The debating on 1997 fiscal budget is to start today and continue for four consecutive days. Both the parliament and the government are ready to the discussions and try to make it smooth and calm. Many MPs asked to speak before the assembly including the opposition figures. News reports said the House Speaker Nabih Berri asked the MPs to shorten their addresses otherwise he will extend the sessions until night hours. The council of ministers held yesterday an extra session, the second in three days, and P.Hrawi assured there will be no new taxes or charges for the time being as it is not justified, urging more efficient collections of electricity bills, and proposing the assistance of some 500 army conscripts for that purpose.
He also welcomed the decision to lift subsidy of the electricity which should go in parallel with more efficient collections otherwise the additions to the budget will be meaningless. P.Hrawi described allegations over new taxes or charges as merely media stories' fabrications. The council has discussed the topics on its agenda and postponed the decision over Qadmous plan which relates to the Northern outlets of Beirut, also did not take decision over extending entry visa facilities during the shopping festival leaving it up to the coordination between the ministries of economy and interior.
The council asked the interior minister to take adequate measures to receive applications for the new electing card and to deliver it accomplished by the police stations and the assigned army conscripts. In the meantime, an opposition bloc including six senior parliamentarians asked yesterday the postponement of debates on budget saying the MPs were not given adequate time to study the file. The bloc includes former premiers Omar Karami and Selim Al Hoss, former speaker Hussein Husseini, MPs Butros Harb, Nassib Lahoud and Mohammed Yussef baydoun.
Prime minister Rafic Hariri revealed yesterday "he has asked the minister of justice Bahij Tabbara to set a trial for Gen. Michel Aoun, so that in case he is proved to be guilty he is sentenced and if innocent let it be and let us finish that subject, because we hear about the existence of judicial files against him and why not to set a trial".
Speaking at an Iftar hosted to syndicates, dignitaries and activists from the Kesrouan, Byblos and Mount Lebanon, he said that malpractices in the country are numerous and the complaints are not existing only in the Christian society but in the Moslem society too. Asked about the feeling that the Christians are not represented in the political decision making, he said there are MPs who were elected, the participation in the latest elections was very high and there are those who demand return back of the leaders from outside. He said the government did not prevent anyone to come back and it is not justified to the government to intervene to impose representatives of the citizens, and it was possible to anyone to participate in the elections even if he is out of Lebanon.
Mr Hariri said there are many sides who try to stir problems, including the lately panflit against Bishop Elias Awdeh .He said that a foreign side is behind the panflit which aims to cause fragmentation and there are those who organise circulating rumours. Mr Hariri added that the mayoral and municipal elections will take place on time and he is opposed to appointment of the third of the councils' members, asserting that since we elect the two thirds of the members of each council so why not to elect another third.
MP Assem Qansou, a member of the Baath party , yesterday assailed Gen.Aoun and advised him to enter a sanatorium for treatments. He accused Aoun of fomenting sectarian unrest at a time all the people are backing the course of civil peace, achieve national harmony and build constitutional institutions.
Mr. Samir Geagea, the former commander of the Lebanese Forces, "did not ask anything more than a room that the sun can reach, or a medical team to determine if his present room is fit to live in and after the committee's report he won't ask anything else", the state prosecutor Adnan Addoum said yesterday. Mr Addoum has toured yesterday the defense ministry 's prison in Yarze from 1.00 to 3.00 p.m upon the request of the Judicial Council , to check any violations related to Geagea imprisonment.
He said the complaints of Mr. Geagea's lawyers and supporters, that his prison conditions at the defense ministry are not adequate and his cell is three floors underground and not equipped enough, are not true. He said the defense ministry prison is the best in the country as it meets the highest health and hygienic standards and that was confirmed by the parliament's human rights committee.
Mr Addoum also said that Geagea told him his health is fine but he is worried about it. He said that Mr Geagea is allowed to see visitors including members of his family and his lawyers, without guards or cameras or tapping machines, his cell is 5 meters long and three and half wide with a built in bathroom, a desk, a bed, and books and magazines of all kinds except political publications. He denied the cell is three meters underground as its windows are above the ground and the cell is well ventilated and lit. Addoum added that Geagea appeared comfortable physically and psychologically although he observes a strict diet and exercises, jogging for about 90 minutes a day in the ministry's courtyard.
