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Lebanon’s new prime minister insists on neutrality in Syrian conflict

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Lebanon’s premier-designate Tammam Salam told AFP on Saturday that he supports the freedom of the Syrian people while insisting his country remain neutral in its neighbour’s civil war.

“My position is that I am on the side of the Syria people; I support the freedom and the sovereignty of the people,” Salam said, hours after being named by President Michel Sleiman to form a new government.

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Salam, the 67-year-old scion of one of Lebanon’s grand political families and whose father was six times premier, met with AFP at his home in Moussaytbeh, in west Beirut.

Echoing remarks he made in a first address to the nation after being chosen to replace outgoing premier Najib Mikati, he said he favoured a “policy of disassociation” from the war in which rebels aim to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But he said this strategy can only be effective if all parties in Lebanon adhere to it.

“We will work… to distance Lebanon from all the negative repercussions” of the war in Syria, he said.

In his earlier speech, he said “there is a need to bring Lebanon out of its state of division and political fragmentation, as reflected on the security situation, and to ward off the risks” from the Syrian conflict and regional tensions.

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Lebanon was dominated politically and militarily by Syria until 2005, and the Assad regime still holds great influence over Beirut through the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and other allies.

The country is sharply divided over the conflict in Syria.

The Western-backed, primarily Sunni Muslim, opposition from which Salam hails supports the Syrian rebels, while Hezbollah backs the Assad regime.

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There have been deadly clashes within Lebanon, mostly in the northern port city of Tripoli, between backers and opponents of Assad.

Armed elements from Lebanon have crossed the border to join the fray on both sides, and Lebanese border villages have occasionally been the target of fire from Syria.

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While the Mikati government also officially took a neutral stance toward the Syrian conflict, some ministers close to Hezbollah openly expressed their support for Assad.

“There is no doubt that the policy of disassociation is a good one for Lebanon,” Salam said, “so long as it is followed to the letter.”

“The different parties should commit themselves to that and not adopt difficult positions.”

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Salam, known for his moderation, took a diplomatic tack when turning to the question of the arsenal held by Hezbollah’s militia, long a subject of discord between the two rival camps.

“I am with the (anti-Israeli) resistance when it is pointed in the right direction and when it is a matter of defending Lebanon,” Salam said.

But “when that arsenal is turned toward the inside of the country for the purpose of influencing the (political) balance, that is straying from the resistance.”

Turning to the difficult task of forming a new cabinet, Salam refused to commit himself whether he would seek a government of national unity, as favoured by Hezbollah.

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He said the priority would be to hold legislative polls, which are scheduled for June but for which a new electoral law has yet to be agreed.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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High school wrestling coach posted photo that mocked George Floyd’s death — but insists ‘I’m not a racist’

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A high school wrestling coach in the town of Spanaway, Washington drew criticism this week after he wrote a Facebook post that mocked the death of George Floyd and defended the police officers involved in the tragedy.

Local news station KOMO reports that wrestling coach Dave Hollenbeck this week posted a photo of himself smiling and giving a thumbs-up signal while another person put their knee on the back of his neck -- a clear reference to the video showing a police officer with his knee on George Floyd's neck shortly before he died.

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Central Park incident just one more example of white women using their status to terrorize black men: NYT’s Charles Blow

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Amy Cooper is just the latest example of white women using their privilege and femininity to terrorize black men, according to a new column from Charles Blow.

The New York Times columnist explains that a video recording of an incident involving Cooper, an investment manager, and Christian Cooper, a science editor, has a long and shameful historical precedent.

"This racial street theater against black people is an endemic, primal feature of the Republic," Blow write. "Specifically, I am enraged by white women weaponizing racial anxiety, using their white femininity to activate systems of white terror against black men. This has long been a power white women realized they had and that they exerted."

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New Zealand epidemiologist: ‘We look at Trump’s behavior and we’re horrified’

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To learn how New Zealand has largely eliminated COVID-19, we continue our extended interview with Michael Baker, an epidemiologist who is a member of the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Technical Advisory Group and advising the government on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He describes how the country’s response compares to the government actions in the United States and worldwide.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we bring you Part 2 of our discussion of New Zealand.

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