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Lebanon pupils skip school for third day to demand change

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protests in Iraq entered their third week on Friday amid fresh bloodshed, but leaders appeared to have closed rank around the country’s embattled premier.More than a dozen demonstrators had died in the capital Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra within 24 hours, medical sources told AFP on Friday.That pushed the death…

Lebanon pupils skip school for third day to demand change

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protests in Iraq entered their third week on Friday amid fresh bloodshed, but leaders appeared to have closed rank around the country’s embattled premier.More than a dozen demonstrators had died in the capital Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra within 24 hours, medical sources told AFP on Friday.That pushed the death toll since the first protests erupted on October 1 closer to 300, according to an AFP tally kept as officials have stopped providing updated figures.In Basra, seven protesters were killed in confrontations on Thursday and early Friday, with security forces trying to reopen roads blocked by sit-ins, medical sources said.For a week, protesters have cut access to Basra’s Umm Qasr port, which brings in most of Iraq’s food and medical imports.In Baghdad, six people died facing off against security forces Thursday, a medical source told AFP.Despite the violence, thousands again flocked to the capital’s main protest camp in Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Friday, including members of Iraq’s influential tribes.“We sacrificed the blood of our tribe’s sons,” said one tribe member who had traveled from the southern city of Nasiriyah.“We won’t stop until the government resigns.”Meanwhile, Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric urged security forces on Friday to avoid using excessive force to quell weeks of anti-government unrest as authorities grapple with the country’s biggest crisis in years.Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shiite-majority Iraq, held security forces accountable for any violent escalation and urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators’ demands.“The biggest responsibility is on the security forces,” a representative of Sistani said in a sermon after Friday prayers in the holy city of Kerbala. “They must avoid using excessive force with peaceful protesters.”Throughout Thursday night, loud blasts had echoed from around Tahrir as security forces tried to hold off protesters attempting to cross four bridges over the Tigris.The bridges have become the main battlefront in Baghdad, as protesters mass around them in a bid to reach government offices and foreign embassies on the western bank.To keep them back, security forces have built up barricades, fired volleys of tear gas and stun grenades and resumed using live ammunition in recent days.Even the use of tear gas has been deadly, with medics and rights groups documenting security forces firing canisters at point-blank range instead of up in the air to allow the gas to disperse.The canisters have pierced protesters’ skulls and chests, with the United Nations saying at least 16 people had been killed that way as of November 5.Amnesty International said it had found the military-grade canisters were Serbian- and Iranian-made.Rights groups have also raised the alarm over the arrest and intimidation of activists and medics, who have reported being followed by unidentified security forces.In Missan province, two activists were killed on Wednesday by unknown assailants, security sources said.This week’s violence has raised to around 130 the death toll since the protests resumed on October 24 after a lull.A first wave of rallies from October 1 to 6 had killed 157 people, according to an official probe, most of them protesters shot dead in Baghdad.

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Middle East News

Houthis militants seize ship in Red Sea

ADEN: Yemen’s internationally recognized government returned to the war-torn country on Monday for the first time since it was forced out by southern separatists during clashes last summer.Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed landed in Aden, fulfilling a key point in the power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia that ended months of infighting with separatists in…

Houthis militants seize ship in Red Sea

ADEN: Yemen’s internationally recognized government returned to the war-torn country on Monday for the first time since it was forced out by southern separatists during clashes last summer.Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed landed in Aden, fulfilling a key point in the power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia that ended months of infighting with separatists in Yemen’s south.“The government’s priorities in the next stage are to normalize the situation in Aden first and then consolidate state institutions on the ground … as a guarantor of stability,” Saeed told The Associated Press when he disembarked onto the tarmac.He described the government’s return as “foundational for the improvement of civic services,” but added that “security challenges cannot be overlooked, especially at this stage.”Saeed, accompanied by five key ministers from President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, was received by local officials and Saudi forces at the air base.“Today we are uniting our efforts to defeat the Iranian project in Yemen and restore the state,” the government said in a statement.In August, the separatists, overran Aden and drove out forces loyal to President Hadi, who has been based in Saudi Arabia since 2015.The outbreak of violence between nominal partners in the coalition fighting against Iran-allied Houthi rebels added a new twist to the country’s complex civil war.The power-sharing deal, signed earlier this month in Riyadh, calls for both sides to pull their forces out of Aden. That leaves the city under the coalition’s control, with only a presidential guard for Hadi’s protection if the exiled president were to return.The agreement also asks that the separatists break up their militias and integrate them into Hadi’s forces.“The plan for incorporating the security services needs to be clear and transparent,” Saeed told The Associated Press. “We have the support of the Saudis and the coalition leaders, factors that will help to implement the agreement through promising steps on the ground.”The conflict in the Arab’s world’s poorest country started in 2014, when the Houthi rebels captured the capital, Sanaa, along with much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led alliance intervened in 2015 to drive out the Houthis and restore Hadi’s government.

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Yemeni government back in Aden under deal with separatists

CAIRO: An airstrike slammed into a biscuit factory in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, on Monday killing at least seven workers including five foreign nationals and two Libyans, health authorities said.Tripoli has been the scene of fighting since April between the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, and an array of militias loosely allied…

Yemeni government back in Aden under deal with separatists

CAIRO: An airstrike slammed into a biscuit factory in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, on Monday killing at least seven workers including five foreign nationals and two Libyans, health authorities said.Tripoli has been the scene of fighting since April between the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, and an array of militias loosely allied with the UN-supported but weak government which holds the capital.The Tripoli-based health ministry said the airstrike took place in the capital’s Wadi el-Rabie neighborhood, south of the city center where fighting has been raging for months.Malek Merset, a spokesman with the ministry, told The Associated Press that the dead included five workers from Bangladesh, and two Libyan nationals.The airstrike also wounded at least 33 workers, mostly from Niger and Bangladesh, who were taken to nearby hospitals for urgent treatment, Merset said.Footage shared online showed wounded people with bandages and blood on their legs on stretchers before being taken by ambulances to hospitals.Fighting for Tripoli has stalled in recent months, with both sides dug in and shelling one another along the city’s southern reaches. The months of combat have killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands.Libya has been divided into rival governments, with Tripoli controlling parts of the country’s west, and a rival government in the east aligned with Haftar’s force. Each side is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.East Libyan authorities said on Sunday a Libyan Airlines aircraft had been seized by officials at the airport in the western city of Misrata. The Tripoli-government controls the airport, and militias seen as its political allies occupy the city.Ezz Al-Din Al-Mashnoun, a spokesman for Libyan Airlines, said in a statement that the aircraft is the only functioning plane used by the airline in the eastern region.The passenger jet was undergoing routine maintenance and was due to take off Sunday for the airport in Benghazi.Hatem Al-Oreibi, a spokesman for the eastern Libyan administration, demanded that the Misrata airport return the plane within hours or “face escalatory measures,” without elaborating.The seizure of the plane came days after east Libyan authorities had begun stopping any flights coming from Misrata, alleging security reasons.Misrata airport is the only functioning airport in western Libya. Tripoli-allied militias have used it as an air base during the conflict.A spokesman for the UN-supported government did not immediately answer calls seeking comment.The rise in violence this past year threatens to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

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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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