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Lebanon gov’t wins parliament’s confidence vote despite protests

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s Parliament has backed a new cabinet and the government’s financial rescue plan in a vote of confidence held despite attempts by protesters to block it. Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated the legislators who sat through a nine-hour session on Tuesday before holding a vote that saw 63 of 84 MPs present give their confidence…

Lebanon gov’t wins parliament’s confidence vote despite protests

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s Parliament has backed a new cabinet and the government’s financial rescue plan in a vote of confidence held despite attempts by protesters to block it.
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated the legislators who sat through a nine-hour session on Tuesday before holding a vote that saw 63 of 84 MPs present give their confidence to the new government formed last month. Twenty MPs voted against the government and one abstained.
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Hezbollah and its allies – the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement – backed the government while the Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri voted no confidence along with its allies, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party.
Speaking before the vote, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said his government’s priority was preserving foreign currency needed for imports and that all options for dealing with Eurobonds maturing this year were being studied.
Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, was tasked with forming a government in December after Hariri was forced to resign.
Protesters tried to block vote
However, for months, thousands of Lebanese had been protesting against the proposed cabinet, saying it would not be able to rescue the country’s ailing economy.
On Tuesday, more than 350 people were injured in clashes around the Lebanese Parliament building in the capital as protesters attempted to prevent the MPs from participating in the confidence vote.
“We don’t have confidence in a single one of them,” Suzie Jumaa, a 49-year-old media professional told Al Jazeera, as she blocked a main thoroughfare in downtown Beirut.
“We’re not giving them a chance, we have tried for 40 years, we have gotten old and we are going to die giving them chances. There isn’t any more time.”
Despite the protesters’ efforts to block the vote, a quorum was achieved in the parliamentary session, which began around 11:45am (0945 GMT) on Tuesday.
Several MPs made their way to the Parliament on the backs of motorcycles, allowing them to slip through protesters, while others arrived in heavily-guarded convoys.
Security forces, including the Lebanese army, riot police and SWAT teams used batons, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to clear the roads of protesters.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it transported 45 people to hospitals and treated 328 at the scene.

A woman gestures towards Amal Movement supporters and shouts: ‘The thugs are over there’ [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

The blockade forced several MPs’ vehicles to retreat under a hail of stones and projectiles that shattered car windows.
MP Salim Saadeh, a representative of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, was taken to hospital and received stitches after protesters wrecked the car he was travelling in.
“I am fine, thanks for all the people’s love,” he said in a video from his hospital bed.

النائب #سليم_سعادة: انا منيح و شكرا للجميع لمحبة الناس كلها سوا شكرا #متضامن_مع_سليم_سعادة pic.twitter.com/ixtBcjBUoK
— Salim Saadeh سليم سعادة (@SalimSaadeh) February 11, 2020

During the televised parliamentary session, Diab read the new government’s policy statement, laying out measures aimed at addressing the worst financial crisis in Lebanon’s history.
He said the government would undertake fiscal and administrative reforms, fight corruption, tax evasion and smuggling, and seek to establish the independence of the judiciary within 100 days.
Parliament shutdown
Protesters tore down metal and cement barricades put up around Nejmeh Square, the seat of the Parliament. A group of people also set fire to a bank next to the parliament’s entrance.
Running street battles ensued, lasting several hours in downtown Beirut before calming down some nine hours after protesters took to the streets on Tuesday.
In October, the entire parliamentary area was closed off to the public after unprecedented protests broke out in the country, bringing down Hariri’s government.
Since then, large demonstrations have occurred regularly, demanding the removal of a political class that has ruled Lebanon since its civil war ended in 1990.
Protesters demand a government consisting of independent experts to lead the country out of its financial crisis, fight corruption and hold early elections.

