The 128 member parliament voted yesterday in favour of the 1997 budget's proposal, amounting L.L 6,433 bn and a forecasted deficit of 37.5 percent. Chuf deputy Zaher El Khatib was the only vote against the proposal, 93 deputies voted in favour, and 10 others abstained. Among those abstained were the hawks of the so called opposition including Selim Hoss, Omar Karami, Hussein Husseini, Nassib Lahoud, Butros Harb, Mohammed Y Baydoun, Pierre Daccache, Abdel Rahman Abdel Rahman, Ibrahim Sayed, and Nazih Mansour.
The Lebanese cabinet at last and as expected won the five days fiery debates and the voting was on item by item. Eight items were amended and two others were cancelled out of the 43 total articles. One item has evoked heated argument between the prime minister and the speaker. The item 6 as proposed by the government allows the finance minister to issue treasury bills without having directly refer to the parliament. The amendment which was reached in compromise, calls the government to inform privately the parliament of how much bills are raised and it should not exceed the forecasted budget deficit, the government also must justify the reasons. Mr Hariri has threatened that if the article 6 is touched, his government will not be able to assume the responsibility of the monetary stability and would demand a vote of confidence in his government.
He said any move to limit the government's resource of revenues would jeopardies the stability of the Lebanese pound, and such stability is an essential factor in the government policy. Mr Berri angrily reacted and said the parliament cannot be threatened every time it asks a sort of amendment. The general outlook after the marathonic debates is that the parliament was exercising fully its legislative power, and that the relations between the parliament and the government will not be same as before.
Excerpts of the prime minister speech at the end of yesterday's debate
-"We shall not privatise the productive sectors in order to pay debt but we should improve its conduct. How can we sell the telephone service which steadily grows more every year".
-"We are not going to an impasse and we are not in a crisis".
-"The solution is through more productivity and encouragement of the productive sectors also increase the jobs' opportunities, by that more productivity will occur, more taxes, less deficit and a start to pay public debt".
-"It is true that Israel occupies 12 per cent of our land but we cannot consider a part is occupied and the other part is another state".
P.Elias Hrawi is to host today the annual traditional Iftar at the presidential palace in Baabda. It is not certain yet whether the speaker Nabih Berri, who traded recently accusations and sharp critics with the president, will attend the Iftar or not. The budget debates indicated that the relations between the three top officials are not well and no conciliation has been worked out between Berri and Hrawi. Sources in Beirut quoted P.Hrawi saying "if Mr Berri attends he is welcome and if not he is free".
Israel's public security minister Avigdor Kahalani proposed yesterday a unilateral withdrawal from the south Lebanon's security zone, saying the Israeli soldiers there are like sitting ducks.
The alternative, he said, is to strengthen the Israeli operations in Lebanon by destroying a power station if an Israeli soldier is killed, destroying the roads if two soldiers killed, and destroy bridges for three soldiers. Kahalani's remarks brought into open the disagreements inside the Israeli cabinet over the security zone in south Lebanon. The Israeli defense minister Yitzhak Mordecchai said yesterday he "does not see any possibility of a one side exit, it is not on the agenda and it is a mistake, An international force would not be capable to stop the Hizbullah".
Destroying villages or electricity plants or roads will not be effective". The Israeli chief of staff Amnon Shahak has declared last Friday that the Israeli withdrawal from south is excluded because there is no one in Beirut to negotiate with, and the government there cannot or does not want to take responsibility of what happens in the area". The conflicting views brought into the surface the deep disagreements in the cabinet over whether Israel should cut its losses and get out of the Lebanese morass or use the full might of the Israeli army, something risky for all those concerned and for the peace process.
The Israelis are debating the value of continuing the occupation of the security zone which became a killing ground. The peace negotiations between Syria and Israel have stalemated since last february and fresh efforts to put it back on the track are still futile. An Israeli withdrawal, unlikely to take place in the short time, would break the deadlock. The point now is whether Kahalani's remarks signify a shift in the Israeli Likud government.
In Beirut, the foreign minister Fares Boueiz said yesterday the regional atmospheres are strained and the Israeli prime minister might turn to the escalation to justify his attitudes, since he does not believe in a comprehensive and just peace. He was speaking to the head of the Lebanese press editors association Melhem Karam. Mr Boueiz added that each time Israel signs a peace accord it calls to amend it in another accord.
