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Month: March 2022

Lebanese bank closes over 30 British-held accounts after UK ruling-depositors’ group

By Timour Azhari and Tom Perry — BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Bank Audi has closed more than 30 accounts belonging to UK nationals or their close relatives since a London court ordered it to transfer funds stuck in the crisis-hit banking sector to a British client, a depositors’ union said. The Feb. 28 order requiring Bank Audi and its peer SGBL to transfer $4 million is the first UK ruling obliging Lebanese banks to transfer dollars out of the paralysed financial system, potentially encouraging similar claims. read more A Bank Audi official told Reuters the bank was “asking that the UK residents apply the terms applicable to anyone opening a new account: no international transfers, no cash withdrawals”. “If this is not accepted, then the bank has no choice but to close the account”.

More than $100 billion remains stuck in a banking system paralysed since 2019, when the economy collapsed due to decades of unsustainable state spending, corruption and waste. In the absence of formal capital controls, banks have largely blocked dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad, sparking numerous legal challenges, with mixed results. Since the UK order, Bank Audi, one of Lebanon’s biggest, has told dozens of clients their accounts had been closed and a cheque issued for the balance at a notary public, lawyer Dina Abou Zour of the Depositors Union told Reuters. They were told the accounts could be reopened if they signed a form waiving the right to make international transfers or to withdraw dollars in Lebanon, and accept that a cheque was due payment of the balance. Abou Zour said the total amounts involved were in the tens of millions of dollars. Banks have already closed many dollar accounts by issuing cheques which cannot be cashed and instead change hands in the market, currently at about a quarter of their face value.

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How the Ukraine war exposed Western media bias

by By Abbas Al Lawati and Nadeen Ebrahim — — The Middle East found itself dragged into coverage of the conflict in Ukraine over the past week as journalists descended on the country to cover the biggest European war in decades. Western war reporters, more used to being deployed in Middle East conflict zones, were quick to make comparisons. Some of those comparisons went overboard, causing outrage in the Arab world. “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades,” said CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata, referring to Ukraine. “You know, this is a relatively civilized, relatively European… city.” He later apologized.

Other news outlets poured sympathy on Ukrainian victims, with interviewees and correspondents pointing out that, unlike Middle Eastern refugees, Ukrainian victims were “white,” “Christian,” “middle class,” “blonde” and “blue eyed.” In a matter of days, hashtags, and even t-shirts, featuring the phrase “civilized” surfaced in the Middle East in protest. The media coverage prompted the New York-based Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association to issue a statement condemning the “pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy” in places like the Middle East.

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Maronite Cardinal Mar Bechara Rai: Pope’s visit will keep country’s ‘hope alive’

by Christopher White — — FLORENCE, ITALY — Lebanon’s top Catholic leader Cardinal Bechara Rai says a much anticipated visit from Pope Francis will help keep “hope alive” after years of political and economic upheaval have brought the once bustling Middle Eastern country to the brink of collapse. But when Pope Francis arrives in the country — possibly even later this year — he will not come as “political or economic savior,” says the Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai, but “as one man close to the people.” “He knows that sometimes the human person needs someone who is close, someone who listens to them, someone who can understand their problems,” Rai said during an interview on Feb. 26. “The Lebanese on the margins count on it a lot because they feel abandoned.”

Rai spoke with NCR during his visit to the Italian city of Florence, where he joined mayors and religious leaders from 20 countries around the Mediterranean gathered for a five-day meeting to discuss collaboration on a range of issues facing the region, including migration, climate change and education. And the issues facing Lebanon, which has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East, are particularly severe: surging poverty rates and an economic meltdown, a widespread fuel shortage, and schools and hospitals facing an uncertain future to name only a few. “The best doctors and best university professors and best bankers and best nurses went elsewhere to be able to have a salary that allows them to live,” said Rai, adding that the country’s currency has lost much of its value and its trade opportunities with other countries have been “hemorrhaging.” Rai, 82, who has led the Lebanese church since 2011, says the church has been on the front lines in responding to the mounting crises. “The church maintains its institutions, schools, universities, social centers, development centers,” but despite doing all it can to help people find work, he lamented, “people manage to leave.”

