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Jordan’s king, queen receive Vatican award

BEIRUT: With Lebanon’s crucial parliamentary elections on Sunday expected to go down to the wire, candidates and party supporters have been accused of trying to buy their way to victory by offering cash bribes to undecided voters. A Shiite voter in Beirut’s second constituency told Arab News that he had been offered $300 if he…

BEIRUT: With Lebanon’s crucial parliamentary elections on Sunday expected to go down to the wire, candidates and party supporters have been accused of trying to buy their way to victory by offering cash bribes to undecided voters. A Shiite voter in Beirut’s second constituency told Arab News that he had been offered $300 if he and his family agreed to vote for a particular businessman. The man, who asked to be identified only as Mohammed, said: “Supporters campaigning for their parties call me every day to ask who I will be voting for. I have no idea how they got my number. Some offer ration cards, others money, to either vote for them, or even boycott the elections or cast a blank ballot.” Mohammed, who has no links with the Amal Movement or Hezbollah, said he is unlikely to vote. “All the parties in power had the opportunity to fulfill their promises, but they have left their people mired in their misery. We will not re-elect them.” Electoral bribery has long been a problem in Lebanon, despite laws banning the practice, but has become more widespread and visible with the collapse of the national currency and decline in living conditions. Now, if rumors from the money exchange black market are to be believed, the exchange rate will drop ahead of the elections as parties attempt to buy votes using US currency. One money changer, who declined to be named, told Arab News: “Electoral spending is expected to rise during the next few days as parties attempt to buy the largest number of votes, through direct bribes.” People in Beirut have reported that money changers have been stopping passers-by in the street to ask if they want to exchange their dollars. Many believe the election result will depend on undecided voters or those desperate for money, who will end up voting for the highest bidder. Lebanese electoral law states: “During the period of the electoral campaign, the provision of services or the payment of funds including the obligations and expenses of candidates shall be prohibited.” Nadim Abdelmalak, head of Lebanon’s supervisory commission for elections, said recently: “The commission has not received any complaint from any party regarding electoral bribery.” However, according to the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, rapidly worsening living conditions are reinforcing the presence of bribery, especially with  about 80 percent of the population facing poverty as a result of the country’s economic crisis. The unemployment rate is also approaching 40 percent amid a record collapse of the national currency against the dollar, while a freeze on bank withdrawals and the withholding of depositors’ funds are also threatening household budgets. Ihab, a cab driver and voter in the Beirut’s second district, said that “he doesn’t mind receiving help from any electoral list.” Many electoral lists offered gas and food vouchers. “They even offered to pay the generator bills and they are now offering to rent my car to transport voters for payment in dollars. I agreed, but I will not vote for anyone.” LADE said that it had evidence of candidates distributing baby milk in the north of Lebanon, while others have donated solar panels to light roads. Samer, a voter in the Zahle district, said that “as the electoral battle in the region heats up, the bribes will double and this will manifest on the election day. Those voting in the morning will be less bribed than those voting in the afternoon.” Bribery appears commonplace in the electoral districts where competition is fierce, especially Beirut I, Beirut II, Zahle, Keserwan, Jbeil, Batroun, Koura, Bsharri, Zgharta and Chouf Aley. However, the contest seems less heated in regions controlled by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. Mayssa, from the Baalbek–Hermel district, said: “A group from Hezbollah visited our home in the southern suburbs of Beirut and asked about the number of voters in the family. They assured us that transport will be available from Beirut to the district. They didn’t offer anything else.” With fuel prices at crippling levels, most parties are offering voters in remote areas gas vouchers to cover their driving costs to polling stations. The cost of refueling a car often exceeds 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($300), which means voters in isolated villages can face a $600 bill to drive back and forth to vote. Salam, who works in a Beirut hotel, said: “Hezbollah is confident that they will win the elections. That is why they are not urging us to vote for them, although I am reluctant to vote because I no longer believe in anyone.”

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US calls for more crossing points for delivery of aid to Syria

More Iran sanctions needed to squeeze Hezbollah, says US Congressman Darrell Issa DAVOS, Switzerland: The Biden administration ought to apply further sanctions on Iran as a means of curtailing the influence of its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon, says Darrell Issa, a US congressman who is part of the American delegation at the World Economic Forum. …

