Mad dash for gas, electricity barge warning, Eid al-Fitr: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

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lorientlejour.com-Cars queue at a gas station in April 2021. Fears of a fuel shortage have loomed large over the past several months amid concerns that the government is set to end subsidies on basic goods like fuel. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)

Long lines have been forming at gas stations in various parts of the country amid rising fears of an imminent fuel shortage. Many gas stations shut down over the weekend, including a majority of those in the southern city of Saida, our sister publication, L’Orient-Le Jour, reported. Mark Daou, an energy sector analyst, whose family owns a chain of gas stations, told L’Orient Today that the apparent shortage was due to stockpiling in anticipation of a price increase if subsidies are ended. “Everyone is stockpiling and [stations] are selling the bare minimum,” he said. Daou added that the panic also stems from the delay of payments to foreign suppliers by the central bank, which is causing backlogs to deliveries and forcing local importers to limit distribution. “They are rationing their purchases as well as their sales,” he said.

Istanbul-based Karpowership sent a final warning to Lebanon’s government that it may suspend its services and switch off two floating power plants that provide approximately a fifth of the country’s electricity, Bloomberg reported on Sunday. The warning follows an order from Public Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim to seize the barges and prevent them from leaving amid an investigation into the renewal of power supply contracts. The Turkish company has denied any wrongdoing on its part, saying it “consistently acted in good faith … despite not receiving payment for the past 18 months,” a spokesperson told the publication.

The central bank has announced an initiative to refund up to $25,000 to depositors whose foreign currency is trapped at commercial banks. Banque du Liban said it is negotiating with banks on the mechanism, which would apply to deposits made before Oct. 17, 2019 — when a mass uprising against Lebanon’s ruling elite led banks to close to the public temporarily and informal capital controls introduced, while as much as $6 billion were allegedly transferred out of the country. BDL said it expects payments to begin on June 30, but only if “legal coverage” is obtained.

The medical equipment importers’ syndicate said on Friday its members were informed that multiple banks will no longer process applications for subsidized goods. Importers must deposit lira at commercial banks in order to obtain dollars from the central bank at the official rate of LL1507.5 to the dollar. The syndicate added that this decision, if it takes effect, will force many of its members to sell products at the parallel market rate. However, a BDL spokesperson told L’Orient Today, “BDL is still providing dollars for medical imports.”

The French foreign minister concluded a visit to Lebanon on Friday, warning Lebanese leaders that they may face further sanctions if they fail to form a government. “The political actors [in Lebanon] have not taken responsibility or gotten to work seriously to sort out the country,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters during a press briefing at the French Embassy’s Pine Residence on Friday morning. Paris recently announced entry restrictions for officials who are involved in corruption or blocking cabinet formation. Today marks exactly nine months since Lebanon’s cabinet resigned, leaving the country rudderless amid the worst economic crisis it has experienced since the Civil War.

The Internal Security Forces detained 51 Syrians allegedly trying to flee to Cyprus from the area of Anfeh, Koura, as well as three suspected smugglers, the ISF said on Saturday. The suspects denied involvement in the operation, which would have cost $2,500 per person upon arrival in Cyprus, the ISF said. Only a few weeks ago, the Lebanese Army said it had thwarted an attempt to smuggle 69 Syrians to Cyprus — approximately 172 kilometers away from Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli — amid a worsening economic crisis that has thrown more than half the population into poverty.

Outspoken comedian Shaden Fakih was interrogated for about four hours at the Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau in Furn al-Shubbak on Friday. Fakih, who was initially summoned in March, told L’Orient Today she was questioned by the Cybercrimes Bureau because she had called the ISF during a COVID-19 total lockdown to ask how she could leave her house to buy menstrual hygiene products and whether the ISF could get them for her. A security source confirmed the reason behind Fakih’s interrogation to L’Orient Today, saying it was disrespectful of the comedian to call the ISF’s emergency number, which is used mostly to report theft and other crimes, “for mockery.” Speaking with L’Orient-Le Jour, Fakih said, “They are upset because they think I am making fun of the security services. I have only criticized a system that I find ridiculous.”

Lebanon is set to celebrate Eid al-Fitr this week, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The occasion is expected to take place on either Wednesday or Thursday evening, although the exact date has not yet been confirmed as it is determined by the sighting of the moon. Over the past month the country has been under a partial COVID-19 lockdown, with a 9:30 p.m. nightly curfew, in an attempt to discourage large gatherings and super-spreader events during Ramadan. A total lockdown is expected to be implemented by authorities for Eid al-Fitr, similar to the lockdowns during the Easter holidays.

 

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