Lebanon’s president hits out as failing nation heads toward political vacuum

Lebanon’s president hits out as failing nation heads toward political vacuum
President Michel Aoun. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 October 2022

Lebanon’s president hits out as failing nation heads toward political vacuum

Lebanon’s president hits out as failing nation heads toward political vacuum
  • Michel Aoun chides political opponents, media and everyone for conspiring "to prevent me from fighting corruption"
  • Holds caretaker PM Mikati responsible for failing to form a government, says Speaker Nabih Berri's call for dialogue is bound to fail

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president settled scores with political opponents as he prepared to leave office, criticizing parliament for failing to elect his replacement and stating that the caretaker government was happy to see the country remain paralyzed.

Michel Aoun also railed against a “hostile” media, claimed he was “conspired against” in efforts to tackle corruption, and held Najib Mikati, the caretaker prime minister, responsible for failing to form a government before the end of his presidential term.

“Everyone conspired against me at home and abroad to prevent me from fighting corruption,” he told journalists at the presidential palace, 48 hours before he was due to leave.

He criticized parliament for failing to elect his successor, and stated that calls by Speaker Nabih Berri for dialogue between opposing factions to find a candidate would fail.

“Berri’s call for the parliamentary blocs to consult each other will fail because Berri does not have the right to call for dialogue,” Aoun said.

Lebanon’s parliament remains paralyzed after a May election that returned a house with no one commanding a clear majority. Hezbollah and its allies have the largest number of seats, and are leading a caretaker administration. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and its allies are the second largest bloc and a third includes non-aligned independents. None of the blocs can agree on a working coalition, and none can command enough votes for a presidential nominee to be elected outright.

Aoun accused Mikati of having no serious intention of forming a government through negotiation.

He demanded that FPM head Gebran Bassil get to choose his ministers like other parties. “Mikati does not adopt the same standards with the Strong Lebanon Bloc and the FPM that he adopts with the Amal Movement, Hezbollah, the Socialist Party, and the rest of the parties. They always blame Bassil.”

Aoun hinted at being “on the verge of signing the decree for the resignation of the caretaker government” — contradicting statements by his media office days ago that he had no such intention.

“If a government is not formed, a caretaker government cannot rule, and I cannot accept a caretaker government,” he said.

Mikati hit back, saying that “Aoun’s memory is betraying him. He is confused between facts, wishes and illusions.”

Aoun will leave the presidential palace on Oct. 30, one day before his term officially ends. He will be accompanied by a convoy of his supporters from the FPM to his villa in Rabieh.

The outgoing president lamented the constant crises he faced while in office, stating that not one official in the country helped him fight corruption. “I did not accept any tutelage state, nor did I accept bribes from any state like many officials have,” he said.

“I have faced hostile media and major and harmful financial, natural, and health disasters. The Beirut port explosion, the closed borders with Syria with 1.8 million refugees in Lebanon, an empty treasury, and now we are facing a cholera outbreak.

Of the financial crisis, Auon said that those responsible “are responsible for the country’s fiscal and monetary policy, all of which must be investigated.

“But those controlling the judicial authority are protecting them.”

The president described the relationship with Hezbollah as serious, saying: “We have a problem with the party regarding the fight against corruption. Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are twins, and separating them may lead to bloodshed.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah reportedly met Bassil on Wednesday to discuss the potential presidential and government vacuum.

Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces party which opposes the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc and is a rival of the FPM, noted: “Violating the laws and the constitution has brought us here.”

Geagea accused Hezbollah and the FPM of not wanting to agree on a presidential candidate. “Meanwhile, we have our candidate and we will continue to vote for him. We will respond to Berri’s call for dialogue, provided that he calls for a session to elect a president as soon as possible,” he said.

As a presidential vacuum looms, legal experts stressed that a Mikati government could indeed continue to operate in caretaker mode.

Michel Qlimous, a lawyer, said: “No one can prevent it from operating because Article 64 of the constitution is clear and explicit — until a new government is formed, following constitutional principles and Article 53.”

Should FPM ministers refuse to continue to be part of the caretaker government, its work will not be disrupted and it will still be able to operate within limits if two-thirds of the quorum is secured, he said.

“The constitutional council has previously issued jurisprudence that prevents a vacuum. The decisions of the constitutional council are final and cannot be challenged,” Qlimous added.

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’
Updated 57 min 36 sec ago

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’
  • Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen: Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking

WASHINGTON: US vice president Kamala Harris said on Tuesday that Israel’s democracy requires “an independent judiciary,” wading into the controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul that has drawn mass protests in Israel.
“America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the US-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies, which as the (Israeli) ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and I’ll add: an independent judiciary,” Harris said.
The vice president spoke at a reception celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding hosted by the country’s embassy in Washington. Her remarks on the judiciary drew applause.
Harris also reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”
Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking, which were intended, he said, to ensure a strong and independent judiciary which was more balanced.
“If you ask her what troubles her about the reform, she may not be able to cite even one clause that bothers her,” Cohen told Israel’s public broadcaster Kansas “I don’t know whether she read the bill, my estimation is that she has not.”
Weeks of unprecedented street demonstrations followed Netanyahu’s proposed package of reforms of the Supreme Court, which members of his religious-nationalist coalition accuse of overreach and elitism.
Under pressure at home and abroad, including from US President Joe Biden’s administration, Netanyahu has suspended the overhaul to try to negotiate a consensus with the political opposition.
Critics see a threat to independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies.
Top economists and national security veterans have warned of fallout, saying an independent court system is crucial to Israel’s democratic norms and economic strength.
Before Harris spoke, Israeli president Isaac Herzog said in a video address to the crowd that he planned to visit the White House and address a joint session of the US Congress “in the near future.” The trip is expected in July.
Biden has yet to extend a White House invitation to Netanyahu, despite Israel’s status as a key Middle East ally.
The two leaders have had chilly relations since Biden took office. Biden had pressed Netanyahu in recent months to drop the judicial overhaul plan.
Netanyahu, who was prime minister for three years in the 1990s and then from 2009 to 2021, took office again in December to start his sixth term.

