Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget
Soldiers scuffle with retired army members as they try to enter the parliament building on Monday while the legislature was in session discussing the 2022 budget. (AP)
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Updated 26 September 2022

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget
  • Banks reopen to queues and security service patrols

BEIRUT: Lebanese army retirees scuffled with Parliament guards in Beirut during a rally on Monday amid anger over decimated monthly pay.

Hours after the protest, Parliament passed the 2022 budget, with 63 legislators voting in favor, 37 voting against and six abstaining.

The new budget will calculate customs tax revenue at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar at a time when the black market rate is more than double that at 37,000 pounds to the dollar.

Since the country’s economic meltdown began three years ago, customs tax revenue has been calculated at the official rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar.

According to the new budget, government expenditures stand at 40.9 trillion pounds ($1.1 billion) at the parallel market rate, while revenue stands at 30 trillion pounds.

The protesters, who appealed to the army chief to listen to their concerns, demanded that their salaries be tripled to account for the loss of purchasing value due to the economic crisis.

A stampede took place earlier as the army and Parliament guards were summoned to tackle the protesters.

The retirees — including military widows — were later able to break the security cordon in the face of what they described as their “military sons.”

Security personnel in charge of protecting Parliament used a tear gas grenade to prevent the protesters from reaching the stairs of the Parliament building.

MP Jamil Al-Sayed, a retired major general, walked out of the plenary session to address the protesters.

He was preceded by MP Cynthia Zarazir, from the Change Representatives bloc, who went out in solidarity with demonstrators.

“This police state is repressing protesters,” the MP shouted as she faced the stampede.

Some protesters sprawled on the ground to prevent attempts to remove them.

A small delegation of protesters, accompanied by Al-Sayed, entered one of the corridors of Parliament.

“The message from the protest has been received, and we don’t want to clash with our military colleagues,” said George Nader, a retired brigadier general.

Caretaker Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Maurice Selim left the Parliament hall to meet retired soldiers in Najma Square.

He told them that it had been decided that salaries would be tripled.

The detailed calculations will be handled by specialized agencies in the Ministry of Finance, the minister said.

MP Sami Gemayel warned that increasing salaries would lead to more currency printing, higher inflation, and consequently, a decrease in purchasing power.

Gemayel called for more focus on carrying out reforms and bringing more US dollars into the country.

Independent MP Michel Moawad described the budget as a “crime against the Lebanese” since it was being discussed without balancing the accounts, which meant a “new escape from accountability.”

MP Ibrahim Kanaan objected to figures sent by the Ministry of Finance for the customs dollar to be based on the exchange rate of the dollar at a value of 15,000 Lebanese pounds.

Director-General of Parliament Financial Affairs Dr. Ahmad Al-Laqis, an academic specializing in budgets and taxes, told Arab News: “It is the least possible budget. It is required by the International Monetary Fund. All objections are for political purposes.”

Al-Laqis added that the budget is only relevant for the remaining three months of the year.

As of next year, there will be general financial regulation, and the solutions required to resolve the economic crisis can be included in the draft 2023 budget as the state sets its economic plan, the official said.

The increase in retired military personnel salaries will be three times the basic salary, and will not include the benefits they receive, Al-Laqis said.

Meanwhile, Lebanese banks, which reopened their doors to customers after a week-long closure, witnessed crowding in front of their doors by employees and military personnel, who flocked to complete transactions and withdrawals.

The Association of Banks has adopted new procedures for receiving customers, including the need for appointments.

Some operations, including cash withdrawals and deposits related to transfers, can be completed through ATM exchange platforms.

Lebanese security services patrolled around bank branches during the reopening.

The banks, which initially resorted to opening a few branches to customers, took strict security measures to prevent a recurrence of the holdups carried out two weeks ago by angry depositors.

Some depositors had used weapons and incendiary devices to threaten employees in order to obtain their dollar deposits, which have been frozen since a decision by the Banque du Liban in 2019.

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished
Updated 9 sec ago

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished

PARIS: Iranian activists and Western nations have dismissed a claim that the protest-hit regime is disbanding its notorious morality police, insisting there was no change to women’s rights.

