News from Beirut January 23  1997  .......Search

Lebanon Mild Earthquakes, No Damages

An earthquake struck Lebanon yesterday at around 8.00 p.m and followed by three aftershocks between 8.20 and 8.30 p.m. It is 6th earthquake in past four months. The epicenter reported 323 km north west of Lebanon off Cyprus. The consecutive tremors struck the eastern basin of the Mediterranean including Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus but no damages or casualties reported.

The First tremor which struck Lebanon among others registered 5.6 degree on Richter scale and the aftershocks registered a magnitude of 3.5 to 5 , according to seismologist Charles Tabet at Behannes observatory in Lebanon.

Many reports in the press and a CNN one triggered fears among Lebanese of a "big one". Geologists say regular tremors indicate that pressure is being released along a fault line and are normal. The Lebanese along the coast and in Bekaa felt it and went out to open squares despite the cold.

Pope Plan to Visit Beirut

Spokesman for Pope Jean Paul said Jan 22 the Pope will visit Lebanon this year but no date was given yet. He said the visit is under discussion now and reliable sources in Vatican say it could take place in May. The Pope has expressed for so many times he wishes to visit Lebanon but the circumstances did not allow him and it was postponed for several times. Pope Jean Paul has said "Lebanon wants to live and return to its historic vocation, which is the coexistence between cultures and different traditions". Officially, he is going to give the findings of the Synod which met in Vatican Nov 1995 to discuss Lebanon and called on Christians to return and help in reconstruction. A planned visit by Pope to Lebanon was called off in May 1994 after a bloody attack on Notre Dame de La Deliverance in Zouk.

Troika news

Truce is still observed by both P.Hrawi and speaker Berri but it did not develop to a conciliation. P.Hrawi has welcomed yesterday a proposal by former prime minister Selim Hoss calling for the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate embezzlements and corruption according to Mr Berri.

Mr Berri gave permission to television and radio stations to cover Parliament debate next week to discuss fiscal budget, and by that he apparently is launching a war by proxy against Hariri and his two partners in troika through his parliamentary bloc and allies, who will "trial" government.

Mr Berri quoted saying according to his visitors " he feels betrayed by his other two troika partners, who surprisingly set dates for local municipal elections in June , despite and earlier understanding it should be postponed two years. The term of municipal councils in Lebanon expired end of  last year and no provision has been made to extend their mandate. However Mr. Berri said he is ready to meet P.Hrawi if the meeting leads to enhance institutions role in a framework of cooperation with his troika partners.

Observers say the parliament debate on budget will be an occasion to discuss government political function which contradict with its ministerial statement and the priorities it outlined specified. According to Berri's circles he argues how Mr Hariri can persuade us that socio economic problems are priority , at time 77 percent of the budget goes to public sector salaries and wages and to to pay debts interests. They also mention that agriculture ministry's allocations are only 7 percent of the total budget, so how can this be a priority. Observers see that budget battle is brewing and it will be televised.

Former prime minister Omar Karami, at an Iftar held in Tripoli yesterday, launched a an attack on the scandalous troika deals, the packages and embezzlements, and the corruption of the administration. He said the multi million dollars reconstruction project is not based on solid grounds, and instead government should have concentrated on rehabilitating human resources.

Mr Karami claimed that a German team told officials here last year that the cost of the country economical revival drive was far beyond the estimated revenues. He also said that army is only institute free of corruption, the funds embezzled in the finance ministry's revenues stamps fraud was actually estimated by $ 400m  and not  $ 2.5 m as finance minister put it. He said that high ranking officials crippled the supervisory bodies.

Council of Ministers Approved Teachers pay rise

The Council of Ministers' meeting yesterday under prime Minister Rafic Hariri was cool and quiet despite early expectation of a fiery session. The latest round of talks in Damascus and its outcomes took much of the time.

Hariri said the economical and security relations with Syria" have achieved desired goals at all levels and can be described as distinctive and excellent. Cooperation in the fields of agriculture, industry, and trade have made good progress but still have long way to go". He also said " we have to work together to resolve accumulated obstacles of the past 50 years and impede economic complementation, as Syria is vital extension for Lebanon. Economical relations must be upgraded to same level of political security cooperation".

Among the topics discussed

1. approving and adjusting the scales of salaries of the school teachers. Finance minister estimated the cost by $58m while teachers union estimation put it at $48m. The question of restoring enough revenues to cover it is now in hands of finance minister.

2. Endorsed an emergency plan by environment minister Akram Shehayeb which will be in effect as of early Feb. Burj Hammoud dump to be closed finally May 30,1997, after two plants to treat solid wastes at Amrousieh and Karantina are rehabilitated and equipped

3.Agreed to the request of Investment Department IDAL to rehabilitate Qulayat airfield also to include Rayak airfield , both to be transformed to airports. Estimated cost of Qulayat, now Rene Moawad airport, is around $50m on B.O.T basis .