According to Mr Addoum, Geagea told him he wants to stay under the protection of the Lebanese army even in a barrack, and does not want a television or radio but political newspapers and magazines. Also said that Geagea told him he is allowed to go in the sun but wants to stay longer times there. Mr Addoum said the prison has nine other inmates including namely Manuel Yunis and Gerges El Khoury also those charged of assasinating Rashid Karami.
The UN Security Council extended yesterday the UNIFIL mission in south Lebanon for six more months ending 31st July. The council has unanimously adopted the resolution and said there is urgent need to implement the 425 resolution which calls for the withdrawal of Israel and expressed worry of the continued violence, condemning all the actions of violence, especially against the UNIFIL, and urged all parties to put an end to that. The UNIFIL comprises 4500 peacekeepers and 500 more civilians and it is deployed there since 1978.
House Speaker Nabih Berri signed yesterday a memorandum of understanding with US embassy charge d'affaires in presence of the US ambassador under which the USAID agency will provide training and technical rehabilitation for the parliament. The program is launched in conjunction with a research centre attached to the state University of N.Y. in Albany.
It will include training workshops and a database that will take parliament to the 21st century computing. The US ambassador said, his country is interested in the reconstruction of the institutions in Lebanon, and it has financed the administrative reform and the judicial branch. He said he told deputy speaker Elie Firzli that there is no troika system in the USA, and the US administrative system maintains the three branches executive, legislative and judicial which all act independently but through a system of checks and balances. He jokingly said the troika word is a russian word which he does not like.
Former MP August Bakhus said after a meeting with Cardinal Sfair yesterday he briefed his eminence over the philosophy of the two bills related to the decentralization and the municipalities. He said it is shame not to hold mayoral and municipal elections, and appointment of members of the municipalities is not obligatory. Cardinal Sfair received also the head of the Maronite International Institute Fuad El Matni who said he discussed with the cardinal the reasons which led to the postponement of the maronite international conference in Sydney for technical reasons. The cardinal received also a delegation of Lebanese emigrants in the USA who handed him a memo they delivered to the Lebanese officials over naturalization of the Lebanese emigrants who hail from Lebanon and to register their children at Lebanese missions abroad.
Jordanian information minister said yesterday his country is unhappy with Lebanon's release of the three Iraqi diplomats, because the Lebanese authorities have said they have confessed they killed the Jordanian national Taleb Suheil Tamimi. He said diplomatic norms do not allow for murder, and that the "Marriott executive" Derar Karmi has no connection whatsoever to rumours suggesting he was linked to the blast in Syria.
The ambassador of Brazil in Lebanon told the education minister yesterday that he has received a letter from the Lebanese emigrants in Brazil, who extended the invitation to the Lebanese national soccer team to have training in Brazil. He said the Lebanese emigrants will pay cost of training because they want Lebanon to win the Arab cup and consider that a contribution by them.
The Lebanese disabled delegation left yesterday to Canada to join the winter Olympics which will be held in Toronto 1-9th Feb including 25 players.
The Lebanese Football Union's high committee at a meeting Jan 28 reviewed the outcome of the earlier meeting held between the representatives of the first degree clubs, who discussed the horizons of the 2000 Lebanese football, which aims to enhance Lebanon experiences before the eventuality of hosting the Asian cup. The union also reviewed the preparations underway for the two matches with the Jordanian team on Feb 2 and 6, also acknowledged the cancellation of the trip by the Belarus olympic team. News report said that the Belarus Olympic team was due to come to Lebanon next month, but some of its players were banned to enter Lebanon because they have visited Israel.
The Lebanese Wrestling Union decided yesterday to participate in most of the Arabic and international games and fixed dates for training and preparations.
The Lebanese Tennis Team for the Davis cup is getting ready for its match with the Saudi team as of 18th Feb and due to leave to Riyadh on 13th Feb for training there. Captain Karim Asswad announced that players Tufic Zahalan and Shon Karam, who came from Australia, also Ibrahim Kahil and Ali Hamadeh,champion of 1996, are all training at th Maste's club.
The national basketball elimination rounds are over with the following groups qualified to play in the next stage;
1.Group one: Riyadi Beirut, Wardieh, Riadi Beit Meri.
2.Group two: Hiendkmeh, Shabab Ghobeiri, Mont La salle.
3.Group three: Tadamon Zouk, Abnaa Neptune, Kahraba.
4.Group four: Antranik, Ihyaa Riyada, Hannibal.
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