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Minister Sejaan Azzi: اســــتـــفـــتــاءُ اللبنانيّين


لا يَتوقّفُ وجهُ الشَبهِ بين لبنان وأوكرانيا على الموقعِ الجيوسياسي، بل يَمتدُّ إلى المآسي التي فَتكَت بالشعبَين وإلى روحِ المقاومةِ التي يتميّزان بها. لقد استخفّ فلاديمير بوتين بقدرةِ الشعبِ الأوكرانيِّ على الصمودِ بوجهِ جيشِه مثلما قوّاتُ الاحتلالِ العديدةُ في العقودِ الأخيرةِ استَخفَّت بعزيمةِ الشعبِ اللبنانيِّ. غَفَلَ على جميعِ هؤلاءِ أنَّ إرادةَ اللبنانيّين أقوى من قوتِّهم وقادرةٌ على الالتفافِ على موازينِ القوى. كلُّ شعبٍ أقوى من عدُّوِه إذا تَوحّدَ وقاومَ وصَمد. في لبنان، بحكمِ تَعدُّدِ الولاءاتِ والصراعِ حولَ هُوّيةِ لبنان والاختلافِ على لائحةِ الأعداء، كلُّ فريقٍ قاومَ وحيدًا عدوًّا غيرَ عدوِّ الآخَر. ورغمَ ذلك انتصَرنا مداورةً، ثمَّ بدَّدنا الانتصاراتِ بالأحقادِ والأنانيّةِ والمقايضةِ والتسوياتِ وبعدمِ توظيفِها في بناءِ دولةِ القانون. هكذا، فَقدَت الانتصاراتُ مفعولَها الوطنيَّ وانسحبَ الأعداءُ وبِتنا أعداءَ بعضِنا البعض.

في هذا السياقِ، يتأكّدُ أنَّ تجويعَ اللبنانيّين وإفقارَهم، وهم ليسوا بفقراء، خُطّةٌ مدبَّرةٌ لقتلِ روحِ المقاومةِ والكرامةِ والثورةِ فيهم ولإذلالِـهم وإخضاعِهم. تظنُّ المنظومةُ المتحكِّمةُ بالبلدِ ــــ ومَن وراءَها خارجًا ــــ أنَّ ما لم تأخُذْه بالقوّةِ ستأخُذُه بالجوع. لكنّنا نُطمِئنُها بأنّها لن تأخذَه لا بالقوّةِ ولا بالجوع. اتّكالُنا هو على أنفسِنا أوّلًا. سَبق للاتّحادِ السوفياتيِّ أن جوَّعَ شعبَ أوكرانيا عمدًا بين سنتَي 1931 و1933 بُغيةَ إخضاعِه. لجأ السوفيات إلى تنظيمِ “إبادةٍ بالمجاعة” مع أنَّ أوكرانيا غنيّةٌ زراعيًّا وخَصبةٌ بإنتاجِ القمحِ وتُدعى “أهراءاتِ” أوروبا الوسطى. آنذاك نفى ستالين التسبُّبَ بتلك المجاعةِ التي أدّت إلى موتِ نحو ثلاثةِ ملايينَ أوكرانيٍّ. لكن بعدَ سقوطِ الاتّحادِ السوفياتيِّ، نُشرِت الوثائقُ السريّةُ وتَبيّن أنَّ ستالين استغلَّ المجاعةَ الجماعيّةَ لإخضاعِ أبناءِ الريفِ الأوكرانيّ. وسنةَ 2008 بادرَ البرلمانُ الأوروبيُّ إلى إصدارِ توصيةٍ يَعتبر فيها الـــ (Holodomor)، أي “الإبادةَ بالمجاعة”، جريمةً مروِّعةً وضِدَّ الإنسانيّة.

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It is getting harder and harder to delay Lebanon’s election

by Michael Young — — There has been much speculation lately about whether Lebanon will go ahead with its parliamentary elections, scheduled for May. While most of the country’s major parties may have an interest in postponing the vote, the obstacles to this are very significant, suggesting that there is a better than even chance that elections will be held. Certainly, parties such as Hezbollah and its electoral allies, the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun and his son in law Gebran Bassil, might favour a delay. Amal and especially the FPM are expected to lose some seats, and therefore prefer to retain their present share in Parliament. As for Hezbollah, it controls, with its various allies, a parliamentary majority, and has no enthusiasm to see this eroded. There are several problems with this, however. The first is that an election can only be postponed if Parliament extends its constitutional term, requiring a two-thirds majority vote. Mr Berri can probably find the numbers, but that’s unlikely to be enough, as he will also be seeking broad sectarian support as well, in order to lend national legitimacy to what is bound to be a controversial decision.

