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Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri met President Michel Aoun on Thursday without announcing progress toward forming a new government, as banking sources said most financial transfers out of the country remained blocked.Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since Oct. 17 by…

Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri met President Michel Aoun on Thursday without announcing progress toward forming a new government, as banking sources said most financial transfers out of the country remained blocked.Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since Oct. 17 by an unprecedented wave of protests against the ruling elite that led Hariri to resign as prime minister on Oct 29.Banks reopened on Friday after a two-week closure but customers have encountered restrictions on transfers out of the country and withdrawals of hard currency.Maronite Christian politician Samy Gemayel warned that the financial system was on the verge of collapse, and urged the immediate formation of a politically neutral government.A banking source said that generally all international transfers were still being blocked bar some exceptions such as foreign mortgage payments and tuition fees. A second banking source said restrictions had gotten tighter.The chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon said earlier this week the banks were not applying a policy of restrictions “but we are prioritising” after the two-week closure that had led requests to pile up.Hariri has been holding closed-door meetings with other factions in the outgoing coalition cabinet over how the next government should be formed, but there have been no signs of movement toward an agreement.Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an influential Shiite politician, said he insisted Hariri be nominated as prime minister again, saying this was in Lebanon’s interest.Aoun has yet to formally start the process of consultations with lawmakers over nominating the new prime minister. The presidency said Aoun and Hariri discussed contacts aimed at solving “the current government situation.”Hariri said his resignation was responding to protesters whose demands include a new government devoid of politicians accused of corruption. Hariri has held two meetings this week with Gebran Bassil, a son-in-law of Aoun and head of the political party he founded.Both Aoun and Berri are allies of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, which has not said who it backs to be the next prime minister.“A HUGE” COLLAPSE AHEADLeading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, who had two ministers in the outgoing cabinet, appeared to take aim at Hariri and Bassil, saying on Twitter that despite the protests and social and economic dangers “they were meeting on how to improve and beautify” a political deal they struck in 2016.Gemayel, whose Kataeb party was not part of the outgoing cabinet, said the main players had not understood the depth of the protest movement.“I don’t see any change in the behavior of any of the main actors after everything that happened,” he told Reuters. “They are still trying to form a government where they can all be happy, and this is not what the people are asking for.”The economy is choked by one of the world’s largest debt burdens as a result of years of inefficiency, waste and corruption. Growth, low for years, is now around zero.Capital inflows vital to financing Lebanon’s state budget and trade deficits have been slowing for years, contributing recently to a scarcity of foreign currency and the emergence of a black market for the pegged Lebanese pound.Gemayel said Lebanon was at the beginning of “a huge monetary and financial collapse.”“We are heading to a huge problem of purchasing power, a huge problem of inflation, a huge problem of poverty,” he said.He added that he expected restrictions on financial transactions would increase as banks sought to keep their cash.Two importers indicated access to finance was not improving.“So far we are still finding some liquidity to manage some transactions but the cash is being squeezed so we are worried about the longer-term,” said Hani Bohsali, general manager of Bohsali Foods and president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products and Drinks.A second importer said his bank would not allow him to make any more international transfers.

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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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