Lebanese facing tax rises and more expensive imports

Employees serve customers at a money transfer office in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on July 27, 2022. (AFP)
Employees serve customers at a money transfer office in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on July 27, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 03 December 2022

Lebanese facing tax rises and more expensive imports

Employees serve customers at a money transfer office in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on July 27, 2022. (AFP)
  • Government raises exchange rate on imports tenfold in response to devaluation of Lebanese pound

BEIRUT: Lebanon has officially adopted a new exchange rate on imports ten times the previous level, in a move that will deepen economic misery in a country already suffering hardship.

The new customs exchange rate of 15,000 Lebanese pounds a dollar replaces the previous rate of 1,500, which was in use for nearly three years.

The customs dollar is the price for calculating the customs value of imports, and is paid in Lebanese pounds.

Public concern has already risen about the ability to control instability in the markets, as merchants began adding goods to be included on the new rate.

FASTFACT

Amin Salam, caretaker economy minister, said on Friday that he would not authorize any additional fees that would pile further pressure on consumers buying essential items such as food.

Imports in the first seven months of this year reached $10.5 billion, and the total import for the whole year may reach $18 billion, which is a record close to pre-crisis levels, and it was interpreted as a preemption to raise the customs dollar rate.

Imported goods included cars, phones and electrical and electronic equipment.

Amin Salam, the caretaker economy minister, said on Friday that he would not authorize any additional fees that would pile further pressure on consumers buying essential items such as food.

He added that 70 percent of food commodities were exempt, and their prices would not be affected by the new rate.

The remaining products would be studied carefully, he said, adding that the government had “demanded the exemption of additional commodities, which delayed the issuance of the exempted commodities lists.”

Lebanon is suffering its worst economic crises in decades and a dramatic deterioration in the value of the national currency, which hit 41,500 to the dollar on the black market on Friday.

Salam added that his ministry, the Internal Security Forces and the State Security Apparatus had obtained signed pledges from merchants that stock already in Lebanon would be sold at the previous dollar exchange rate.

The merchants signed the pledge after some initial hesitation, he added.

Mounir Al-Bassat, head of the Syndicate of Food Industries in Lebanon, said that most raw materials for the food industry were exempt from customs, and that a lot of food was grown locally.

Al-Bassat said that the share of local produce in markets had risen from less than 30 percent before the economic crisis began to bite to between 50 percent and 60 percent now.

The raising of the exchange rate is one of the demands of the International Monetary Fund, along with raising customs and tax duties.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News that the state still had no economic recovery plan.

“All we are doing is reacting. Daily remedies for crises absorbed by the worsening collapse,” he said, adding that the government was paralysed by disagreements.

He noted that the fall in the value of the Lebanese pound had led some employers to pay a portion of salaries in dollars. Those dollars are now subject to a new tax.

Value added tax, or VAT, which is applied on purchases and some services, is also set to rise ten-fold in line with the change in customs rates, and could happen as soon as February when the official exchange rate is unified with the new customs level.

 


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.


Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
Updated 26 January 2023

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish party should back the main opposition candidate instead of fielding its own against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections, its elder statesman told AFP from jail.

“I am in favor of backing a joint candidate” Selahattin Demirtas, who ran against Erdogan twice, told AFP through a lawyer from his jail in the western city of Edirne.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade.

Erdogan portrays the HDP as the political wing of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Turkiye’s top court is expected to rule on a prosecutor’s request to shut it down in the coming months.

The party’s legal problems add a new layer of uncertainty to the parliamentary and presidential polls — widely viewed as Turkiye’s most important in generations.

The HDP has been excluded from a six-party opposition alliance now trying to agree on a single candidate to run against Erdogan.

But after securing 12 percent of the vote in 2018 elections, the HDP’s future could prove decisive in what promises to be a tight race.

Demirtas’s second presidential challenge came from behind bars, where he has languished since 2016 on a myriad of charges, some of them terror-related.

The 49-year-old denies them all and the European Court of Human Rights agrees, repeatedly calling for his release.

Demirtas has been convicted on some counts since the last election, making him ineligible to run again.

But the party’s co-chairwoman, Pervin Buldan, suggested this month that the party should still field its own candidate, even without its brightest star.

Demirtas conceded that Buldan might ultimately get her way.

“At this stage, it seems more likely that the HDP will nominate its own candidate,” he said.

But a “compromise with the HDP through negotiations” could still produce a joint candidate representing Turkiye’s entire opposition — including the Kurds, he said.


Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region
Updated 26 January 2023

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region
  • The commander served as the chief of the extremist group’s faction for Raqqa and was among the 68 militants detained in the operation

RAQQA: Syrian Kurdish-led forces captured a local commander of Daesh in eastern Syria as part of an ongoing operation targeting sleeper cells in the city of Raqqa, the US-backed forces announced on Thursday.

The commander served as the chief of the extremist group’s faction for Raqqa and was among the 68 militants detained in the operation, the Syrian Democratic Forces said.

The operation started earlier this week, in response to a December attack by Daesh that targeted military and security buildings in Raqqa and killed at least six Syrian Kurdish fighters. 

