Lebanese military stages ‘national crisis’ drill

Tue, 2021-06-01 01:16

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s army carried out large-scale military exercises on Monday to test its readiness to deal with a nationwide crisis.

The “Lebanon Wide” exercise included units from the army, the Internal Security Forces, General Security, State Security, the General Directorate of Customs, the General Directorate of Civil Defense, the Lebanese Red Cross, UNRWA, UNHCR, along with French experts and officers.
The exercise assessed the capability of units to coordinate missions with security forces, and local and international NGOs during a national crisis.
It comes as Lebanon confronts an economic collapse, with the absence of a rescue government, and mounting anger among Lebanese forced to endure long queues outside gas stations, pharmacies and supermarkets.
In a new attempt to resolve the obstacles facing the formation of a rescue government, Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri met on Monday with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Hariri did not release a statement at the conclusion of the meeting.
Berri’s office said that the meeting “lasted for two hours, during which the government issue was discussed.”
It said that there was discussion “about the path of forming the government and the steps that had been made, and the atmosphere was positive.”
Berri is seeking to mediate with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Hariri to agree to form a government of 24 ministers, with no “obstructing third” for any party.

FASTFACT

• In a new attempt to resolve the obstacles facing the formation of a rescue government, Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.

• Hariri did not release a statement at the conclusion of the meeting.

On Oct. 22 last year, the majority of the country’s parliament mandated Hariri to form a new government, and he submitted a draft formation of 18 nonpartisan ministers to Aoun, but it was rejected by the president, who demanded that Hariri personally nominate Christian ministers and employ an obstructing third in the prospective government.
Aoun called parliament to discuss the naming of a prime minister other than Hariri, but on May 22, the parliament affirmed its commitment to assign Hariri unanimously.
Future Movement MP Rola Al-Tabash said: “The chances of forming a government are almost equal to the possibility of obstructing it.”
She added: “There is a side led by the prime minister-designate striving to overcome all obstacles, internally and externally, and another side led by a presidential obsession that creates all obstacles to perpetuate the constitutional distortion, political rifts and social exhaustion.”
Amid the economic crisis, prices of food such as beef and chicken have risen steeply in Lebanon, leading to a crisis among consumers.
Only eight food commodities remain subsidized by the state, with policies in the past covering subsidies for more than 100 common food products.
On Monday, a financial source told Arab News: “The caretaker government does not want to bear the responsibility for lifting subsidies on food commodities, for fear of the security and social repercussions.”
The decision is the responsibility of the government and the Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, said the source.
“However, in light of the government’s reluctance to swallow this poison, the central bank slowed down the process of supplying traders and importers with fresh dollars — required for importation — to match the official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds ($1) to the dollar, and this is what we have seen recently in the issue of fuel and medicines,” the source added.
American University’s Crisis Observatory said the government “has refrained from presenting policies and programs to address the economic, financial and living crisis, except for the decision to refrain from paying eurobonds in March 2020.”
The financial source also warned that due to entanglement, the bread industry “will be affected by the removal of fuel subsidies.”
Also on Monday, Asaad Bayram, Beirut investigate judge, finished questioning lawyer Rami Aliq over the offense of defaming the judicial authority and threatening the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, Judge Ghassan Oweidat.
Bayram ruled to “prevent Aliq from practicing the profession of attorney and entering the justice palaces for two months, and to make him pay a fine instead of arresting him.”
The decision came following Aliq’s work as an activist group supporting the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).
The FPM supported Judge Ghada Aoun when she stormed the Mecattaf Money Transfer Company — in violation of a judicial decision preventing her from handling a file concerning currency export breaches, which she was investigating.
Aliq went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest, labeling it “a violation of the immunity the legal profession affords him.”
He said that he was “subjected to flagrant violations of the constitution and the charter of human rights, and that he is a prisoner of conscience.”
Many lawyers supporting Aliq gathered in front of Judge Bayram’s office inside the Palace of Justice in Beirut to protest against his treatment.

