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The Lebanese judiciary summoned a number of Beirut port blast victims’ relatives who participated in a Tuesday protest for questioning, on charges of rioting, vandalism and damaging offices at the Beirut Justice Palace. “I’m proud I’m being summoned for vandalizing the Justice Palace that is not doing its job,” William Noun told L’Orient Today, after dozens of victims’ relatives gathered Tuesday outside the Justice Palace to protest the port blast probe’s paralysis. Authorities also summoned Peter Bou Saab, whose brother Joe died alongside Noun’s brother Joe during their response to the blast as members of the Fire Brigade. Part of protesters’ ire turned towards caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is accused of stalling judicial appointments that would allow the investigation to proceed. The explosion killed more than 220 people and injured 6,500 others, destroying nearby neighborhoods.
Public school teachers, on strike since Monday, protested outside the Education Ministry in the UNESCO area of Beirut demanding improved compensation. The protesters again deplored being left out of recent salary boosts that occurred in “all other sectors.” Teachers also rejected a proposed intervention by caretaker Education Minister Abbas Halabi offering a $5 bonus to teachers per working day. Educators’ salaries starkly depreciated with the devaluation of the lira, prompting demands for pay revisions, foreign currency salary supplements, better health coverage, higher transportation allowances and a review of contracts for contract and casual workers. Public workers across sectors have held protests demanding improved compensation, including monthslong strikes that were only resolved after the approval of increased pay.
Warnings circulated on social media of undercover, rogue members of security forces allegedly targeting LGBTQ+ people in Lebanon to entrap and extort them. “The police are posing as gay men and entrapping people all the way from Ramlet Al Bayda to Marina Dbayeh,” a widely shared social media post said, claiming security force members were pretending to be users of the dating app Grindr to either arrest people on the platform or extort them for thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, security forces denied involvement, claiming to have arrested an individual accused of extorting gay people online. Others have reported that security forces attempted to arrest or extort them in Beirut over their sexuality. Tarek Zeidan, director of Helem (“Dream”) an NGO dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights, commenting on a judicial ruling against a ban on queer events by the interior ministry, has said that the fight continues for individuals to be “protected against abuse and discrimination.”
Caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury called on a visiting delegation of European judges to “abide by the rules of Lebanese law” during their time in Lebanon to investigate claims of corruption and money laundering by Banque du Liban governor Riad Salameh. Khoury warned that failure to follow local regulations will lead to “rejection from the specialized judicial authorities and from this ministry” as controversy followed the announcement of a visit from the prosecutors, investigating judges and financial prosecutors from France, Germany, and Luxembourg. The foreign judges reportedly intend to question around 25 people over five days, including hearings with Salameh, his brother Raja along with CEOs and other bank officials. However, since no warrants have been issued by the Lebanese judiciary, attendance at the hearings is non-compulsory.
The Lebanese government ordered three days of national mourning to mark the death of former Parliament Speaker Hussein Husseini, postponing Parliament's 11th presidential session until next Thursday. Husseini passed away at the age of 85 on Wednesday, more than 30 years after the end of his terms as legislative head, during which he contributed to the 1989 Taif agreement that marked the end of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. A number of political figures issued statements mourning Husseini, described as an “invaluable legislator” by his successor as Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — who also postponed the 11th Parliament session to elect a president from today to Jan. 19. Husseini also preceded Berri as Amal Movement head from which he resigned in 1980, continuing his political work in Parliament first as parliament speaker then served as a deputy in the Baalbeck constituency until resigning from his position as an MP in 2008.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Iconic Saqi bookshop, a Lebanese love letter to Arab books, closes after 44 years”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz