News from Beirut February 26 1997  .......Search

Lebanon-Pope-Hariri visit

Prime minister Rafic Hariri briefed yesterday president Elias Hrawi on the outcome of his visit to Rome and the Vatican, where he received a warm welcome by His Holiness during an audience in the Vatican. He held around one hour long meeting with the president at Baabda palace, immediately upon his return back. He gave no comments after the meeting, but sources close to him said his visit to Rome and the Vatican had boosted the drive of Lebanon in terms of strong ties with Europe, something Hariri has conveyed to the Pope and asked him to back a European role in favour of Lebanon.

The same sources said the meetings in Rome and the Vatican were extremely important as a follow up of the results of the Friends of Lebanon's forum held in Washington, also important for the enhancement of the relations with Italy.

In Rome earlier yesterday, he met cardinal Sfair, who is due to leave to Brazil on Saturday. He also met with the Vatican foreign minister Mgr Jean Louis Tauran, who was in Syria earlier in the week discussing the Pope's visit.

In Beirut, the Papal Nuncio Pablo Puente met with the foreign minister Fares Boueiz and discussed the visit. He denied the news saying his pontiff  is scheduled to hold a mass prayer service at the martyrs'square. He said there is no decision yet on the site, noting that a Vatican team is to arrive on March 16 to finalize the Pope's itinerary.

Boueiz has received a telephone call from his Syrian counterpart Farouk Sharaa, who briefed him on the outcome of the talks he held in Damascus with the Vatican foreign minister Jean Louis Tauran. According to some Lebanese sources a special plot at Dbayeh had been suggested. The Pope is will spend the night at the Nuncio's residence in Harissa, and visit the Baabda palace, but no other trips have yet been planned. The Vatican spokesman said yesterday the Pope will arrive in the afternoon of May 10 and returns to Rome the following evening, after a special prayer service and a meeting with the Lebanese youths.

He said also that it's uncertain his pontiff is going to visit south Lebanon, and the special service will be held in the open air, but the site has not yet been chosen. He added that in addition to the religious connotation of the visit, it aims to express confidence in Lebanon and its future, also confidence in the unique coexistence formula of its people.

Lebanese politicians, parties and groups continue to express welcome of the Pope's visit, some groups hope it will help Lebanon to liberate its land and lead to the pull out of the Israeli occupation, while other groups wished it will readjust the political balance, reemphacise on the importance of the Christian role, and help preserve the sovereignty and independence of the country. Deputy Wajih Baarini of north Lebanon urged the government to immune and protect the visit from the Netanyahu's Mossad intelligence.

Hariri had denied, in an interview with the vatican's radio, he had discussed with the Pope or cardinal Sfair, the return of the Lebanese opposition abroad to Lebanon, adding that this issue has never been discussed at all.

Gen. Michel Aoun, in an unusual departure from the defiance of the government in Beirut, welcomed yesterday the appointment of judge Fawzi Dagher as chief investigator in the public charges against him. He said yesterday he hopes that the investigation, over the accusation of embezzling millions of dollars of the public funds and the exploiting of the constitutional institutes, would be concluded quickly and not takes as long as it took to appoint a magistrate. "It took the government seven years to open this file, and I personally demanded a look into this question. I just hope it will not take another seven years to close the file", Gen Aoun said.

The justice minister here made the appointment on Monday, weeks after P.Elias Hrawi and Prime minister Rafic Hariri urged the judiciary to speed up the case so Aoun may be convicted or exonerated. Judge Dagher succeeded Labib Zwein, who had been appointed in 1990 as an investigator into the case, but he had resigned in 1991 when Gen. Aoun was sent into the exile in France. No one was appointed to take his place until this week. The general prosecutor Adnan Addoum said yesterday that a new magistrate had to be appointed because Aoun's five year exile term had ended and he is technically free to return back.

Gen. Aoun said yesterday "I am satisfied with the opening of the file because I am at ease with myself and I hope that the judicial authority will prove to be up to the task". Asked whether the appointment of a new magistrate will help open dialogue with the government, He said "This is a positive step towards a potential understanding. It will prove to be really positive if it is aimed at restoring the rights of those who lost them. Therefore, it is important to wait and see what the final results are before making any final statement. For the justice system to be fair and able to restore justice, it has to be applied to everyone. No one should be ever above the law".

