Crisis-Hit Lebanon Faces Power Vacuum Without President

 

Already mired in political and economic crises, Lebanon is now also without a president after Michael Aoun’s mandate expired without a successor.

Aoun’s six-year term, that came to a close on Sunday, was marred by mass protests, a painful economic downturn and the August 2020 mega-explosion of ammonium nitrate that killed hundreds and laid waste to swathes of the capital Beirut.

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Today, headed by a caretaker government, Lebanon is unable to enact the reforms needed to access billions of dollars from international lenders to help save an economy in free-fall since late 2019.

In Lebanon, power is divided among the country’s main sects — none of whom hold a clear majority.

Why is there no president?

Aoun left the presidential palace Sunday, a day before the end of his term, cheered on by a few thousand supporters.

In Lebanon, lawmakers vote in parliament for president.

Parliament has held four rounds of voting since last month, with no candidate garnering enough support to succeed Aoun.

Some lawmakers accuse the powerful Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement and its allies of obstructing the vote to negotiate with other blocs.

They adopted a similar tactic in the last election by boycotting the vote in parliament — a move that left Lebanon without a president for more than two years, until Aoun’s 2016 win.

Without a dominant party in parliament, decisions like electing a president, naming a prime minister or forming a government can take months or even years of political horse-trading, sometimes even leading to violence.

Who rules the country?

The president’s powers fall to the Council of Ministers if he leaves office without a successor.

Aoun signed on Sunday a decree formalising the resignation of premier Najib Mikati’s government, in a caretaker role since legislative elections in May.

The move exacerbates a months-long power struggle that has paralysed the government.

Mikati retorted that his government will continue his work in caretaker capacity as usual, but that cabinet will only meet “for urgent matters”.

Experts said it was part of ongoing political arm-wrestling between Aoun and the premier.

A cabinet in a caretaker role cannot take important decisions that might impact the country’s fate.

“This greatly affects the government’s work, because it cannot issue decrees or take any decisions that require collective consensus,” a source close to Mikati said.

This includes decisions needed to kickstart offshore gas exploration and extraction, after Lebanon demarcated its sea border with Israel last week.

What happens next?

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri might invite political parties for a national dialogue, so they can agree on a new president, a lawmaker close to him said on the condition of anonymity.

“No party can impose a candidate,” he said. “Therefore the only solution is to reach a consensus, otherwise the presidential vacancy is likely to last.”

But such initiatives have failed in the past.

So far, lawmaker Michel Moawad, 50, has garnered the most support in parliament, mostly from those opposed to Hezbollah.

But without Hezbollah’s support, Moawad’s chances of becoming president are slim.

Hezbollah has not officially endorsed a candidate, but Sleiman Frangieh, 57, a personal friend of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, was always considered one of the group’s preferred choices.

But Hezbollah’s Christian ally, Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), will not back Frangieh.

Gebran Bassil, 52, the FPM’s leader and Aoun’s son-in-law, is also vying for the presidency.

Others have also floated Lebanon’s army chief Joseph Aoun, 58, as a potential candidate for the presidency, in a country where army commanders have snatched this post several times.

AFP

Lebanon Migrant Ship Death Toll Rises To 94

File photo used to illustrate the story: This grab from a video taken by the Local Team shows migrants rescued for days by NGO Proactiva Open Arms charity ship. LOCAL TEAM / AFP

 

Seventeen bodies were recovered Saturday after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast, raising the overall toll to 94, Syrian state television said, in one of the eastern Mediterranean’s deadliest such episodes.

The toll has repeatedly ratcheted higher since the first bodies were found on Thursday. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, described the shipwreck as a “heart-wrenching tragedy” and the search for those still missing continued beyond nightfall.

At least 14 survivors were recovering in hospitals in Syria, while six others were discharged. Two remained in intensive care in Al-Basel Hospital, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported earlier.

“The death toll from the boat that sank off the coast of Tartus has risen to 94,” state television said.

