Lebanon PM pleads for unity on eve of key budget talks

Lebanon PM pleads for unity on eve of key budget talks
Lebanese Parliament is supposed to begin revising the draft budget for 2023 before the end of 2022. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 September 2022

Lebanon PM pleads for unity on eve of key budget talks

Lebanon PM pleads for unity on eve of key budget talks
  • ‘We do not have the luxury of time,’ caretaker leader warns political rivals
  • Several MPs have criticized items in the draft budget, raising doubts about its likely approval

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has issued a plea for “positive cooperation” ahead of a key parliamentary budget session, telling political rivals that “we do not have the luxury of time amid the numerous issues we are facing.”
Speaking on the eve of discussions on the 2022 budget — approval of which has been delayed for 10 months — Mikati said that he will continue his efforts to form a government.
However, “in return, concerned parties should refrain from setting conditions and laying obstacles simply to achieve political gains,” he said.
Several MPs have criticized items in the draft budget, raising doubts about its likely approval.
Parliament is supposed to begin revising the draft budget for 2023 before the end of 2022, while the approval of the 2022 budget is among key conditions for negotiations with the International Monetary Fund along with other reform projects.
MP Michel Moussa told Arab News: “There are major loopholes in the draft budget, despite all the discussions that took place in the Finance and Budget Committee for several months. It is true that the draft budget is not the desired project, but we only have three months left, and the budget could still undergo changes as a result of the financial situation in the country.”
MPs have discussed reducing the number of articles in the budget, but items regarding expenditure, imports and the mechanism for financing the deficit remain vague, while no reforms have been included.
Budget talks coincide with the central bank abandoning subsidies on fuel, bringing warnings of a dramatic increase in transport costs and the price of goods.
Finance ministry officials met with IMF specialists to discuss the possibility of extending treasury import and tax policies to ensure basic services, especially in the social and health sectors, are maintained.
Edouard Beigbeder, acting UN humanitarian coordinator, said that the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund has allocated $8 million to meet the urgent needs of the most hard-hit groups in the country.
“Vulnerable families in Lebanon are affected by insufficient access to water, unaffordable basic commodities and limited access to life-saving services, and are taking desperate measures to survive,” he said.
“We need to act now and avoid a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.”
The allocation will help to support the return to school and protect those most in need, including during winter, the fund’s statement said.
“More than half of the funding will target Lebanese people and the remaining will be destined in favor of migrants, Palestine refugees and Syrian refugees. In line with the LHF’s vision statement to boost the localization agenda in Lebanon, 29 percent of this allocation funding is disbursed to local and national nongovernmental organizations,” it added.
MP Moussa said: “This international aid is essential, but its volume cannot meet all needs. It is supposed to be for the most vulnerable groups; today, the entire Lebanese nation is vulnerable and all the population is in need.”
Citing the death by heart attack of a prisoner in Roumieh prison on Monday, Moussa said: “This is proof of a serious deterioration in the living and health situation in prisons. We must take quick, serious action. Enough neglect and delay.”


Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south

Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south
Updated 08 December 2022

Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south

Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south

BAGHDAD/NASSIRIYA: Iraqi security forces shot dead two protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Wednesday after using live ammunition to disperse an anti-government protest, police and medical sources told Reuters.
At least 16 protesters were wounded, mainly by live bullets, when security forces attempted to move them away from bridges and a central square, the sources said.
Police said protesters threw stones at security forces, wounding 17. A Reuters witness said crowds subsequently gathered outside a hospital morgue, demanding the release of the two bodies.
Around 300 people took part in the demonstration which was called to protest against recent arrests that targeted activists in the mainly Shiite city of Nassiriya.
Protesters took to the streets against a court ruling this week sentencing Hayder Hamid Al-Zaidi, 20, to three years in prison over alleged criticism of state-sanctioned militias.
Zaidi, 20, who was active in popular anti-government protests that began in October 2019, was sentenced Monday in a criminal court in Baghdad over comments on Twitter that he maintains he did not write. He had been charged under a penal code section that outlaws publicly insulting any government institution or official.
Al-Zaidi was arrested over the tweet in June and released after 16 days on bail. He has maintained that his account was hacked.
It was the first such deadly demonstration since a new government was formed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani in October. 
(With Reuters and AP)


