several Lebanese officials on Monday.

Edward Gabriel, head of the ATFL, said: “Time is moving quickly, and the government must expedite laws and policies, carry out the required reforms, and take the necessary steps to meet the needs of citizens to push forward negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. We need a partner, and that partner is the government, which has to act quickly to achieve what is required from it.”

The US provided aid worth more than $700 million to Lebanon last year, he added, and President Joe Biden “did not forget about Lebanon” during his Middle East visit.

FASTFACT

MP Ibrahim Kanaan, chair of the finance and budget committee, announced the adoption of a law amending banking secrecy to prevent tax evasion, combat corruption, financing terrorism, and illicit enrichment.

Biden mentioned several issues that affected Lebanon and stressed the integrity of the Lebanese territories during his meetings.

The US call came as judicial assistants decided to join a strike of public sector employees on Monday, causing courts in Lebanon to grind to a halt.

Public sector employees have been striking for about a month demanding that salaries be increased and for transportation allowances to be raised.

The judicial assistants said they had stopped working permanently and would not make any exceptions, be they for urgent cases or public prosecutions, and would no longer issue notices on behalf of departments and courts.

Joseph Talj, an official from the judicial assistants’ committees, said: “Ever since the crisis began in 2019, judicial assistants have been seeing how unfortunate people’s lives have become and are now suffering just like them in making ends meet. They can no longer provide food for their families, proper education, or health care.

“How can we work in palaces of justice where equity, equality, justice, and fairness don’t exist? Either we work to live a decent life with our children, or we stay home and die of starvation and diseases.”

The same demand prompted retired members of the armed forces to stage a sit-in on Monday morning in front of the Baalbek branch of Banque du Liban, preventing employees from entering.

They stressed that salary increases needed to include all employees, especially military personnel, in service and retired.

The Lebanese pound has lost 95 percent of its value since it started depreciating in 2019.

The minimum wage is equivalent to $23 according to the black market exchange rate of LBP29,500. Before the financial collapse, it amounted to $444.

With the gradual lifting of subsidies on fuel and medicines, and the inability of health and social security institutions to cover hospitalization for public sector employees, the workers went on strike because they were unable to afford a minimum standard of living.

Speaking on behalf of the retired armed forces personnel, Imad Awada said: “More protests will be organized in different regions until the decision to amend judges’ salaries based on the LBP8,000/USD rate is withdrawn, or until all public employees are included in the decision, especially military personnel in service and retirement, in addition to improving benefits.”

The ongoing strike paralyzes most of the state’s official departments, especially the Ministry of Finance and the real estate departments.

Those striking urged the ministerial committee tasked with managing public facilities to hold a meeting headed by the caretaker PM and PM-designate Najib Mikati to follow up on this issue.

Parliamentary committees have been convening to approve bills that fall within the framework of reforms demanded by the IMF in light of the ongoing government impasse since mid-May to present them in a legislative session to be determined later.

MP Ibrahim Kanaan, chair of the finance and budget committee, announced the adoption of a law amending banking secrecy to prevent tax evasion, combat corruption, financing terrorism, and illicit enrichment.

The committee has not yet finished studying the 2022 budget which, according to Kanaan, required “the government to present its study on the unification of the exchange rate, especially since taxes, fees, and salaries in the state are still calculated based on the rate of 1,507 LBP/USD, with the exception of judges’ salaries.”

There is also discontent over calls to divide the municipality of Beirut into one council for the Christian part of the capital and one for the rest.

MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement have proposed a bill on this subject. MPs from the Lebanese Forces Party and the Kataeb Party argued that the proposal served to “treat all Beirut neighborhoods equally.”

But there were strong reactions to the idea.

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian said: “This cannot happen. This would bring us back to the East/West Beirut division. This is unacceptable and threatens the Islamic-Christian coexistence that we have preserved and will preserve at all costs. A government needs to be formed as soon as possible, especially since the collapse and paralysis pervade state institutions.”

Derian stressed that officials needed to assume their responsibilities and form a rescue government as nothing else would pave the way for the election of a new president, implementing reforms, and fighting corruption.

Beirut MP Ibrahim Mneimneh also commented on the division proposal.

“Beirut's size and role require an elected local authority with the ability to rule and make decisions, not sectarian divided municipalities that seek to give priority to narrow interests over the city's. Populist proposals do not address the crisis, but may create a larger one.”


Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare
Updated 7 sec ago

Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare
OTTAWA: Canada on Monday announced sanctions against Iranian officials over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests driven by the death of a young woman after her arrest by the morality police.
“We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference.
“We join our voices, the voices of all Canadians, to the millions of people around the world demanding that the Iranian government listen to their people, end their repression of freedoms and rights and let women and all Iranians live their lives and express themselves peacefully.”

World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly

World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly
Updated 26 September 2022

World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly

World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly
  • Faisal Mekdad issues strongly worded attack on Western countries over ‘wars of occupation’
  • Attempts to ‘break the will of Syria and isolate it from the world’ have failed

LONDON: The Syrian regime has criticized Western-led interventions in the Middle East, telling the UN General Assembly on Monday that the world is at a “critical, dangerous point.”

Following a strongly worded attack on Western countries, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad issued an appeal to “meet the challenges of food insecurity, terrorism and climate change together.”

He described Syria’s decade-long conflict as having originated from “attempts by some countries to impose hegemony on others,” condemning decisions to “put a stranglehold on economies”, “flout international law” and wage “wars of occupation.”

The conflict is “ultimately an attempt by the West to maintain control over the world,” he added, warning that the attempt to “break the will of Syria and isolate it from the world” had failed.