The big question mark is how the main Sunni bloc, controlled by former prime minister Saad Hariri, will vote. Mr Hariri withdrew from politics in January, in a decision widely believed in Lebanon to have been encouraged by Saudi Arabia. If he were to order his bloc to vote for extending Parliament’s term, this could be seen as a surreptitious way of trying to remain active politically, which he doubtless does not want to do. While most of the country’s major parties may have an interest in postponing the vote, the obstacles to this are very significant

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Bishops from Europe, U.S., Canada back call for conference on Lebanon

By Catholic News Service — ROME — Catholic leaders from Europe, the United States and Canada called on their governments to support Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai’s appeal for an international conference to protect Lebanon. In a joint statement issued March 1, the leaders said such a conference must find guarantees that uphold Lebanon’s “independence, sovereignty and neutrality”; safeguard Lebanese citizens’ right to free and fair elections; and help establish “good governance, honesty, transparency and accountability in the service of Lebanon’s people.” Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, repeatedly has called for an international conference to protect Lebanon, and for many Lebanese the past year has been “marked by pain, poverty and despair,” said the bishops. “

We have heard the warning of Pope Francis that ‘Lebanon is in great danger’ and his appeal for us to turn our minds to the ‘unprecedented crisis’ it faces. We support the Holy See’s continued efforts to seek peace in Lebanon,” the bishops said, adding that they prayed the recent visit of the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, and his calls for dialogue would bear fruit. “The global community must stand alongside all those working to keep alive the principles that shaped Lebanon’s constitution and helped to end conflict through achievements such as the 1989 Taif Agreement and 2008 Doha Agreement,” the bishops said. The Taif Agreement sought to end Lebanon’s civil war, and the Doha Agreement, signed by rival Lebanese factions in Qatar, marked the end of a year-and-a half political crisis.

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US officials target corruption, terror funding in Beirut talks

by — NAJIA HOUSSARI — BEIRUT: A US Treasury delegation on Tuesday held talks with officials in Beirut on the Lebanese government’s cooperation in combating money laundering and corruption, as well as the crisis in the Lebanese banking sector. The delegation — headed by Paul Ahern, principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Treasury; his deputy Eric Meyer; and a group of experts in financial crime — was following up discussions the previous day on combating terror financing, and illicit drug and smuggling operations, President Michel Aoun told US officials that Lebanese laws “are applied firmly and accurately in this field, and international financial institutions testify to that.” Aoun said: “Lebanon actively participates in international efforts to combat money laundering, and plays its role in the Financial Action Group for this purpose in the Middle East region. It also established the National Coordination Committee for Combating the Financing of Terrorism and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.”

The Lebanese leader pledged that the fight against corruption “will continue unabated during the remainder of the presidential term,” and cited the forensic audit of the central bank’s accounts as “one of its most prominent manifestations.” Aoun said that the capital control bill targeting foreign transfers and cash withdrawals from banks in Lebanon is due to be approved by parliament before its mandate ends in May. He also thanked the US for its support for Lebanon’s army , as well as humanitarian, development, health and educational assistance. The US delegation on Monday met Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi to discuss the fight against terror financing, and drug and smuggling operations, as well as the country’s preparations for parliamentary elections in May. Talks focused on sanctions against Hezbollah and figures close to the party over illegal finance operations. According to Lebanon’s Almarkaziya news agency, the meeting discussed the continuing investigation into Riad Salameh, the central bank governor, and its likely impact Lebanon’s financial and monetary stability.

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Kremlin ‘sends more than 400 mercenaries from private militia into Kyiv to assassinate President Zelensky

 Wagner (pictured in Syria) has conducted covert operations across Africa and the Middle East, including in Syria, and they have most recently been on the ground in Ukraine to guide Russian tanks to the capital

By LAURENCE DOLLIMORE – — More than 400 Russian mercenaries have been flown in from Africa to assassinate Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, it was revealed last night. A private militia known as the Wagner Group allegedly has orders from Vladimir Putin to take out Zelensky – and 23 other government figures – to allow Moscow to take over its eastern European neighbour. According to the Times, the army-for-hire, run by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin – a close ally of the Russian president who is often dubbed ‘Putin’s chef’ – was flown in five weeks ago and is being offered a huge sum for the mission.