There were also calls on social media for a three-day strike in Iran, culminating Wednesday on the annual Student Day, nearly three months into a nationwide wave of unrest sparked by the death in custody of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini.

Morality police officers had arrested Amini, 22, in Tehran for allegedly flouting Iran’s strict dress code demanding women wear modest clothing and the hijab headscarf.

“Nothing we have seen suggests Iran’s leadership is improving its treatment of women and girls or ceasing the violence it inflicts on peaceful protesters,” the US State Department said.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Iranian protesters “want to live freely and in self-determination,” and disbanding the morality police, “if it is implemented, won’t change that.”

Amini’s death on Sept. 16 triggered women-led protests that have spiraled into the biggest challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.

Hundreds of Iranians, including some members of the security forces, have been killed.

In a surprise move over the weekend, Iran’s Prosecutor General Mohammed Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying that the morality police units — known formally as Gasht-e Ershad (“Guidance Patrol”) — had been closed down.

But campaigners were skeptical about his comments, which appeared to be an impromptu response to a question at a conference rather than a clearly signposted announcement by the Interior Ministry.

“Unless they remove all legal restrictions on women’s dress and the laws controlling citizens’ private lives, this is just a PR move,” said Roya Boroumand, co-founder of the US-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center rights group.

Abolishing the force, activists argued, would mark no change to Iran’s headscarf policy — a key ideological pillar for its clerical leadership — but rather a switch in tactics on enforcing it. And scrapping the units would be “probably too little too late” for the protesters who now demand outright regime change, Boroumand said.

“Nothing prevents other law enforcement” bodies from policing “the discriminatory laws,” she noted.

The morality police have been a familiar sight since 2006 when they were introduced during the presidency of the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But the rules, including the headscarf, had been strictly enforced well before then by the clerical leadership that had taken the helm after the fall of the shah in 1979.

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists
Updated 14 min 28 sec ago

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists
  • Yemeni minister calls on international community, UN envoy to condemn militia’s criminal practices, pressure them to free captives

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The family of a Yemeni journalist taken captive by the Iran-backed Houthis has accused Houthi officials of torturing their son by beating him and placing him in solitary confinement, making another urgent plea to rights organizations and international mediators to persuade the militia to release him.

Abdullah Al-Mansouri, the brother of Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, who was abducted by the Houthis in 2015, told Arab News that Abdulkader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthi prisoner exchange committee, his brother Shehab Al-Murtada, who is the head of Central Security Prison, and his deputy Murad Qassem personally abused his brother by hitting him on the head, leaving him bleeding for a long time before transporting him to a medical facility.

“Instead of administering care for the chronic conditions he got while incarcerated, he was subjected to torture,” Abdullah said, adding that a former inmate informed him that after torturing his brother and the other three journalists — Akram Al-Walidy, Abdul-Khaleq Omran and Harith Hamid — the Houthis placed them in solitary confinement.

In 2015, the Houthis seized four individuals, who were part of a group of journalists, from a Sanaa hotel and convicted them of spying.

The families of the abducted journalists were unable to explain why the Houthis increased the severity of their torture repeatedly.

Citing the instance of detained model Entesar Al-Hammadi, lawyers and activists who have previously spoken to Arab News think that the Houthis become enraged whenever public attention is paid to the plight of detainees. 

“I also wonder why the Houthis continue to periodically abuse Tawfiq and the other journalists. Even if we do not communicate with the media, they will be tortured. This demonstrates the Houthis’ level of savagery,” Abdullah said.

The Yemeni government has formally written to UN Yemen Envoy Hans Grunberg, informing him of the four journalists’ deterioration and urging him to intervene by pressuring the Houthis to release them.

The head of the Yemeni government delegation in charge of prisoner swap negotiations, Hadi Al-Haej, urged the envoy to assist in the release of the journalists, put an end to the Houthis’ continued mistreatment of prisoners, form a committee to investigate prisoner abuses and permit relatives of detainees to visit them in Houthi prisons. 

Yemen’s Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said that the three Houthi leaders mistreated the four journalists, shattered Tawfiq’s skull, and placed them in an isolated cell for 45 days.

He referred to these actions as “war crimes.”

