EU envoys ‘gravely concerned’ over crisis in Lebanon

Special EU envoys ‘gravely concerned’ over crisis in Lebanon
Protesters chant slogans as they gather outside the Justice Palace in Lebanon's capital Beirut on September 19, 2022, demanding the release of two people involved in a bank heist the prior week. (AFP)
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Updated 20 September 2022

EU envoys ‘gravely concerned’ over crisis in Lebanon

EU envoys ‘gravely concerned’ over crisis in Lebanon
  • Saudi Arabia keen on maintaining Lebanese stability, adhering to constitution: Ambassador

BEIRUT: EU member states’ ambassadors to Lebanon on Tuesday told President Michel Aoun of their “grave and growing concerns” over the deepening economic crisis in the country.

During a meeting with Aoun, the EU’s envoy to Lebanon, Ralph Tarraf, urged the Lebanese leader to immediately implement the reforms needed to resolve the situation.

In a tweet, Tarraf said: “Today, we, the ambassadors of the EU and its member states resident in Beirut, along with the ambassadors of Switzerland and Norway, met with President Aoun to express our grave and growing concern about the current situation in Lebanon.

“We urged the president to do his utmost to support and actively contribute to the implementation of the crucial economic, monetary, and fiscal reforms that Lebanon has committed to.

“Though Lebanon’s context is challenging, immediate measures ... need to be implemented. The time to act is now. The EU and its member states remain ready to support Lebanon in this critical period, politically and financially, in the context of implementing a sound economic recovery plan and an IMF (International Monetary Fund) program,” he added.

On Monday, Aoun and his political team had reiterated their rejection of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s caretaker government taking over the country’s administration in the event of a presidential vacuum because they believed the government to be illegitimate.

Aoun’s office noted that the president had assured the EU ambassadors that he was working on forming a legitimate government that could assume the powers of the president in such an event and was doing all he could to implement economic reforms.

Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, has held a series of meetings with Lebanese politicians over recent days. He said: “Saudi Arabia is keen on maintaining Lebanese stability and adhering to the Taif Agreement (reached in 1989 to provide the basis for the ending of the civil war and return to political normalcy in Lebanon) and the Lebanese constitution.”

On Monday, he held talks with the head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt and on Tuesday met the leader of the Lebanese Forces party Samir Geagea as part of a political tour ahead of the presidential elections.

Jumblatt said: “We discussed many issues; but Bukhari stressed the Kingdom’s historic keenness on Lebanese stability, the Taif Agreement, and the constitution, and that we, the Lebanese, respect constitutional deadlines and elect a president.”

Geagea said: “We discussed local and regional issues but focused on the Lebanese crisis and talked about the upcoming elections.

“I learned that Saudi Arabia has prepared large aid packages for Lebanon, which require us to have a president, a prime minister, and a government that can be trustworthy, since the Kingdom is unwilling to deal with any Lebanese official involved in financial or political corruption,” he added.

A source in Dar Al-Fatwa told Arab News that the spiritual authority for the Sunni community in Lebanon would be holding a meeting for Sunni MPs on Saturday. Of the 27 in parliament, two had so far declined the invitation, reformist Halime Kaakour and independent Osama Saad.

“This will be the first meeting that brings together Sunni MPs of various political orientations since their victory in the parliamentary elections in May,” the source said.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese pound reached a record low. Banks closed for the second day in a row while the price of goods, especially fuel.

A delegation led by Ernesto Ramirez-Rigo, the IMF’s head of mission for the Middle East, met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, whose media office said that they discussed the stages of the dialogue between Lebanon and the IMF and the legislation implemented by parliament.

“Parliament is determined to intensify its work to accomplish what is required of it in terms of reform legislation, and to cooperate with the executive authority in this regard and preserve the rights of depositors,” Berri told the delegation.

After his meeting with the IMF delegation, caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam said: “We discussed the reform laws requested by the IMF, specifically the capital control law, banking secrecy law, bank restructuring law, and the 2022 budget.

“The IMF carries a very clear message, which is the urgency in approving these laws; otherwise, we will not be able to move forward to reach a final agreement with the fund.”

Salam told the Associated Press that Lebanon hoped to adopt key reforms demanded by the IMF for a long-delayed but urgently needed bailout before the end of next month if there was a “political will.”

He added: “The IMF and the World Bank believe that Lebanon needs special care to achieve food security, and we will address, during the annual meeting of the World Bank, the need to support Lebanon in the field of food security.”


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary
Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary
  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.


Kuwait’s Prime Minister heads to Qatar for World Cup

Kuwait’s Prime Minister heads to Qatar for World Cup
Updated 06 December 2022

Kuwait’s Prime Minister heads to Qatar for World Cup

Kuwait’s Prime Minister heads to Qatar for World Cup
  • Visit came in response to invitation from the Qatari prime minister

DOHA: Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah headed to Qatar on Tuesday to attend a FIFA World Cup match in Doha, state news agency (KUNA) reported.

His visit came in response to the invitation from his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Khaled bin Khalifa Al Thani.

On Monday, the UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited Doha where he held talks with Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.


