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Amal Movement MPs and former ministers MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter filed renewed complaints against port blast investigator Judge Tarek Bitar yesterday, amid a judicial spat challenging his handling of the investigation. The three new appeals allege doubts about Bitar’s impartiality, accusing him of “abuse of power and breach of job duties.” Last week, Lebanon’s top prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat released all the detainees who were held in connection to the blast probe, challenging Bitar’s attempt to resume the investigation. The probe was paralyzed for over a year due to unresolved complaints against Bitar filed by Khalil and Zeaiter, who are both implicated in the investigation, but the judge recently attempted to wrangle control back. A few dozen demonstrators gathered Sunday afternoon in Paris to express their support for Bitar, as well as for the families of the more than 220 victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion.
Strikes launched, persisted and were scheduled across several different sectors yesterday, and the General Confederation of Workers is set to meet today after which they plan to announce a general strike on Feb. 8. Employees in the judiciary, public education and the Road Traffic Department observed strikes yesterday while private school teachers announced they would hold a “warning strike” tomorrow to protest deteriorating living conditions. Judicial assistants in the North and Akkar governorates announced a week-long strike to protest the depreciation of their salaries, rendering it “impossible for the employee to attend [their job] regularly.” The same day, a prolonged strike by employees of the Road Traffic Department and the Car Registration Authority, also protesting inadequate compensation, led to the closure of all the institution’s branches. Meanwhile, public school teachers — still on strike since Jan. 10 — renewed calls for a government meeting to address their demands for improved compensation and health coverage, along with contract revisions.
Caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam proposed a temporary measure that would allow supermarkets to dollarize imported item prices, as Banque du Liban once again extended Circular No. 161, which allows depositors to purchase dollars at the central bank’s Sayrafa platform exchange rate. Salam’s announcement comes as the lira recuperates some of its value after falling to an all-time low last week on the parallel market. The Tourism Ministry made similar allowances for tourism establishments ahead of periods during which a high number of expatriates and tourists were expected to visit Lebanon. In both cases, however, the pricing does not imply “forcing payment in dollars, which the law forbids,” Salam said. Circular No. 161 continues to function as many depositors’ main way of accessing foreign currency funds, three years into the implementation of informal capital controls by commercial banks. The gap between the Sayrafa rate, at LL38,000 to the dollar, and the parallel market exchange rate, around LL58,000, stood at around LL20,000, as of yesterday. Money transfer company OMT announced yesterday that it would suspend foreign exchange operations, citing non-existent demand due to their adoption of an exchange rate of LL43,000, “in compliance with the rate imposed by the BDL.”
A fire triggered by a gas leak in the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh injured four people yesterday, the Civil Defense said in a statement. A gas leak in a first-floor apartment triggered an explosion that caused the hospitalization of two people inside the building. Fallen stones from the building also broke a passerby’s foot. A fourth person was treated at the scene, the Civil Defense said, without explaining the details of their injury. In mid-December, several people were injured in a gas leak explosion at a residential complex in Metn’s Beit Misk. Last year, the Energy Ministry phased out older models of gas cylinders for domestic use due to safety risks.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read piece from yesterday: “Either submission or war”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz
CORRECTION: An earlier version of yesterday's Morning Brief erroneously reported that Prime Minister Najib Mikati would convene a cabinet session this week. Although Mikati on Friday indicated a session dedicated to education would take place this week, his media office on Saturday said none would be held.