Islamic school funded by Kuwaitis opens in Venezuela

Islamic school funded by Kuwaitis opens in Venezuela
Updated 08 December 2022

Islamic school funded by Kuwaitis opens in Venezuela

Islamic school funded by Kuwaitis opens in Venezuela
  • Establishment to teach Arabic, Islamic education, Venezuelan curriculum to more than 180 students

KUWAIT: The Venezuelan Islamic School, funded by Kuwaiti businessmen and overseen by Zakat House, has opened in the country’s capital Caracas, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday.

More than 180 students in kindergarten, primary, and secondary school will be taught Arabic, Islamic education, and the Venezuelan curriculum following Kuwait’s first charitable work in the country.

The inauguration was attended by Kuwait’s Ambassador to Venezuela Nasser Al-Enezi, Head of the Venezuelan Islamic Center Baligh Saeed, and a number of dignitaries, students and school staff.

Al-Enezi praised the Zakat House of Kuwait for sponsoring projects for the Arab community, and business for its contribution.

 


Sister of Iran’s supreme leader denounces ‘tyranny’ of regime

Sister of Iran’s supreme leader denounces ‘tyranny’ of regime
Updated 07 December 2022

Sister of Iran’s supreme leader denounces ‘tyranny’ of regime

Sister of Iran’s supreme leader denounces ‘tyranny’ of regime
  • Khamenei condemned her brother in letter posted on Twitter by exiled son
  • Her daughter was arrested in November after criticizing regime in YouTube video

LONDON: Badri Hosseini Khamenei, the sister of Iran’s supreme leader, said on Wednesday that she soon hopes to see the overthrow of her brother’s “tyranny,” adding that he “has brought nothing but suffering and oppression” to his people. 

Khamenei’s family have been fierce critics of the Islamic regime since 1979, after the revolution deposed the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  

Khamenei and her husband, Ali Tehrani, regularly spoke out against the government while in exile in Iraq during the 1980s, The Times reported. Upon their return to Iran in 1995, her husband, who died in October, was imprisoned for 10 years.

According to The Times, Khamenei has since refrained from publicly denouncing the regime while living in Iran.

However, she is now openly condemning the authorities’ violent crackdown on the nationwide protests.

In a damning letter posted on Twitter by her France-based son Mahmoud Moradkhani, Khamenei wrote: “I think it is appropriate now to declare that I oppose my brother’s actions and I express my sympathy with all mothers mourning the crimes of the Islamic Republic regime.

“I am sorry that due to physical ailments I cannot participate in protest movements as I should. But in heart and soul, I am with the people of Iran.

“Our family’s opposition and struggle against this criminal system began a few months after the revolution.

“The crimes of this system, the suppression of any dissenting voice, the imprisonment of the most educated and the most caring youth of this land, the most severe punishments, and the large-scale executions began from the very beginning.”

Khamenei’s daughter Farideh Moradkhani was arrested for the third time last month after calling on all foreign governments to stop supporting Tehran.

The activist described her uncle’s regime on Nov. 25 as “murderous and child-killing” in a video posted on Youtube.

Addressing this, Khamenei added: “When they arrest my daughter with violence, it is clear that they apply thousands of times more violence to other oppressed boys and girls who are subjected to inhumane cruelty.”

Khamenei also said that her brother was not listening to the “voice of the people in Iran,” but was instead taking note of “mercenaries and money-grubbers.”

She called on Revolutionary Guards to lay down their arms and join the people “before it is too late.”

 


Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies

Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies
Updated 07 December 2022

Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies

Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies
  • Free Patriotic Movement hints at parting with Hezbollah, accusing it of attacking president’s position

BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement’s anger over caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati convening a Cabinet session on Monday led to a shakeup in the relationship between the party and its ally, Hezbollah.