1,200 Iranian students ‘poisoned’ on eve of mass protests

1,200 Iranian students ‘poisoned’ on eve of mass protests
Updated 06 December 2022

1,200 Iranian students ‘poisoned’ on eve of mass protests

1,200 Iranian students ‘poisoned’ on eve of mass protests
  • National student union blames outbreak on authorities
  • Streets surrounding universities littered with contaminated food dumped by students

LONDON: A group of 1,200 university students in Iran have been struck by a food poisoning outbreak on the eve of anti-regime demonstrations set to be held throughout the country, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The students at Kharazmi and Arak universities, as well as four other institutions, threw their provided food onto surrounding streets in protest, with the country’s national student union accusing authorities of deliberately poisoning people.

In a statement, the union said: “Our past experiences of similar incidents at the Isfahan university negates the authorities’ reason for this mass food poisoning.”

Officials have blamed the outbreak on water-borne bacteria.

However, clinics in several affected universities have also closed or run out of supplies to treat dehydration and other associated symptoms of food poisoning, in a sign that the outbreak may have been a deliberate strategy to thwart the national protest movement.

It came as a three-day nationwide strike was due to begin on Wednesday, intensifying public pressure against the regime.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities denied reports that the regime would disband the country’s morality police.

The religious force was behind the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody in September, triggering mass protests.

A state broadcaster said: “No official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police.

“Some foreign media have tried to characterize the attorney general’s statement as the Islamic Republic’s withdrawal from its hijab (laws) and influenced by the recent riots.”

As more Iranian public figures show support for the protest movement, authorities on Monday closed two businesses belonging to former national football team star Ali Daei.

The ex-striker, who scored 109 international goals, said last week that he had faced threats after showing public support for the anti-regime movement.

A jewelry store as well as a restaurant belonging to Daei were closed during the move by authorities.

A state news agency said: “Following the cooperation with anti-revolutionary groups in cyberspace to disrupt peace and business of the market, a judicial order was issued to seal Noor Jewelry Gallery.”


Iran arrests 12 with alleged European links: report

Iran arrests 12 with alleged European links: report
Updated 06 December 2022

Iran arrests 12 with alleged European links: report

Iran arrests 12 with alleged European links: report
  • Iran said the arrested had connections with Germany and Netherlands
  • The 12 individuals were arrested for carrying out “activities against national security”

TEHRAN: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrested 12 alleged members of a European-linked group accused of planning acts of sabotage in the country, Tasnim news agency said.
The Islamic republic has been rocked by more than two months of what it calls deadly “riots” that it says have been fomented by the United States, its allies and foreign-based opposition groups.
The street violence erupted in mid-September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman of Kurdish origin, in the custody of the morality police in Tehran.
In a statement quoted by Tasnim, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Markazi province, southwest of Tehran, said it had arrested “a network with 12 members with links abroad.”
It alleged they had been “under the guidance of counter-revolutionary agents living in Germany and the Netherlands” and carried out “activities against national security.”
They had “attempted to procure weapons and intended to carry out subversive acts” but had been captured before being able to do so, it added.
The Guards statement said the “riots project has failed,” in reference to the nationwide protests triggered by Amini’s death.
It warned that acts of sabotage would continue, however, and appealed for the “vigilance of loyal people... especially shopkeepers, students and workers” to foil them.
It appeared to be referring to calls for a three-day strike culminating Wednesday on “Student Day,” as part of the protests.
An Iranian general said last week that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of security personnel.
Oslo-based non-government organization Iran Human Rights said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
Thousands have been arrested, including prominent Iranian actors and footballers.


27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC
Updated 06 December 2022

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC
  • Mock executions are a form of psychological torture in which a victim is made to feel that their execution is taking place but it is not carried out
  • Like others, the man's death sentence can be appealed, but Iranian judiciary chief said executions would take place soon

LONDON: A 27-year-old man who is one of six people sentenced to death in Iran over ongoing anti-regime protests has been subjected to several mock executions in prison, the BBC reported

Last month, a Revolutionary Court found Sahand Noormohammadzadeh guilty of acts of “vandalism and arson of public property with the aim of causing disruption to the country's peace and order and confronting the Islamic government,” according to the Mizan News Agency.

Prosecutors accused him of taking part in riots by blocking a highway and setting fire to bins and tires. They showed the court a video in which a man in a mask, whom they claimed was the defendant, is seen pushing a burning garbage can onto the road and placing a railing between two lanes.

Noormohammadzadeh protested his innocence and his lawyer told the court there was no evidence to suggest that his client was the masked man.

A source told BBC Persian that interrogators falsely informed Noormohammadzadeh that his mother had suffered a heart attack and that he must sign a letter if he wanted to speak to her before she died. The letter, according to a lawyer in Tehran, amounted to an admission of guilt, the BBC reported.

The court sentenced Noormohammadzadeh to death for “enmity against God” and he has been subjected to mock executions three times in prison, a source told BBC Persian.

A mock execution is a form of psychological torture whereby a victim is made to feel that their execution is taking place but is not carried out. The BBC’s source said that even before his trial, Noormohammadzadeh was told “to go on a chair, blindfolded, to be hanged.”

Amnesty International has warned that at least 21 people are at risk of being sentenced to death in “sham trials” over the protests in Iran.

While the sentences of the six defendants handed a death penalty can be appealed, judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said on Monday that the executions would take place soon, the BBC reported.

About 18,200 people are estimated to have been arrested since the nationwide protests erupted in September in response to the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency. Many of them reportedly have been tortured or subjected to other forms of ill-treatment while in custody.