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster
Updated 07 June 2023

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster
  • He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras

ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities on Tuesday seized and jailed a 16-year-old youth for drawing a moustache on an election campaign poster showing re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, media reports said.
Several media close to the opposition, including daily newspapers BirGun, Cumhuriyet and private TV station Halk TV, said the youth from the southeastern town of Mersin was accused of defacing the poster near his home with a pen, scribbling “a Hitler moustache and writing insulting comments.”
He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras, media reports said. Authorities interviewed him at his home where he reportedly “admitted drawing the moustache” while denying writing the accompanying comments.
Taken before the public prosecutor he was found to have “insulted the president” and was jailed at a nearby youth facility, according to Halk TV.
Erdogan extended his 20-year rule over Turkiye after winning the May 28 second round of the presidential election to embark on a new five-year term.
According to the justice ministry, “insulting the president” is one of the most common crimes in Turkiye, resulting in 16,753 convictions last year.

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
Updated 06 June 2023

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
  • Two of Gaza’s zoos have closed

GAZA: Large paintings of a bear, an elephant and a giraffe decorate the outer walls of NAMA Zoo in Gaza City, but none of these wild creatures is represented live among those caged inside.

Six years ago, the lone tiger died, and despite visitors’ frequent demands for a replacement, the owners have not been able to afford to buy or feed a new one.

There were once six zoos in Gaza, a narrow coastal enclave which has been closed off behind security walls since 2007.

But with the economy crippled by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, two of the zoos have closed.

“Because of the lack of resources and capabilities and the high prices of animals it is difficult to replace an animal you lose,” said Mahmoud Al-Sultan, the medical supervisor of the NAMA zoo.

The original animals at the zoo were smuggled through tunnels from Egypt over a decade ago. 

As well as four pairs of lions, each of which goes through 60 kg of meat a week, the zoo has crocodiles, hyenas, foxes, deer and monkeys, as well as a lone ibex and a solitary wolf.

At the lions’ cages, children stand to take pictures from a distance and giggle as they touch the bars on the cages of deer and birds. 

A ticket costs less than $1 because people can’t afford more, Sultan said.

“I come here to have some fun, but I see the same animals every time,” said nine-year-old Fouad Saleh. “I wish I could see an elephant, a giraffe or a tiger.”

For the moment, that appears unlikely. Gaza lacks the medical facilities to treat animals like lions and tigers.

In the past, the Four Paws international animal welfare group has had to rescue animals and find them new homes in Israel, Jordan or as far away as South Africa.

“We struggle to afford the food,” said Sultan. “Sometimes we provide frozen food, chicken, turkeys, and sometimes if a donkey is injured we have it slaughtered and shared out between the lions.”

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag
Updated 06 June 2023

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

DUBAI: The UAE is tightening insurance requirements for vessels registered under its flag, according to a government advisory, amid growing concerns over ships sailing without top tier cover in the event of an oil spill.

Ships typically have protection and indemnity insurance which covers liability claims including environmental damage and injury. Separate hull and machinery policies cover vessels against physical damage.

About 90 percent of the world’s ocean going tonnage is covered by the 12 ship insurers that make up the International Group.

P&I insurers outside of the IG that cover UAE flagged ships will need to meet a number of requirements including providing evidence of membership of a recognized maritime related professional agency or regulatory body, the UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said in a June 2 advisory posted on its website.

Other requirements include providing details of the five largest settled claims or details of claims over $10 million, the advisory said, adding that applications needed to be submitted before June 30.

The advisory, which was also addressed to ship owners, said evidence would need to be shown about so-called blue cards, which cover pollution damage.

The UAE flagged fleet includes dozens of oil tankers — many of which are old — and over 200 offshore vessels typically used in oil related trading, according to shipping data on public database Equasis.

Hundreds of “ghost” tankers, which are not fully regulated, have joined an opaque parallel shipping trade over the past few years, carrying oil from countries hit by Western sanctions and restrictions, including Russia and Iran.

The number of incidents last year, including groundings, collisions and near misses involving these ships reached the highest in years, a Reuters investigation showed.

Ports in China’s Shandong province are demanding more detailed information about oil tankers that are more than 15 years old that call at their terminals, sources with knowledge of the matter said this week.

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
Updated 06 June 2023

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
  • Residents of Tuti island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages

KHARTOUM: Battles raged in Sudan’s war-torn capital of Khartoum on Tuesday, witnesses said, and the residents of an island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages.

Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

A number of broken ceasefires have offered brief lulls but no respite for residents of the city, where witnesses again reported “the sound of heavy artillery fire” in northern Khartoum.

Witnesses also said there were “clashes with various types of weapons” in south Khartoum, where “the sound of explosions shook our walls.”

In the city center, at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.

Paramilitaries have blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.

“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said. “If this continues for days, stores will run out of food.”

Since the fighting began on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Al Arabiya channel reported that the warring parties had resumed indirect ceasefire talks in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The UN says that more than a million and a half people have been displaced, both within the country and across its borders.

For those still in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur — which together have seen the worst of the fighting — the situation is growing increasingly dire.

“We face a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy, collapse of the health care system,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.

The danger will increase with “the flood season fast approaching and the looming hunger crisis and disease outbreaks that now are becoming more inevitable.”

Sudan’s annual rainy season begins in June, and medics have repeatedly warned that it threatens to make parts of country inaccessible, raising the risks of malaria, cholera and water-borne diseases.