The deputy speaker Elie Firzli, in a press interview here, said he was involved in the attempts of rapprochement between the Christians and Syria, but any warming of the relations would not happen overnight. He said "it is too delicate and important to be discussed publicly at the present time. However, it is important to formulate these relations, as Syria will be more at ease with a favourable christian opinion, and the Christian community will no longer feel that its relations with Syria are deficient, but all this should be accomplished on the basis of backing up the Lebanese state interest, not at its expense". Mr Firzli noted that the Christian feeling of  frustration had grown over the years with the repeated failure of the political platforms by different Christian leaders. He denied that Bkerke or cardinal Sfair were taking part in the reconciliation moves. He pointed out that "Bkerke would not implicate itself in this issue, but it is in favour of any initiative that might lead to clarification. There are no specific delegates appointed by Bkerke." He concluded by saying that the success of  the contacts depended to a great extent on confidentiality and refused to elaborate further.

News analysts said today that the Christian-Syrian dialogue is still on and the Taif is the basis but what is needed is to rebuild the confidence. What is new in the dialogue now is the desire of both parties to have it, with Bkerke as a centre point for many reasons. However, it is at an exploratory or preliminary stage and it did not take the form of clear cut  initiative by either side.

Lebanon-Japan-Red Army

President Elias Hrawi stepped in last night in the bizarre case of the five suspected Red Army reportedly held by the Lebanese authorities, ordering the judiciary and security services to end "as soon as possible" the confusion plaguing the issue. He is reported to have ordered the judicial officials "to examine with the relevant security agencies the ways to speed up the inquiry to shed light on the affair".

The Japanese Red Army issued yesterday in Tokyo a statement confirming the arrest of five of its members. The statement was released to the Japanese kyoto news and carried by AFP. It said "We sincerely regret the attitude of the Lebanese government toward our friends and comrades who were suddenly attacked and imprisoned on the early morning of February 15. We strongly demand that those who have been imprisoned without any legal reason, both Japanese and Lebanese, be instantly released. The imprisonment without any legal proceedings is nothing but a violation of the human rights." A senior official in Beirut denounced the statement and called it a  "Japanese government play to pressure Lebanon".

The Japanese ambassador in Beirut, after an hour meeting with foreign minister Fares Boueiz, said he will not answer specific questions, but he wanted to say that he presented his government's request on this matter and received assurances from the foreign minister that when he gets more information on the matter he will let him know. He also said that he is confident that the Lebanese authorities will handle the issue in an appropriate manner and that he will know the results in the due course time.

Diplomatic sources here said the ambassador complained of the contradictory statements made by senior Lebanese officials. It also said that the foreign minister asked the ambassador how he knew of the detention but the latter refused to reveal his sources. The Japanese embassy is expected to ask for an immediate meeting with prime minister Hariri now back home. The embassy sources quoted saying the prime minister would be able to set the record straight. News sources in Beirut said Japan is persisting on two points, first is to enable a Japanese embassy diplomat to meet the arrested persons which Japan considers as members of the banned Red Army, and second the Japanese diplomacy to be informed of Lebanon's official information on the suspects.

Parliament - Media

The first working session of the parliament committees yesterday has marked an almost similar heated atmosphere, same as the atmosphere that had prevailed during the debates on the fiscal budget, thus, indicated that the separation of the three powers is exercised fully, the troika has really died, and the parliament seen more stricter toward the Hariri government and its projects. The parliament committee on information discussed yesterday the audio-visual media, with deputy speaker and south deputy Mohammed Baydoun leading a campaign accusing the government of violating the law, through giving licenses to some stations and banning the others, also through imposing censorship on the political programmes and news bulletins.

The committee's attitude intended to give the media national council more powers and turn it to an institute independent from the government, with decision making authority not only consultative one. The information minister, who was present, said that such attitude has a political motivation and background not merely media background. The deputy speaker and deputy Baydoun accused the government of waging a financial war of  attrition against the unlicensed stations, so that by time, it will not be able to continue, even if it is licensed.

News In Brief

- The Israeli artillery pounded yesterday the routes linking the occupied sector with the regions to the north, also combed by machineguns fire the Litani river's course and the areas opposite to the outpost of Toumat Niha. Amal movement said its fighters attacked yesterday the SLA and Israeli outpost at Kfarfalous and scored direct hits.

-Israel's prime minister Netanyahu renewed yesterday his accusations against Syria for obstructing his proposal Lebanon's First. He said: "the Golan heights are of extreme strategic importance to Israel but he is ready to pull out of south Lebanon at the earliest possible time". He said he will do it when the security guarantees on ground are provided , with the Lebanese army filling the security vacuum that will occur, adding that this will not take place because Syria opposes such proposal. He added that "it will be greatly difficult to imagine we can resume the peace talks, as long a war by proxy is carried against Israel".

- Finance minister Fouad Senioura said yesterday the government will not impose new taxes without consulting the parliament to fund the l.L 90 bn for the teachers' salary raises approved in November. He refused to confirm, in an interview, the reports saying the government plans to add 5000 L.L tax on Gas.

-The minister of housing Mahmoud Abu Hamdan yesterday ordered the payment of some 1,049 housing loans, approved last year, but were pending due to the lack of money. A Public Housing Institution is still on the drawing board, and will come into being to replace the Housing Fund. It is expected to give 3,000 to 4,000 housing loans a year.

-The Arab countries which had so far failed to fulfill their commitments to help Lebanon rebuild its sport facilities have promised to start sending the money, Education minister Jean Obeid said. He briefed yesterday president Hrawi on the outcome of the Arab sport ministers' conference held in Cairo last week. Obeid said he told the Arab ministers in Cairo that Lebanon is determined to host the Arab games on time in October, despite delays in the Arab contributions to $120mn reconstruction of the sport city. He also said that a committee of the Arab sports ministers is due to come to Beirut mid March to check on the sports facilities.

-Around 400 families resident of Deir Ammar, north of Tripoli, will stage a public demonstration on the international highway tomorrow to protest against plans to evict them. The land was originally owned by the IPC.

-The General Labour Confederation will present a formal complaint to the International Labour Organisation, and the Arab Labour Organisation, over the government's political and economical policy, the GLC president Elias Abu Rizk said. At a press conference held yesterday, he accused the government of violating the human rights, the constitution, and the internationally accepted labour principles. The GLC singled out the government's "undemocratic, unconstitutional and unjust decision to continue to ban all forms of expression, especially the right to demonstrate and strike", as well as the decision to prosecute participants in an August 1995 demonstration.

-Education minister Jean Obeid announced that the schools which violated the law and imposed unjustified tuition fees increase should refund it back to the parents.

-The Lebanese army guidance directorate has launched a new publication which is entitled "echoes of the barracks", as part of the military establishment to the drive to preserve Beirut's status as "the media capital that is spearheading the defense of Arab causes", director of the directorate col. Elias Farhat said yesterday.

-Interior minister Michel Murr held two separate meetings with the governors and the qaim makams to discuss the coming mayoral and municipal elections and the relevant voters lists and identification cards.

-The parliament committee on human rights suggested that the administration of prisons allover Lebanon should be under the justice ministry and that the security forces' task should be only to protect prisons not to administer.

-The Christian opposition National Gathering called all the citizens in general, and its supporters in particular, to get ready to the municipal elections, despite its reservations on many points.

-Lebanese Shiite senior cleric sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine, now in a visit to Egypt, said yesterday that a dispute with Egypt over a crackdown on its small Shiite minority was over. He met Monday president Mubarak and was invited to a launch on Tuesday by Coptic Pope Shenoda the II, together with the Imam of Al Azhar Sayyed Tantawi.


-The Tadamoun-Zouk is still at the top of the basketball ladder, after beating Mont La Salle 105-65 at the Fouad Chehab in Jounieh. The team now has the strongest defense and the highest scoring attack in the competition.

Riyadi won at home against Ihyaa Riyada-Zouk Mickail 88-84. At the Antranik stadium in Dbayeh, the Annibal Zahle were 38-23 up against Abnaa' Neptune.

Kahraba lost against Shabab Ghobeiri 92-81. Hikmeh overcame Wardieh 85-77.

- Chikia national soccer team arrived to Beirut yesterday and received by the Lebanese federation's officials. The Lebanese team will play its 12th  friendly match with the visiting team at Burj Hammoud stadium.

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