Hariri Puts Resignation On Hold, Pledges To Stay In Lebanon

 

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri (L) greets his supporters upon his arrival at his home in Beirut on November 22, 2017. Hariri, back in Beirut after a mysterious odyssey that saw him announce his resignation in Saudi Arabia, told cheering supporters that he was staying.
STR / AFP

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Wednesday he was suspending his surprise resignation, pending talks, providing a potential way out of a political crisis that has rocked the country.

In a rousing address before large crowds of supporters gathered outside his Beirut home, he pledged he would stay in the country and protect its “stability”.

Lebanon has been thrown into turmoil by Hariri’s shock November 4 announcement from Saudi Arabia that he was stepping down, followed by a prolonged absence.

The resignation was seen as a ratcheting up of tensions in the long-running rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and raised fears that Lebanon would be paralysed by regional tensions.

Hours after his arrival back in Beirut, Hariri met with President Michel Aoun, who had refused to accept the premier’s resignation until he returned to Lebanon.

“I discussed my resignation with the president of the republic who asked me to wait before submitting it… and allow for more consultations,” Hariri told reporters afterwards.

“I agreed to this request.”

Hariri said he hoped his decision would “allow for a responsible dialogue in a serious manner… that would settle disputes.”

In announcing his resignation, he had levelled harsh criticism at Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, saying they had taken over Lebanon and were destabilising the region.

He also said he had been forced to leave Lebanon because of threats to his safety, invoking the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

– Iran-Saudi struggle –
But he left the door open to withdrawing the resignation if the powerful Shiite Hezbollah group pulled back from involvement in regional conflicts.

Speaking in the evening after meeting parliament speaker Nabih Berri, Hariri called on “everyone” to respect this “policy of distance”, saying that would “improve our relations with our Arab brothers “.

Hariri accuses Hezbollah of violating Lebanon’s policy of “disassociation” from regional conflicts by fighting alongside Syria’s government and assisting Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said the group was open to talks, though whether any real compromise could be reached remained unclear.

The decision brings down the temperature after weeks of tensions, and some analysts said it suggested a deal could be in the works to save the consensus government Hariri formed just under a year ago.

“What this is saying, (is) there is still room for backroom discussions and negotiations,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre think-tank.

“Hariri would not have agreed to this (otherwise),” she added.

“There’s already some consensus behind it. There’s a deal that is being worked out, we still don’t know what the details are.”

There has been heavy international involvement in the search for a way out of the crisis, with France stepping in to invite Hariri to Paris after weeks of speculation that he was being detained in Riyadh.

Hariri, who holds Saudi citizenship and is closely allied with Riyadh, strongly denied he was being held in the kingdom, but nonetheless accepted the invitation and arrived in Paris on Saturday.

Before continuing to Beirut Tuesday, he stopped for talks in both Egypt and Cyprus, hinting at the various tracks under way to ease tension.

– Hero’s welcome –

“The international community understands that really it’s in no-one’s interest to have one more failed state in this region,” said Yahya.

“Definitely there is an effort to… calm things down a little bit.”

It is unclear whether Hariri’s government, which was formed in late 2016 as part of a deal across political lines, can be saved.

Lebanon has long been riven by tensions between Hariri’s Saudi-backed political bloc and that led by Iran-backed Hezbollah, a stalemate that left the country’s presidency empty for more than two years.

But despite the potential struggles ahead, Hariri appeared relaxed as he first attended a military parade to mark the country’s Independence Day, and then appeared at his Beirut home, where large crowds of supporters had gathered.

As celebratory music played, the crowd chanted “Saad, Saad” and waved the blue flag of his Future Movement party.

“I’m staying with you,” Hariri said, in an emphatic speech delivered at the door of his home in the centre of the capital.

“You are my real family,” he said, before soaking up his newfound popularity with a walkabout near his downtown residence.

Outside his house, 32-year-old Hala waved a blue Future Movement flag enthusiastically.

“He managed to bring Lebanon together,” she told AFP.

“His return is very important, even if there are many things we don’t understand.”

