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Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri met President Michel Aoun on Thursday without announcing progress toward forming a new government, as banking sources said most financial transfers out of the country remained blocked.Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since Oct. 17 by…

Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri met President Michel Aoun on Thursday without announcing progress toward forming a new government, as banking sources said most financial transfers out of the country remained blocked.Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since Oct. 17 by an unprecedented wave of protests against the ruling elite that led Hariri to resign as prime minister on Oct 29.Banks reopened on Friday after a two-week closure but customers have encountered restrictions on transfers out of the country and withdrawals of hard currency.Maronite Christian politician Samy Gemayel warned that the financial system was on the verge of collapse, and urged the immediate formation of a politically neutral government.A banking source said that generally all international transfers were still being blocked bar some exceptions such as foreign mortgage payments and tuition fees. A second banking source said restrictions had gotten tighter.The chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon said earlier this week the banks were not applying a policy of restrictions “but we are prioritising” after the two-week closure that had led requests to pile up.Hariri has been holding closed-door meetings with other factions in the outgoing coalition cabinet over how the next government should be formed, but there have been no signs of movement toward an agreement.Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an influential Shiite politician, said he insisted Hariri be nominated as prime minister again, saying this was in Lebanon’s interest.Aoun has yet to formally start the process of consultations with lawmakers over nominating the new prime minister. The presidency said Aoun and Hariri discussed contacts aimed at solving “the current government situation.”Hariri said his resignation was responding to protesters whose demands include a new government devoid of politicians accused of corruption. Hariri has held two meetings this week with Gebran Bassil, a son-in-law of Aoun and head of the political party he founded.Both Aoun and Berri are allies of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, which has not said who it backs to be the next prime minister.“A HUGE” COLLAPSE AHEADLeading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, who had two ministers in the outgoing cabinet, appeared to take aim at Hariri and Bassil, saying on Twitter that despite the protests and social and economic dangers “they were meeting on how to improve and beautify” a political deal they struck in 2016.Gemayel, whose Kataeb party was not part of the outgoing cabinet, said the main players had not understood the depth of the protest movement.“I don’t see any change in the behavior of any of the main actors after everything that happened,” he told Reuters. “They are still trying to form a government where they can all be happy, and this is not what the people are asking for.”The economy is choked by one of the world’s largest debt burdens as a result of years of inefficiency, waste and corruption. Growth, low for years, is now around zero.Capital inflows vital to financing Lebanon’s state budget and trade deficits have been slowing for years, contributing recently to a scarcity of foreign currency and the emergence of a black market for the pegged Lebanese pound.Gemayel said Lebanon was at the beginning of “a huge monetary and financial collapse.”“We are heading to a huge problem of purchasing power, a huge problem of inflation, a huge problem of poverty,” he said.He added that he expected restrictions on financial transactions would increase as banks sought to keep their cash.Two importers indicated access to finance was not improving.“So far we are still finding some liquidity to manage some transactions but the cash is being squeezed so we are worried about the longer-term,” said Hani Bohsali, general manager of Bohsali Foods and president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products and Drinks.A second importer said his bank would not allow him to make any more international transfers.

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Middle East News

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we…

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we reject and which increases our worries about the situation in Libya”.

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US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the…

US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the hard-won gains that we secured against Daesh,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday said the US killing of Soleimani was state terrorism, and that Iran would ‘respond proportionately.’“We are concerned that if we see a full-blown war it would be very damaging and actually the terrorists, in particular Daesh, would be the only winners,” the British foreign secretary said.“We’re working with our US partners, our EU partners, that is why I’m travelling out to Brussels today, to make sure we send a very clear and consistent message on the need for de-escalation and to find a diplomatic route though.”

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Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the…

Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has weighed in to say that similar obelisks are displayed in Western cities, according to a statement late Monday.But Dr. Monica Hanna, a heritage expert, said Egyptian artifacts in cities like London, Paris and New York are themselves endangered by being outdoors.“The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air,” Hanna told The Associated Press.She and a member of parliament are part of a lawsuit to block the artifacts’ move, filed recently by a local rights group.Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the government “will do everything” to protect the artifacts.Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.The decision to move the artifacts as part of a larger renovation of Tahrir Square was taken without debate in parliament. The controversy only surfaced after archaeologists objected.Since coming to power in 2013, El-Sisi has touted a number of megaprojects aimed at rebuilding and expanding infrastructure. Those include an expansion of the Suez Canal and a new Egyptian museum near the Giza Pyramids.A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo’s main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns.Waziri, the antiquities chief, said the four sphinxes are not part of the famed avenue of sphinxes in the city of Luxor. They were among several located behind the first edifice of the temple of Karnak.The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.But Hanna, the heritage expert, stressed that the obelisks in Western capitals had been moved during the colonial era. “We really had no say in their shipment.”

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