Lebanon tomorrow celebrates its 54th independence day. Just like every year, President Elias Al-Hrawi will deliver a speech at 7:30 p.m. on the eve of the country's independence day. Hrawi is expected to stress in his word Lebanon's ever-lasting will to oust the Israeli occupation from South Lebanon. Hrawi will also point to a number of local and regional issues at stake. The president today received congratulatory cables from French President Jacques Chirac, Russian president Boris Yeltsin, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Algerian president Liamine Zeroual, Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabbah, Spanish monarch Juan Carlos, and the Secretary general of the Arab League Ismat Abdel Majeed in addition to many other world figures.
Independence celebrations started yesterday with the Flag Day. Tomorrow morning, a military parade will be performed at the Museum area. Today, Lebanese leaders and ministers visited the tombs of independence figures in different areas of he country. Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr, Transportation Minister Omar Miskawi, and deputy Samir Azar represented the three top leaders in a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of Lebanon's first president, the late Bshara Al-Khoury. Other representatives of the three leaders also laid garlands at the tombs of independence figures Habib Abi Shahla, Prince Majeed Arslan, the late first prime minister Riad al-Solh, the late presidents Camille Chamoon, Rene Mouawwad, and Pierre Gemayel. Military barracks in various parts of the country also celebrated Independence Day
Prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri and House Speaker Nabih Berri are scheduled to meet tonight for a third time in one week. Discussions are expected to focus on the country's economic and financial problems. The 1998-state budget, development projects, and the public sector pay scales will also top the agenda of talks. Tomorrow the two leaders will meet President Elias Al-Hrawi at Baabda after the independence military parade to update him of their latest discussions.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine will tour Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria on January 12-13. This according to a statement by his ministry which also said Vedrine will visit Israel on Tuesday, Palestinian territories on Wednesday and Egypt on Thursday in his first Middle East tour since taking office in June. Ministry spokesman Anne Gazeau-Secret said Vedrine will voice the European Union's concern at the deadlock in the peace process and try to convince Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat of the need to resume talks.
Former warlord Samir Geagea is to go to trial next month for the 1987 assassination of then Lebanese prime minister Rashid Karameh. Geagea who was the commander of the now disbanded Lebanese Forces is already serving three life sentences for other offenses. Judicial sources today said the five-judge judicial council has set December 5 as the date for the opening session. There is no right of appeal against the council's verdicts. Geagea is accused of being behind the June 1, 1987 mid-air explosion of an army helicopter on which Karameh was traveling. Sixteen others are charged along with him. Four are in custody, including a Lebanese army officer and an ordinary solider. Twelve are being tried in absentia. All the defendants could face the death penalty if found guilty.
After a whole week of meetings and workshops, the Lebanese Youth Association for the Blind along with the World Blind Union decided to form a Middle East Union for the Blind whose draft constitution was being formulated. The Regional Workshop for Blind People in the Middle East opened in Beirut last Friday. Participants form Spain, Sweden, Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon discussed the constraints and opportunities for enhancing blind men and women participation in development. During its first phase, training sessions were held for Mideastern blind women.
Egyptian trainers stressed the themes of gender interactions and gender and disability. The second part of the workshop was organized by the World Blind union. Head of the Youth Association for the Blind, Amer Makarem, said that during these two days, they elected a new Mideast committee for blind women. Six members were elected to be in this committee.
During the last day of workshops, meetings were held between the Middle East Associations for Blind People. Participants assigned a special committee to discuss the draft of the constitution of a Middle East Regional Office for the association to be established in the near future. Today's meeting was attended by the vice president of the World Blind Union and other members of the organization. Vice President Kicki Nordstrom said she was being responsible for the gender perspective of the World Blind Union since the WBU has been very male-dominated through it's history. She added that it was important to include women in the union and that it was one of her duties to educate and encourage women to be part of the organization.
Yesterday, the workshop wrapped up its activities. A special committee was assigned to discuss the possible formation of the Middle East Union of Blind People. The next general assembly meeting will be held in Amman at the end of March.
At the invitation of the Dutch Ambassador to Lebanon, Ronald Mollinger and under the patronage of Minister of Environment Akram Shhayyeb, a seminar entitled "Lebanon Disaster Protection and Relief Planning" was held at Hotel Le Gabriel in Ashrafieh (Beirut) this week. Speakers agreed upon the fact that industrialization of Lebanon is growing steadily and in many respects the country is setting an example for the rest of the region.
However, the rate of economic activity and growth is thought to be so substantial that at times it is difficult to maintain a proper balance between industrial growth and environmental and civil safety. The speakers also traced the government's responsibility of organizing and maintaining an adequate level of preparedness for emergencies throughout the country.
The Ministry of environment through its "Protection Against Natural and Technical Hazards Service", considers that the primary task is to ensure the safety of citizens and the protection of the environment in broadest possible terms. Thus it is high time to review current disaster relief procedures and environmental protection standards since Lebanon still seems to be ill-prepared to respond to local, regional, and national environmental hazards such as pollution, as well as chemical and industrial accidents. A pilot study was recently carried out by ENVIROTECH (Lebanon) and a group of Dutch consultants on the Metn area for the ministry of environment. Funded by the European Union, it presents analyses and outlines recommendations which could result in improving or renewing safety regulations and legislation in Lebanon. During the seminar, presentations on theory and practice of disaster risks and relief measures were given by representatives of Dutch consultants. The seminar concluded with a test of the effectiveness of the emergency response telephone number 175 as well as the performance of the Beirut Fire Brigade in a simulated accident.
Lebanon's central bank supported the pound amid continuing demand for the dollar in a quiet market today. One dealer said compared to previous weeks, this week was quiet and the central bank continue its support of the pound through feeding the market with up to 10 million dollars daily adding the daily size of the market was 15 million dollars to 20 million dollars.
Another dealer said there was some demand for the dollar at the beginning of the week but it became quiet in the last two days after reports of official efforts to solve the country's financial problems. The central bank's bid-offer intervention was 1524.50-1534.50. compared with last week's 1525.00-1535.00. Inter-bank trading was in the range of 1534.25-1534.75 versus last week's 1535.00-1535.50.
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