Beirut, Lebanon – Angry Lebanese protesters blocked roads across the country with burning tyres, debris and their vehicles, incensed over the local currency’s depreciation by more than 25 percent in just two days.
The demonstrations from northern Akkar and Tripoli to central Zouk, the eastern Bekaa Valley, Beirut and southern Tyre and Nabatieh on Thursday were some of the most widespread in months of upheaval over a calamitous economic and financial crisis.
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Protesters set ablaze a branch of the Central Bank, vandalised several private banks and clashed with security forces in several areas. At least 41 people were injured in Tripoli alone, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.
“I’m really pissed off, that’s all. If politicians think they can burn our hearts like this the fire is going to reach them too,” unemployed computer engineer Ali Qassem, 26, told Al Jazeera after pouring fuel onto smouldering tyres on a main Beirut thoroughfare.
Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost jobs in the past six months and hundreds of businesses have shuttered as a dollar shortage led the Lebanese pound to slide from 1,500 to $1 last summer – where it was pegged for 23 years – to roughly 4,000 for each US dollar last month.
But the slide turned into a freefall between Wednesday and Thursday when the pound plummeted to roughly 5,000 to $1 on black markets, which have become a main source of hard currency. There was widespread speculation the rate hit 6,000 or even 7,000 pounds to the dollar, though most markets stopped trading.
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Protesters began amassing on streets across the country before sunset and increased into the thousands across the country as the night fell.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab cancelled all meetings scheduled for Friday to hold an emergency cabinet session at 9:30am and another at 3pm at the presidential palace to be headed by President Michel Aoun.
The pound’s collapse is the perhaps the biggest challenge yet for Diab’s young cabinet, which gained confidence in February after former prime minister Saad Hariri’s government was toppled by an unprecedented October uprising that had the country’s economic crisis at its core.
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme told Al Jazeera that there was “disinformation” being circulated about the exchange rate on social media and said he was investigating possible currency manipulation.
“I don’t understand how the exchange rate increased by so much in two days,” he said.
Many protesters have pitted blame on Central Bank governor Riad Salameh, nominally in charge of keeping the currency stable. But they have also called on the government to resign.
“If people want reform between dawn and dusk, that’s not going to work, and if someone thinks they can do a better job then please come forward,” Nehme said.
“But what we can’t have is a power vacuum – then the exchange rate won’t be 5000, it’ll be a catastrophe.”
‘Everyone paying the price’
When protesters set a large fire in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square, which lies at the foot of a grand Ottoman-era building that serves as the seat of government, firefighters did not intervene to extinguish it.
It later became clear why: Civil Defence told local news channel LBCI they had run out of diesel to fuel their firetrucks.
Basic imports such as fuel have been hit hard by the currency crisis, making already-weak state services increasingly feeble.
A half-dozen or so police officers with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces observed the scene unfolding in front of them in the square.
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“Why do you destroy shops and things and attack us security forces – do you think we’re happy? Go and f****** break that wall or go to the politicians’ houses,” one police officer told Al Jazeera, referring to a large concrete barrier separating protesters from the seat of government.
“In the end we are with you and we want the country to change. Don’t you dare think we’re happy. My salary is now worth $130,” the officer said.
The currency’s spectacular fall seems to have pushed many Lebanese to put common interests above their differences.
Large convoys of men on motorbikes from Shia-majority areas of southern Beirut joined the demonstrations on Thursday, though they have clashed with protesters many times before – including at a protest on Saturday.
Some chanted sectarian insults, leading to brief clashes in areas that were formerly front lines during the country’s devastating 15-year civil war.
Instead, the motorbike-riding demonstrators on Thursday chanted: “Shia, Sunni, F*ck sectarianism.”
“We are Shia, and Sunnis and Christian are our brothers,” Hisham Houri, 39, told Al Jazeera, perched on a moped with his fiancee behind him just a few metres from a pile of burning tyres.
The blaze sent thick black smoke into the sky towards an iconic blue-domed mosque and church in downtown Beirut.
“Politicians play on these sectarian issues and sometimes succeed, but in the end, they’ll fail because all the people have been hurt,” he said. “The dollar isn’t just worth 6,000 for Shias or for Sunnis, everyone is paying that price.”
Follow Timour Azhari on Twitter: @TimourAzhari
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
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The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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