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Stateless in Lebanon | Lebanon

I have six boys and two girls, but none of them has citizenship.

Hassan Ali Matar, Elder in Abu Eid tribe

Filmmaker: Remi Itani

“Sometimes I get invited to gatherings outside Qob Elias, but I turn them down because I don’t have an ID,” says 18-year-old Ali Hassan Matar, a member of the Abu Eid tribe. “I might get caught by police or intelligence officers. I can’t put my life in danger. I’m missing out on so many things on offer.”

Ali is effectively stateless, having neither Lebanese citizenship nor an identity card. People like him who have no travel documents find it difficult to get a job and are denied access to free medical care, education and other state services. There are between 40,000 and 50,000 Abu Eid tribe members across Lebanon, including around 25,000 in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon.

The Abu Eid tribe traces its ancestry to the Arabian Peninsula. They were once nomadic and moved seasonally between Syria and Lebanon. In those days, a lack of ID was not a problem. But their life as wandering herdsmen changed as national borders and political change forced them to settle in towns and villages.

Since settling in the 20th century, the Abu Eid people have gone through the process of applying for Lebanese nationality. While some have succeeded, like tribal elder Hassan Ali Matar, others are still waiting for the political decisions necessary to grant them identity and legal status.

“I have six boys and two girls, but none of them has citizenship,” explains Hassan. “In 1994, the naturalisation decree was issued in Lebanon. The Lebanese authorities invited us to apply but middlemen confused the process…They told us to apply for ourselves then but later for our children. In the end, we got Lebanese citizenship but our children didn’t.”

What the Abu Eid tribe members call “the 1994 decree” was the last change to Lebanese nationality laws. Lebanon’s demographic makeup forces politicians to tread a delicate sectarian balance – so naturalisation and citizenship are sensitive issues and can potentially tip the balance of power.

In their nomadic past, the Abu Eid people were stateless but moved wherever they pleased. Today, Hassan’s young sons Ali and Madi cannot even move within the country they have settled in.

With no freedom of movement, Ali spends a lot of time in a virtual world, making friends online. “The internet is my only way of communicating with people. The internet is my life… I can’t go out of Qob Elias but on the internet, I can go to any country I want. That is my dream.”

The only form of ID young unregistered men like Ali can get is a card from the mayor of Qob Elias called an “attestation”, certifying that they live in the town; but it’s not an officially recognised form of identification.

Ali’s brother, Madi, works for a dairy company and has some plans. “A few days ago, I told my father that I intended to marry. But if I had children, how would I register them?,” asks a frustrated Madi. “They need a registered father. But if I don’t have an ID card, I can’t register them… I’ve had enough. Can’t I even get married?”

His younger brother, Ali, has already been knocked back. “I fell in love once. But when she found out I don’t have an ID, she left me,” he laments.

In Lebanon, there are thousands of stateless people like the Abu Eid tribe. They cannot access free public services like education and healthcare, have no freedom of movement, cannot own property, marry or work legally because of their lack of legal status. They can’t vote or run for public office.

One of Lebanon’s many political challenges is overdue reform of its citizenship laws, to address the problems faced by its many vulnerable communities. Not doing so might cause more problems than it solves.

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Source: Al Jazeera

India: Anti-Vedanta protesters seek justice year after 13 killed | News

A year after police killed 13 people protesting against pollution from a copper smelter in the port city of Thoothukudi in India’s Tamil Nadu state, tensions between the residents and the police are still running high.

No officer has been arrested or charged in connection with the shootings, and a judicial commission set up to investigate has provided no updates on its progress.

The incident was one of the deadliest environmental protests in India in a decade. A United Nations working group of human rights experts last May condemned the “apparent excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by police”.

India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) dropped its inquiry, citing “adequate compensation” paid to victims and attempts by the state to restore law and order, according to a document reviewed by Reuters news agency.

