Major attempt to break the deadlock in Lebanon

The first-ever peace attempt launched by the Gulf neighbors for Lebanon, which is plagued by economic collapse, social unrest and remains determined to establish a viable government bent on rooting out corruption while withdrawing from the old Prime Minister.

Gulf Arab states are seeking to mend a stalemate with Lebanon, Kuwait’s foreign minister said during a recent visit, the first by a senior Gulf official since the row erupted last year.

“This visit is one of various international efforts aimed at restoring trust with Lebanon,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah said after talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the start of the meeting. a two-day trip. “We are now taking steps to build trust… which does not happen overnight,” he told reporters, calling on the Lebanese authorities to take “practical and concrete steps” that could strengthen ties. .

In another report, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced that he would not run in the next legislative elections and was retiring from political life. The announcement could completely jeopardize the election in the crisis-hit country and marks the end of an era that has seen the Hariri family dominate Lebanese Sunni politics since the end of the civil war in 1990.

The 51-year-old triple prime minister, propelled into politics by the assassination of his father Rafic in 2005, announced his decision at a press conference in the capital Beirut.

The Sunni Muslim leader said he was “suspending his work in politics” and urged other members of his Future party to leave the political arena as well.

A tearful Hariri, who was first elected to parliament in 2005, said he would not stand in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May. “I am convinced that there is no room for a positive opportunity for Lebanon due to Iranian influence, international upheaval, national division, bigotry and state collapse” , did he declare.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah said a list of “ideas and suggestions were presented and mentioned again to the president later. “We are now awaiting a response from them on these suggestions,” he added, declining to elaborate on the proposed steps.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib will visit Kuwait at the end of the month, Sheikh Ahmed said. Mikati was also invited to visit the oil-rich emirate, he added, without specifying a date.

In October, Saudi Arabia and its allies suspended diplomatic relations with Lebanon after comments by then-information minister Georges Kordahi aired criticizing a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

Kuwait recalled its ambassador from Beirut and also asked the charge d’affaires in Beirut to leave the emirate.

Last month Kordahi resigned in a bid to ease the impasse and French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris and Riyadh had agreed to engage fully to restore diplomatic relations.

But tensions persisted, mainly around the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut called on Lebanese political parties to “end Hezbollah’s terrorist hegemony over all aspects of the state”.

The proposal was delivered to Mikati and President Michel Aoun by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Al-Sabah. The visit, coordinated with Gulf Arab states, is part of broader efforts to rebuild trust between Lebanon and its Gulf Arab neighbors as the country grapples with an unprecedented financial crisis.

Economic development

Lebanese officials have begun long-delayed talks with the International Monetary Fund on support measures aimed at pulling the country out of the worst economic crisis in its history. “We hope that the negotiations will be concluded as soon as possible, but given the complexity of the issues, it is possible that other rounds will take place,” Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami, who heads the Lebanese delegation, said in a statement. a statement.

The talks are taking place online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Lebanon is hoping to secure a financial bailout to revive an economy that has been in freefall for two years.

The previous government held several rounds of talks with the multilateral lender but was unable to secure a bailout as the two sides failed to agree on the extent of the financial losses resulting from the ‘collapse.

The current government opened a preparatory dialogue with the IMF last year and set a figure of around $69 billion as an estimate of financial sector losses, ahead of talks which began on January 24.

The state defaulted on its sovereign debt in 2020, the currency lost about 90% of its value on the black market, and four out of five Lebanese are now considered poor by the United Nations.

Food prices have soared and around 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

Visit of the judges in France

A Lebanese judicial delegation will meet French authorities in Paris next week to discuss investigations into Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh, a judicial source said earlier.

Salameh is among senior Lebanese officials widely blamed for the country’s unprecedented financial crisis, which the World Bank says is on a scale typically associated with wars. He is the target of a series of legal investigations in Lebanon, Switzerland and France for suspicion of fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment, among other allegations.

Salameh has repeatedly denied the charges.

Next week, Jean Tannous, the Lebanese prosecutor leading a local investigation into Salameh, and Raja Hamoush, another Lebanese judge, will meet with French authorities, the judicial source told AFP.

The visit “will focus on cooperation and exchange of information between the two parties regarding suspicions around Salameh and some of his relatives of… money laundering, illicit enrichment”, among other crimes, added the judicial source, without specifying the exact date. Of the reunion.

France had opened an investigation into Salameh’s personal fortune in May 2021 following a similar decision by Switzerland.

Victims and survivors of the explosion

Earlier, the Lebanese group Hezbollah and its ally the Amal movement said they were ready to resume government meetings after three months of political stalemate which exacerbated the country’s economic crisis.

“We announce our agreement to participate in the councils of ministers to approve the national budget and discuss the economic rescue plan and everything related to improving the living conditions of the Lebanese,” the two Shia movements said in a joint statement. .

Both groups had boycotted cabinet sessions in opposition to the judge investigating the August 2020 port explosion, Tarek Bitar, demanding that he be replaced.

The explosion of a shipment of ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers stored haphazardly in a port warehouse for years has killed at least 215 people and disfigured the capital.

The families of the victims and survivors of the explosion are increasingly angry and have accused politicians of seeking to obstruct the investigation to escape responsibility.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called in late December for an end to the government boycott, implicitly blaming his ally Hezbollah for blocking cabinet meetings.

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