Protesters attempt to break into Beirut’s Nejmeh Square, the seat of parliament [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

Many feel that Diab’s government of 20 ministers, picked mostly by Hezbollah and its main allies, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement, has failed in meeting their demands for change.
“They were chosen by the same people. How can we expect anything different?” Aline Germani, a 47-year-old professor told Al Jazeera.
Despite the protesters’ failure to prevent the Parliament’s no-confidence vote from going forward, Germani said they had made gains.
“They are scared of us now. If they weren’t scared, they wouldn’t have gone in like rats… that alone is a victory.”
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Protesters raid gov’t buildings as fury grows over Beirut blast |NationalTribune.com

Beirut, Lebanon – Tens of thousands of people have protested in central Beirut against Lebanon’s ruling class amid growing anger over a deadly explosion at the capital’s port. Tense clashed erupted with police after the demonstrators on Saturday attempted to reach Lebanon’s parliament building. Police used large amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets and fired…

Protesters raid gov’t buildings as fury grows over Beirut blast |NationalTribune.com

Beirut, Lebanon – Tens of thousands of people have protested in central Beirut against Lebanon’s ruling class amid growing anger over a deadly explosion at the capital’s port.
Tense clashed erupted with police after the demonstrators on Saturday attempted to reach Lebanon’s parliament building.
Police used large amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets and fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowds. Police said one officer died during the clashes, while more than 100 protesters were wounded, according to the Red Cross.
Later on Saturday, army and protesters clashed by Beirut’s main ring road near the city centre. Soldiers used sticks to beat protesters who responded by throwing rocks at them.

“We’ve lost everything,” this man kept shouting at soldiers, after they attacked protesters. pic.twitter.com/swZoTYqtco
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 8, 2020

“Take of the suit and come stand with us, then you can wear it again with honour,” a protester said as a number of them confronted a line of soldiers.
“Tell us what you get from being with them?” a demonstrator shouted in a hoarse voice. “We really don’t understand it, why are you doing this to us?”

Protesters erected symbolic gallows in central Beirut [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

Earlier, demonstrators in Martyrs’ Square erected gallows and hung up cardboard cutouts of Lebanon’s political class, which they blame for the enormous explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, killing more than 150 people, wounding 6,000 and leaving some 250,000 people without homes.
In unison, the protesters chanted slogans against President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, among others.

Protestors have taken over the #Lebanon economy ministry, throwing down a rain of documents and a picture of President Michel Aoun. A man next to me shouts “focus on the bills man, tear up my bills.” pic.twitter.com/RAHtyOyk6K
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 8, 2020

Protesters, meanwhile, stormed several government ministries, including the economy ministry, which is located on the sixth floor of a building in central Beirut. They threw down documents and a picture of Aoun, while fires burned into the night. 
At the foreign ministry, which was also raided, protesters hung up a sign reading “Beirut, capital of the revolution”.
“We have overtaken the headquarters of the foreign ministry and consider it the base of the October 17 revolution on the basis that the ministry of foreign affairs is the face of Lebanon to the outside world,” said former General Sami Rammal, referring to an anti-establishment protest movement that erupted in the country last year.
“Tonight, we will sleep here. They can take us out with bullets but we will not leave out of our own free will.”

Absolutely staggering numbers toay in #Beirut. Square split between peaceful on one side and rioting on the other. We’re hearing live fire every now and then. Over 100 injured so far. #LebanonProtests pic.twitter.com/C4cpYhyJIQ
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 8, 2020

In an address to the nation late on Saturday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has been in power since February after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government was forced to resign in the face of the mass anti-establishment protests, said he would introduce a draft bill on Monday to hold an early election.
It remained unclear when the vote would be held if the bill was passed.

Dozens of protesters were wounded in clashes with police [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

Officials have linked Tuesday’s blast to 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the port for more than six years – a fact seen by many Lebanese as an indictment of the country’s ruling class.
The protests come about 10 months after Lebanese from across the country’s religious and political divides began staging mass demonstrations demanding the ruling class be held accountable for years of mismanagement and corruption.
At the peak of those protests, some would spend the night in central Beirut but most would return to their homes.
Following the blast, however, many of these protesters do not have homes to return to.
“If you don’t fight corruption this is what would happen, let that be a message to all democracies in the world,” a protester told Al Jazeera. 