At the same time, people surrounding the Vedanta Ltd smelter, since shuttered by the state authorities for allegedly poisoning groundwater, say they are still being intimidated by local police. The company has consistently denied the pollution allegations.

Some residents allege they were detained and beaten by the police and that they have been refused the right to protest.

Activist S Mugilan, who released a video critical of the police shootings, has been missing since February 15 – the day he held a news conference in state capital Chennai.

“People have been intimidated and forced into silence by the police,” said 79-year-old AWD Thilak, head of the Thoothukudi Bar Association.

“This is not real peace, there has been no compromise,” he said.

No action so far

Local police say all their actions since the shootings have been aimed at keeping the lid on any potential trouble, even if that means curbing some rights to freedom of speech or protest. However, they denied allegations of abuse by officers.

Police shot at the protesters without warning on May 22, 2018, according to interviews with multiple witnesses at the time. On that day and on May 23, 12 people were killed with shots to the head and chest, half of them from behind, according to a Reuters analysis of post-mortem reports in December.

Another protester died after being allegedly beaten by the police, according to family members.

Police said at the time that they were overwhelmed and had opened fire because they feared the protesters were about to attack people in government offices and apartments housing Vedanta workers.

The Madras High Court in August asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to file charges within four months. Nine months later, no action has been taken.

A senior CBI official declined to comment on why no charges have been filed. A CBI spokesperson did not respond to a request seeking comment.

The Judicial Commission also declined to comment, while the NHRC did not respond to a request seeking comment.

India smelter shooting

Police stand guard outside a copper smelter controlled by London-listed Vedanta Resources in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu [File: Sudarshan Varadhan/Reuters]

Meanwhile, Vedanta executives have been pushing to restart the smelter, which was run by its Sterlite subsidiary, with social media postings under hashtags such as #knowthetruth and #reopenSterlite.

The smelter was shuttered following a Tamil Nadu government order soon after the killings.

The company, controlled by billionaire Anil Agarwal, has said it regretted the shootings and has consistently denied the plant polluted its surroundings.

Vedanta did not respond to specific queries on its executives campaigning for the reopening of its smelter, but said in a statement it had a “strong track record” of corporate social responsibility interventions.

The statement listed community schemes it was currently funding, including a plan to plant a million trees and a drinking water project.

Local residents say the police are clamping down on any attempts to discuss the shootings or the plant shutdown. When villagers hoisted black flags on their terraces in a protest, police seized the flags, the residents said.

“If anybody wants to provoke or instigate, the police will not allow it,” Murali Ramba, the superintendent of police in the Thoothukudi district, said. 

The Madras High Court ruled last week that a gathering of up to 500 people would be allowed to mark the anniversary of the shootings on Wednesday. That was despite opposition by the city administration and the police, who said it could disrupt law and order.

The families of the 13 people killed received two million rupees ($28,430) each in compensation, according to Sandeep Nanduri, the district’s top administrative official.

Gabon President Ali Bongo sacks vice president, forestry minister | News

Gabon’s leader Ali Bongo has announced the dismissal of vice president and the minister of forests, in a move that comes amid a scandal over the smuggling of precious timber.

Bongo made the announcement in a statement released on Tuesday without giving a reason for the sackings of Vice President Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry and Environment Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou.

No new minister was appointed to the forest and environment portfolio, which was placed “under the direct authority” of the prime minister.

There have been intensifying calls for Mapangou to resign in recent days in the press and from civil society groups in the aftermath of the theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood considered sacred.

Nearly 5,000 cubic metres of kevazingo worth some 7m euros ($7.8mn) was found in two depots belonging to Chinese companies in the Libreville port of Owendo in February and March.

Several suspects were arrested, but 353 of the containers – which had been confiscated – mysteriously disappeared.

The wood had allegedly been loaded into containers bearing water and forestry ministry labels, falsely describing it as okoume – a kind of timber cleared for export.

Local media have called the scandal “kevazingogate”.

