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Lebanon turns 100 amid upheaval and crises | Beirut explosion News



It was a century ago on September 1, 1920, that a French general, Henri Gouraud, stood on the porch of a Beirut palace surrounded by local politicians and religious leaders and declared the State of Greater Lebanon – the precursor of the modern state of Lebanon.

The current French president, Emmanuel Macron, is visiting Lebanon to mark the occasion, 100 years later. But the mood could not be more sombre.

Lebanon has been hit by a series of catastrophes, including a financial crash. On August 4, a massive explosion at Beirut’s port killed at least 190 people and injured thousands – the culmination of decades of accumulated crises, endemic corruption, and mismanagement by an entrenched governing class.

Facing potential bankruptcy and total collapse, many Lebanese are marking the centennial with a feeling that their experiment as a nation has failed and questioning their willingness to stay in the crisis-riddled country.

“I am 53 years old and I don’t feel I had one stable year in this country,” said prominent Lebanese writer Alexandre Najjar.

Like others from his generation, Najjar lived through the 1975-1990 civil war, when Beirut’s name became synonymous with hostages, car bombings and chaos.

He was a teenager when Israel invaded Beirut in the summer of 1982, imposing a suffocating siege of the capital for three months, and a young man when Christian militias turned their guns on each other in 1989. When former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in an enormous Beirut truck bombing in 2005, Najjar was in his late 30s.

The following year, Israel and Hezbollah engaged in a month-long war. In between, countless other conflicts, bouts of sectarian fighting and other disasters plagued one generation after another, leading to waves of Lebanese emigration.

But the August 4 explosion, says Najjar, was the “peak of a failed state” – proof that authorities cannot even provide basic public safety.

It was not supposed to be that way.

Model of pluralism

Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Lebanon fell under the French mandate, starting in 1920. France governed for 23 years until the country gained independence as the Lebanese Republic.

Home to 18 different religious sects, it was hailed as a model of pluralism and coexistence. The nation settled on an unwritten sectarian arrangement, initially seen as the guarantee of stability, but which many Lebanese now consider a curse: the president would always be Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker Shia Muslim, with other posts similarly divvied up.

In the 1950s, under pro-Western President Camille Chamoun, the economy flourished thanks to booming tourism and cash from oil-rich Arab nations. But his presidency ended with the outbreak of Lebanon’s first civil war in 1958, which lasted for several months and saw US troops land to help Chamoun.

A Lebanese flag is pictured in the aftermath of the enormous explosion in Beirut’s damaged port area [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Lebanon saw its heyday in the 1960s and early ’70s, when the country became a regional centre for the rich and famous who flew from around the world to gamble at the Casino Du Liban, or to attend concerts in the ancient northeastern city of Baalbek by international artists such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, as well as famous Arab singers like Egypt’s Umm Kalthoum and Lebanon’s own Fairouz.

Palestinian fighters during this time began launching attacks against Israel from Lebanese territory, splitting the Lebanese. Disaster struck again in 1975, with the start of the 15-year civil war, eventually pitting Lebanon’s sects against each other.

That conflict killed nearly 150,000 people. Syrian troops moved in, and Israel invaded twice – once in 1978, then again in 1982, in an assault that forced late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his fighters to leave Lebanon.

US interests were repeatedly attacked, most notably two bombings of the American embassy and the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that killed 241 US service members, the deadliest attack on the Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. On the same day, 58 French paratroopers were killed by a second attacker who struck their installation in Beirut.

The country also had two presidents and two prime ministers assassinated, in addition to dozens of other politicians, legislators, journalists and activists who were killed.

Rise of Hezbollah

Israel’s 1982 invasion and the attacks on the Americans marked the rise of what later became the armed group Hezbollah.

After the civil war ended in 1990, the Iranian-backed Shia militia was the only one allowed to keep its weapons because it was fighting Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon.

When Israel withdrew from the south in 2000, Hezbollah kept its powerful fighting force, depicting itself as Lebanon’s defender. It fought Israeli forces to a draw in 2006, and tensions remain high along the border.

Today, Hezbollah and its allies, led by President Michel Aoun, dominate Lebanese politics and control a majority in parliament.

But the Lebanese are deeply divided over Hezbollah. While many in the Shia community are fiercely loyal to the group, and many non-Shia sympathise with its anti-Israel stance, others increasingly see it as imposing Iran’s will on the country.

Many civil war-era warlords today head political factions, holding onto posts for themselves or their families and controlling powerful local business interests. The factions pass out positions in government ministries and public institutions to followers or carve out business sectors for them, ensuring their backing.

Corruption has soared during the past two decades, and the sectarian-based patronage system has left Lebanon with crumbling infrastructure, a bloated public sector and one of the world’s highest debt ratios, at 170 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – topped by a governing class that amassed fortunes.

Last October, nationwide protests erupted against the worsening economy, and the financial juggling act that had been the basis of Lebanon’s prosperity since 1990 collapsed into the most severe economic crisis of the country’s modern history, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Lebanon is in its worst period over the past 100 years,” said legislator Marwan Hamadeh. “We are in the worst stage, economically, politically and even when it comes to national unity.”

“We are currently occupied by Iran and its missiles,” added Hamadeh, who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in 2004 that he blames on Hezbollah.

Supporters of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri wave Lebanese flags outside the Lebanon Tribunal on August 18, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon must render its verdict

Supporters of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri wave Lebanese flags outside the Lebanon Tribunal on August 18 [Pierre Crom/Getty Images]

Historian Johnny Mezher said to solve its problems, Lebanon could start by adopting a law that boosts national identity rather than loyalty to one’s sect and helps ensure qualifications determine who gets state posts, rather than sectarian connections.

