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Lebanon aims to adopt long-delayed IMF reforms in October

BEIRUT — Crisis-hit Lebanon hopes to adopt key reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund for a long-delayed but urgently needed bailout before the end of next month if there is “political will”, Lebanon’s caretaker economy minister said Tuesday.Amin Salam spoke to The Associated Press after meeting with an IMF delegation that has been visiting Lebanese officials since Monday. The reforms would include restructuring the country’s banking system and banking secrecy laws.The small Mediterranean nation has been in the grips of a three-year severe economic crisis that has left three quarters of its population in poverty after the Lebanese pound lost more than 90% of its value.Talks between Lebanon’s government and the IMF began in May 2020 and reached a staff-level agreement earlier this year in April. The Lebanese government has implemented few of the IMF’s demands from the agreement, which lists five “key pillars” that should be implemented, before finalizing a bailout program. These include restructuring Lebanon’s ailing financial sector, implementing fiscal reforms, the proposed restructuring of external public debt, and putting in place strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering measures.“The IMF is still very committed to help the Lebanese government move forward with the prior actions agenda,” Salam said adding that since the staff level agreement was reached, Lebanon has held parliamentary elections while work is ongoing to form a new Cabinet and President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ends on Oct. 31. Since the economic meltdown began with nationwide protests in October 2019 against the ruling class that has run the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, little has been done to help Lebanon out of its worst economic crisis in its modern history. The political class, blamed for the decades of corruption and mismanagement that led to the crisis, has been resisting reforms demanded by the international community.Lebanon’s GDP has sharply dropped over the past few years from about $55 billion in 2018 to $20.5 billion in 2021. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs since 2019 as the crisis was made worse by coronavirus and a massive blast at Beirut’s port in August 2020, that killed over 200, wounded thousands and caused damage worth billions of dollars. Daily life has become a struggle with rampant power cuts and some of the worst food inflation rates worldwide. “We are hoping October will be the magical month,” Salam said. He added that planned actions include a capital controls law, banking secrecy law, banking restructuring law and passing the 2022 state budget.Salam said the four draft laws have been extensively studied and reviewed by Parliament and the government except for the banking restructuring laws that still are in the works. “The other three laws, they require a serious political will, a serious political commitment between the executive power and the legislative power,” Salam said in English, adding that “I honestly, truly believe that we can finalize those in October if the political will is there.”“We believe that if those four prior actions are done soon, we get much, much closer to a final (bailout) deal this year,” added Salam referring to a possible full bailout deal with the IMF, which would provide Lebanon some $4 billion and unlock billions more from international governments and institutions. Lebanon’s central bank governor estimated that the country needs at least $12 billion in order to jumpstart its economy.Salam also said that the talks with the IMF have been partially focused on the unification of the value of the Lebanese pound against the U.S. dollar, since at the present time Lebanon has at least five exchange rates for the pound. Also on Tuesday, a warning came from the European Union’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ralph Tarraf who tweeted after meeting Aoun that he urged the president “to do his utmost to support and actively contribute to the implementation of the crucial economic, monetary and fiscal reforms that Lebanon has committed to.” Tarraf met Aoun along with other ambassadors including the envoys of Switzerland and Norway.“The time to act is now,” Tarraf tweeted after the meeting, calling on Lebanon to implement reforms demanded by the IMF.

