News from Beirut February 25  1997  .......Search

Lebanon-Pope Visit

Prime minister Rafic Hariri has been accorded yesterday an exceptional warmth by his pontiff Pope John Paul II, after a 35 minutes meeting at the Vatican. The Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls officially announced that the Pope will visit Lebanon on May 10-11, and the agenda for the one night, two days trip, will be worked out by a Vatican team due to arrive on March 16. During his stay, the Pope will release an "apostolic exhortation" or a formal response, to a meeting of the Lebanese Bishops in 1995. The announcement put an end to a much speculated issue and long delayed visit.

The Pope said before the Lebanese delegation, diplomats and reporters "I am glad to be visiting Lebanon, the country I truly love. We pray for Lebanon all the time and we pray that its people are always blessed. I am attentive now to all the views on Lebanon and also the comments regarding my visit because I want to have a clear and comprehensive view on the situation in Lebanon. The visit is a further proof of our interest in Lebanon". He also said that he will lead the faithful in a special prayer service for peace in Lebanon. The Hariri-Pope discussions centered on the developments in Lebanon and the region.

Hariri thanked his pontiff for the concern he had always shown for the independence and sovereignty of the country. He also said later at a press conference that the Pope visit is another proof of His Holiness faith in Lebanon's future and the role to be played by the Lebanese in general and the Christians in particular. He added that the visit will boost the world's confidence in Lebanon, and increase the Lebanese people's faith in themselves and the country, especially it will be the sole visit by His Holiness to the M.E, concluding that the Lebanese are feeling proud and honoured.

Sources close to Hariri said the Pope had briefed him on the latest visit by the Israeli premier Netanyahu to the Vatican. The Pope said Netanyahu urged him to visit Jerusalem when he comes to the M.E, but he declined. His Holiness stressed he would visit Lebanon and return straight back to the Vatican.

The Baabda palace here said the Vatican mission had notified the president of the Pope's planned visit. The Synod on Lebanon issued a preliminary statement in 1995 that caused uproar here, first because it had called for the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces, including the Syrians, and second because it had declared that Lebanon had a cultural pluralism, something angered the Muslims' clerics and government figures.

The Maronite Bishop Beshara Raai said yesterday the final draft of the Synod statement will not differ in content from the original but the tone could, however, the recommendations will be the same. Raai, who headed the Synod preparatory committee, said the final statement would be addressed to the international community whereas the original was intended for a Lebanese audience only.

A Maronite political analyst Samir Franjieh said the high level contact, to prepare for the visit, could turn it into a historical event that puts an end to the situation the Christians have faced, since the end of the civil war. He said it could be as an attempt to reconcile the Christian community which has felt increasingly marginalised, also the visit would help to complete the national reconciliation, and accomplish the Christian -Syrian conciliation.

According to local news, the mass going to be held during the visit will take place at the martyr's square, instead of Burj Hammoud stadium. The Vatican and Bkerke estimated that over 300 thousands audience will be present, while the Burj Hammoud's capacity is only for 50 thousands.

Furthermore, the security could be restored much better at the square, and as it is located on the demarcation line, it could be an easy access to all Lebanon's communities. Almost all the Muslim religious leaders will attend, except for Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who raised with the Papal Nuncio his reservations on the declarations given by the Pope, especially his blessing to Israel. Further details on the visit said some 82 cardinals, patriarch and bishop will attend the mass at the square, together with 300 thousand Lebanese .

The news also said that contacts were underway, between the Lebanese Christian opposition in exile and the Vatican, to discuss some details on the return of the Lebanese political leaders in exile, under the auspices of  His Holiness. The issue was discussed briefly between the Pope and Mr. Hariri, but it was rather discussed in depth at the meeting held between Hariri and the Vatican's secretary, also between Hariri and Cardinal Sfair.

The case is dealt with in secrecy by the Vatican and Paris, because placing the issue now in public would pose a great burden to the government, but it is certain that it made some steps ahead and it will be pursued next month, recalled that cardinal Tauran has held important talks with the Syrian officials in Damascus. It was also known that Amin Gemayel has agreed in principle to come back, Raymond Edde categorically refused, and Gen. Michel Aoun conditioned that the financial file should be settled and the freedom of political action should be ensured.

In Beirut, the justice minister Bahij Tabbara yesterday appointed a special magistrate to investigate the charges of corruption and embezzlement against the exiled opposition leader and former prime minister Gen. Michel Aoun. The minister has ordered Mt Lebanon magistrate Fawzi Dagher to investigate all  the charges levied against Aoun , since he took over as prime minister in Sept 1988 and until his flight to the French embassy in Oct 1991. That instructions indicate the government will re-open the file and may file formal charges against the former army general, who lives now in France.

Prime minister Hariri held in Rome a meeting with Italian president and the Italian counterpart. Italy's prime minister said" we discussed the strong economic relations binding our two countries, especially that Italy is first trade partner of Lebanon, and we reviewed all the possibilities of making investments in Lebanon, through the provision of long term soft loans. He said he would visit Lebanon and Syria on 18th March. Hariri declared at a press conference that there are underway discussions on many economical protocols and proposals on soft loans. Asked about the deficit in the trade balance with Italy, he said "the balance trade with Lebanon is always in favour of the other side, because Lebanon's import bill is $7bn annually and the export bill is $1 bn only. He said the solution for the imbalance would be to increase Lebanon's productivity. He added that Lebanon should have an industry, his government policy is to encourage the local industries, and in that context, Italy can play an essential role in encouraging medium and small industries. Fresh news described Hariri talks in Rome as a consecration of the outcomes of the Friends of Lebanon forum held in Washington.

News today said Mr Hariri has held talks in the Vatican with the Vatican's secretary, for the second time, also met with cardinal Sfair in presence of Bishops Boulos Mattar and Butros Gemayel. The visit-event has gained more momentum and a preparatory atmosphere .