Earlier in May, the government said several top Gabonese officials had been suspended over suspected involvement in smuggling the precious timber.

Kevazingo is a rare central African wood that is prized in Asia, notably for sculpting into temple doorways, tea tables and meeting tables.

Gabon, three quarters of whose land mass is forested, last year banned the exploitation of kevazingo after illegal felling reached alarming proportions.

The industry is hugely important for the West African nation’s economy, supporting some 17,000 jobs, and is second only to the petroleum sector in terms of foreign earnings and accounts for 60 percent of non-oil related GDP.

What’s the left’s problem with the EU? | European Elections 2019

Rome, Italy – Nationalist and far-right populist parties have emerged as the main challengers to the status quo in the European Parliament elections, some of which have coalesced around Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and co-deputy prime minister.

Parties that previously stood for an exit from the bloc, following Britain’s footsteps, now support a new pan-European nationalist alliance to change the EU from within.

Leaders and MPs of 11 far-right parties took part in Salvini’s final election rally on Saturday in Milan, among them France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherland’s Geert Wilders. 

Hungary’s Viktor Orban didn’t show, but he’s recently praised Salvini for “manning the front line” in the central Mediterranean – a reference to Italy’s crackdown on refugees.

Since the last European elections in 2014, those parties have made gains at the national level. They are now in power in Italy, Austria, Poland and Hungary, and are no longer fringe outfits in countries such as France. 

While divided on a number of issues including Russia and the EU’s budget, right-wing populists have put forward similar messages around protecting national sovereignty and culture, as well as borders, against the “threat” of migration.

Left-wing eurosceptics have also made considerable gains at the national level in recent years, from the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn to Podemos, the party that emerged from the Indignados movement in Spain, and Jean Luc Melenchon’s France Insoumise (Unbowed France).

Anti-European populism on both the right and the left is seen equally as a “threat” to the European project of deeper integration – but especially to the dominance of the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament, which holds all three top jobs in the EU.

I believe that the foundations of European collaboration, crystallised in the treaties of the European Union, are the enemies of labour, of the people’s demands.

Samuele Mazzolini, lecturer at the University of Bath

But despite mainstream rhetoric about populists trying to wreck the EU, some analysts have warned against labelling anything that dissents from the current state of affairs as anti-European.

“The problem is what sort of Europeanism has been embraced,” Carlo Ruzza, a professor of political sociology at Italy’s University of Trento, told Al Jazeera.

“A sort of Europeanism that welcomes globalisation with open arms. One in theory could be pro-European without completely endorsing austerity and market deregulation. Something that the [mainstream] left has not done,” Ruzza added.

While this is one of the reasons why the left has lost much of its traditional electorate, more radical alternatives are fragmented, according to Ruzza.

“Corbyn is very different from Melenchon and the Italian left,” Ruzza explained.

“Melenchon’s is a sort of anti-Europeanism which, in some ways, was perceived as concerning by a number of working or lower-middle classes because the party embraced, for instance, some yellow vest groups and was seen by some as too exposed to the possibility of violence and connections with the far-right,” Ruzza added. 

Melenchon’s La France Insoumise is currently polling at an average of nine percent, far behind President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! and Le Pen’s Rassemblement nationale, both polling at over 20 percent.

“Corbyn’s anti-Europeanism is old-fashioned Trotskyism,” continued Ruzza, “based on a belief that socialism can be better realised within [the borders of] the nation-state than in this capitalist club which is the European Union.” 

There are eight pan-European political groups that MEPs can choose to join.

Most parties labelled as left-wing populists are part of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group in the European Parliament, which currently counts 52 out 751 seats.

According to projections, this group will retain roughly the same number of seats. 

Besides Podemos and La France Insoumise, it includes parties like the German Die Linke (“The Left”) and the Greek Syriza (“The Coalition of the Radical Left”). 