Putin blasts US attempts to preserve global domination

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday blasted what he described as U.S. efforts to preserve its global domination and ordered officials to boost weapons production amid the fighting in Ukraine.Speaking while receiving credentials from foreign ambassadors to Moscow, Putin said “the objective development toward a multipolar world faces resistance of those who try to preserve their hegemony in global affairs and control everything — Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa.”He added that “the hegemon has succeeded in doing so for quite a long time, but it can’t go on forever … regardless of the developments in Ukraine.”Putin has repeatedly cast his decision to send troops into Ukraine as a response to alleged Western encroachment on Russia’s vital security interests.The Russian leader described Western sanctions against Russia over its action in Ukraine as part of efforts by the U.S. and its allies to strengthen their positions, but charged that that they have backfired against their organizers and also hurt poor countries.“As for Russia, we won’t deviate from our sovereign course,” Putin said.Speaking later during a separate meeting on military industries, he said Russian weapons have shown high efficiency during the fighting in Ukraine and told officials to quickly increase output of military industries.“Our equipment efficiently confronts Western types of weapons,” Putin said. “Practically all of NATO weapons stockpiles have been brought to support the current regime in Kyiv.”Putin added that Russia should study Western weapons to improve its own arsenals. “We can and must learn about these arsenals, everything they have, everything they use against us to qualitatively increase our potential and improve our equipment, our weapons where we need to do it,” he noted.Putin said he has ordered to boost allocations for new weapons, offer more loans to military industries and approve additional payments to their workers to increase weapons output.“Structures of the military industrial complex must deliver the required weapons and equipment in the shortest time possible,” Putin said.

Lebanon aims to adopt long-delayed IMF reforms by October

BEIRUT — Crisis-hit Lebanon hopes to adopt key reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund for a long-delayed but urgently needed bailout before the end of next month if there is “political will”, Lebanon’s caretaker economy minister said Tuesday.Amin Salam spoke to The Associated Press after meeting with an IMF delegation that has been visiting Lebanese officials since Monday. The reforms would include restructuring the country’s banking system and banking secrecy laws.The small Mediterranean nation has been in the grips of a three-year severe economic crisis that has left three quarters of its population in poverty after the Lebanese pound lost more than 90% of its value.Talks between Lebanon’s government and the IMF began in May 2020 and reached a staff-level agreement earlier this year in April. The Lebanese government has implemented few of the IMF’s demands from the agreement, which lists five “key pillars” that should be implemented, before finalizing a bailout program. These include restructuring Lebanon’s ailing financial sector, implementing fiscal reforms, the proposed restructuring of external public debt, and putting in place strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering measures.“The IMF is still very committed to help the Lebanese government move forward with the prior actions agenda,” Salam said adding that since the staff level agreement was reached, Lebanon has held parliamentary elections while work is ongoing to form a new Cabinet and President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ends on Oct. 31. Since the economic meltdown began with nationwide protests in October 2019 against the ruling class that has run the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, little has been done to help Lebanon out of its worst economic crisis in its modern history. The political class, blamed for the decades of corruption and mismanagement that led to the crisis, has been resisting reforms demanded by the international community.Lebanon’s GDP has sharply dropped over the past few years from about $55 billion in 2018 to $20.5 billion in 2021. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs since 2019 as the crisis was made worse by coronavirus and a massive blast at Beirut’s port in August 2020, that killed over 200, wounded thousands and caused damage worth billions of dollars. Daily life has become a struggle with rampant power cuts and some of the worst food inflation rates worldwide. “We are hoping October will be the magical month,” Salam said. He added that planned actions include a capital controls law, banking secrecy law, banking restructuring law and passing the 2022 state budget.Salam said the four draft laws have been extensively studied and reviewed by Parliament and the government except for the banking restructuring laws that still are in the works. “The other three laws, they require a serious political will, a serious political commitment between the executive power and the legislative power,” Salam said in English, adding that “I honestly, truly believe that we can finalize those in October if the political will is there.”“We believe that if those four prior actions are done soon, we get much, much closer to a final (bailout) deal this year,” added Salam referring to a possible full bailout deal with the IMF, which would provide Lebanon some $4 billion and unlock billions more from international governments and institutions. Lebanon’s central bank governor estimated that the country needs at least $12 billion in order to jumpstart its economy.Salam also said that the talks with the IMF have been partially focused on the unification of the value of the Lebanese pound against the U.S. dollar, since at the present time Lebanon has at least five exchange rates for the pound. Also on Tuesday, a warning came from the European Union’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ralph Tarraf who tweeted after meeting Aoun that he urged the president “to do his utmost to support and actively contribute to the implementation of the crucial economic, monetary and fiscal reforms that Lebanon has committed to.” Tarraf met Aoun along with other ambassadors including the envoys of Switzerland and Norway.“The time to act is now,” Tarraf tweeted after the meeting, calling on Lebanon to implement reforms demanded by the IMF.