Mekdad said Western countries have intervened in the Middle East under the “excuse of spreading democracy and human rights,” adding that terrorist groups labeled “moderates” were “used as tools.”

He claimed that by a deliberate undermining of Syria’s access to medication, food, fuel and basic goods, the country’s people have been punished by the West.

He called for the creation of a multipolar world order, overseen by the UN, to fulfil the organization’s charter and support its purpose.

Mekdad said Israel’s practices had raised tensions and caused instability in the Middle East. He alleged that during the conflict in Syria, Israel had covertly supported terror groups fighting in the country, including Daesh and Al-Nusra Front, in what he described as an “act of military aggression.”

Israel’s activities in the Golan Heights — which it captured from Syria in 1967 and illegally annexed in 1981 — are also cause for concern, he added, warning that Damascus will seek to “hold it accountable for these crimes.”

Syria continues to support Palestine becoming a full-fledged UN member, Mekdad said.

He highlighted some of the steps that the regime is making toward ending the conflict in Syria, arguing that it had consistently called for “national and local reconciliation in order to promote national unity.”

In that regard, Mekdad said the regime had signed 21 amnesty orders, “enabling Syrians to return to normal lives” and ending fighting around the country.

But he warned that as a result of Western “economic terrorism,” Syria has lost an estimated $107 billion in oil and gas revenues since 2011, leading to further economic issues.

Syria will continue to seek compensation for the lost revenues, Mekdad said, adding that the regime is “doing everything possible” to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Turning to international issues, he said Syria supports the “right of Russia to secure its national territory,” adding: “Russia is defending not only itself, but justice and the right of humanity to reject unipolar hegemony.”

He also spoke of Syria’s support for China, arguing that Beijing has the right to protect its national sovereignty against “Western attempts” to influence events in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.


Amnesty petition calls for UN investigation into Iran regime’s ‘serious crimes’ in protest crackdown

Amnesty petition calls for UN investigation into Iran regime’s ‘serious crimes’ in protest crackdown
Updated 26 September 2022

Amnesty petition calls for UN investigation into Iran regime’s ‘serious crimes’ in protest crackdown

Amnesty petition calls for UN investigation into Iran regime’s ‘serious crimes’ in protest crackdown
  • Also accused Iranian security forces of using unlawful force against protesters
  • Organization slammed regime for shutting down access to the internet

LONDON: Amnesty International launched a petition Monday calling for an independent UN investigation into the “serious crimes” being committed by the Iranian regime during its crackdown on widespread protests in the country.

Amnesty called on member states in the UN Human Rights Council to help combat the deadly suppression of protests raging across Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died on Sept. 13 after being arrested by the country’s morality police.The organization said a “crisis of impunity” had “emboldened” the regime in Iran to kill and torture protesting Iranians without fear of reprisals in recent years.

Authorities in Tehran have been getting away with “grave crimes” over the past few years without any consequences, a statement from the organization added.

Amnesty accused the Iranian regime of routinely subjecting women and girls to “arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment” for not complying with Iran’s “abusive, degrading and discriminatory compulsory veiling laws.”

They also accused the Iranian security forces of using unlawful force against protesters, including the firing of live ammunition and metal pellets at close range, misuse of tear gas and water cannons as well as excessive and severe beatings with batons.

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in the crackdown on protesters, with hundreds more seriously injured, according to Amnesty, who also highlighted the case of two men who were blinded in one or both eyes.

The organization slammed the Iranian regime for shutting down access to the internet in an attempt to “hide their crimes,” while its statement also said many of those injured do not seek hospital treatment for fear of arrest or further reprisals.


Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination

Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination
Updated 26 September 2022

Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination

Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination
  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in attack on his car outside Tehran that Iran has blamed on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has pressed charges against 14 people for their alleged role in the November 2020 assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, local media reported Sunday.
Fakhrizadeh, who had been under US sanctions for his role in Iran’s nuclear program, was killed in an attack on his car outside Tehran that the Islamic republic has blamed on Israel.
Tehran’s chief prosecutor Ali Salehi announced that “14 people were indicted” in the case, according to Tasnim news agency, without naming them.
The charges against them include “corruption on earth,” aiding “espionage for the Zionist regime,” “colluding with the purpose of disrupting national security” and “actions against national security,” Salehi said.
Iran claims that the bombing and shooting attack that killed Fakhrizadeh was carried out by a remote-controlled machine gun.
Israel has never commented on the killing. In 2018, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged that Fakhrizadeh had led Iran’s efforts to build an atomic bomb, a claim Iran has always vehemently denied.


Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister

Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister
Updated 26 September 2022

Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister

Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister

DUBAI: HAYASHI Yoshimasa, minister of foreign affairs of Japan, and Sameh Shoukry, minister of foreign affairs of Egypt, held a foreign ministers meeting discussing efforts to tackle climate change, methods of controlling the international food crisis, and further enhancing the bilateral relations between both countries on Sept. 22.

The COP27, a conference discussing the current climate situation, will be taking place in Egypt and HAYASHI expressed his hope to collaborate with the government of Egypt to extend efforts to hinder climate change. 

The Japanese minister argued that the root of the existing global food crisis stems from the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Both ministers agreed that cooperation between Japan and Egypt is mandatory to stop the current international food crisis as well as sustaining and enhancing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Minister Shoukry extended his condolences on the passing of the former prime minister and in return HAYASHI expressed his appreciation to the Egyptian president for sending a presidential envoy to attend the state funeral.

The two ministers shared a mutual agreement that both nations are vital partners for each other and encouraged further enhancement of the bilateral relationship. 

Originally published in Arab News Japan