The Lebanese army said that it had arrested a Lebanese national who “admitted to organising the recent (people) smuggling operation from Lebanon to Italy by sea”.

Lebanon, a country which hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.

Nearly three years of economic collapse have turned the country into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by dangerous sea routes.

As many as 150 people were on board the small boat that sank off the Syrian port of Tartus, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Tripoli in Lebanon, from where the migrants set sail.

Those on board were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included both children and elderly people, the UN said.

Families in Lebanon held a second day of funerals Saturday after they were handed bodies of relatives on Friday night through the Arida border crossing. Others still await the bodies of their relatives.

In Tripoli, anger mixed with grief as relatives received news of the death of their loved ones.

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, north of Tripoli, for the funeral procession of one of the victims, pumping their fists in the air.

 ‘Death boats’

Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said that 10 children appeared to be “among those who lost their lives”.

“Years of political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon have pushed many children and families into poverty, affecting their health, welfare and education,” UNICEF added.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said: “No one gets on these death boats lightly.

“People are taking these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity.”

Lazzarini said more must be done “to offer a better future and address a sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees”.

Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said: “People looking for safety should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys.”

Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island about 175 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.

AFP

Death Toll Of Lebanon Migrant Ship Tragedy Rises To 90

Mourners march with the body of one of the victims who drowned in the shipwreck of a migrant boat that sank off the Syrian coast, during his funeral after the return of his body in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli on September 24, 2022. (Photo by Fathi AL-MASRI / AFP)

 

 

 

Thirteen more bodies were recovered Saturday after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off the Syrian coast, raising the overall toll to 90, Syrian state television said, in one of the eastern Mediterranean’s deadliest such shipwrecks.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, called it a “heart-wrenching tragedy”.

At least 14 of those rescued were recovering in hospitals in Syria, while six others were discharged, as search efforts continued with several people still missing since the boat sank on Thursday.

“The number of dead from the sinking off the coast of Tartus has risen to 90,” state television said.

Fourteen people are receiving treatment at Al-Basel Hospital, two of whom are in intensive care, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported earlier.

The Lebanese army said that it had arrested a Lebanese national who “admitted to organising the recent (people) smuggling operation from Lebanon to Italy by sea”.

Lebanon, a country which hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.

Nearly three years of economic collapse have turned the country into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by dangerous sea routes.

As many as 150 people were on board the small boat that sank off the Syrian port of Tartus, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Tripoli in Lebanon, from where the migrants set sail.

Those on board were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included both children and elderly people, the UN said.

Families in Lebanon held a second day of funerals Saturday after they were handed bodies of relatives on Friday night through the Arida border crossing. Others still await the bodies of their relatives.

In Tripoli, anger mixed with grief as relatives received news of the death of their loved ones.

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, north of Tripoli, for the funeral procession of one of the victims, pumping fists into the air.

‘Death boats’

Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said they had initial reports that 10 children were “among those who lost their lives”.

“Years of political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon have pushed many children and families into poverty, affecting their health, welfare and education,” UNICEF added.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said: “No one gets on these death boats lightly.

“People are taking these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity.”

Lazzarini said more must be done “to offer a better future and address a sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees”.

Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said: “People looking for safety should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys.”

Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island about 175 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.

AFP

Third ‘Armed Bank Withdrawal’ In A Week In Lebanon

Abed Soubra, a depositor who stormed a bank demanding to withdraw his frozen savings, speaks from the window of the Blom Bank branch in the capital Beirut’s Tariq al-Jdideh neighbourhood on September 16, 2022. (Photo by Ibrahim AMRO / AFP)

 

 

A Lebanese man carrying a gun and a jerrican of fuel withdrew his frozen savings at gunpoint Friday, the third such incident in the crisis-hit country this week.

When a branch of the Byblos bank opened in the southern town of Ghaziyeh, a depositor, reported to be in his 50s, stormed the premises with his adult son.

He threatened bank employes with a gun, which a Lebanese TV channel said may have been a toy, and demanded his savings.

