Lebanese vent rage against their leaders after blast; protesters gather



As Beirut mourned its dead and grappled with the scale of rebuilding after this week’s massive blast, some Lebanese angered by their government’s response called on foreign states on Saturday to topple their leaders and run the country.

Several hundred protesters began gathering in Martyrs’ Square in the city centre for a demonstration to criticise the government’s handling of the biggest explosion in Beirut’s history.

The blast in the port killed 154 people, injured 5,000 and destroyed a swathe of the city.

The protesters had mock wooden scaffolds with nooses, and one placard read: “Step down or hang”.

The government has promised to hold those responsible to account.

Some residents, struggling to clean up shattered homes, complain the government they see as corrupt, has let them down again.

There had been months of protests against its handling of a deep economic crisis before this week’s disaster.

“We have no trust in our government,’’ said university student, Celine Dibo, as she scrubbed blood off the walls of her shattered apartment building.

“I wish the United Nations would take over Lebanon.’’

Several people said they were not at all surprised that French President Emmanuel Macron had visited their gutted neighbourhoods near the epicentre of the blast this week while Lebanese leaders had not.

“We are living in ground zero.

“I hope another country would just take us over.

“Our leaders are a bunch of corrupt people,’’ said psychologist Maryse Hayek, 48, whose parents’ house was destroyed in the explosion.

Lebanon’s Kataeb Party, a Christian group that opposes the government backed by the Iran-aligned Hezbollah, announced on Saturday the resignation of its three lawmakers from parliament.

“I invite all honourable (lawmakers) to resign so that the people can decide who will govern them, without anybody imposing anything on them,’’ said party Chief, Samy Gemayel.

Gemayel announced the move during the funeral of a leading member of the group who died in the explosion.

Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, promised angry crowds that aid to rebuild the city would not fall into “corrupt hands”.

He will host a donor conference for Lebanon via video-link on Sunday, his office said.

The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.

President Michel Aoun said on Friday an investigation would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference.

Aoun said the investigation would also weigh if the blast was due to negligence or an accident.

Twenty people had been detained so far, he added.

Some residents wondered how they would ever rebuild their lives.

Tearing up, Bilal Hassan used his bare hands to try to remove debris from his home.

He has been sleeping on a dusty couch besides pieces of splintered glass.

When his three wounded teenage children ran for their lives they left blood stains on the staircase and walls.

“There is really nothing we can do.

“We can’t afford to rebuild and no one is helping us,’’ he said, standing beside a large teddy bear that was blown across his home and a damaged photograph of him and his wife.

Bulldozers ploughed through the wreckage of mangled homes and long rows of flattened cars as soldiers stood by.

Volunteers with shovels streamed through streets.

Danielle Chemaly said her charity organisation, whose headquarters was destroyed, had provided assistance to 70 families who were left homeless.

“We have given people initial help but we don’t know what we can do for families in the future.

“It requires major projects,’’ she said.

Officials have said the blast could have caused losses amounting to $15 billion.

That is a bill that Lebanon cannot pay after already defaulting on a mountain of debt – exceeding 150 per cent of economic output – and with talks stalled on a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund.

France and other countries have rushed emergency aid to Lebanon, including doctors, and tons of health equipment and food.

The blast destroyed Lebanon’s only major grain silo and U.N. agencies are helping provide emergency food and medical aid.

Arab League Chief, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said after a meeting with Aoun on Saturday he would seek to mobilise Arab efforts to provide support to Lebanon.

Also speaking after meeting Aoun, Turkish Vice President, Fuat Oktay, said his country is ready to help rebuild the port.

For ordinary Lebanese, the scale of destruction is overwhelming.

“It felt like a mini atomic bomb,’’ said George Rohana, sitting beside a supermarket that was demolished.

“Now we have a situation where people are stealing metals and other items from the destruction,’’ he said.

“The other day someone walked away with a broken toaster.’’

Marita Abou Jawda was handing out bread and cheese to victims of the blast.

“Macron offered to help and our government has not done anything.

“It has always been like that,’’ she said.

“After Macron visited, I played the French national anthem all day in my car.’’


Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)


Navalny discharged from hospital, ‘complete recovery’ possible



Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has been discharged from Berlin’s Charite hospital, where he was receiving treatment for severe poisoning, doctors said on Wednesday.

The hospital said Navalny’s condition had “improved sufficiently” and that he was discharged from acute in-patient care on Tuesday.

The opposition activist, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, fell ill on a domestic flight on Aug. 20, before being transported to Germany for treatment two days later.

Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden have found that Navalny was poisoned with a chemical weapon from the Soviet-developed Novichok group but the Kremlin denies any involvement.

Navalny spent 24 of his 32 days at the Charite in intensive care, a statement from the hospital said.

“Based on the patient’s progress and current condition, the physicians treating him believe that complete recovery is possible.

“However, it remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning,” it added.

Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said last week that Navalny intended to return to Russia to continue to support political opposition efforts.

No date for his potential return has been announced.

Navalny is believed to have been poisoned in the Siberian city of Tomsk, where he was on a campaign trip to support opposition candidates preparing for local elections.

Two of those candidates, Ksenia Fadeyeva and Andrei Fateyev, were subsequently elected to the Tomsk city legislature, while the dominant United Russia political party, most closely associated with Putin, lost its majority in the assembly.