A Kurdish commander, Mazloum Abdi, said they had indications of “serious preparations” by Daesh for attacks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said Daesh also targeted a military intelligence prison holding some 200 militants in the December attack.

Daesh lost all territorial control in Iraq and Syria in 2019, following a yearslong US-backed campaign that defeated the so-called caliphate, where Raqqa was once the Daesh de facto capital. 

However, militant sleeper cells persist and have since killed scores of Iraqis and Syrians. 

Syrian Kurdish and US forces frequently conduct raids targeting Daesh sleeper cells in northern and eastern Syria.

The captured Daesh commander was identified as Atallah Al-Maythan. 

Syrian Kurdish forces said he headed the militant group’s operations across Raqqa province, and allegedly “confessed to his involvement in planning and leading terrorist acts,” extorted money from residents in the area and kept Daesh sleeper cells in contact.

Some 5,000 Syrian Kurdish-led fighters are involved in the operation, and have already raided some 80 locations, said their spokesperson, Farhad Shami.

The US-led coalition was providing air support, reconnaissance, and gathering intelligence, Shami added.

This is the second recent operation by the US-backed forces in Syria. In late December, the Syrian Kurdish-led fighters targeted Daesh cells in Al-Hol and Tal Hamis, following a surge in militant attacks.

The US Central Command said that 215 militants from Daesh were arrested last year and 466 were killed in Syria. There are roughly 900 US troops in Syria.


First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month
Updated 26 January 2023

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month
  • UAE mission specialist Sultan Al-Neyadi to make first trip to space
  • Country sent its first astronaut to ISS in 2019

DUBAI: The first Arab long-duration astronaut mission is scheduled to launch on Feb. 26, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center has announced.
A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket will carry UAE astronaut and mission specialist Sultan Al-Neyadi, along with two NASA astronauts — mission commander Stephen Bowen and pilot Warren Hoburg — and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Key mission information, such as the launch time and launch opportunities, was announced during the NASA Crew-6 mission overview media briefing, Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.
MBRSC Director-General Salem Humaid Al-Marri said: “We are proud to talk about our second mission under the UAE Astronaut Program and Sultan’s first mission to space.
“Our human space program kicked off in 2017 where we selected our first two astronauts, Hazzaa Al-Mansoori and Sultan Al-Neyadi. We had our first mission to the ISS in 2019, which had an impact on hundreds of thousands of people.”
He added: “Today, Al-Neyadi is a very capable astronaut and he, along with his colleague Al-Mansoori have a total of five years of training, including training on EVAs and operations aboard the ISS.
“We have over 20 science experiments from UAE universities in the upcoming mission and a lot of outreach activities being done across the region.”
Al-Neyadi said: “The idea of waking up every morning and having access to a window like the Cupola, where one can scan the entire world in 90 minutes, is amazing, and I believe it is literally out of this world.
“The trip to space by Al-Mansoori marked the UAE’s consistent presence in space. Our prime minister promised to continue these flights, and now we’re talking about the second mission to the International Space Station.
“This time we raised the bar to six months, and we now have two additional astronauts training with the class of ‘23.
He added: “I would also love to see a UAE flag on the lunar surface, carried on the shoulder of a UAE astronaut.
“The UAE is doing an excellent job, and I believe that in the next 10 years, we will be following international efforts to go to space and push the boundaries of exploration.”


Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza
Updated 26 January 2023

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza
  • One coffin untouched for 4,300 years, lead archaeologist Zahi Hawass says
  • Statues, amulets, tools also among treasures unearthed in Saqqara region

CAIRO: Egypt’s most renowned archaeologist has announced the discovery of dozens of new finds, including two ancient tombs, at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside Cairo.

Zahi Hawass, a former government minister and director of the excavation, said the finds in Saqqara, close to the pyramids of Giza, dated back to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom, which ran from about 2500-2100 B.C.

“The excavation work of the joint mission with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities discovered tombs dating back to the era of the Old Kingdom, which indicates the presence of a huge cemetery with many important tombs,” he said.

“The first of these is the tomb of Khnumdjedef, a supervisor of the nobles and priest in the pyramid complex of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. The tomb is colorful and contains scenes of daily life.

“The second is for Messi, known as the Keeper of Secrets and assistant commander of the great palace,” Hawass said.

The team also discovered a number of colored limestone statues representing servants believed to have been owned by Messi.

They also found a limestone coffin belonging to a man called Haka Shabis in a hidden room at the bottom of a 15-meter well, he added.

“It became clear that this coffin had not been touched for about 4,300 years. When we opened the lid we found a mummy of a man covered in gold foil. This is considered the most complete and oldest non-royal mummy found so far.”

There were also several statues representing the judge and writer Fatak, located next to an offering table and a coffin containing his mummified remains.

Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that while many statues had been unearthed in the Saqqara region over the past century, very few were of the size of the latest finds.

“The current discovery also includes many amulets, cosmetic tools, statues of the idol Ptah Soker, statues in the form of deities, as well as pottery and votive vessels.”

Hawass said the Saqqara archaeological region still held many secrets waiting to be discovered.