“He emptied a jerrican of fuel on the floor,” a bank security guard told an AFP reporter.

The man walked away with around $19,000 and turned himself in to the police moments later as a crowd formed in front of the bank to support him.

It was the latest in a series of heists in Lebanon, where the savings of depositors have been devalued and trapped in banks for almost three years amid a crippling economic crisis.

They are usually acts of economic desperation by depositors with no criminal record trying to settle bills, and have drawn wide sympathy among the general public.

 

The glass facade of a bank in the Lebanese capital Beirut is broken, after a woman stormed it demanding access to her sister’s deposits to allegedly pay for her hospital fees, on September 14, 2022. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

On Wednesday, a young woman held up a bank in central Beirut using a similar modus operandi, in what she said was an attempt to retrieve the savings of her sister, a cancer patient.

Sali Hafiz became an instant hero on social media, and a phone picture of standing on a desk inside the bank during the heist became viral.

Also on Wednesday, a man held up a bank in the city of Aley northeast of Beirut, the official National News Agency reported.

Last month, a man received widespread sympathy after he stormed a Beirut bank with a rifle and held employees and customers hostage for hours, to demand some of his $200,000 in frozen savings to pay hospital bills for his sick father.

He was detained but swiftly released.

Lebanon has been battered by one of its worst-ever economic crises.

Its currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, while poverty and unemployment have soared.

Lebanese Rejoice After Mayyas Win ‘America’s Got Talent’

Lebanese celebrated the local dance troupe Mayyas on Thursday after it won the “America’s Got Talent” TV contest, stoking joy and pride in a country battered by years of political and economic turmoil.

Many fans, across age groups and religious lines in the crisis-tested country and its large diaspora, tearfully cheered the all-women group for what judges and viewers hailed as a hypnotic and mesmerising performance.

“Congratulations Mayyas, proud, proud, proud,” tweeted Lebanese pop star Elissa, while caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati gushed that “Lebanese creativity shines” in the performance.


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A Twitter user called Wael summed up the mood about the group that beat all the odds: “They come from a country ravaged by crisis and, despite the difficulties, they managed to be the best. Lebanese all around the world are proud of you.”

The troupe led by choreographer Nadim Cherfan scooped a $1 million prize and the chance to headline a Las Vegas show for their extravagant performance featuring belly dancing, feather fans and white orbs of light.

“You gave us a glimpse of hope and showed the world what Lebanese women are capable of,” tweeted another fan, DivaMaj, saluting the group that in 2019 won the Arabs Got Talent contest.

Even the military joined in, declaring on Twitter, somewhat more stiffly, that “the army command congratulates the Mayyas group, its trainers and members, on winning America’s Got Talent”.

The Mayyas’ win of the season finale brought rare respite and a moment of unity to the small country reeling from almost three years of deep economic hardship and political stalemate.

Amid Lebanon’s worst-ever economic crisis, the national currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market since 2019 while poverty and unemployment have soared.

Beirut remains scarred by the huge portside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate in 2020, which killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.

In a reflection of the deep popular discontent, several people who have recently held up banks, using real or toy guns, to demand their frozen savings have been cheered as folk heros by bystanders and on social media.

Over 30 Inmates Flee Lebanon Jailbreak

Members of Lebanon’s security forces deploy on a street with access to a detention center under the Adliyeh (Palace of Justice) bridge in the capital Beirut, on August 7, 2022, following a dawn prison break. Photo by Anwar AMRO / AFP

 

More than 30 people fled a Lebanon detention center at dawn on Sunday, security forces said, after sawing their way through a window, according to a judicial official.

“At dawn … 31 detainees managed to escape” from a detention center in the Adlieh neighbourhood of the capital Beirut, the Internal Security Forces said in a statement on Sunday.

“Immediate orders were given to arrest them and investigations are underway.”

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The detainees broke past a prison window using a saw smuggled into the facility, said a judicial official close to an investigation into the incident.