More Iran sanctions needed to squeeze Hezbollah, says US Congressman Darrell Issa DAVOS, Switzerland: The Biden administration ought to apply further sanctions on Iran as a means of curtailing the influence of its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon, says Darrell Issa, a US congressman who is part of the American delegation at the World Economic Forum.  Despite generating little of its own revenues, Hezbollah has long enjoyed free rein in Lebanon thanks to Iranian largess, Issa says. He believes targeting Iran with further sanctions would undermine the militia’s control over Lebanese affairs.  “As much as I want to sanction Hezbollah, the group doesn’t generate much of their own money,” Issa, a California Republican, told Arab News on the fringes of WEF in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.  “Their money is disproportionate because of Iranian influence. So, yes, while I do want more bank sanctions, those are ultimately irrelevant, unless we increase our sanctions on Iran.” Issa was among a group of US congressmen who traveled to Lebanon on a fact-finding mission in November last year, later reporting back to President Joe Biden and Congress to propose ways to help the Lebanese.  Iran has a policy of arming and funding proxy militias in neighboring countries to further its own geopolitical agenda, often to the detriment of the security and well-being of local populations.   Although Lebanon’s May 15 parliamentary election returned a poor result for Hezbollah and its allies, Issa says history shows the need to follow through on the results and not to simply return to business as usual. “If there’s a follow through, then there should be a new speaker and a new president free of unfair influence by Hezbollah,” Issa told Arab News.  “There should be a realignment of ministries, and more than anything else there should be a resolution to end corruption. “So far, the only thing we have are candidates who campaigned against corruption and who have achieved their goal of changing the majority, but they haven’t achieved the goal of ending corruption yet.” Hezbollah, the only militia that did not disarm after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, lost its majority in the Lebanese parliament, with its bloc winning just 62 of the 128 seats on offer — three fewer than it needed.  The election of many anti-corruption independents has presented Lebanon with a rare opportunity to break free of the militia’s grip on public life and to carry out urgent reforms. Since 2019, Lebanon has been in the throes of its worst ever financial crisis, which has been further compounded by the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s political paralysis. For many Lebanese, the final straw was the Beirut port blast of Aug. 2020, which killed 218, injured 7,000, caused $15 billion in property damage, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. These concurrent crises have sent thousands of young Lebanese abroad in search of security and opportunity, including many of the country’s top medical professionals and educators. For Issa, preventing this brain-drain ought to be a high priority for any incoming government.  “Lebanon can turn around very quickly, but only if those people are still in the country,” Issa said. “And today, the US is trying to help, but there’s a lot of exodus from Lebanon, and that is going to hurt the recovery.”

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Salah staying at Liverpool ‘for sure’ next season

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur Defending champions Saudi Arabia have been handed a favorable draw in their qualification group for the U-20 Asian Cup in 2023, and while the U-17 team look to have a more difficult path to their continental championships next year,…

salah-staying-at-liverpool-‘for-sure’-next-season

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur Defending champions Saudi Arabia have been handed a favorable draw in their qualification group for the U-20 Asian Cup in 2023, and while the U-17 team look to have a more difficult path to their continental championships next year, they will also be confident about their prospects. The draw for qualification for both tournaments took place at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. In order to get a ticket to appear at the U-20 tournament, which will take place in Uzbekistan next year, Saudi Arabia will have to find some of the form that took them to the title back in 2018, when it was an U-19 competition. That was when the young Green Falcons defeated South Korea 2-1 in the final in Indonesia to be crowned continental champions. It is still their title to defend as the global pandemic ensured that the 2020 edition never took place, though Saudi Arabia had already booked a berth by winning their group in qualification back in November 2019.  Then they just managed to finish above Uzbekistan and have been grouped with the Central Asians once again in Group A, which will take place in September. This time, however, results against the White Wolves will not matter as they are already assured of a place in the tournament as host nation. That means that Saudi Arabia will just have to finish above China, Myanmar and the Maldives to guarantee a spot, though the five best-performing runners-up in the 10 groups will also go through. It would be a surprise if that did not happen and not least because all the games will be held in the eastern city of Dammam. Playing in front of their own fans in one of the country’s most passionate football cities will be a major advantage. China will be expected to provide the main test but with football going through a terrible time at the moment in the East Asian country, youth tournaments may not be the priority they once were. Chinese Super League clubs are going out of business, the country has given up hosting the 2022 Asian Games and the 2023 Asian Cup, and the future is very uncertain.  With the political situation in Myanmar, there has not been too much football played in recent months, and the young White Angels may be struggling for match fitness. Even when the Southeast Asians are at their best, a trip to Saudi Arabia is tough. And last but not least are the Maldives. The South Asians can be difficult opponents but should be no match for the defending champions, especially on their home patch.  The U-17 tournament, which has been rebranded from the past U-16 championships, will be held much closer to home, in neighboring Bahrain. Once again, the group, this time Group D, will be held in Dammam, and while it looks a little more challenging for the two-time champions, Saudi Arabia will again be strong favorites to progress with the format the same: the 10 group winners go through along with the five best runners-up to join the hosts Bahrain. The 2020 tournament did not go ahead thanks to the pandemic, but Saudi Arabia had booked their berth before it was called off by finishing above Oman, Pakistan and Syria in September 2019. The cancelation was a bitter pill to swallow for the boys from Riyadh, Jeddah and elsewhere as they had failed to qualify for the 2018 edition, losing out to Jordan. This group does not look quite so difficult as that. Interestingly, Myanmar and the Maldives are also opponents, and the same points apply to this age category as to the slightly older one. Neither will be expected to finish in the top two spots. India have ambitions in this regard and will relish the chance to test themselves against one of the continent’s big boys but maybe do not quite have the strength in depth to challenge in West Asia. Kuwait may be tricky. After suffering at the hands of Jordan in September 2017, the hosts will be wary of the Blues in October 2022. But given the opposition, home advantage and where Saudi Arabian football is currently at, both the U-17 and U-20 teams are strongly expected to make it to both Uzbekistan and Bahrain in 2023 and once there, will be expected to challenge for the big prize.

