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Iraq protests dig in for third week, as politicians do the same

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Naftali Bennett would be appointed defense minister and their parties would unite, as the political system remained deadlocked after two inconclusive elections.Netanyahu, who has so far failed to form a coalition after a September 17 poll, had in the past refused to give the security-oriented Bennett this…

Iraq protests dig in for third week, as politicians do the same

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Naftali Bennett would be appointed defense minister and their parties would unite, as the political system remained deadlocked after two inconclusive elections.Netanyahu, who has so far failed to form a coalition after a September 17 poll, had in the past refused to give the security-oriented Bennett this coveted portfolio.But wary of his main challenger Benny Gantz attempting to collect the support of 61 lawmakers necessary to form a coalition and become prime minister himself, the incumbent has changed course.In doing so, he effectively locked in the three lawmakers of Bennett’s New Right to his ruling Likud party.A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint (Bennett) as defense minister, and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”“Bennett agreed that if a new government is formed” without a third election, “a different person will be appointed defense minister,” the statement read.The two also agreed that the New Right — formed by Bennett and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked — would join Likud to become a combined force, the statement said.They will “commit to act as a joint faction throughout the current parliamentary term,” it added.Bennett did not comment on the move, but Shaked said her party had been offered a choice of the defense ministry on its own or two lesser ministries.The choices available for the latter were agriculture, diaspora and welfare, Shaked said.“In a joint decision we agreed that Bennett will be appointed defense minister until a new government is formed,” she said on Twitter.Gantz’s Blue and White called Bennett’s appointment “inappropriate,” accusing Netanyahu of acting out of a “narrow political and personal interest” rather than toward an inclusive unity government.Both Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White say they want a unity government, but disagree on how to achieve it.Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise proposed by President Reuven Rivlin that takes into account the possibility Netanyahu will be indicted for corruption in the coming weeks.It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to Likud’s 32 — before the addition of Bennett’s party.Whoever wants to govern needs to find partners with which to control a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament.Negotiators for Likud and Blue and White, as well as the heads of the two factions, have been meeting since the elections.On Friday, both Netanyahu and Gantz took to Facebook to trade blame for the political deadlock.Netanyahu said his Likud was prepared to make concessions while Gantz was “using every excuse to not form the government Israeli citizens want: a national unity government.”And Gantz said Netanyahu has determined to “drag Israel to a third election” which would be “a disaster for the state.”Blue and White and Likud each won 35 seats in an April election that was also inconclusive.

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Middle East News

Blast in northern Sinai kills 3 Egyptian troops

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil. Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late…

Blast in northern Sinai kills 3 Egyptian troops

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi’s bid in order to keep the job for himself.

“Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour,” said a source familiar with the FPM’s view.

A statement by Hariri’s office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to “score points” despite Lebanon’s “major national crisis”.

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

“We are in a deadlock now. I don’t know when it will move again. It is not easy,” said a senior political source. “The financial situation doesn’t tolerate any delay.”

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as “back to square one.”

Safadi’s withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon’s debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to ‘CCC/C’ from ‘B-/B’.

Lebanon’s bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.

 

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Middle East News

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil. Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political…

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi’s bid in order to keep the job for himself.

“Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour,” said a source familiar with the FPM’s view.

A statement by Hariri’s office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to “score points” despite Lebanon’s “major national crisis”.

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

“We are in a deadlock now. I don’t know when it will move again. It is not easy,” said a senior political source. “The financial situation doesn’t tolerate any delay.”

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as “back to square one.”

Safadi’s withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon’s debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to ‘CCC/C’ from ‘B-/B’.

Lebanon’s bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.

 

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Middle East News

Egypt to reduce subsidised staple food prices

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security and medical officials say protesters have pushed closer to the Green Zone, Baghdad’s fortified seat of government, after security forces pulled back following a night of violent altercations.The officials said Saturday that protesters took control of the strategic Khilani Square and part of Sinak bridge leading to the Green Zone, which houses…

Egypt to reduce subsidised staple food prices

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security and medical officials say protesters have pushed closer to the Green Zone, Baghdad’s fortified seat of government, after security forces pulled back following a night of violent altercations.The officials said Saturday that protesters took control of the strategic Khilani Square and part of Sinak bridge leading to the Green Zone, which houses Parliament and several foreign embassies.Security forces are still deployed on part of the bridge in order to block the protesters from pushing into the Green Zone.

Meanwhile, Iraq closed its southern Shalamcheh border crossing with Iran to travellers from both countries on Saturday, an Iraqi security source and an Iranian diplomat said.The security source said Tehran had demanded the closure because of ongoing public protests in both Iran and Iraq. The border would remain shut until further notice but would not affect goods or trade, the security source and the diplomat said.Officials say a roadside bomb killed three people and wounded 18 late Friday near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement. Another roadside blast in the southern city of Nassiriya wounded 18 that same evening.The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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