AFP

Hariri Back In Lebanon After Shock Resignation As Prime Minister

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on November 21, 2017 shows Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri delivering a speech following a meeting with the Egyptian President in Cairo. AFP PHOTO / HO / EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY

 

Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri returned to his home country late Tuesday, on the eve of its independence day and after a nearly three-week absence dominated by his surprise resignation.

Hariri stepped down from his post in a televised address on November 4 from Saudi Arabia and then remained in Riyadh, where he spent two weeks before making brief trips to Abu Dhabi, Paris and Cairo.

His plane touched down at Beirut international airport shortly before midnight, a statement from his office said.

His resignation shocked Lebanese, but Hariri’s prolonged stay in Saudi proved even more mysterious for many and sparked a litany of accusations that he was being held hostage there.

Hariri had promised he would return to Lebanon in time to mark its 47th Independence Day on Wednesday and would clarify his position there.

On Tuesday, he travelled to Cairo to see Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom he thanked for his support for Lebanon.

Hours later, Hariri flew from the Egyptian capital Cairo to Larnaca in Cyprus where he met late at night with President Nicos Anastasiades, the Cyprus government spokesman said.

After a brief visit he flew on to Beirut, where he is expected to take part in the independence day military parade early Wednesday and the customary reception at the presidential palace.

Hariri’s Future Movement called on supporters to gather at his home in downtown Beirut at 1:00 pm local time (1100 GMT).

A dual Saudi citizen who has previously enjoyed Riyadh’s backing, Hariri resigned in a mysterious broadcast from the Saudi capital, accusing arch-rival Iran and its powerful Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising his country.

But President Michel Aoun has yet to accept Hariri’s resignation, insisting that he present it in person once back in the Lebanese capital.

During Hariri’s two-week stay in Riyadh, Aoun accused Saudi authorities of holding him “hostage” and demanded that he enjoy freedom of movement.

After mediation efforts by Egypt and France — which held former mandate power over Lebanon — the 47-year-old premier left Riyadh on Saturday.

Hariri tight-lipped

He headed to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and pledged he would be home by Wednesday.

“As you know I have resigned, and we will discuss that in Lebanon,” he said.

Hariri’s resignation from outside the country is unprecedented in Lebanese history.

Questions remain over whether the resignation will stand, forcing negotiations on a new government, or if he might withdraw the decision.

Under Lebanon’s constitution, the president is bound to accept a premier’s resignation however it is tendered, Lebanese constitutional expert Edmond Rizk told AFP.

Although it is not outlined in the constitution, Rizk said, custom dictates “this resignation is supposed to be submitted to the president of the republic”.

A resignation brings down the government, and the president then engages in consultations to select a new prime minister to form a cabinet.

In Lebanon, divided for more than a decade between a pro-Saudi camp and a Tehran-backed alliance, that process typically takes months of political wrangling.

But the discussions also aim to strike a balance between the country’s diverse religious communities.

As part of Lebanon’s presidential-parliamentary system, the premier must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.

More than a week ago, Hariri said he could walk back from his resignation if Hezbollah withdrew from regional conflicts, including Syria.

– New government? –

Hezbollah, whose forces are fighting in neighbouring Syria along government troops, said it still considers Hariri the current premier.

“When he comes, we will see. We’re open to all dialogue and discussion,” its chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday.

But if Hariri stands firm, Aoun has two options: either rename him premier or choose another prominent Sunni figure to lead a new cabinet.

“If Hariri’s consultations lead to a new government, that would be a way out,” said Rizk.

Aoun tipped Hariri as premier in 2016, as part of a deal across political lines that ended a two-and-a-half year stalemate in Lebanon.

Hariri’s two terms as prime minister have both ended abruptly.

In January 2011, as he was meeting with then-US president Barack Obama in Washington, Hezbollah and its allies withdrew their ministers and collapsed Hariri’s government.

His unexpected resignation earlier this month was seen as part of an escalating power struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

On the day Hariri resigned, the Saudi kingdom said it intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Tehran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen at Riyadh.

The announcement also coincided with a purge of more than 200 Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen.