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Boehly’s Chelsea takeover puts US tycoon in spotlight

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur Defending champions Saudi Arabia have been handed a favorable draw in their qualification group for the U-20 Asian Cup in 2023, and while the U-17 team look to have a more difficult path to their continental championships next year,…

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur Defending champions Saudi Arabia have been handed a favorable draw in their qualification group for the U-20 Asian Cup in 2023, and while the U-17 team look to have a more difficult path to their continental championships next year, they will also be confident about their prospects. The draw for qualification for both tournaments took place at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. In order to get a ticket to appear at the U-20 tournament, which will take place in Uzbekistan next year, Saudi Arabia will have to find some of the form that took them to the title back in 2018, when it was an U-19 competition. That was when the young Green Falcons defeated South Korea 2-1 in the final in Indonesia to be crowned continental champions. It is still their title to defend as the global pandemic ensured that the 2020 edition never took place, though Saudi Arabia had already booked a berth by winning their group in qualification back in November 2019.  Then they just managed to finish above Uzbekistan and have been grouped with the Central Asians once again in Group A, which will take place in September. This time, however, results against the White Wolves will not matter as they are already assured of a place in the tournament as host nation. That means that Saudi Arabia will just have to finish above China, Myanmar and the Maldives to guarantee a spot, though the five best-performing runners-up in the 10 groups will also go through. It would be a surprise if that did not happen and not least because all the games will be held in the eastern city of Dammam. Playing in front of their own fans in one of the country’s most passionate football cities will be a major advantage. China will be expected to provide the main test but with football going through a terrible time at the moment in the East Asian country, youth tournaments may not be the priority they once were. Chinese Super League clubs are going out of business, the country has given up hosting the 2022 Asian Games and the 2023 Asian Cup, and the future is very uncertain.  With the political situation in Myanmar, there has not been too much football played in recent months, and the young White Angels may be struggling for match fitness. Even when the Southeast Asians are at their best, a trip to Saudi Arabia is tough. And last but not least are the Maldives. The South Asians can be difficult opponents but should be no match for the defending champions, especially on their home patch.  The U-17 tournament, which has been rebranded from the past U-16 championships, will be held much closer to home, in neighboring Bahrain. Once again, the group, this time Group D, will be held in Dammam, and while it looks a little more challenging for the two-time champions, Saudi Arabia will again be strong favorites to progress with the format the same: the 10 group winners go through along with the five best runners-up to join the hosts Bahrain. The 2020 tournament did not go ahead thanks to the pandemic, but Saudi Arabia had booked their berth before it was called off by finishing above Oman, Pakistan and Syria in September 2019. The cancelation was a bitter pill to swallow for the boys from Riyadh, Jeddah and elsewhere as they had failed to qualify for the 2018 edition, losing out to Jordan. This group does not look quite so difficult as that. Interestingly, Myanmar and the Maldives are also opponents, and the same points apply to this age category as to the slightly older one. Neither will be expected to finish in the top two spots. India have ambitions in this regard and will relish the chance to test themselves against one of the continent’s big boys but maybe do not quite have the strength in depth to challenge in West Asia. Kuwait may be tricky. After suffering at the hands of Jordan in September 2017, the hosts will be wary of the Blues in October 2022. But given the opposition, home advantage and where Saudi Arabian football is currently at, both the U-17 and U-20 teams are strongly expected to make it to both Uzbekistan and Bahrain in 2023 and once there, will be expected to challenge for the big prize.

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