FPM head Gebran Bassil, in a press conference on Tuesday, expressed anger over “expanded decentralization, even without laws.”

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement provided political cover for Mikati to convene a Cabinet session to approve the process of securing medicines for dialysis and cancer patients, which Mikati deems an absolute necessity.

The FPM refuses to hold any Cabinet session in light of the presidential vacuum in order to prevent Mikati from exercising the powers of the Christian president, especially since the movement believes the caretaker government has no right to play this role.

As the country experiences a devastating economic crisis, eight attempts by Lebanon’s divided parliament to elect a president have failed after the term of President Micael Aoun ended over a month ago.

Aoun’s son-in-law Bassil has indirectly presented himself as a presidential candidate, given that his parliamentary bloc is the largest Christian bloc and has the right to nominate the future president.

Bassil rejects the candidacy of former Minister Suleiman Frangieh for the post, who is supported by Hezbollah and Amal.

In a press conference, Bassil said that the Cabinet session on Monday was “unconstitutional, illegal and unconventional,” describing it as “an execution of the constitution and a fatal blow to (the) Taif Agreement.”

The FPM ministers boycotted the Cabinet session, with the exception of the Minister of Industry George Boushkian, who secured the quorum for the session. His behavior resulted in his party, the Tashnak, an ally of the FPM’s, renouncing him for not abiding by its decision to boycott the session.

The FPM website stated that “Hezbollah contributes to the normalization of the vacuum and the assault on the president’s position.”

Bassil indirectly addressed Hezbollah, saying: “If someone thinks that they are pressuring us on the presidential issue, we would like to tell them that it will not work.

“We will not attend the parliament sessions if we do not find a great national need to do so, and we will seek to abandon the blank vote quicker and go for a presidential candidate.”

MP Michel Moussa, a member of the Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, downplayed the possibility of any change in the political map at the level of the presidential elections as a result of the tensions following the Cabinet session. “Not electing a new president contributes to deepening these conflicts,” he said.

Moussa stressed the need to conduct a serious and effective dialogue between all parties to calm tensions and elect a president.

Hezbollah avoided commenting on Bassil’s statements.

MP Bilal Abdullah, a member of the Democratic Gathering bloc, said: “One party has unsuccessfully tried to raise the sectarian discourse. Hezbollah did not respond.”

A political observer, preferring anonymity, said: “Hezbollah, by participating in the Cabinet session, tried to assure Bassil that it was not alone on the scene.”

The Sovereign Front for Lebanon, which opposes Hezbollah, stressed that the MPs must remain in the parliament hall until a new president is elected for the sake of the country and the constitution.


Jordanian, Egyptian and Iraqi foreign ministers discuss opportunities for trilateral cooperation

Jordanian, Egyptian and Iraqi foreign ministers discuss opportunities for trilateral cooperation
Updated 07 December 2022

Jordanian, Egyptian and Iraqi foreign ministers discuss opportunities for trilateral cooperation

Jordanian, Egyptian and Iraqi foreign ministers discuss opportunities for trilateral cooperation
  • They identified potential areas in which their nations could work together in the fields of politics, economics, security and industry

AMMAN: The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, Ayman Safadi, Sameh Shoukry and Fuad Hussein, met on Wednesday to discuss ways in which the strategic integration of their countries might be boosted through a trilateral cooperation mechanism, the Jordan News Agency reported.

They reportedly identified potential areas for cooperation in politics, economics, security and industry, and recommended that efforts continue to move forward toward signing agreements.

Safadi and Shoukry expressed the full support of their countries for stability and security in Iraq and congratulated the nation on the formation of its new government.

The three ministers also discussed regional issues of mutual interest, including the Palestinian cause. In addition, they agreed to maintain institutional communications to facilitate upcoming projects and plans and overcome economic challenges that requiring systematic cooperation.