By comparison, Salvini’s new alliance alone – which does not include Orban’s Fidesz or the Polish Law and Justice – is projected to gain 73 seats.

The UK’s Labour Party is part of the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group. 

Its ambivalent stance on Brexit and on a second referendum, partly due to Corbyn’s own euroscepticism, has led it to currently lag 10 points behind Nigel Farage’s right-wing Brexit Party, which is projected to bag the most votes in Britain, polling at more than 30 percent.

Can the EU be reformed?

Like the right-wingers, larger parties and a galaxy of smaller groups on the left, especially in Western Europe, have also spoken of a need to reclaim sovereignty from the Brussels establishment.

But they start from a fundamentally different perspective.

“An exclusivist message, of retreat into the nation-state, is easier to articulate for the right than it is for the left,” Ruzza argued. “The left has always been inspired by Marxist values of international solidarity. In fact, it was never the case that those values were fully embraced by the working classes.”

For Melenchon and others, reclaiming popular sovereignty means leaving European treaties, which he says “have frozen economic policy in the absurd dogma of ordoliberalism – Germany’s variant of social liberalism so dear to the Merkel government.”

Cooperation should exist away from those treaties which have cemented Franco-German dominance within the EU at the expense of other countries, particularly in Southern Europe, they say.

In the summer of 2015, Greece’s then-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis lashed out at the country’s creditors.

“What they’re doing with Greece has a name: terrorism,” he said, when the Syriza government was forced to impose austerity on its citizens in the thick of the country’s economic crisis. 

“What Brussels and the troika want today is for the yes [vote] to win so they could humiliate the Greeks. Why did they force us to close the banks? To instil fear in people. And spreading fear is called terrorism,” he said, in a column for The Guardian. 

Varoufakis, who resigned over Greece’s bailout terms in 2015, founded a transnational leftist movement which aims at democratising the EU, DiEM25 and will take part in the elections for the first time.

However, polls show that support for it so far is negligible.

Others believe that reforming the EU is impossible.

“In order to modify the treaties you need the unanimity of all member states,” Samuele Mazzolini, a lecturer in international studies at the University of Bath and cofounder of Common Sense, an association that aims at promoting “democratic populism”, told Al Jazeera. “There are countries that benefit from the treaties the way they are.

“I don’t feel anti-European. I believe that the foundations of European collaboration, crystallised in the treaties of the European Union, are the enemies of labour, of the people’s demands, of the possibility of a politics based on growth and employment, geared at the well-being of European citizens, especially in Southern Europe.”

During a recent debate among candidates for the the presidency of the European Commission, the nominee for the socialist group, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, hinted the centre-left block – which is projected to lose seats but remain the second-largest in the European Parliament – will seek an alliance “from Macron to [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras” to challenge the dominance of the centre-right European People’s Party. 

However, this would imply cooperation between Macron and Melenchon.

“We should stop obsessing about the populist vote,” Ruzza argued. “When we have a problem with the populist vote, that is 15 or 20 percent. The real issue is with the other 80 percent that has not been able to find a credible and persuasive recipe.”

Al Jazeera launches business site AJ Impact | News

Al Jazeera has announced an expansion into business and economics news with the launch of AJ Impact, a vertical dedicated to in-depth coverage of the economic forces shaping our world.

Featuring original content produced by Al Jazeera’s journalists and curated content from Bloomberg, AJ Impact will encompass all formats including articles, digital video, podcasts and infographics.

Al Jazeera has established new offices in New York City to house a dedicated editorial team to support the new property.

“AJ Impact introduces a new perspective to the landscape of business news,” Al Jazeera Media Network said in a statement.

“Grounded in Al Jazeera’s mission to give voice to the voiceless and supported by a diverse international l news team, AJ Impact will provide unbiased and inclusive reporting that boosts financial literacy and empowers news consumers to create a more just and sustainable global economy,” the statement added.

The business site will focus on four key areas; global economy, inequality, technology and the burgeoning field of impact investing, which seeks to produce healthy outcomes for people and the planet as well as a financial return.

“We see a large unmet need for a new kind of business coverage told from a human perspective, and with global reach,” Yaser Bishr, executive vice president of digital for Al Jazeera Media Network, said.

“In a media landscape that has forced other news organisations to cut back, AJ Impact represents a substantial commitment of new staff and resources to make business coverage more accessible and more relevant to all citizens of the global economy.”

Patricia Sabga, Al Jazeera’s new managing business editor overseeing AJ Impact, said traditional business news focuses on the pursuit of profit, often ignoring negative impacts on people and the environment.

“This approach does not reflect the mission of Al Jazeera, nor does it reflect the values of next-generation news consumers who understand that how they spend and invest money – even as little as a dollar – can help create a more just, prosperous and sustainable global economy.

“By producing and curating stories with a global purview and a human perspective, AJ Impact will boost economic literacy while demonstrating how we all have a stake in every economic policies and decision whether in our own backyards or thousands of miles away,” Sabga added.

In addition to expanding Al Jazeera’s English-language news coverage, AJ Impact will boost the network’s broader portfolio of digital offerings, podcast studio Jetty, and immersive video studio Contrast. 

Aljazeera.com will launch the business vertical on Wednesday.

Philippines: President Duterte’s allies dominate Senate race | News

Allies of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have won a majority of the 12 Senate seats at stake in the midterm elections, according to official results.

According to the results of the May 13 elections released on Wednesday, the opposition was shut out, heralding a stronger grip on power in the Philippines by a leader accused of massive human rights violations.

Election officials proclaimed the winners after finishing the official count overnight following a delay by glitches in automated counting machines.

Duterte backed eight winning aspirants to half of the seats in the 24-member Senate, including his former national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who enforced the president’s crackdown on illegal drugs in a campaign that left thousands of suspects dead and drew international condemnation.

Last week’s vote was seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte, who is midway through the single six-year term Philippine presidents are allowed under the constitution.

His anti-drug crackdown, unorthodox leadership style, combative and sexist joke-laden outbursts, and contentious embrace of China have been the hallmarks of his presidency.

“Do I look like a rubber stamp,” retorted Senator-elect Bong Go, a longtime Duterte aide, when reporters asked him about concerns that the new Senate would be beholden to Duterte.

But he stressed he would back the president’s war against criminality, corruption and illegal drugs and would support a bill to reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes and drug trafficking.

Go said Duterte has not given any illegal orders to him or anyone he supervised.

President’s children

Duterte’s three children also won races for mayor, vice mayor and a congressional seat representing their southern home region of Davao city.

Voters also decided congressional, gubernatorial, mayoral and city and township races. Nearly 75 percent of more than 63 million registered Filipinos cast their votes in a strong turnout.

Analysts say many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to failures of past liberal leaders.

Such a mindset has helped the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos make a political comeback.

The latest example is his daughter, Imee Marcos, one of the winning Senate candidates who was endorsed by Duterte.

The president has aimed for stronger leverage in the traditionally more independent Senate to bolster his legislative agenda.

That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability below the current 15, and revising the 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.

Opposition shutout

The handful of opposition senators whose seats were not up for election and the independents who won office last week could potentially offset the strong majority Duterte’s allies hold in the new upper chamber.

At least seven senators are needed to block amendments to the constitution, which was passed with safeguards against dictatorship in 1987, a year after Marcos was overthrown by an army-backed “people power” revolt.

Opposition aspirants, who were set back by a lack of funding and other campaign issues, considered the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances in the Philippine national government given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives.

Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenyan author and activist, dies aged 48 | News

Kenyan author and activist Binyavanga Wainaina has died at the age of 48, the publication he founded announced. 

Wainaina, founder of the literary magazine Kwani, passed away following short illness, chairman of the Nairobi-based magazine told The Daily Nation on Wednesday.

Tom Maliti said the writer died few minutes past 10pm on Tuesday at a Nairobi hospital.

Wainaina had won the Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Discovering Home” in 2002.

Following the passage of a series of anti-gay laws across Africa in 2014, Wainaina publicly announced that he was gay.

In December 2016, Wainaina posted on Twitter that he was HIV-positive.

The Time Magazine in 2014 included Wainaina in its list of the “Most Influential People in the World”.

DR Congo’s president faces challenges with appointment of new PM | DR Congo News

Sylvestre Ilunga was appointed on Monday in the Democratic Republic of Congo under a political agreement between President Felix Tshisekedi and his predecessor.

Nearly four months have passed since Tshisekedi became president, and some analysts say he’s struggling to maintain political control.

He’s also inherited many of former President Joseph Kabila’s economic and social problems.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi reports from the capital Kinshasa.

US business group: Tariffs are hurting US firms in China | News

A major business lobby group in the United States has said increased tariffs between Washington and Beijing are hurting the competitiveness of US firms operating in China, adding that many are moving or planning to relocate their factories elsewhere in the world.

The American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China (AmCham China) said in a report on Wednesday that US companies were facing increased government inspections, slower customs clearance and slower licence approvals.

Nearly 75 percent of the 250 companies that responded to the group’s survey said the recent tariff hikes by the US and China are having a negative effect on their businesses.

The survey was conducted after China and the US raised tariffs on each other’s imports earlier this month.

More than 40 percent were considering moving their manufacturing facilities out of China or had already done so, AmCham China said. Their preferred destinations were Southeast Asia and Mexico. Less than six percent of the respondents said they were considering moving to the US.

An earlier survey conducted between August and September 2018 showed that nearly 65 percent of respondents wanted to stay in China.

One in five US companies said they had faced increased inspections by Chinese authorities, while another 20 percent said their goods entering the country had been delayed by customs.

No breakthrough in sight

Economic relations between the world’s two biggest economies have become steadily worse since last May, when Chinese officials wanted major changes to the text of a proposed deal that the administration of US President Donald Trump said had been largely agreed. China has, in turn, accused the US of bullying it.

A subsequent round of talks ended with no breakthrough as Trump increased tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200bn worth of Chinese imports and threatened to impose duties on all remaining Chinese goods sold in the US.

China imposed a retaliatory tariff increase and the Trump administration followed up last week by adding telecom equipment giant Huawei to a trade blacklist that restricts its ability to buy US components and software and do business with other US companies. Washington has temporarily eased some trade restrictions on the company in an attempt to minimise the effect on customers.

No new trade talks have been scheduled, even though both Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to attend the G20 Summit in Japan’s Osaka on June 28-29.

This file picture taken on May 15, 2019 shows a hostess welcoming journalists and guests to the Huawei database and storage product launch during a press conference at the Huawei Beijing Executive Bri

The US eased some restrictions on Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei earlier this week [File: Fred Dufour/AFP]

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said the tone of Chinese media recently has been one of “strident nationalism”.

“We’ve been seeing lots of old films glorifying China’s role in the war against the United States during the Korean War. We’ve been seeing a lot of songs appearing on social media, particularly on WeChat, songs that really attack the US and its role in the current trade friction with China. One of the songs has the catchy line that if the perpetrators want a fight, ‘we’ll beat their wits out of them’,” Brown said.

And it’s not just the media that have been defiant. Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, told state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday: “The current practice of US politicians underestimates our strength.”

Washington says attacks ‘deterred’ as US-Iran tensions rise | News

The acting US defence secretary says there will be no war with Iran and the recent deployment of additional forces in the Gulf has deterred possible attacks by Tehran.

Patrick Shanahan made the comments following a classified briefing to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But Shanahan’s comments did little to soothe Congressional Democrats who are increasingly rattled by US President Donald Trump’s abrupt policy u-turns to contain Iran.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna reports from Washington, DC.

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