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Egypt to vaccinate half of its population before end of 2021

Tue, 2021-06-01 00:59

CAIRO: Egypt has announced the lifting of some coronavirus restrictions, as a government spokesman said the country planned to jab 500,000 people a day so that 50 percent of the population was vaccinated by the end of this year.
Egyptian Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad also said that the expansion of vaccine distribution had contributed to the improved epidemiological situation as had the application of precautionary measures.
He said that 2.1 million people had received their first vaccine dose so far and that 625,000 had received both.
There were 403 vaccination centers nationwide in addition to mobile centers, he said, and the mobile centers were in front of post offices while the vaccination was being given out to pensioners because they were one of the target groups.
Saad said that 3 million doses of the Sinovac jab would be manufactured in June, and there were 110,000 people who were getting jabbed every day.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said the state would continue to take all measures and decisions to preserve the health and safety of all people during the pandemic.
He was speaking at a meeting of the Supreme Committee for the Management of the Coronavirus Crisis.
The committee agreed to lift the 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants, malls and coffee shops starting early June, warning that any establishment pre-empting this date would be immediately closed for two weeks.
It said that all preventive and precautionary measures would be applied in public places, especially those that witnessed noticeable congestion, while those who violated COVID-19 protocols would be fined.

FASTFACT

Egyptian Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad says that 2.1 million people have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose so far and that 625,000 have received both.

It also agreed to continue to only allow weddings in open spaces as it was difficult to apply precautionary measures at large gatherings.
Bahaa El-Din Zidan, chairman of the Egyptian Authority for Unified Procurement, Medical Supply and Technology Management, said a contract for 20 million doses had been completed with the Emirati company supplying the Sputnik V vaccine in the region.

He said that the African Export-Import Bank had been contracted to supply 20 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and, at the same time, a million doses of Sinovac had been contracted.

Hala Zayed, the minister of health and population, said that Egypt was expected to receive 2 million Sinovac and Sinopharm doses in the first half of June, in addition to 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as part of the COVAX initiative.

The minister pointed out the steps for manufacturing Sinovac locally and the supply plan until the end of this year, estimated at 40 million doses.

She emphasized that work was underway to complete the vaccination of those who had registered as soon as possible by expanding the establishment of more centers.

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Protesters slam choice of Syria for executive board of WHO

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Tue, 2021-06-01 00:44

BEIRUT: Dozens of medical workers in opposition-held northwest Syria on Monday protested a decision to grant Bashar Assad’s regime a seat on the executive board of the World Health Organization. 

They said Assad is responsible for bombing hospitals and clinics across the war-ravaged country.

The decision to give Syria a seat came a decade into the country’s devastating civil war that has left untold numbers of civilians — including many healthcare workers — dead and injured.

The selection of Syria at a little-noticed session Saturday of the WHO’s annual assembly — which brings together all member states of the UN health agency — has evoked outrage in opposition-held Idlib province.

Rifaat Farhat, a senior health official in Idlib, said the move “contradicts all international and humanitarian laws.”

Syria was among 12 WHO member states that were chosen to appoint new members for the 34-member board in an assembly vote that faced no debate or opposition.

Syria will take up the seat for the executive board’s next session, which begins on Wednesday.

The revelation was highlighted by the advocacy group UN Watch, which keeps tabs on perceived hypocrisies and other shortcomings of the world body and its affiliated organizations like WHO.

The board is largely a technical group whose role is to carry out the decisions of, and advise, the assembly, which is made up of all WHO member states and has been meeting since May 24.

“We reject the idea that our killer and he who destroyed our hospitals be represented on the executive board,” read a banner carried by some of the protesters in Idlib on Monday. Some two dozen medical staff members protested outside the main health department.

Citizen journalist Salwa Abdul-Rahman, who is based in Idlib province — the last rebel stronghold in the country — said he worried a representative of the regime could work on cutting medical assistance to the region that is home to millions of people.

Syria’s war has left half-a-million people dead and driven millions out of the country since the conflict erupted in 2011. 

Investigators working for the UN’s main human rights body and international advocacy groups have reported that the Assad regime and its allies — like Russia and Iran — have been responsible for the destruction of healthcare facilities as part of the years of fighting.