“Religious figures should be prevented from meddling in politics,” he said.

Even after seven decades of Lebanese independence, France still wields strong influence on the tiny Mediterranean nation.

Two days after the port blast – with Lebanese leaders totally absent – Macron visited Beirut and toured one of the most heavily damaged neighbourhoods to a hero’s welcome, with some chanting “Vive La France.”

More than 60,000 signed a petition to place Lebanon under French mandate for 10 years, an idea Macron firmly dismissed. “It’s up to you to write your history,” he told the crowds.

On his return trip, Macron will plant a tree in Beirut on Tuesday to mark the centenary and meet with Lebanese officials to push them towards forming a government and enacting reforms.

“There is no doubt we were expecting the 100th anniversary to be different. We did not expect this year to be catastrophic to this level,” said Najjar, who is a lawyer, poet and author of about 30 books in French, including one that tells the story of Beirut during the 20th century.

“There is still hope,” he said. “We have hit rock bottom and things cannot get worse.”

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Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort




Government of Southern Sudan has agreed to provide full military security and safety to all road users including Ugandan cargo truck drivers plying Juba – Nimule highway starting this week.

This was reached during a meeting between South Sudan government and Ugandan authorities on Friday at Elegu One-stop Border point in Amuru district, Northern Uganda.

High level security officials from both countries met to deliberate on the deteriorating security along major highways in South Sudan in which eight Ugandan truck drivers have been shot dead by armed men in the past weeks.

The Sudanese high-level delegation was led by the country’s Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Johnson Juma, Inspector General of Police, Gen. Majak Akech, and Director-General of Internal Security, Gen. Akol Khor.

The Deputy Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority, Hon. Africano Mande was also present and four East African Ambassadors.

On the other side, Uganda’s delegation was led by Police Operations Director AIGP Edward Ochom, Director Crime Intelligence Col. Damulira among others high ranking officers.

“We have successively concluded our two days meetings with Ugandan authorities including the drivers who later agreed to resume the normal operation,” said South Sudan authorities.

“And as government, we assure them of full security on the major highways in the Republic of South Sudan and removal of the illegal road blocks and check-points for easy movement of trucks to Juba and others towns within the country.”

Last week, truck drivers from across the East African region protested the increasing insecurity in South Sudan, illegal taxes and also demanded for compensation of their deceased colleagues.

They parked their trucks at Elegu border and demanded for both governments to intervene before the situation deteriorates further.

In regards to compensation, Sudanese authorities agreed to pay for the victims but said that the process will be discussed through the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Although traders had also requested Ugandan authorities and in this case the UPDF to escort their goods to South Sudan, Lt.Col Deo Akiki said that “this can’t be a decision of UPDF. South Sudan is a sovereign State, therefore anything done on its territory at the moment has to be a bilateral matter beyond the two forces. It’s a government to government affair.”

ChimpReports understands that some trucks on Saturday left Elegu border for Juba under full security escort.

The post Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort first appeared on ChimpReports.

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21 workers trapped in flooded mine in China’s Xinjiang | China News




CCTV says rescuers have located 12 of the 21 trapped miners.

Eight miners have been rescued and 21 remain trapped in a coal mine in China’s Xinjiang region after flooding cut power underground and disrupted communications, according to state media.

The accident happened in Fengyuan coal mine in Hutubi County on Saturday evening, when staff were upgrading the site, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Rescuers had located 12 of the 21 trapped miners, broadcaster CCTV said, but it was unclear if they were all together.

Rescue personnel were trying to pump water from the flooded shaft and have been piping air into the mine.

Pipes were being laid but the pumping operation was going to be challenging, CCTV said.

Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and enforcement of regulations is often lax.

In January, 22 workers were trapped in a mine in east China’s Shandong province after an explosion damaged the entrance, leaving workers stuck underground for about two weeks.

Eleven men were pulled out alive, 10 died and one miner remained unaccounted for.

In December, 23 miners died after being trapped underground in the southwest city of Chongqing – just months after 16 others died from carbon monoxide poisoning at another coal mine in the city.

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African Champions League: CR Belouizdad join Sundowns in quarter-finals




Amir Sayoud in action for Algerian club CR Belouizdad
Amir Sayoud opened the scoring for Algerian club CR Belouizdad as they beat South African hosts Mamelodi Sundowns 2-0.

Algerian champions CR Belouizdad earned the win they needed over hosts Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa to clinch a place in the African Champions League quarter-finals.

Amir Sayoud took his tally in the competition to seven when he gave Belouizdad the lead over Sundowns in Pretoria on 29 minutes.

That advantage was doubled just before half-time as Ahmed Gasmi headed home a cross from Zinelaabidine Boulakhoua.

It was a measure of revenge for the Algerians who were embarrassed by Sundowns on home soil in the reverse fixture when the South Africans won 5-1 in February.

In Friday’s other Group B game DR Congo’s TP Mazembe, who were already out of contention to make the last eight came from behind to clinch a 2-1 win over Sudan’s Al Hilal.

The Sudanese club had needed a win to have any chance at all of progressing.

Al Hilal made the ideal start in their bid to win against former African champions Mazembe – Eid Mugadam gave them the lead after just two minutes in Lumbumbashi – but 16 minutes later Hilal contributed to their own downfall as Ivorian defender Mohamed Ouattara scored an own goal to level the game at 1-1.

Mazembe won the game thanks to a goal from Isaac Tshibangu, who scored just moments after he came on as substitute.

The draw for the quarter and semi-finals will be held on 30 April at the Confederation of African Football’s headquarters in Cairo.

Friday’s Group B results:

  • TP Mazembe (DR Congo) 2-1 Al Hilal (Sudan)
  • Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) 0-2 CR Belouizdad (Algeria)

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