Angry protesters in Lebanon took to the streets in the capital, Beirut, and other cities on Saturday calling for the government’s resignation as the country sinks deeper into economic distress.
The protests come after two days of rallies spurred by a dramatic collapse of the local currency against the dollar. Some of those rallies degenerated into violence, including attacks on private banks and shops.
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The local currency, pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years, has been on a downward trajectory for weeks, losing more than 60 percent of its value. But the dramatic collapse this week deepened public despair over the already troubled economy.
Lebanese media reported that the exchange rate had tumbled to 6,000 per dollar on the black market early on Friday, compared with the official peg of 1,507, in place since 1997.
Lebanon is heavily dependent on imports, and the dollar and local currency have been used interchangeably for years.
The unparalleled economic and financial crises are proving a major challenge to the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office earlier this year after his predecessor resigned amid nationwide anti-government protests.
Soon after taking office, Diab was faced with handling the coronavirus pandemic, which put the country in lockdown for months, further compounding the crisis.
Diab’s government is supported by the powerful armed group Hezbollah and its allies, but has already been weakened by the economic crisis.
Protesters call for an alternative
In a speech on Saturday, Diab urged the public to be patient, saying there were many political hurdles, including from rivals he said sought to undermine his government. Diab offered no solutions to the crisis, nor did he name his opponents, but said his government is working to fight corruption and uphold the power of the state.
For the protesters on Saturday, many of them members of organised political parties, Diab’s government has failed to handle the crisis.
Neemat Badreddin, a political activist, described the government as captive to the interests of political groups and not the public.
“This current government proved to be a failure,” said Badreddin, wearing a face mask featuring the Lebanese flag with its green cedar tree in the centre.
“We want a new government … we want stability and we want to be able to live without begging or without people having to migrate.”
Protesters in Beirut carried a banner that read “There is an alternative”.
In the southern city of Sidon, some directed their wrath at the central bank governor. One protester raised a banner that called him the “protector of all thieves in Lebanon”.
In the northern city of Tripoli, army troops forcefully dispersed dozens of protesters who had blocked the road preventing trucks from moving forward, according to videos posted online.
The protesters allege the trucks were smuggling goods to Syria – a common complaint in Lebanon as the neighbouring country grapples with its own economic hardships. Later, Lebanon’s customs authorities said in a statement that the trucks were transporting UN aid destined to war-torn Syria.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it treated nine people wounded in Tripoli.
After an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday to address the crisis, the government announced that the central bank would inject fresh dollars into the market to prop up the Lebanese pound – a measure that many say is likely to offer only temporary relief.
The dollar shortage, coupled with already negative economic growth, has crunched Lebanon’s middle class and increased poverty in the Mediterranean nation of more than five million that is home to nearly one million Syrian refugees.
The heavily indebted government has been in talks for weeks with the International Monetary Fund after it asked for a financial rescue plan but there are no signs of an imminent deal.
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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.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
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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