Hundreds of medical facilities have been bombed, mostly in government airstrikes; half the hospitals and health centers are functioning only partially or not at all, while 70 percent of the medical personnel have fled the country.

A WHO emergency appeal for Syria issued in March said at least 12.4 million people are in need of assistance in Syria, and the “essential health service infrastructure such as hospitals and health care centers are in a state of disrepair.”

By the end of December, it said, only half of the country’s assessed public hospitals were reported to be fully functioning. 

Up to half of Syria’s health care workforce has left the country.

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Most Turks believe mob boss’s corruption claims, survey shows

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Tue, 2021-06-01 00:42

JEDDAH: Most Turkish people believe the corruption claims leveled by fugitive mob boss Sedat Peker against the government, a new survey shows, despite presidential chief adviser Oktay Saral accusing him of being “used by Turkey’s enemies.”
In the wake of the bombshell allegations, Saral said: “Our state will do what’s necessary.”
For weeks, the Turkish government’s ally-turned-foe figure has published videos purporting to expose corruption and mismanagement within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), especially concerning illegal drug and weapon trafficking and the longtime cooperation of Turkish senior officials with Al-Nusra extremists in Syria.
Through the eight consecutive videos, Peker has opened a Pandora’s box into “deep state secrets,” claiming revenge on government officials who launched a criminal prosecution against him and raided his home.
Turkish polling firm Avrasya revealed in its latest survey that 75 percent of those questioned believe that Peker’s claims are factual.
The survey was conducted in late May through 2480 respondents from across the political spectrum.
It also found that 95 percent of respondents from opposition parties believe that politicians who were implicated in the allegations should resign, while one-third of voters supporting the ruling government and its nationalistic ally think the same.
On Monday, Turkey’s dissident daily Cumhuriyet reported that Turkish customs data contradicted former prime minister and now deputy leader of the AKP, Binali Yildirim, who claimed that his son Erkam delivered COVID-19 aid to Venezuela in December.
His frequent visits to the country stirred controversy after Peker claimed the trips were made to establish a new international drug trafficking route from the country to Turkey.
Based on customs records between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 last year, Cumhuriyet proved that no mask or test kit transfer was made from Turkey to Venezuela. Only about 1,500 test kits were sent to Caracas in that period as part of a business transaction between two companies not associated with Yildirim.
Cumhuriyet claimed that either Yildirim did not send masks and test kits to Venezuela or the transfer happened through illegal channels.
Peker claimed that the son of the former prime minister went to the Latin American country with the intention to set up a new route, following the seizure of 4.9 tons of cocaine headed for Turkey by Colombian authorities on June 9.
However, in a press speech on May 23, Yildirim said: “My son indeed went to Venezuela, but not in January or February. He went there in December last year.
“He distributed test kits, masks and other stuff to those in need as part of the fight against COVID-19.”
According to journalist Fehim Taskin, “what we are witnessing is the full adoption of a mafia style and energy within the executive branches of Turkey’s government, more deeply rooted than ever.”
He added: “The inside reflects upon the outside.”
In Peker’s latest video, where he covered Turkey’s dealings in Syria and Libya, the mob boss, who is believed to now live in Dubai, claimed that a paramilitary group named SADAT, under the supervision of Turkish presidency, sent weapons to Al-Nusra jihadists in Syria by disguising them an aid convoy he originally sent to Syrian Turkmens.
The allegations angered Turkish government and SADAT officials, who denied the claims.
“Peker showed that he acts under the orders of Turkey’s enemies and domestic evil alliances with his ridiculous statements,” presidential adviser Saral said.
“Our state will do what’s needed and all powers will recognize that this country won’t be damaged with such acts of nonsense,” he added.
Some former Cumhuriyet journalists were jailed for reporting Turkish weapons shipments sent to war-torn Syria via the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, in 2015.
Peker has promised further videos about Turkey’s political elite in the near future. He is expected to talk about his relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the next clip, which will be released over the weekend.

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