US Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk today held discussions with Lebanese officials after returning from Syria where he conducted similar talks. Indyk first met President Elias Al-Hrawi at the presidential palace in Baabda in the presence of US ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones and foreign minister Faris Boueiz. After the meeting, Indyk said the US felt it was important for the Palestinian track to move forward adding this would make it easier to resume negotiations on the other tracks.
Indyk also told reporters at the palace that he assured President Hrawi that the US was seeking to achieve a comprehensive and just peace in the region. On the issue of UN arms inspection in Iraq, Indyk said Iraq must give inspectors free access to all areas, including presidential sites. He added the US expects to see Iraq comply with the will of the international community.
The former American Ambassador to Israel later visited army Commander general Emile Lahhoud before heading to the government palace to meet prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri. After meeting Hariri, Indyk reiterated his country's support to the work of the five-nation cease-fire monitoring group which calls on all sides not to launch attacks from or towards civilian areas. Indyk later held talks with House Speaker Nabih Berri at parliament. The US Assistant Secretary of State called on Lebanon to work on activating the role of democratic institutions in their country.
Indyk said he was glad that municipal and mayoral elections will be held next April and presidential elections next year also stressing the necessity of the freedom of press in a democratic country like Lebanon. Indyk is the second senior US official to visit Lebanon in three months. He arrived in Beirut from Damascus where he held talks with Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Sharaa as part of a Middle East tour that took him to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
His tour is believed to pave the way for US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's meetings on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. to discuss planned Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank.
Discussions during today's question-answer parliamentary session centered on media freedoms, a question which was highly triggered in the country recently. Deputies questioned ministers on the audio-visual media law and the recent arrests of demonstrators protesting the banning of an interview with exiled Michel Aoun to be broadcast on Murr TV. Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri said the Lebanese society renounced immoral shows especially programs portraying obscene sexual issues which do not reflect the country's moral and traditional behavior. During the session, deputies questioned Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa on the audio-visual law to which he responded by stressing that media licenses were strictly given according to the law. Another session is currently being held at parliament.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today inaugurated the first of the two phases of the planned construction at Beirut International Airport. In his speech, the prime minister stressed the significance of the Airport expansion project. During the ceremony, officials inspected the new terminal building and other completed facilities. Inside the new terminal, international telephone booths, banks, conference rooms, hotel counters and rental cars will be available. The final phase of the expansion plan is scheduled to be completed by the year 1999.
Judicial sources today said thirty-three supporters of exiled Michael Aoun who were arrested during a demonstration over the weekend were freed today. The sources added 10 of the demonstrators who had been referred to a civil court were released at noon, two hours after the 23 others handed over to a civil court had been set free. A government source said prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri had personally sought to appease the heated atmosphere in the country over the arrests. Yesterday, the authorities released 30 of the total 63 demonstrators who were arrested on Sunday during a demonstration against a government ban on the live interview with Aoun from Paris.
Students at the St. Joseph University in Beirut staged a sit-in yesterday calling for the release of the demonstrators, joining a group of lawyers who announced a three-day strike in protest at the arrests. Sunday's demonstration was held outside the studios of Murr TV, which had been barred from running the interview on the grounds it was an attempt to destabilize the government.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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