AFP

Fiji Stun New Zealand, Tonga Survive Lebanon Scare

Fiji’s Marcelo Montoya (L), Jarryd Hayne (C) and Eloni Vunakece celebrate their win during the Rugby League World Cup quarter-final match between New Zealand and Fiji at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on November 18, 2017. Marty MELVILLE / AFP

Fijian players wept for joy after pulling off a stunning 4-2 victory over New Zealand in a tryless World Cup encounter in Wellington on Saturday, to book a semi-final berth against Australia.

In an error-riddled quarter-final, in which both sides were plagued by handling errors and struggled to complete their sets, tier-two Fiji outscored former champions New Zealand by two penalties to one.

The win pitches Fiji into a semi-final against holders Australia for the third successive World Cup and dumps New Zealand, the 2008 World champions, out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage.

Earlier, Tonga fended off a desperate finish by Lebanon to claim a thrilling 24-22 victory in an intense quarter-final in Christchurch. They will face either England or Papua New Guinea in the other semi-final.

New Zealand were looking for redemption after being toppled by another tier-two side, Tonga, last week. But instead they had to take a back seat for a second time.

They were humbled by Jarryd Hayne’s Fijians, who showed considerably more desire and flair to win in the first-ever rugby league international between the two countries.

From the opening whistle the Fijians rocked the Kiwis and never eased the pressure in the first half to turn with a 2-0 lead after dominating possession.

By full-time, Fiji’s hold on possession had slipped but at no stage did they surrender the lead.

As Fiji piled on the early pressure, fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was twice called upon to make try-saving tackles. The islanders were denied another scoring opportunity when Brayden Wiliame lost the ball over the line.

The only points in the first spell came from an Apisai Koroisau penalty goal in the 13th minute.

New Zealand equalised through a Shaun Johnson penalty three minutes into the second half.

Minutes later, Fiji opted to run the ball rather than take a handy shot at goal when Jordan Rapana was sent to the sin bin.

But when that did not pay off they did not hesitate to take the kick when awarded another penalty with 20 minutes remaining, and Taane Milne put the islanders ahead 4-2.

As the match ticked down to the final whistle New Zealand attacked the Fiji line but to no avail.

With 90 seconds remaining, Rapana chipped towards the line for Brad Takairangi to run on to. But the kick went too far and Fiji were able to run the clock down.

In Christchurch, Tonga led 22-16 at half-time and the telling two-point difference at the end was achieved early in the second half when Ata Hingano landed a pressure penalty goal.

The Pacific Islanders were making the play-offs for the first time, but largely part-time Lebanon had three close try-scoring attempts disallowed by the referee.

England face Papua New Guinea in the remaining quarter-final in Melbourne on Sunday.

AFP

Tonga Edge Lebanon To Reach World Cup Semi-Finals

Fiji’s Eloni Vunakece (L), Marcelo Montoya (C) and captain Kevin Naiqama celebrate their win in the Rugby League World Cup quarter-final match between New Zealand and Fiji at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on November 18, 2017. Marty MELVILLE / AFP

Tonga held off a desperate finish by Lebanon to claim a thrilling 24-22 victory in an intense rugby league World Cup quarter-final in Christchurch on Saturday.

The only try in the second half was scored by Abbas Miski, his second for the match, in a frantic bid by the largely part-time Lebanon side to pull off the upset of the tournament against the full-time professionals in Tongan colours.

Another close three try-scoring attempts by Lebanon were disallowed by the referee.

Tonga led 22-16 at half-time and the telling two-point difference at the end was registered early in the second half when Ata Hingano landed a pressure penalty goal.

The history-making Pacific Islanders, making the play-offs for the first time, will play the winner of Sunday’s match in Melbourne between England and Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals.

Every time the bruising Tongans stamped their authority on the game, the smaller and lighter Lebanon side struck back.

David Fusitua used his pace in the opening minutes to put Tuimoala Lolohea over for a try in the opening minutes.

Just as quickly Lebanon replied with man-of-the-match Mitchell Moses combining with NRL veteran Robbie Farah to send Adam Doueihi over.