Sweden's central bank hikes key interest rate by full point

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden’s central bank on Tuesday raised its key interest rate by a full percentage point to combat the highest inflation in more than 30 years, the first of a series of large hikes expected from central banks worldwide this week.Riksbanken said inflation has risen rapidly — to 9% in August, the highest level since 1991 — “undermining households’ purchasing power and making it more difficult for both companies and households to plan their finances.” The bank raised its policy rate to 1.75% and said it will keep tightening over the next six months as it tries to bring inflation back to its target of 2%. In making the big hike, it pointed to other central banks rapidly raising rates as consumer prices soar.The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected Wednesday to carry out a large increase of three-quarters of a point for the third consecutive time, followed Thursday by the Bank of England, whose half-point hike last month was its biggest in 27 years and is forecast to make another.“During the pandemic, global imbalances arose between supply and demand,” Sweden’s central bank said. “Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed up prices even further on several important commodities and created serious disruptions on the energy markets in Europe, which has caused electricity and gas prices to rise to very high levels.”It added that “the good economic activity in Sweden has also contributed.” Sweden is part of the European Union but does not use the euro currency, so it is not part of European Central Bank.

Company loses bid to recover payout for Dubai hotel fire

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An insurance company that was ordered to pay more than a billion dirhams in damages for a 2015 New Year’s Eve fire in Dubai has lost a civil lawsuit that it filed to try and recover the money.Two years after the massive fire rocked the Address Downtown hotel, Orient Insurance was ordered to pay Dubai’s state-backed developer Emaar 1.25 billion dirhams (more than $340 million) in a settlement. Emaar is behind projects like the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.Orient then filed a civil lawsuit in 2018 against the contractors who worked on the design, construction and maintenance of the hotel. It said they failed to implement fire safety requirements, contributing to the spread of the blaze. Orient Insurance asked the contractors to pay back the insurance claim it paid to Emaar. The case involved leading contractors including Belhasa JV, Arabtec, Mirage, and ALEC Engineering and Construction.Court papers show that a seven-member expert committee concluded that the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit on a spotlight. It also stated that there was no conclusive evidence to show there were technical errors or violations by the defendants, and that the building cladding might have contributed to the spread of the fire but was not the cause of it.“The report confirmed our client’s position that it had properly constructed the work that it was mandated to construct,” said Mohamed ElGhatit, a lawyer representing government-owned ALEC Engineering and Construction. Dramatic fires have hit skyscrapers in Dubai and other cities in the United Arab Emirates in recent years. Building and safety experts have cited a popular type of cladding covering the buildings that can be highly flammable. Authorities say they’ve changed fire safety rules in the emirate to address the danger. The court’s ruling against Orient came last week.———Follow Malak Harb on Twitter at www.twitter.com/malakharb.

