Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa today held a press conference discussing the last night's incident. Lebanese security forces yesterday detained about 66 supporters of exiled General Michel Aoun who were protesting the barring of a live interview with the former army commander.
Witnesses said riot police tires to disperse an estimate of 200 university students who had gathered at the Murr TV station which the authorities had barred from broadcasting the interview. MTV had been scheduled to air the interview on Sunday, but Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa banned the broadcast. Sabaa had said his decision to bar the interview was taken to fulfill requirements of national peace and reconciliation adding the interview might damage Lebanon's relationships with its allies.
Sabaa told the press conference today the information ministry was ready to discuss amendments to the audio-visual media law but he added the ministry was against transforming media networks into political platforms. Sabaa called for discussions to be held between his ministry and the heads of TV stations in the country. He further stressed the ministry's support for media freedoms.
The issue was today transferred to the office of prosecutor general Adnan Addoum who will look into the files of the arrests and study them carefully. Meanwhile, some 5,500 Lebanese lawyers today decided to stage a three-day strike because of the detentions. After an extraordinary meeting of Beirut's lawyers union, the 5,000 member association issued a statement saying the union's council has decided unanimously to ask all lawyers to halt legal or administrative activities for three days starting tomorrow in denunciation of violations of public and private freedoms protected by the constitution.
In parliament today, the budget and finance committee headed by deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi today held a session to discuss continue discussing the draft 1998 state budget. The committee today studied the budgets of the ministries of Environment and Health. Sources close to the meeting said Health Minister Suleiman Franjieh stressed the necessity of reducing the number of contracts signed between his ministry and private hospitals in the country. The sources added there was a trend in today's session not to decrease the budgets allocated to the Ministry of Health. Meanwhile, joint parliamentary committees also met today. Discussions centered on the draft municipal and mayoral election law and especially clause 18 of the law dealing with appointment. During last week's session, deputies were split on appointments vote with 12 rejecting the clause of appointment and 12 others supporting it.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today discussed recent developments and developmental issues with deputies Ahmad Fatfat, Robert Ghanem, Bahaa Al-Deen Itani, and Wajih Al-Baarini. He also held discussions with the Armenian bloc in parliament. Sources at the government palace said discussions centered on the recent media issue. Hariri held talks with Minister of Tourism Nicola Fattoush and discussed with him issues related to his ministry. The premier also received the Kuwaiti ambassador to Lebanon Abdel Razzak Al-Kandari.
US assistant secretary of state Martin Indyk is expected in Lebanon tomorrow. Indyk is scheduled to discuss with Lebanese officials recent development in the Mideast peace process and the stalled peace talks. This will be Indyk's first visit to Lebanon. Indyk's visit follows that of US Secretary of Sate Madeleine Albright in September and the recent lifting of the US travel ban on the country. The US envoy today held talks with Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and Foreign minister Farouq Al-Sharaa. Talks are expected to focus on re-starting Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations frozen for nearly two years. Indyk is on a tour to the Middle East that has already taken him to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
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