In a stadium packed with red-clad Tongan supporters, the deadlock was broken midway through the first half when the power of the Jason Taumalolo-led Pacific Island forward pack initiated a two-try burst.

But no sooner had Fusitua and Will Hopoate pushed Tonga out to 16-6 than James Elias resurrected Lebanon’s hopes when he won the race for the ball after a Moses chip for the corner was deflected over the try-line.

Fusitua scored his second try for Tonga and Miski replied with his first for Lebanon to give Tonga a six-point lead at half-time.

AFP

Lebanon’s PM Resigns, Fears For His Life

This file photo taken on November 03, 2016 shows Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaking to journalists. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday, citing Iran’s “grip” on the country and threats to his life.

The surprise move risks plunging the small and already fragile Middle Eastern country deeper into turmoil.

“I announce my resignation from the post of prime minister,” Hariri said in a speech broadcast from Saudi Arabia by the Al-Arabiya news network.

“I felt what was being covertly plotted to target my life,” he said.

Hariri’s personal security concerns appeared to gain little traction among the public. Social media were flooded with messages deriding him for choosing to resign from abroad and on a foreign channel.

The two-time premier, whose father Rafik held the same position for years and was assassinated in 2005, accused Iran and its powerful Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah of seeking hegemony in the region.

The 47-year-old Sunni politician’s resignation comes less than a year after his government, to which Hezbollah’s political wing belongs, was formed.

“Iran has a grip on the fate of the region’s countries… Hezbollah is Iran’s arm not just in Lebanon but in other Arab countries too,” Hariri said.

He accused Tehran of “sowing discord among the children of the same nation and creating a state within the state… to the extent that it gets the final say on how Lebanon’s affairs are run”.

Iran dismissed his accusations as “unfounded”.

Hariri’s “repetition of unreal and baseless accusations… against Iran show that the resignation is designed to create tensions in Lebanon and in the region”, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.

Iran-Saudi tension

Hariri also had harsh words for Hezbollah.

“In recent years, Hezbollah has used the power of its weapons to impose a fait accompli,” he said, reading a speech from behind a desk.

Hezbollah is a vital ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the war the Damascus regime is waging against the Islamic State group and armed opposition movements.

It enjoys broad support from Iran and is the only Lebanese party to have kept its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war.

Hezbollah’s arsenal has since grown exponentially and now outstrips that of the nation’s own armed forces.

The group claims it is the only credible rampart against neighbouring Israel, and its refusal to disarm is the main political crux in Lebanon.

Hezbollah members have been accused over the 2005 assassination in a massive car bomb blast of Rafik Hariri, the dominant figure in Lebanon’s post-war political landscape.

He made his fortune in Saudi Arabia, where his son Saad was born.

Saudi Arabia is Iran’s main regional rival, and the two powers’ tussle for influence has played out in ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The office of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a veteran Christian leader allied to Hezbollah, issued a statement saying it was waiting for Hariri’s return to Lebanon “to enquire about the circumstances of his decision and decide on the next steps”.

Hariri said in his speech that the political climate in Lebanon was reminiscent of that which prevailed before his father was killed.

Risks of war

The February 2005 assassination triggered political upheaval that led to Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt, one of Lebanon’s political heavyweights and the country’s most prominent Druze leader, said Hariri’s resignation could adversely affect a country already under huge strain.

He argued it was the latest manifestation of the tug-of-war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and called for intensifying diplomatic efforts to solve the feud.

“Lebanon is too small and vulnerable to bear the economic and political burden that comes with this resignation,” he said on social media. “I will continue to call for dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Even as he resigned, Hariri warned his foes: “Our nation will rise just as it did before and the hands that want to harm it will be cut.”

Lebanese political analyst Hilal Khashan argued that Saudi Arabia had been piling the pressure on its protege lately and “summoned” him to Riyadh.

He said Hariri’s move could start “a cold war in Lebanon that could escalate into a civil war” or even a regional offensive on Hezbollah.

It is unclear who could replace Hariri at this stage.