“The escapees include Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, among other foreigners,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A security source confirmed the escape method, saying the prisoners were likely aided by someone on the outside.

On Sunday morning, an AFP correspondent saw security forces and army personnel deployed in the Beirut neighbourhood housing the jail.

The Adlieh detention center was formerly controlled by Lebanon’s General Security agency but is now managed by the country’s prison authority.

It was notorious for abuses committed against detained Syrian refugees and foreign migrant domestic workers, according to rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.

The prison break came as Lebanon grapples with an unprecedented economic crisis that has seen the value of the Lebanese pound lose more than 90 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market.

Inflation has skyrocketed and public sector salaries have plummeted to record lows, forcing soldiers and other members of security forces to quit en masse to try to eke out an alternative living.

The crisis has also further degraded Lebanon’s already-dismal jails, with poor conditions and lack of medical care regularly sparking prion riots and unrest.

Israel Urges Lebanon To Speed Up Talks On Maritime Border

A Lebanese flag waves during a remembrance ceremony at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4, 2021, on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)

 

Israel on Wednesday urged Lebanon to speed up negotiations on its disputed maritime border ahead of an expected visit to Beirut by the US mediator in the contentious talks.

The call came days after Israel moved a gas production vessel into an offshore field, a part of which is claimed by Lebanon.

Lebanon cried foul after the ship operated by London-listed Energean Plc arrived in the Karish gas field on Sunday, urging US envoy Amos Hochstein to visit Beirut to mediate.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the Israeli ministers for defence, energy and foreign affairs restated Israel’s view that Karish “is a strategic asset of the State of Israel”.

“The rig is located in Israeli territory, several kilometres (miles) south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted between the State of Israel and the state of Lebanon,” the statement said.

“The rig will not pump gas from the disputed territory,” it added, stressing Israel was “prepared to defend” the site.

“We call on the state of Lebanon to accelerate negotiations on the maritime border,” the statement said, adding that “locating gas-based energy sources” would help both countries.

The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, said Hochstein was expected in Beirut in the coming days.

Lebanon and Israel last fought a war in 2006, have no diplomatic relations and are separated by a UN-patrolled border.

They had resumed negotiations over their maritime border in 2020 but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.

Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometres (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometres, including part of Karish.

Lebanon Votes In First Election Since Crisis

Former premier Fouad Siniora casts his ballot at a polling station in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon, on May 15, 2022, during the parliamentary election.

 

 

Lebanon voted Sunday in its first election since multiple crises dragged it to the brink of failed statehood, a major test for new opposition groups bent on removing the ruling elite.

Observers have warned not to expect any seismic shift, with every lever of power firmly in the hands of traditional sectarian parties and an electoral system rigged in their favour.

After an underwhelming campaign stifled by the nation’s all-consuming economic turmoil, queues of voters started forming when polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT).

The army deployed across the country to secure a parliamentary election Lebanon’s donors have stressed was a pre-requisite for financial aid crucial to rescue it from bankruptcy.

A new generation of independent candidates and parties are hoping to kindle the change that an unprecedented anti-corruption uprising in 2019 failed to deliver.

“I am with change because we tried this current political class before and now is the time to bring in new faces,” Nayla, a 28-year-old who only gave her first name, said after casting her vote in Beirut.

Independents can hope for more than the lone seat they clinched in 2018 but most of parliament’s 128 seats will remain in the clutches of a political elite blamed for the country’s woes.

The outgoing chamber was dominated by the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and its two main allies: the Shiite Amal party of speaker Nabih Berri who has held the job since 1992, and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun.

“It seems almost impossible to imagine Lebanon voting for more of the same — and yet that appears to be the likeliest outcome,” said Sam Heller, an analyst with the Century Foundation.

Lebanon was mutilated by an August 2020 blast at the Beirut port that went down as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and deepened one of the most spectacular economic downturns of our time.

– Corruption –
The Lebanese pound has lost 95 percent of its value, people’s savings are blocked in banks, minimum wage won’t buy a tank of petrol and mains electricity comes on only two hours a day.

