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Lebanon’s top prosecutor judge Ghassan Oueidat charged Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast lead investigating judge Tarek Bitar for "rebelling against the judiciary," and ordered the release of all detainees held in connection with the case. Bitar refused to step down from the investigation, saying Oueidat has no authority to charge him. Bitar contended that, as investigating judge, he is subject to executive, not judicial authority. With the port blast probe stalled for over a year, Bitar had attempted to revitalize the investigation Monday — freeing some individuals detained in the immediate aftermath of the blast and charging top officials, including Oueidat himself. The probe has been impeded by complaints calling for Bitar’s dismissal, and could not proceed until the judiciary rules on those cases. Oueidat’s release of detainees sparked controversy among Lebanon’s judiciary, who said he lacked the authority to order their release. Legal experts believe that, though Bitar restarted the case, it will be difficult for him to conclude his investigation.
Protests and brief gas station closures accompanied news of the lira’s plunge to new all-time lows on the parallel market. Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon as the country’s currency hovered around LL57,000 to the dollar on the parallel market, decreasing by around LL3,000 in a single day. A financial expert said this loss should be put into perspective, however, considering that the currency had already lost 95 percent of its value over three years of economic crisis. Gas stations temporarily closed awaiting updated Energy Ministry-set fuel prices, which were released later in the day, raising the cost of gasoline and diesel over the million-lira mark. Bank Audi head of research Marwan Barakat linked the lira’s recent depreciation to political instability and a “spillover effect” ahead of the adoption of an increased exchange rate in two Banque du Liban circulars (No. 151 and No. 158), allowing depositors to access small sums in informally frozen foreign currency accounts. The same day, protesters held a sit-in in front of Banque du Liban’s Beirut headquarters, voicing their rejection of the recent circulars as "unfair" and decrying a “lack of action from the authorities.”
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee added Tripoli’s Rachid Karami International Fairground, designed in 1962 by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, to its list of World Heritage sites. The new designation grants the modernist Lebanese fairground access to international, technical and financial assistance. The World Heritage Committee used an emergency procedure to list the site, due to its poor state of repair, the lack of financial resources for maintenance and the latent risk of development proposals that could harm the integrity of the complex. In September 2022, the project to renovate an abandoned pavilion on the fairgrounds was one of six winners of the Aga Khan International Prize for Architecture.
The United States announced it would grant $72 million in cash stipends to Lebanon's security forces, who have faced severely depreciated salaries. The cash assistance pays “$100 in cash monthly for six months to members of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces,” US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said. The scheme was a "temporary" measure "in light of the urgency of Lebanon's economic situation," Shea added. Military sources told Reuters that some 5,000 members of the security services had quit without authorization since 2019 and that the cash supplement could help prevent further depletion of the ranks.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Could Tarek Bitar be stopped in his tracks again?”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz