There was only limited support to a general strike called on by Lebanon's General Labor Confederation yesterday following last April's split in the country's trade union movement. The GLC had said that strikers would be protesting against the cost of living. Today, a vast majority of businesses remained open in the capital as did 80 % of the financial sector. State schools remained open and private schools heeded the strike call. The strike call did affect however public transport but Beirut's port and airport remained open. Port and airport employees as well as staff of the national electricity company decided to stage a symbolic two-hour stoppage from midday to prevent any disruption to services. The strike call was also met with a very limited response in the north and the south. The General Labor Confederation headed by Ghaneim al-Zoghbi is pressing for an increase in the minimum wage from 200 to 500 dollars, a new pay structure and a more progressive taxation system. Today al-Zoghbi described the strike in the public sector as 100% successful, citing stoppage among some transportation, water and electricity services and several schools.
In parliament, members of parliamentary committees held discussions on a number of issues. The committee of immigrants and foreign affairs convened calling on the government to prosecute Lebanese who might use other passports to attend the controversial Middle East economic summit in Doha to held next week. The committee also asked economic and industrial associations in the country not to participate in the conference also praising those countries who boycotted the summit which Israel is excepted to attend. Chairman of the committee Ali Al-Khalil recommended the government to legally pursue those Lebanese businessmen if they do participate in one way or another in the Doha conference. Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee of finance and administration ratified the public sector pay scales draft law and refereed it to parliament's general committee. The draft law is expected to top the agenda of talks in the upcoming legislative parliamentary session. Head of the committee Khalil Al-Hrawi called for the necessity of limited expenditure stressing next year's budget deficit should not be allowed to exceed the agreed upon 37%.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri arrived in the Vietnamese capital at 8:00 am Beirut Time this morning. Hariri is now in Hanoi to participate in the seventh Francophone summit to be opened tomorrow. At Noi Bai Airport, Hariri was received by a military guard of honor, ministers, ambassadors and diplomats. Others who arrived ahead of him included the president of Madagascar, while former UN chief Boutrous Ghali and the Canadian Prime Minister were due to land later today. The conference is held for the first time in Asia. Hariri will attend tomorrow's opening session and is also expected to deliver a speech. The prime minister was also appointed vice president of the summit meeting. Upon his arrival, Hariri held discussions with the Lebanese delegation accompanying him. The premier later stressed Lebanon is a basic participant in the conference. He also described the Lebanese-French relations as good adding France has always stood beside Lebanon in many issues and during different conditions. In his speech tomorrow, Hariri will explain Lebanon's stance with respect to the Middle East peace process and the situation in the South of the country. He will meet French President Jacques Chirac and later head together to Malaysia onboard Hariri's private plane where they will meet again and hold discussions.
There were no extraordinary movements of the army and internal security forces in the Baalbeck-Hermel area today. This after cabinet decided yesterday to charge the army with taking control of security in the region for three consecutive months. The move was taken to subdue the civil disobedience campaign of Sheikh Sobhi Toufaily launched last July 4th in a bid to protest the difficult living conditions in the Bekaa area.Toufaily's campaign was labeled by cabinet as unacceptable.
After a visit to his homeland, US ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones returned to Lebanon. Today, he held discussions with President Elias Al-Hrawi at Baabda and House Speaker Nabih Berri at his residence in Ain Al-Teeneh. In Baabda, Jones welcomed the recent decision of US president Bill Clinton which removed Lebanon and Syria from the list of drug trafficking countries. He said the decision was taken on the bases of a US recognition of the significant progress reached in Lebanon in recent years in ending the cultivation of drug crops in the Bekaa Valley. The US ambassador recalled last February's visit by Mr. Jonathan Weiner who is the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for these issues, addingthe information that the Weiner received during his visit was instrumental in changing the views that had been held in the US on this issue.
Concerning the recent dynamite explosion at the American university of Beirut, Jones regarded the incident as troublesome adding his country closely monitors the situation in Lebanon especially after the recent lifting of the US travel ban on the country in a bid to make sure its citizens were safe. But Jones praised the response of the Lebanese authorities describing it as entirely appropriate. In Ain Al-Teeneh, Jones held discussions with House Speaker Berri on the situation in the South and the recent US decision to remove Lebanon from the drug majors producing list. Asked about his view concerning Sheikh Sobhi Toufaily's civil disobedience campaign, Jones said Toufaily has raised very interesting issues but added he did not agree with his tactics. Jones concluded this was an internal Lebanese matter and refused to comment further.
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