Other topics included confirming the hosting of Arab sports tournament in July. A proposal to amend municipal law aims at creating two controversial posts, including secretary general of Beirut municipality was postponed.  The proposal was expected to evoke anger of the G.Orthodox who think such post is planned to curve authority of the Orthodox governor.

The Armenian parliamentary bloc welcomed yesterday the decision to close the Burj Hammoud dump but remained cautious because of the $20m needed to finance the plan, and preferred to wait few days until enough allocations are decided.

Head of Industrialists Association resigns

Head of Lebanon Industrialists Association Jacques Sarraf has resigned Jan 22  in protest to a government decision to cut duties on imported ready wear clothes by 10 percent.. The resignation was submitted to the minister of industry following a meeting of industrial sectors' council. The council said the duties cut 's decree was taken unilaterally without knowledge of the minister of industry and the decree is sort of mercy bullet against production sector, and a danger against investments in Lebanese industry.

They recall that an earlier protective measure was decided nine months ago, so how such a fresh policy be reviewed and retracted in a short time.

Clothing industry is one of Lebanon major exportation industries. Mr Sarraf  blamed prime minister Hariri of taking the decision to cut duties unilaterally without discussing it with concerned minister, saying Mr Hariri is ignoring the needs of industry.

Labours, Strikes and Amendment of Labour Law

Beirut airport is back to normal following a 24 hours strike by MEA pilots and staff. The MEA and other Arab and foreign airlines resumed flights as scheduled while passengers booked again. Union of air transports including MEA, TMA, Abella, LAT and others said after a meeting they support the MEA staff and workers strike now and in future , including the possibility of a new strike, unless their demands are met.

The Labour minister Assaad Hardan held meetings yesterday with his aides and representatives of  labour unions to intermediate with MEA saying his ministry will intervene to discuss demands.

Mohammed Issa, head of ground workers, hoped there will be no more strike namely during the next month shopping festival, but strike could take place before festival if demands are not met. An MEA official estimated the losses during the one day strike by 300 thousand dollars.

the National Labour Union has submitted its proposals on amending the old labour law issued in 1946, at time the council of ministers is expected to make its own amendments. Substance of the dispute between labour Union and government is that each party wants to tailor the law in favor of its vision and concept. The union has proved to be a major pressure group and who controls influence the union can have considerable say in Lebanon politics. The syndical structuring is the core of the confrontation between government and union.

General Michel Aoun

General Michel Aoun to speak in an interview with a daily paper in Lebanon. The interview will appear Saturday. Excerpts of the interview quoted him saying he " knows the goals of the Lebanese Moslems and he is not at odds with it. If we agreed to values Lebanon can concede its frontiers. Antoine Saadeh was a pioneering secular and Beshir Gemayel wanted a Christian homeland. They ask me why Christians not sharing in power but are the Moslems sharing ?. Everytime a foreigner comes to Lebanon a Lebanese depart evacuate abroad. State has no money with me and it is the state which took my private money. I did not strike the Lebanese forces but it has shifted and struck me".

Druze community

The tendency to settle the highest religious post of the Druze community known as Sheikh Al Akl, and to fix present acting Sheikh Akl Bahjat Ghaith in the post, similar to the posts of Sunni and Shiite religious heads, is a controversy. News said Sheikh Ghaith will be reinstated before Adha feast but the Druze religious board say the post is still vacant since the decease of  former Sheikh Abu Shaqra. The state officials namely P.Hrawi deal with Sheikh Ghaith as the religious leader regardless of the community say. The Druze chieftain Mr Jumblat is silent, leader of the Arsalan clan says he is with comprehension .

Egyptian ambassador in Lebanon

After a meeting with Lebanese foreign minister the Egyptian ambassador siad that Hebron deal is a step in right direction adding it is not a new agreement but an agreement imposing mechanism for implementation. Lebanese information minister Bassem Sabaa said after cabinet meeting that Mr Hariri outlined government policy, that is to be cautious toward Israeli offers , and its attempt to refloat "Lebanon First " proposal which is rejected by Lebanon. He said P.Hrawi also said that serious repercussions would take place after Hebron deal and Lebanon should be ready to all possible eventualities. Prime minister Hariri  said yesterday Mr Netanyahu did not show he is looking for peace. Hizbullah MP  Ali Khreis said yesterday the Israeli proposals aim at dissociating Lebanon from Syria.

News in Brief


Wael Nazha , star Lebanese striker playing for Tadamoun-Sour, has been offered contracts to play for Swiss Lugano club and also by Inter-Milan, but he could not sign contracts because of his suspension for two years.

Nazha, who's mother is a Liberian, played in Ivory coast with junior professional team owned by soccer star George Weah. Nazha is described as the best attacker the game of soccer has produced in Lebanon.

- Basketball classifications of first degree clubs is to finish today.

-Volleyball union formed yesterday the committee in charge of organising Asian championship.

- 4 Lebanese skiers and one administrator left to Seoul in Korea to play in the winter universiad tournament.

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