It prompted Kyiv to declare a 36-hour ‘hard’ curfew, ordering everyone indoors so that soldiers could sweep the streets for Russian saboteurs. Citizens were warned that they risked being ‘liquidated’ if they were spotted outside during the curfew hours, as they may be assumed to be the enemy. A source with knowledge of the Wagner Group’s activities told the Times that between 2,000 and 4,000 mercenaries had actually arrived in Ukraine in January, but with different missions. Some were sent to the rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country – while the 400 tasked with taking out Zelensky headed to Kyiv from Belarus. The group are said to be tracking Zelesnky and his colleagues via their mobile phones – claiming to know where they are at all times.

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Americans, Canadians Answer Ukraine Call for Foreign Fighters Read more: Americans, Canadians Answer Ukraine Call for Foreign Fighters

by reuters — A Texas software developer and a cook in British Columbia are among dozens of Americans and Canadians answering Ukraine’s call for foreign volunteers to fight Russia’s invasion. With their governments refusing to send troops to Ukraine out of fear of sparking a world war, Americans and Canadians told Reuters they were inspired by Ukrainians’ fierce resistance. Many believe their democratic rights will be threatened at home if they do nothing to defend Europe. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Sunday for the formation of an “international legion.” Some young volunteers are traveling straight to Ukraine to enlist.

Others are applying at Ukrainian embassies and consulates before quitting jobs or dropping out of university. The mobilization was taking place as Russian artillery bombarded Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv on Monday, the fifth day of conflict. “I feel guilty to not go,” said Dax, 26, a veteran of the elite U.S. 82nd Airborne Division infantry, who planned to deploy with other former U.S. military personnel. Like many volunteers, the Alabama native declined to give his full name amid discussion on social media of the need to keep their identities and movements secret for security reasons. Canadian Bryson Woolsey quit his job as a cook on Sunday after seeing Zelenskiy’s appeal. He has no military training and plans to buy a plane ticket to Poland, cross into Ukraine and volunteer for combat. “I felt like I had to do something,” said Woolsey, 33, of Powell River, British Columbia, who became restless as he watched images of wounded women and children in Ukraine.

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Civil society platforms push for Lebanese women to reach parliament

by Najia Houssari – — BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Feminist Civil Society Platform has released a list of demands addressed to male and female candidates in the parliamentary elections scheduled for mid-May as the country continues to reckon with its low rates of female political representation. The platform called on candidates to commit to “achieving full equality between women and men, include that in their priorities as future parliamentarians and work seriously to ensure full participation of women in decision-making levels.” The candidates were also asked that all decisions they make are free of all forms of violence or discrimination. The details were reiterated at a press conference held on Monday with 15 days left until the door closes on applications for candidacy in the upcoming elections. There are just five female candidates registered on the lists of the Ministry of Interior throughout Lebanon.

Claudine Aoun, head of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, said: “Women in Lebanon are present in all the economic, cultural and scientific fields, and their percentage in the judiciary and some private professions is close to or more than 50 percent.” She added: “But the percentage of women in parliament does not exceed 4.7 percent and does not exceed 6 percent in municipal councils, and in the government, it is reduced to one minister.” Her remarks came as the commission held a meeting with representatives from political parties in Lebanon within the framework of the implementation of the national action plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, security and peace, which was approved by the Lebanese government.

The commission — with the support of UN Women — has called for the increase of women’s participation in representative bodies across the country and in leadership positions in the public and political sectors. Last October, parliament rejected the amendment of a text in the electoral law to include a quota for women, which angered the only female MP in the Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc headed by parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. She withdrew from the session and said: “They refused even to discuss the proposal at a time when they talk daily about the role of women and the necessity of their participation in public political life. They have failed us.” Lebanese women obtained the right to vote and run as candidates in 1953. Mirna Al-Bustani was the first woman to serve in the Lebanese parliament after she took charge of representing her father Emile Al-Bustani’s parliament seat upon his death in 1963. Other women entered parliamentary work, succeeding either brothers or husbands, or taking over the position due to having children. These female MPs include Nohad Saeed, Nayla Moawad, Solange Gemayel, Bahia Hariri, Strida Geagea and Nayla Tueni.

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