The protest on Saturday drew large crowds [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

Fires burned into the night in central Beirut [Tamara Saade/Al Jazeera]

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Libya gov’t vows response after base hit by ‘foreign air force’ |NationalTribune.com

Libya’s UN-recognised government on Sunday condemned overnight air raids against a recently recaptured airbase in the west of the country saying the attack was carried out by a “foreign air force”. Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) seized back the al-Watiya airbase, 140km (90 miles) southwest of the capital Tripoli, from troops…

Libya gov’t vows response after base hit by ‘foreign air force’ |NationalTribune.com

Libya’s UN-recognised government on Sunday condemned overnight air raids against a recently recaptured airbase in the west of the country saying the attack was carried out by a “foreign air force”.
Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) seized back the al-Watiya airbase, 140km (90 miles) southwest of the capital Tripoli, from troops aligned with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar in May.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) alleges Turkey – a key GNA backer – subsequently made use of the base to help GNA soldiers repel an offensive it launched against Tripoli in April last year.
Al-Watiya’s recapture marked the start of the sudden collapse of the LNA’s 14-month assault to seize the capital and led to its hasty retreat along the coast.
“The raids last night against Al-Watiya base were carried out by a … foreign air force in support of the war criminal [Haftar] in a miserable and desperate attempt to achieve a morale boosting victory,” GNA Deputy Defence Minister Salah al-Namrush said in a statement.
‘Unknown planes’

He promised a “response in the right place and at the right time”, saying the attacks were “a failed attempt to distract from recent victories” by the GNA.
Al-Namrush did not specify which foreign air force was behind the air raid.
Citing military sources, pro-Haftar media earlier reported the air raids were carried out by “unknown planes” that targeted a Turkish aerial defence system installed at al-Watiya.
Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu, quoting an unnamed GNA military official, said the raid against al-Watiya was carried out by “unidentified planes” and there were no casualties.
“Materials recently deployed to reinforce anti-aerial capacities were damaged,” Anadolu reported.
Battlefield defeats
Plunged into chaos by the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, oil-rich Libya has two rival administrations in the west and east of the North African nation.
Haftar’s forces are backed by Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His fighters withdrew from the southern outskirts of Tripoli and the entire west of the country in June after a string of battlefield defeats to the Turkish-backed GNA.
Turkish support was vital to the GNA in turning back the LNA offensive with advanced air defences and drone attacks that targeted Haftar’s supply lines and troop build-ups.

A Turkish source said last month Turkey was in talks with the GNA to establish two military bases in Libya, one at al-Watiya – the most important airbase in western Libya.
Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was in Tripoli for meetings with the GNA on Friday and Saturday.
During its advance towards Tripoli last year, the LNA was assisted by Egyptian and UAE air raids. Last month, the United States said Russia had sent at least 14 MiG29 and Su-24 warplanes to an LNA base.
The GNA and LNA are now mobilising forces at the new front lines between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.
Egypt has warned any Turkish-backed effort to take Sirte, which the LNA captured in January, could lead its army to directly intervene.
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Afghan gov’t delays Taliban prisoner release endangering the deal

Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani had announced that 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be freed [Anadolu] The Afghan government has postponed its plan to release Taliban prisoners, a senior official said, a decision that could sabotage a peace deal signed last month between the armed group and the United States. Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National…

Afghan gov’t delays Taliban prisoner release endangering the deal

Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani had announced that 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be freed [Anadolu]
The Afghan government has postponed its plan to release Taliban prisoners, a senior official said, a decision that could sabotage a peace deal signed last month between the armed group and the United States.
Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Saturday the releases were being delayed because more time was needed to review the list of Taliban prisoners.
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“We are ready to start the process the way it is described in the presidential decree but we won’t release anyone if there is no guarantee that they will not return to fighting,” he said.
“The Taliban have to show flexibility.”
Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani announced that 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be freed as a “gesture of goodwill” in an attempt to resolve one of the long-running disputes that had roiled talks with the armed group.
Ghani’s decree said the government would release 1,500 captives starting Saturday if the insurgents cut violence, with plans to free another 3,500 prisoners after negotiations begin.
The Taliban rejected the offer and demanded the release of nearly 5,000 captives, citing it as one of the conditions behind the US-Taliban deal signed last month that excluded Kabul.
According to the US-Taliban agreement signed on February 29, foreign forces will withdraw from the country within 14 months in exchange for Taliban security guarantees and a pledge to hold talks with Kabul.

There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban on the delay in the release, a move that is likely to further stall peace talks which were originally scheduled to begin on March 10.
On Wednesday, the Afghan government warned it would resume attacks against the fighters if violence continued, ending a unilateral partial truce put in place before the talks.
Political chaos in Kabul has complicated matters further, with Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also claiming the presidency following last September’s election, which was marred by delays and allegations of voter fraud.
On Monday, Abdullah swore himself in as president minutes after Ghani took the oath of office.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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