Under a power-sharing system that helped end Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.

AFP

Lebanon Passes First Budget Since 2005

Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri AFP

Lebanon’s parliament on Thursday approved a government budget for the first time since 2005, the country’s ANI news agency reported.

For 12 years, political crises and wars have forced Lebanon’s state institutions to operate without a budget, an economic aberration that has angered many Lebanese.

But after three days of debate, lawmakers on Thursday passed the budget — for the current financial year, not for 2018.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who called the vote “historic”, said the 2018 budget could be discussed as early as next week.

ANI did not provide total figures for income or expenditure.

Some lawmakers criticised the approval of amounts already spent, describing the debate prior to the vote as a “masquerade” and an attempt to hide financial wrongdoing in a country where corruption is commonplace.

The 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, widely blamed on the Syrian regime, plunged Lebanon into turmoil, dividing the country between supporters and enemies of Damascus.

Repeated crises, notably a 2006 war between Israel and Shiite militant movement Hezbollah, followed by the 2011 outbreak of civil war in neighbouring Syria, further deepened divides and paralysed the government.

Civil society groups have described Lebanon’s parliament itself as illegitimate, as it has extended its own mandate twice since the last legislative elections held in 2009.

Since its devastating 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has been weighed down with endemic corruption and a national debt estimated at 140 percent of GDP.

AFP

Syrian Fighters, Refugees Leave Lebanon Enclave For Syria

A group of Syrian rebels and refugees began to leave a border enclave in Lebanon for Syrian territory on Monday (August 14) under a deal worked out with Lebanese and Syrian authorities.

The departure of rebels, from a group called Saraya Ahl al-Sham, will leave an Islamic State enclave as the last militant stronghold straddling the border near the Lebanese town of Arsal, which is home to tens of thousands of refugees.

About 300 rebels from the group as well as about 3,000 refugees left Lebanon under the deal that followed an assault by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah on insurgent positions last month.

The transfer involving the rebels and another one early this month of Nusra Front fighters and refugees, are similar to deals struck within Syria in which Damascus has shuttled rebels and civilians to opposition areas.

The Lebanese army is expected soon to assault the Islamic State pocket in the same area.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Syrian Army Launch Attack On Border – Reports

Lebanon’s Shi’ite militia Hezbollah and the Syrian army advanced against Sunni militants on Saturday, the second day of an assault to drive them from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border, pro-Damascus media reported.

The operation has targeted Sunni Muslim insurgents from the former Nusra Front, a group that was aligned to al Qaeda and who have controlled the barren, mountainous zone of Juroud Arsal.

The offensive began on Friday and killed at least 23 Nusra militants on the first day, the Hezbollah unit said. At least five Hezbollah fighters were also killed.

Hezbollah’s role has drawn criticism from its Lebanese political opponents, including Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who is a Sunni.

Fire Hits Syrian Refugee Camp In Lebanon, Kills Three

A big fire tore through a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Sunday (July 2), killing three people, Lebanese media reported.

Flames and thick clouds of black smoke rose from the site near the town of Qab Elias, around an hour’s drive east of Beirut, and at least one explosion was seen in footage broadcast by Lebanon’s MTV.

A security source said the cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Lebanon is hosting at least one million registered Syrian refugees, many of them living in informal tented settlements scattered around the country.

Lebanon Bans “Wonder Woman” From Cinemas

Lebanon’s Interior Ministry banned the new “Wonder Woman” film from cinemas on Wednesday because an Israeli actress plays the lead role, a ministry source and a security official said.

Lebanon considers Israel an enemy country and the Ministry of Economy and Trade oversees a boycott of any business transactions concerning Israel.

The movie was set to premiere in most of Beirut’s major cinemas on Wednesday night after private showings had been held the day before. The distributor for Warner Brothers in the region said the public release screenings were cancelled a few hours in advance.

The ministry source said they had issued an order to ban the movie, which stars former Israeli army soldier Gal Gadot, based on a recommendation from the General Security Directorate.

