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Parliament is scheduled to reconvene next Thursday for a sixth presidential election session after yet another blank ballot majority during yesterday’s vote. MPs left after the first round of voting, as has repeatedly happened during previous sessions, causing Parliament to lose quorum. Loss of quorum prevents sessions from proceeding to subsequent rounds of voting in which a president can be elected with 65 votes, a simple majority of Parliament, rather than the 86 votes representing two-thirds of Parliament needed in the first round. The only apparent frontrunner candidate, Zgharta MP Michel Moawad, received 44 votes while the remainder of the 108 MPs participating cast protest votes. The Free Patriotic Movement announced in a statement on the eve of the session that their MPs and their allies would cast blank ballots. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on Thursday for "the end of the vacuum, a new president to be elected and a new government to be formed quickly,” as Lebanon entered a second week with a total executive power vacancy. Mikati, nonetheless, claimed that Lebanon could still implement reforms necessary to finalize an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to unlock a multi-billion dollar aid package.
Mount Lebanon's first investigating judge Nicolas Mansour ordered the release of two depositors who were arrested last week after a holdup at a bank in Hazmieh. The judiciary approved their release, alongside that of activist Rami Olleik and depositor Ibrahim Baydoun, both released two days prior. Baydoun had made a withdrawal at gunpoint from a Hazmieh branch of Crédit Libanais. Olleik, the founder of depositors’ rights group Mouttahidoun (“United”), said he would go on a hunger strike until all the arrested depositors were released. Lebanon witnessed a wave of holdups over the past months in response to informal banking restrictions limiting depositors’ access to their own funds.
A stray bullet “perforated the cabin of a plane [coming] from Jordan when it landed in Beirut,” Middle East Airlines director Mohamad el-Hout told L’Orient Today. Stray bullets pose a recurring issue, according to Hout, who told Reuters that "seven or eight planes are hit per year" while parked on the tarmac of the airport. In January, the Greek Aegean Airlines suspended flights to Beirut after discovering "damage" from a bullet to one of their planes that landed in Lebanon. Forces of Change MP Paula Yacoubian, who was aboard yesterday’s flight, called for an "end to loose weapons and stray bullets." Unregulated weapons possession and celebratory shootings regularly cause casualties and material damage in Lebanon.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power pledged an additional $50 million in financial assistance for higher education in Lebanon. The additional funds offer 140 full undergraduate scholarships. It also allows for “partial need-based financial aid for about 3,500 students over the next three years” for those attending the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, and Notre Dame University-Louaize, Power announced. The dollarization of tuition fees has barred a growing number of students in the country from attending university.
In case you missed it, here's our must-read story from yesterday: “Why is the Mediterranean basin warming twice as quickly as the global average?”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz