A second African regional body has called for a recount of Democratic Republic of Congo’s contested presidential election, raising pressure on Kinshasa to fix a dispute that could fan unrest.
The International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (CIRGL), a 12-member body including Kinshasa allies Angola and Republic of Congo, expressed “great concern” at the controversy surrounding the poll results.
“We suggest that the competent structures consider counting the votes in order to guarantee the transparency of the results,” it added in a statement.
The December 30 vote was supposed to herald Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in six decades of independence and a new era after President Joseph Kabila’s chaotic 18-year rule.
But monitoring groups noted widespread irregularities including faulty voting machines and poorly run polling stations, overshadowing talk of democratic progress in the vast country of 80 million people.
Second-place finisher, former Exxon Mobil executive Martin Fayulu, says he in fact won by a landslide with over 60 percent of votes and that the official winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, struck a deal with Kabila to be declared the victor.
Tshisekedi and Kabila deny this.
International pressure on Kabila has built since the vote, in part because Congo’s influential Catholic Church said tallies by its 40,000-strong monitoring team show a different winner to that announced by the electoral commission.
France, Belgium, the United States and Britain have all expressed concern about the vote. But perceived criticism from inside Africa could hold greater sway in Congo.
The CIRGL statement late on Sunday echoed a statement from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which contains allies of Kinshasa like South Africa and Angola.
Approval of the election results from regional partners are critical for the legitimacy of president-elect Tshisekedi.
Spokespeople for Kabila and Tshisekedi were not reachable for comment on the statements from African bodies.
Fayulu has welcomed calls for a recount.
Isolated post-election violence in the country has many fearing a return to the kind of conflict and upheaval that killed millions since the 1990s and destabilised the region.
Congo is the world’s leading miner of cobalt, a mineral used in electric car batteries and mobile phones, and Africa’s biggest copper producer. It also mines gold and diamonds.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
Saudi Arabia, UAE summon Lebanon envoys over Yemen war criticism
Gulf states angered by Lebanese information minister’s remarks about the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.Saudi Arabia and the UAE have summoned Lebanon’s ambassadors to protest against Information Minister George Kordahi’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen. Kordahi said during an interview aired on Monday that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels…
Gulf states angered by Lebanese information minister’s remarks about the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.Saudi Arabia and the UAE have summoned Lebanon’s ambassadors to protest against Information Minister George Kordahi’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen.
Kordahi said during an interview aired on Monday that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels are “defending themselves … against an external aggression”, adding that “homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed” by the coalition.
He also called the seven-year war in Yemen “futile” and said it was “time for it to end”.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis gained control of the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.
Tens of thousands of people – most of them civilians – have died and millions have been displaced, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it handed the ambassador a memorandum protesting against Kordahi’s “offensive” remarks.
It also expressed its regret about the “insulting” statements, saying they were “clearly biased towards the terrorist Houthi militia that threatens the security and stability of the region”.
Shortly after, the United Arab Emirates – a member of the coalition – condemned Kordahi’s statements and said it had also called in the Lebanese ambassador.
Kordahi’s “disgraceful and biased” comments “offended the member countries of the coalition,” it said in a statement carried by the official WAM news agency.
The Gulf Cooperation Council’s secretary general earlier said Kordahi’s comments reflected little understanding and was a superficial reading of events.
GCC member Kuwait also summoned Lebanon’s charge d’affaires in protest.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese government said that Kordahi’s statements were “rejected and did not reflect the position of the government”, adding that the interview in question took place before Kordahi was appointed to the cabinet in September.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been hoping to improve ties with Gulf Arab states which have been strained for years because of the influence wielded in Beirut by the Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah.
Lebanon, he added, was eager for the best relations with Arab states.
Kordahi, a well-known television presenter, told local reporters on Wednesday that the interview in question took place on August 5, before he became a minister and was his “personal opinion”.
“I did not wrong anyone. I did not attack anyone. Why should I apologise?” he said. “I stated my position with love as a human who feels Arab suffering.”
He said he was committed to government policy and would not resign.
“I am against Arab-Arab wars … accusing me of hostility to Saudi Arabia is rejected.”
When asked during the show about drone attacks, which the Houthis have launched repeatedly into Saudi Arabia along with missiles, he answered, “Yes, but see also the damage that is being done to them as a nation … they are being bombed by planes.”
Beirut has adopted a policy of staying out of regional conflicts even as Hezbollah has deployed fighters to Syria. The Saudi-led coalition has said Hezbollah also sent fighters to Yemen.
Rights groups have strongly criticised the coalition for civilian casualties in its aerial bombardment.
The Saudi-led coalition says it does not intentionally target civilians in Yemen, where air raids have killed civilians at hospitals, schools and markets during the war.
Putin signals additional natural gas may be bound for Europe
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to start rebuilding European gas inventories next month.By Dina Khrennikova and Ilya Arkhipov and Elena MaznevaBloombergPublished On 27 Oct 2021President Vladimir Putin told Gazprom PJSC to turn to refilling European gas-storage facilities next month, signaling that long-awaited additional Russian supplies could be on the way. The move will “create a…
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to start rebuilding European gas inventories next month.By Dina Khrennikova and Ilya Arkhipov and Elena MaznevaBloombergPublished On 27 Oct 2021President Vladimir Putin told Gazprom PJSC to turn to refilling European gas-storage facilities next month, signaling that long-awaited additional Russian supplies could be on the way.
The move will “create a more favorable situation on the European energy market,” Putin said at a meeting broadcast on state television Wednesday.
He ordered the state-controlled energy giant to focus on filling underground storage in Germany and Austria starting Nov. 8, once it’s completed the process at home. Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexey Miller, speaking to the president via video link, said the domestic re-injection campaign would be extended a week longer than the original Nov. 1 conclusion.
Gazprom so far has pumped very small amounts of gas into its European storage facilities, Miller said.
Russia’s focus on rebuilding domestic gas inventories, combined with low storage rates at Gazprom sites in the European Union, has become a major concern for the continent’s market, which is struggling with an energy squeeze and sky-high prices.
European inventories on the whole are at the lowest seasonal level in almost a decade.
Putin’s first verbal intervention into the market earlier this month eased the gas rally but prices have recovered slightly since. Transit capacities that Gazprom has booked for November don’t yet promise any significant boost in deliveries to Europe. The company has said it’s meeting all contractual obligations, while some EU officials have accused the company of withholding fuel to accelerate approval of its controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
All gas-storage sites in Europe’s biggest market, Germany, where Gazprom has several facilities, are about 71% full now, according to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe.
The situation with facilities owned and co-owned by the Russian exporter varies – from 83% at Jemgum to 9.5% at Rehden. Gazprom has used some volumes it stored in the EU in August to compensate for reduced shipments after a fire at a Siberian processing plant.
In Russia, Gazprom plans to stockpile a record 72.6 billion cubic meters for the upcoming winter. The plan was to complete this task by Nov. 1, but the gas producer will continue rebuilding its Russian inventories through Nov. 7 as planned virus lockdowns will dampen fuel consumption, Miller said.
(Updates with details on Gazprom storage sites staring in seventh paragraph)
Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.” The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.” This was…
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.”
The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.”
This was the first Saudi statement since the bloody clashes in Tayouneh on Oct. 14.
At least seven people were killed in the violence in Beirut amid a protest organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s blast at the city’s port.
The protestors, gathered by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, demanded the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation.
According to the embassy’s statement, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian “expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom, led by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for never abandoning Lebanon and its people, despite the unfair stances against the Kingdom by some Lebanese parties that only represent themselves.”
Sheikh Derian added that “the Saudi-Lebanese relations have always been and will remain solid regardless of any offensive speeches because our relations are above these speeches and Saudi Arabia will always see Lebanon as an Arab brotherly country.”
The statement comes after the Intelligence Directorate summoned the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, to the Defense Ministry on Wednesday as part of the investigation into the bloodshed in Tayouneh.
The summoning was the motivation for Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi’s spontaneous visits on Tuesday to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun.
Al-Rahi denounced “the summoning of Geagea only by the Intelligence Directorate to testify.”
Charles Jabbour from the Lebanese Forces party told Arab News that “Geagea will not appear at the Defense Ministry on Wednesday.
“They should start with summoning Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah. All parties should give testimonies, beginning with the party that called for the demonstration. Only when a judge dares to summon Nasrallah, will we be able to talk about a state and a judiciary in Lebanon.”
The move to summon Geagea was condemned by several political figures.
Former Premier Saad Hariri refused “to engage in an absurd conflict and the frontlines of a civil war and sectarian divisions.”
He added: “Announcing that Dr. Geagea was informed to appear before the Intelligence Directorate via a plastered notification is absurd and leads the country into further division along with using state machinery for revenge politics.”
Former Premier Fouad Siniora also denounced “the bias of the judicial authorities in the military court over the deplorable Tayouneh events and the continuing violations of the constitutions by those who were entrusted with the task of preserving and protecting it.”
Siniora rejected “the practices seeking to use the judiciary for reprisals against political opponents, and not for its main mission: To seek the truth and achieve justice.”
Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat criticized the “selectivity instead of a transparent and just investigation for a comprehensive justice.”
He said: “All those who fired shots in the Tayouneh events should be arrested, without discrimination, and this destructive and futile political dispute must be ended.”
Samy Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, announced his rejection to “all the means Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have resorted to in hampering the investigation into the Beirut port blast.”
Hezbollah accused Geagea of firing the first shot on Oct. 14 at the demonstrators who penetrated the anti-Hezbollah and Christian-majority Ain Remaneh area.
Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is also a defendant in the Beirut port explosion investigation, visited Sheikh Derian on Tuesday, reiterating his demand “to either lift immunity from everyone without exception, or adopt the legal and constitutional mechanisms in force in the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.”
So far, all the politicians who have been accused of being involved in the Beirut port blast have declined to appear before Judge Bitar.
Amal Movement and Hezbollah ministers have refused to attend Cabinet sessions unless Judge Bitar is removed and the investigations into Tayouneh are halted, causing a governmental paralysis at a time when Lebanon is in desperate need of reforms to unblock the international aid that would lessen its dire economic situation.
Prime Minister Mikati hoped on Tuesday that “Cabinet meetings will resume as soon as possible to make the decisions required to activate the work of commissions and committees and do what is needed from the government.”
Mikati added that he hoped his government would supervise “the parliamentary elections with full integrity, to enable these elections to renew the political life in Lebanon.”
The joint parliamentary committees held a session on Tuesday and voted to keep the electoral law as it was, thus rejecting Aoun’s proposal to make amendments.
Aoun had objected to holding the elections on March 27 and to the proposals to change the expatriate voting formula by canceling the six seats allocated for Lebanese voters who live abroad.