Tony Chacra, managing director of the distributor Joseph Chacra and Sons said they had already gained permission to show it in Lebanon until a few days ago when a campaign began.

Chacra also said various Arab countries, including the UAE, Kuwait, and Oman, would screen the movie.

The Israeli actress also appeared in the movie “Batman v Superman” and in sequels of “Fast and Furious”, all of which played in Lebanese theatres.

“Thank God the film was banned, and we pledge to work on banning any similar films,” said Samah Idriss, a founder of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon that lobbied for barring the movie. The campaigners denounced Gadot on Facebook for serving in the Israeli military.

Idriss, whose group had unsuccessfully campaigned to stop “Batman v Superman” last year, described the ban as “a victory”.

Israel fought a month-long war with its Lebanese foe Hezbollah in 2006, and has targeted the Shi’ite armed group with strikes in Syria in recent years, but there has been no major direct confrontation.

The 2006 war killed around 160 Israelis, most of them troops fighting inside Lebanon, while 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, died in Israel’s military barrages.

A U.N.-monitored ceasefire has largely held since the 2006 war, which also displaced a million people in Lebanon and nearly 500,000 in Israel.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement played a major role in ending Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of Lebanon.

UK, U.S. Ban Electronic Devices On Flights

UK, U.S. Ban Electronic Devices On FlightsThe United States and United Kingdom have announced a new ban on laptops on passenger flights from the Middle East and some North African countries.

The British ban, which was announced a few hours after the American ban, was similar but applied to different airlines.

According to the UK, airline passengers on 14 carriers would not be able to carry laptops in cabin luggage on inbound direct flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

In its reaction, Turkey condemned the U.S. ban as wrong, and advised it be reversed.

The nine airlines affected by the U.S. ban are Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Arlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

The ban takes effect on Saturday, with no end date in sight.

Police Hunting For Istanbul Attack Suspect

turkey-policePolice in Istanbul are hunting for a gunman who opened fire at a well-known nightclub, killing at least 39 people.

The attack happened at Reina nightclub early on Sunday, as people gathered to mark the new year.

According to the BBC, officials say some 15 foreigners were killed, including citizens from Israel, France, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Belgium, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The attacker left his gun before “taking advantage of the chaos” and fleeing the scene, Turkey’s PM said.

Binali Yildirim also confirmed the gunman was not dressed as Santa Claus, contradicting earlier reports.

The attack unfolded some 75 minutes into the new year as around 700 people gathered in the waterside Reina club, one of Istanbul’s most upmarket venues.

The attacker shot dead a policeman and a security guard at the entrance before heading into the club, which is popular with celebrities and foreigners.

Eyewitnesses described seeing dozens of bodies lying on the floor. Some revellers reportedly threw themselves into the Bosphorus to escape the carnage.

A professional footballer, Sefa Boydas, told AFP news agency that people appeared to be crushed as they ran away. “They say 35 to 40 died but it’s probably more because when I was walking, people were walking on top of people.”

According to CNN, an eyewitness, Yunis Turk, explained after police secured the Reina nightclub: “We were having fun, at first we thought it was a fight then there was a lot of gunfire.

“After the gunfire everyone started to run toward the terrace. We ran as well. There was someone next to me who was shot and fell on the floor. We ran away and hid under the sofas.

turkey-gun-attack
Flowers have been laid outside the nightclub

Some people jumped into the Bosporus, he said, a testament to the panic that engulfed the nightspot – it is freezing in Istanbul but people were willing to leap into the frigid water to escape the panic.

“For ten minutes there was gunfire and then for another five minutes they were throwing bombs, fired a bit more, then left,” Turk recalled.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, also told CNN that the attacker was a lone assailant and that the authorities “are trying hard” to identify and apprehend the person in order to investigate any ties to terror groups.

In his new year message, Pope Francis condemned the shooting, describing it as unfortunate.

“Unfortunately, violence has once again struck on this night of hope and dreams.

“With sadness, I express my solidarity with the Turkish people.

“I pray for the numerous victims and injured and for all countries at war,” the Pope said.

Residents have continued to lay flowers outside the nightclub.