Despite assurances from the interior ministry that polling stations would be powered on election day, local media reported power cuts in some centres.

Videos shared online showed people sporting their candidate’s colours and shepherding voters into polling booths, continuing a decades-old trend of vote buying.

More than 80 percent of Lebanon’s population is now considered poor by the United Nations, with the most desperate increasingly attempting perilous boat crossings to flee to Europe.

Once described as the Switzerland of the Middle East, Lebanon ranked second-to-last behind Afghanistan in the latest World Happiness Index released in March.

Despite international pressure to reform Lebanese politics, the corruption that sank the country is still rife, including in the electoral process.

At one candidate’s rally in the northern city of Tripoli, some well-wishers disappointed by the lack of cash handouts made off with the plastic chairs.

– Low hopes –
While Sunday’s election might not topple their reviled leadership, some Lebanese see the vote as an important test for the principles that arose during the October 2019 uprising.

For Marianne Vodolian, a spokesperson for families of victims of the cataclysmic August 2020 explosion that disfigured Beirut and killed more than 200 people, voting is a sacred duty.

“We are against the regime that ruled us for 30 years, robbed us and blew us up,” said the 32-year-old.

“The elections are an opportunity to change the system and hold it accountable in a way that makes this country liveable,” Vodolian said.

Top political barons have stalled an investigation into the explosion — two of the main suspects are even running for a seat — and legal proceedings against the Central Bank governor over financial crimes are equally floundering.

One of the most notable changes in the electoral landscape is the absence of former prime minister Saad Hariri, which leaves parts of the Sunni vote up for grabs by new players.

Pope Postpones Trip To Lebanon For Health Reasons

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair during the audience to the Participants to the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General on May 5, 2022 in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican. / AFP

 

Pope Francis has postponed a trip to Lebanon initially planned for June over health concerns, Lebanon’s tourism minister Walid Nassar said Monday.

Nassar did not elaborate on the “health reasons” behind the postponement, but the pope who has suffered from pain in his knee was seen using a wheelchair for the first time at a public event Thursday.

“Lebanon received a letter from the Vatican officially informing it of the decision to postpone the scheduled visit of the Pope to Lebanon,” Nassar said in a statement published by the official National News Agency.

The pope’s “foreign visits and scheduled appointments… have been postponed for health reasons,” said Nassar, who heads a committee tasked with preparing for the trip.

The Vatican’s press office confirmed the trip would not take place as planned, without providing a reason.

It is still the pope’s “firm intention” to visit Lebanon at a later date, the office added.

The Vatican had never confirmed the visit but the Lebanese presidency in April said the 85-year-old pontiff would visit Lebanon in June.

A Vatican source told AFP the pontiff’s trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in July would still go ahead.

Knee problems

Francis has been suffering for months from pain in his right knee that forced him to cancel numerous engagements and from presiding over some religious celebrations.

The Vatican has not said officially what the problem is, although sources have told AFP he has chronic arthritis.

The pope himself has also spoken of an injured ligament in his knee.

He told the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera in an interview published last week that he would undergo an “intervention with infiltration”.

And in April, the pontiff told a newspaper in Argentina that he was treating his knee pain by putting ice on it and taking some painkillers.

His visit to Lebanon, following its May 15 parliamentary elections, would have been the third by a pope to the country since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012, to appeal for peace months after the start of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, while Pope John Paul II came in 1997.

Lebanon, home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, has been gripped by an unprecedented economic downturn since 2019, with more than 80 percent of the population now living in poverty.

Francis, who has received Lebanon’s president and prime minister in the Vatican in recent months, had previously promised to visit the country and repeatedly expressed concern over its worsening crises.

AFP

Pope Postpones Trip To Lebanon For Health Reasons – Minister

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair during the audience to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General on May 5, 2022, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican.
Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

 

Pope Francis has postponed a trip to Lebanon initially planned for June over health concerns, Lebanon’s tourism minister Walid Nassar said Monday.