Al Jazeera journalist's killing referred to ICC in complaint

JERUSALEM — A coalition of lawyers and advocacy groups said Tuesday it has referred the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court on behalf of her family, calling on prosecutors to investigate what it described as Israel’s deliberate targeting of the veteran reporter.Palestinian officials, Abu Akleh’s family and Al Jazeera accuse Israel of intentionally targeting and killing the 51-year-old journalist, who was wearing a helmet and a protective vest marked with the word “press” when she was shot last May in the occupied West Bank. An international research group also presented its investigation into the fatal shooting, implicating an Israeli soldier in her death and alleging that the timing and trajectory of the bullets suggest Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted. Israel has acknowledged that Israeli fire probably killed Abu Akleh, but vigorously denied allegations that a soldier intentionally targeted her.That point of contention has become central to Palestinian efforts to hold Israel accountable for the shooting. Abu Akleh’s advocates said on Tuesday they have added her case to a legal complaint taken by the ICC that accuses Israel of deliberately killing and wounding Palestinian journalists wearing press vests in the West Bank and Gaza. “Our family shouldn’t have to wait another day for justice,” Anton Abu Akleh, Shireen’s brother, told reporters from The Hague. “No other Palestinian-American or journalist family should have to endure what ours has.”Filing a complaint with the court does not guarantee that prosecutors will open an investigation. If opened, such an investigation could take years, with actual prosecution far off. ICC prosecutors opened a preliminary examination into allegations of war crimes by Israel in Gaza and the occupied West Bank in 2015, but did not begin a formal investigation until last year. It is not known how long that probe will last.Abu Akleh had covered the West Bank for Al Jazeera for two decades and was a household name in the Middle East. Her death sparked outrage across the world, throwing a spotlight on Israel’s operations in the West Bank. Some 90 Palestinians have been killed in nightly Israeli arrest raids in recent months, many of them said to be militants or Palestinian youth protesting the raids, making it the deadliest year in the occupied territory since 2016.This month Israel acknowledged for the first time there was a “high probability” that one of its soldiers had mistakenly killed Abu Akleh during a raid in the northern West Bank. However, the military stopped short of accepting full responsibility and said no one would be punished for the shooting. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid also rebuffed U.S. calls for Israel to review its open-fire policies. Israel has claimed that its soldiers were battling Palestinian gunmen at the time, though witness accounts and amateur video have shown the area was quiet in the moments before her shooting.On Tuesday from The Hague, the London-based group Forensic Architecture, working with the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq, presented a video reconstruction of the moments leading up to Abu Akleh’s killing. Relying on what they said was previously unseen footage collected from Al Jazeera and interviews with witnesses, the groups traced at least 13 bullets allegedly fired from an Israeli armored vehicle some 200 meters (yards) up the road from Abu Akleh and her colleagues in the Jenin refugee camp. An analysis of the bullets’ trajectory, four of which struck a tree beside Abu Akleh, suggests “careful and precise aim” by the shooter who repeatedly targeted the journalists “in rapid succession,” the groups found.“All shots were aimed above the shoulders and intended to kill,” they added, noting that a reconstruction of a soldier’s line of sight through an assault rifle’s optical scope indicated the journalists’ vests emblazoned with the word “press” would be visible. Footage also showed that a civilian attempting to help Abu Akleh, who was slumped on the ground, was targeted each time he entered the shooter’s line of sight, suggesting Israeli forces prevented Abu Akleh from receiving medical care, the groups said.Israel has designated Al Haq as a terrorist organization over its alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — a secular, left-wing movement with a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out attacks against Israelis.A series of investigations by international media organizations, including The Associated Press, have found that Israeli troops most likely fired the fatal bullet. The United States concluded that an Israeli soldier likely killed her by mistake, but it did not explain how it reached that conclusion. Israel had previously said only a forensic analysis of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh could confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. However, a U.S.-led analysis of the bullet last July was inconclusive as investigators said the bullet had been badly damaged.

Spain cuts natural gas sales tax to help people with costs

MADRID — Spain will temporarily slash sales tax on natural gas from 21% to 5% to help consumers face rising energy costs this winter as Russia has cut back gas exports to Europe amid the war in Ukraine.Terera Ribera, Spain’s minister charged with energy policy, said Tuesday that the reduction in sales tax will last until Dec. 31 but can be extended beyond that date if needed. It also will apply to the sale of firewood and biomass pellets.She said rising energy prices that all of Europe is enduring are directly linked to the reduction in gas flow from Russia as it tries to pressure Europe into dropping its support for Ukraine. Natural gas is used to heat and cool homes, generate electricity and power factories.“These are not future threats, we are right now experiencing the consequences of the reduction in gas sent by Russia to the European Union,” Ribera said.This is the latest measure taken by Spain, which, like governments across Europe, is trying to cushion the blow of rising costs due to shortage of supply.In June, Brussels allowed Spain and neighboring Portugal to skirt European Union rules and subsidize consumers’ gas bills and put a cap on natural gas prices. Ribera said those measures had saved Spanish consumers some 10 billion euros in excessive energy costs.