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Iran wants US to lift sanctions against Lebanon

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Protesters took to the streets of Beirut to vent their fury at their government, which they accuse of negligence following evidence that authorities knew about the ammonium nitrate and did nothing for seven years. [ Pic courtesy Anadolu Agency]

Iran wants the United States to lift sanctions against Lebanon and wants other countries to refrain from politicising last week’s Beirut explosion that killed at least 158 people and left more than 6,000 wounded.

Iran’s comments on Monday come a day after international leaders pledged $300m in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon following the devastating explosion that also left more than 300,000 people homeless in the capital city.

“The blast should not be used as an excuse for political aims … the cause of the blast should be investigated carefully,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a televised news conference on Monday.

“If America is honest about its assistance offer to Lebanon, they should lift sanctions.”

The international aid announced on Sunday would be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population” and offered support for an “impartial, credible and independent inquiry”.

“Lebanese authorities must now implement political and economic reforms demanded by the Lebanese people and which alone will enable the international community to act effectively alongside Lebanon for reconstruction,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who chaired the virtual donor conference.

Macron visited Beirut’s shattered streets on Thursday, two days after the chemical explosion in the dock area. Asked about the visit, Mousavi said: “Some countries have been trying to politicise this blast for their own interests.”

The explosion, whose mushroom cloud reminded many of an atomic bomb, left a 43-metre-deep (141-foot) crater at Beirut’s port, said a security official, citing French experts working in the disaster area.

It was triggered by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at a port warehouse since 2013.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Beirut to vent their fury at their government, which they accuse of negligence following evidence that authorities knew about the ammonium nitrate and did nothing for six years.

Police and the army responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in hundreds of protesters being wounded. At least one policeman has been killed, security forces said.

“Those who died paid the price of a state that doesn’t care about anything except power and money,” said protester Tamara, 23, whose friend Rawan, 20, was killed in the blast.

“It’s not enough that ministers resign,” said her friend Michel. “Those who put the explosives there must be held accountable. We want an international tribunal to tell us who killed [Rawan].”

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said people are “disillusioned” because they are up against a “militarised state”.

“Protesters are not under any illusion that changing or getting rid of the political and security establishment that has been in place for decades is going to be easy,” she said, speaking from the capital Beirut.

The protesters demand the wholesale removal of Lebanon’s ruling class, which they see living in luxury while millions endure job losses, deepening poverty, power blackouts and mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets.

Two ministers, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad and Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, resigned from their posts over the weekend, leading embattled Prime Minister Hassan Diab to propose early elections in order to break the impasse that is plunging Lebanon ever deeper into political and economic crisis.

Nine other members of parliament have also stepped down, but according to Khodr, those in power are adamant about keeping the government in place.

“There were reports that other ministers wanted to tender their resignation, but after intense negotiations behind closed doors, a minister belonging to the Hezbollah camp emerged and said: ‘We are not resigning, the government is still standing, and we will continue to carry out our duties and responsibilities towards our people’,” she said.

 



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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