Nassar did not elaborate on the “health reasons” behind the postponement, but the pope who has suffered from pain in his knee was seen using a wheelchair for the first time at a public event on Thursday.

“Lebanon received a letter from the Vatican officially informing it of the decision to postpone the scheduled visit of the Pope to Lebanon,” Nassar said in a statement published by the official National News Agency.

The pope’s “foreign visits and scheduled appointments… have been postponed for health reasons,” said Nassar, who heads a committee tasked with preparing for the trip.

The Vatican had never confirmed the visit but Lebanon’s presidency in April said that the 85-year-old pontiff would visit Lebanon in June.

Francis has been suffering for months from pain in his right knee, which forced him to cancel numerous engagements and from presiding over some religious celebrations.

The Vatican has not said officially what the problem is, although sources have told AFP he has chronic arthritis.

The pope himself has also spoken of an injured ligament in his knee.

He told the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera in an interview published last week that he would undergo an “intervention with infiltration”.

And in April, the pontiff told a newspaper in Argentina that he was treating his knee pain by putting ice on it and taking some painkillers.

His visit to Lebanon, following Lebanon’s May 15 parliamentary elections, would have been the third by a pope to the country since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012, to appeal for peace months after the start of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, while Pope John Paul II came in 1997.

Lebanon, home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, has been gripped by an unprecedented economic downturn since 2019, with more than 80 percent of the population now living in poverty.

Francis, who has received Lebanon’s president and prime minister in the Vatican in recent months, had previously promised to visit the country and repeatedly expressed concern over its worsening crises.

Lebanon Reports First Omicron COVID-19 Cases

A Venezuelan migrant is inoculated against COVID-19 with the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine,

 

The Lebanese health ministry said Thursday that it had confirmed the country’s first two cases of the Omicron variant of Covid in passengers tested upon arrival at the airport.

“Two cases detected in airport testing” were confirmed to be of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Firass Abiad told a press conference.

He said both passengers had flown in from the African continent and had been placed in quarantine.

Lebanon reported 1,994 new Covid cases on Wednesday, one of the country’s highest figures for a single day since the start of the pandemic, the minister said.

Abiad voiced concern over a resurgence of the virus he said the crisis-hit country’s ailing health system was even less prepared to handle than during previous waves.

When cases spiked in late 2020, the influx of critical patients had brought Lebanon’s hospitals to breaking point.

A worsening depreciation of the local currency and the mass emigration of health workers has only made the situation worse.

Lebanon has recorded more 683,000 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic two years ago and 8,804 deaths, according to government figures.

Lebanon Judges Resign To Protest Political Interference

Lebanon map.

 

Three Lebanese judges have resigned over interference by politicians in the work of the judiciary, including a probe into last year’s Beirut blast, a judicial source said Thursday.

In a country where political leaders determine judicial appointments, including in top courts, there is little room for the judiciary to work against Lebanon’s ruling elite.

A probe into last year’s monster port explosion has exposed the extent of such interference, with top officials mounting a complex web of court challenges to obstruct the work of lead investigator Tarek Bitar.

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On Wednesday three judges, all women, handed in their resignation “to protest…political interference in the work of the judiciary and the undermining of decisions issued by judges and courts,” the judicial source said.

The head of the country’s top court has yet to approve the resignations and has called for the matter to be discussed in a meeting, the source added.

The resignations came after officials filed dozens of lawsuits against Bitar as well as other judges processing requests by lawmakers demanding his removal.

Among those who resigned this week is a judge who turned down a request by an official to remove the investigator.

She was consequently hit with a review questioning the validity of her decision.

“The constant questioning of the judiciary’s decisions is tarnishing its reputation,” the same court official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

While it is the most prominent, the Beirut blast case is not the only one to fall prey to interference by political leaders.

A probe into charges of tax evasion and illicit enrichment brought against central bank chief Riad Salameh has also been paused over a lawsuit filed against lead investigator Jean Tannous.

AFP