The Yemeni minister said on Twitter: “We call on the international community, the UN, the UN envoy, and human rights groups to condemn these criminal practices, to exert real pressure on the Houthi militia to unconditionally release the forcibly disappeared journalists from their detention centers and to label their leaders as terrorists.”

In Sanaa, Houthi leader Al-Murtada denied mistreating detainees, alleged widespread and hidden torture in the jails of the militia’s opponents, and demanded the formation of an international commission to examine human rights violations in Yemen.

“What the mercenaries are propagating, namely that some of our captives have been attacked and mistreated, is pure slander intended to conceal the atrocities perpetrated against the prisoners inside their facilities,” Al-Murtada said on Twitter.

Local rights groups and media reports said that a former inmate in a Houthi jail who was freed in 2020 as part of a major prisoner exchange died from the complications of ailments he developed while incarcerated.

Sadeq Abdul Jalel Al-Batera, who was tortured for years in a Houthi jail in the province of Taiz, succumbed to illness on Friday.

Egypt, Sudan conduct joint military exercise

Egypt, Sudan conduct joint military exercise
Updated 28 min 49 sec ago

Egypt, Sudan conduct joint military exercise

Egypt, Sudan conduct joint military exercise

CAIRO: An Egyptian-Sudanese military training exercise has got underway at the border guard training fields complex in Egypt.

The Guardian of the South-2 joint drill — which will continue for several days — is one of a number of exercises that have been conducted by the two nations’ armed forces.

Egyptian military spokesman Gharib Abdel-Hafez said that elements of Egypt’s border guard and Sudan’s infantry would be taking part in the training focused on border security tasks.

In a speech welcoming the Sudanese contingent, Egypt’s border guard commander said the exercise would help to strengthen the capabilities of forces from both countries.

The first phase of the training included an exhibition of the latest weapons and equipment used in border security work, and combating smuggling and infiltration, along with an update on efforts to promote integration between forces.

Lectures and practical exercises were also held to boost the combat experiences of both sides, improve military cooperation, and develop joint operations.

Egypt and Sudan’s first joint military exercise, Guardian of the South-1, was staged in October 2021 at Egypt’s Mohammed Naguib Military Base, the largest in the Middle East, located in the Al-Hamam area west of Alexandria.

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
Updated 27 min 59 sec ago

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
  • ‘Apartheid’ fears grow after authorities ramp up settler road construction

RAMALLAH: A 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire during a military raid in the occupied West Bank on Monday morning.

Omar Manna “Faraja” was killed in Bethlehem Dheisheh refugee camp after being hit by four bullets in the chest.

Another six people were injured, and four were arrested during the Israeli operation.

Troops stormed the refugee camp, sparking violent clashes with youths, official Palestinian sources said.

A comprehensive strike occurred in Bethlehem to mourn the murder of the Palestinian.

The killing took place as Israeli authorities started constructing settler-only roads in the West Bank.

Israel’s scheme aims to secure separate travel paths on shared roadways, reducing friction and violent clashes between Palestinians and settlers, Israeli armed forces and Palestinian sources told Arab News.

The Israeli plan includes the construction of streets near Nablus, Qalqilyia and between Bethlehem and Hebron, added the sources.

The process involves the seizure of thousands of acres of Palestinian land.

Israel had confiscated large swathes of Palestinian land for the construction of bypass roads since the signing of the Oslo agreement in late 1993, with the aim of dispersing Israeli settlers outside the Palestinian cities and towns across the West Bank.

Friction between Palestinian youths and Israeli defense forces over the protection of settler vehicles passing through shared roads across the West Bank has increased in recent months, leading to the deaths of several Palestinians by Israeli gunfire.

The significant increase in clashes includes stone-throwing as well as violent physical attacks by settlers on Palestinians.

Hiwara shared road is one of the most critical streets that the Israeli plan aims to replace with a bypass outside the town, Palestinian sources told Arab News.

Moein Al-Dumaidi, mayor of Hiwara, told Arab News that the street that Israeli authorities began paving in Hiwara is 6 km long.

Almost 1,100 dunums of village land was being seized for the work following a Israeli military decision.