Japan-Red Army

The first secretary of the Japanese embassy in Lebanon said yesterday "we have not received any indications that there are any new developments in the matter. Our position has not changed and the contacts with the Lebanese authorities will continue".

On their part, the general prosecutor and interior minister, in a marked contradiction to their earlier statements, denied any knowledge of the case. However, the interior minister did not include in his listing of the security agencies under his authority, the agency called the state security headed by Gen. Nabih Farhat, who reports directly to the prime minister. The general prosecutor said yesterday evening "I do not have firm and precise information that the Japanese red army members have been arrested". He also said "We are waiting for reports from the security forces. But as a judicial authority, we have nothing to say on the issue". The Japanese officials originally expected a quick end and predicted that five Japanese suspects would be extradited sometime this week. In a further remark by the state prosecutor, he said "The Lebanese officials have not announced the arrest of the Japanese nationals in Lebanon, the arrests were reported in Japan and we are investigating its authenticity".

Fresh news today said the Japanese ambassador in Lebanon received ,at a meeting with foreign minister Fares Boueiz today , Lebanon's official respond to the request of Japan. It was known that the Lebanese authority said there are no Japanese detainees in Lebanon. The ambassador told crowded reporters, Japanese and foreigner, who gathered at the foreign ministry, that he was told when the foreign ministry receives information it will let his government know.

News In Brief

- Speaker Nabih Berri is to visit Kuwait early March heading a parliament delegation and scheduled to meet ruler and crown prince.

- The Shiite senior cleric Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine, who was received yesterday in Cairo by P.Hosni Mubarak, said the Lebanese resistance to Israel in south Lebanon is not a Lebanese expression but an Arab one. He said no connection between the Shiite or the Islam with the extremist groups, and the Lebanese Shiites are affiliated to their Arabic and national society.

- Health minister Suleiman Franjieh Jr said yesterday the outbreak of typhoid in the central Bekaa should prompt the government to appoint a committee to find a solution to the country's drinking water pollution problem. The minister's proposal is included in the schedule of tomorrow's meeting of the government. Minister Franjieh has kept the situation under scrutiny.

Baalbeck deputies called for a swift action before the number of patients, now stands at several hundreds. A practitioner of  medicine at Ali Nahri village in Bekaa has called yesterday for the closure of schools, for at least 15 days, and for the isolation of the patients to protect others from contracting the disease now turned into epidemic, as few patients have responded to the treatment and medication.

-The Iraqi national Bassam Yacoub Yussef, suspected of an alleged murdering of the opponents to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, is to be deported from Lebanon. The Lebanese deputy military prosecutor ordered his release and deportation yesterday, because he had not committed any crime here and no international arrest warrant was issued against him, but he has illegally entered Lebanon.

-The Polish batallion of the UNIFIL in south Lebanon detonated yesterday three bombs, disguised as rocks, at the Majdel-Zoun-Mansouri road near Tyre, after they were discovered by the locals on Sunday. The bombs, believed to have been planted by Israel, were similar to a bomb that caused the death of a Lebanese shepherd on Friday. Tyre deputy Abdullah Kassir, a member of Hizbullah, said the monitoring committee, though only issues statements and call parties for self restraint, but it should continue because it specifies the responsibility and makes investigations when necessary.

-In a fresh evening report today, Hizbullah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, speaking at a reception held in Beirut to press reporters, said his party would modify its position on the April's understanding, and instead adopt a policy based on One Israeli be killed for every Lebanese civilian victimized by Israel. He called the government to allow the audio-visual media, now banned of broadcasting political news, to broadcast the news of the resistance as exception, and this is the least it should do in support of the resistance.

-The greenpeace yesterday warned that the Burj Hammoud dump would turn into a huge disastrous area with uncontrollable fires breaking out, because of  the government ban to dump rubbles at the huge coastal site. They asked the government to reverse the decision .

-Finance minister Fouad Sanioura said the increases of the school teachers and the rest of the civil service could push the public sector payroll up to l.L 600 bn per year. He cautioned that each pay increase should be accompanied by additional sources of revenues, and should be justified with better performance and more positive effect on the economy. It should be coupled with administrative reform and improved productivity, in order to boost the economy, Sanioura said. He said that the civil service employees in Lebanon work only for 32 hours weekly, unlike other countries, where the servicemen work 42 hours, and the minimum average in Lebanon should be 40 hours. He said also "we do not want the public debt to grow any further".

This issue, among other issues, is described this evening by the Television news, as a political mine and explosive charge, which may blow and cause further deterioration in the relation between the government and the parliament. The second turbulent issue is the prior censor on the media broadcasting and the licenses to additional television and radio stations.

-The ministry of oil announced yesterday that the price changes of oil on the international markets necessitated a rise and drop in the local fuel prices. The Gasoline price now is 11,800 Lebanese pound with L.L 200 up for 20 liters. The price of fuel oil is now down by L.L 400 and the kerosene is down by L.L 500.

-The Egyptian ambassador in Lebanon Adel Khodari said after a meeting with Lebanon's foreign minister Fares Boueiz he found the minister less pessimistic than before concerning the peace process.

-Snow blocked yesterday most of the mountainous roads as the stormy weather continued. The police and civil defense were working on to clear the roads.


-Seventy seven hopefuls started the Mont La Salle tennis tournament on Sunday, the 16th time the event has been staged. The tournament is supervised by the tennis federation union. In the first day eliminations, the following were winners:

Rashid Labaki. Khaled Maleh. Mark MeAykeh. Suheil Zakka. Alexi Khatashadourian. Michel Makssoudian. Bilal Rawas . Hassan Rabih. Mark Kesrouwai.

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