Shortly after Navalny fell ill, close allies in Tomsk went to the hotel room where he had been staying and gathered items that could serve as potential evidence of a crime, on the suspicion that local authorities would not properly investigate.

A water bottle removed from the hotel room tested positive for Novichok in a German laboratory, Navalny’s team has announced.

Novichok was also used in the near-fatal poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern English city of Salisbury two years ago.

Russia has not opened a criminal case into the Navalny incident, saying that domestic authorities have found no hard evidence of a crime.

Russian health officials have concluded that Navalny’s condition was caused by a metabolism problem.

The Kremlin has denied any link to Navalny’s sudden deterioration in health, amid international calls for a full and transparent investigation from the EU and others.

The European Parliament issued a resolution last week declaring that the use of a poison from the Novichok group strongly suggests that Russian authorities were behind the attack.

Edited By: Fatima Sule/Maharazu Ahmed
Source: NAN
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France to support Mali’s power transition on ECOWAS terms – official



France is ready to back the civil transition of power in Mali on conditions set by the Western African ECOWAS regional bloc and takes note of the first appointments to the Malian transition government, the French Foreign Ministry said.

The military junta responsible for the coup in Mali, on Monday appointed former Defence Minister Ba N’Daou as the transition president, who is due to serve on his post for 18 months before a new government is established.

“France is ready to accompany and support the civil transition in Mali that will take place under the conditions set by ECOWAS,” the statement said.

Paris also called the appointments to the transition government an “encouraging first step” in the process of curbing the political crisis in Mali, which should translate into democratic elections of legitimate authorities.

The ministry added that further appointments to the transition government were expected under the observation of African and European experts.

The military coup in Mali began on Aug. 18 not far from the capital of Bamako and resulted in resignation of then-President Ibrahim Keita and his government.

The coup leaders established the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People) governing body until the transition government takes power.

On Sept. 7, the 15-nation ECOWAS bloc urged the junta to appoint members of government for a transitional period until Sept. 23, saying it would otherwise impose a full embargo on the country.

Edited By: Fatima Sule/Sadiya Hamza
Source: NAN
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EU executive to propose overhaul of migration and asylum system



The European Commission is to propose a long-awaited overhaul of the European Union’s migration and asylum system on Wednesday.

This is likely to set off an explosive debate over what is one of the bloc’s most politically sensitive issues.

The EU’s migration system has come under increasing pressure in recent years, with bottlenecks forming at external borders.

Under current EU rules, the country where people first generally arrive has to process their asylum claims.

This means countries with external borders carry a disproportionate burden.

While some countries argue for a mechanism to automatically redistribute asylum seekers, others – such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria – strongly oppose this.

Rights activists are concerned that the new measures could see a tightening of asylum rules, including increased detentions at the EU’s borders.

With the proposals set to cause fights between the EU countries, it is far from certain that they will be approved by the EU leaders and European Parliament.

Previous attempts have failed.

According to the commission’s document registry, the EU executive body is to propose a set of new and amended regulations, including on the screening of asylum seekers and on crisis situations.

In the wake of the disastrous fire, earlier this month, at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which hosted some 12,000 people, the commission is also expected to propose a solidarity mechanism for crisis moments.

The commission has previously highlighted that solidarity can mean not just taking migrants in, but also, for example, sending medical supplies.


Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde
Source: NAN
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Oil down after United States crude inventories rise against expectations



Oil prices fell on Wednesday after an industry group reported a surprise rise in United States crude, adding to worries about demand that led to a steep selloff earlier in the week.

Brent crude was trading down 30 cents or 0.7 per cent at $41.42 a barrel by 0347 GMT, after gaining 28 cents on Tuesday while United States crude dropped 34 cents or 0.9 per cent to $39.46.

Both contracts fell more than four per cent on Monday, the most in two weeks.

Surging cases of coronavirus infections in countries including France and Spain, along with the likelihood of more restrictions in Britain have renewed worries about fuel demand, just as more supply may come onto the market from Libya.

In the United States, where the death toll from COVID-19 has passed 200,000, the world’s highest, crude oil inventories rose by 691,000 barrels in the week to Sept. 18, according to industry data, compared with analysts’ forecasts for a drop of 2.3 million barrels.

Gasoline stocks fell by nearly 7.7 million barrels, nearly eight times expectations suggesting some demand for fuel in the world’s biggest oil consuming nation.

Official data from the Energy Information Administration is due out later on Wednesday.

“Official United States crude inventory data assumes greater than usual importance,’’ said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“A surprise increase could well be enough to initiate another downward leg in crude prices.’’

In Libya, the National Oil Company expects oil output to rise to more than a quarter of a million barrels per day (bpd) by next week, it said on Tuesday.

The NOC said it was restarting exports from the Zueitinia oil terminal after checking the security situation at the port and fields that pipe crude there.

An escalation in the country’s conflict led to a blockade of facilities, which is now easing, although analysts say they don’t expect Libya to reach the 1.2 million bpd of production it was pumping previously.

This year, “world oil demand will be down by more than 10 per cent on the year to around 90 million barrels per day (bpd) due to the COVID-19 crisis,’’ Eurasia Group said in a note.

“This will mark the biggest demand shock in industry history,’’ it said.


Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde
Source: NAN
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