“This is a method of confiscating the lands of Hiwara and appropriating it to serve the settlers,” Al-Dumaidi told Arab News.

However, the mayor hoped that the road would reduce tensions in the town.

Hiwara suffers from daily attacks by settlers and Israeli forces, leading to more than seven citizens being killed over the last three months, said the mayor.

The latest incident came on Dec. 3 when an Israeli soldier shot a child, Ammar Mufleh, leaving him to bleed to death over 20 minutes without providing treatment.

Al-Dumaidi said that killings had increased significantly since the election of Israel’s right-wing government.

Hiwara, with a population of 8,000, has 9,900 dunums, of which 7,500 are classified as Area C — under complete Israeli security and administrative control. Construction is prohibited within the Area C category, although 2,400 dunums classified as Area B can be used for building.

Mahmoud Barham, mayor of Beita, adjacent to Hawara, told Arab News that Israeli authorities had confiscated 400 dunums of Beita land containing olive trees to build a bypass road, which will be used exclusively by Israeli settlers.

“We demanded that the project to build this bypass road be stopped because it affects the entrance to our town,” Barham told Arab News.

Legal activist Amer Hamdan, who travels daily through the shared Hiwara street, told Arab News that separate lanes might reduce clashes between Palestinians, settlers and Israeli forces.

However, it could be classified as apartheid according to international law, Hamdan added.

Israel seeks to connect Israeli settlements from Hebron in the south of the West Bank to the Nablus area in the north through a network of streets for Israeli settlers.

“After settlers stop passing through streets shared with the Palestinians, no one will care about paving or maintaining existing roads,” Hamdan told Arab News.

“Even if a traffic accident occurs, the Palestinian police will not be able to reach the scene of the accident ... and the Israeli police will not be present, which will create a problem for the Palestinians who use these streets,” he added.

In 2019, Israel constructed a highway in eastern Jerusalem separated by a high concrete wall, dividing the road into two lanes — one for Palestinians and another for Israelis.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities demolished homes in the village of Al-Araqib on Monday.

Local residents, predominantly Arab Bedouins, were threatened with displacement in the Negev region for the 210th time since the village’s first demolition in 2010.

Locals persist in rebuilding their tents — made from wood and a nylon cover — each time after demolition in order to be shielded from the intense summer heat and bitter cold of the winter.

Israeli authorities refuse to recognize the ownership of the land by the people of Al-Araqib, and have repeatedly demolished the village and razed crops.

Demolition orders continue in East Jerusalem after Israeli authorities destroyed a residential building in the Wad Qaddum neighbourhood in Silwan, south of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The 17-year-old building included 10 apartments housing about 100 people.

Details emerge of Iraqi migrant with diphtheria who died after being held in UK asylum center

Details emerge of Iraqi migrant with diphtheria who died after being held in UK asylum center
Updated 54 min 28 sec ago

Details emerge of Iraqi migrant with diphtheria who died after being held in UK asylum center

Details emerge of Iraqi migrant with diphtheria who died after being held in UK asylum center
  • Hussein Haseeb Ahmed had tested positive for the disease but the cause of death has not yet been established
  • An investigation into death of the 31-year-old Iraqi national has been postponed until May 30 next year

LONDON: A migrant who died last month after being held at an asylum-processing center in Kent has been identified as Hussein Haseeb Ahmed, a 31-year old from Iraq, the BBC reported on Monday.

He arrived in the UK on a small boat on Nov. 12 but took ill soon after and died seven days later at a hospital in Margate. Although the Home Office initially said there was no evidence that he died as a result of an infectious disease, subsequent tests confirmed he had diphtheria.

An initial investigation into Ahmed’s death revealed that he was taken to the hospital’s emergency department on Nov. 14 as he was unable to eat or drink and found swallowing to be painful. He was discharged following treatment and taken back to the Manston processing center.

However, he was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 19 suffering from increasing shortness of breath, a fever and drowsiness. Blood tests revealed he was experiencing multiple organ failures, the BBC reported.

It has not yet been confirmed whether the migrant, who was of Kurdish origin, died of diphtheria, which is a highly infectious disease.

A full investigation into his death has been postponed until May 30, when a pre-inquest review is scheduled to take place.