The prime minister Rafic Hariri, speaking at an Iftar held yesterday, said there will be no war in the region because all the international authorities are convinced that the solution is a peaceful one not military. He said his government will extend all steadfastness requirements to the southerners. He added that Israel can kill the civilians and destroy he facilities but it cannot change the political decision of Lebanon.
The Iranian ambassador in Syria Sheikh Mohammed Akhtari said yesterday, at a gathering organised by Hizbullah in Baalbeck, his country has in recent years developed its own weapons' industry and now capable to export arms and the technical expertise needed to operate it. He made no reference to the Israeli allegations that Iran has sent planes-loads of weapons via Syria to the Iranian backed Hizbullah. Israel's foreign minister david Levy said yesterday Iran had shipped 30 plane-loads of arms via Syria to the Hizbullah over the past nine months. Sheikh Akhtari said that the Palestinian Intifada "uprise" will be rekindled and succeed in uprooting the zionist entity in the region, and the Lebanese resistance will turn Lebanon into a graveyard for anyone seeking to occupy a single inch of its soil.
The survey conducted by the American "Think Tank" or the private Foreign Relation Council, that said a large number of the Palestinian refugees should be permanently settled in their host countries, brought the case again under the spot lights. In Lebanon, there are chaotic inaccurate figures on the number of the Palestinians here, because of the consecutive events which brought more Palestinian influx, all are out of the records of the public administration in charge of the Palestinian affairs. The estimation of their number here is 420,316 residents representing 9.9 per cent of the total population of Lebanon. Adding the foreign labours in Lebanon, the non-Lebanese ratio to the total population would be around 34 per cent. The Lebanese government could not, after fifty years of the Palestinian presence here, conduct a census because of both administrative and political reasons. It is recalled that the American survey predicted that some 75 thousand Palestinians will be resettled in Lebanon.
The "Think tank" report triggered sharp reactions from the Palestinian opposition organisations. The DFLP and PFLP said in a joint statement "the survey is a US-Israeli plan to finalize the refugees problem and contradict with the right of the Palestinian people to return back to Palestine according to resolution 194. The American council's survey said some of the Palestinians, who currently are considered refugees, should be accorded the right of settlement in the host countries, but also given the Palestinian nationality. The survey said Lebanon could host 75 thousands which would make them 1.8 per cent of the population, while Syria can host 400 thousands. The DFLP and PFLP said the report aims to exempt Israel of any direct or indirect responsibility to find a solution for the refugees. The DFLP said also that the Palestinian authorities agree with the Lebanese officials on rejecting the permanent settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon, but the refugees are aware of the Lebanese moves which made the Palestinian living conditions harder and provoked their fear that they will be forced to go nowhere.
The interview with the Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and some of his remarks which related to Imam Sadre have triggered reactions in Lebanon. The Amal movement lead by Mr Nabih Berri said yesterday it renews the accusation against Qaddafi, for the disappearance of Imam Mussa Sadre, adding that this crime is complementary to the then Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978. The movement ridiculed Qaddafi remarks on Jesus who Qaddafi said he is a Hebrew prophet, also ridiculed the remarks which has connections with the Lebanese communities. Amal rejected categorically, the proposal to form an investigation committee to check the disappearance, and said it is an attempt to discredit the definite results of the investigations carried in the past, and which proved undoubtedly that Imam Sadre and his companions did not depart Libya to Rome . The movement blamed the Lebanese T.V station (MTV) which broadcasted the interview saying it has preferred the financial gain and ignored the ethical values by arranging such an interview with the crazy Qaddafi.
The secretary general of the Maronite council Niamatllah Abi Nasre said Mr Qaddafi gave plenty of his philosophic religious guidelines, including a call to the Christians in Lebanon and the Arab world to convert to Islam, Qaddafi is interfering in others affairs, this time not through kidnaping or gun and fire, but through the stirring of a strife between the Lebanese. He added that the responsibility to respond to Qaddafi remarks is on the Lebanese officials.
Henri Sfair, a Maronite notable and activist, said Jesus cannot be regarded as Hebrew prophet .
Prime minister Rafic Hariri is planning to visit Italy and the Vatican end of this month, the government sources said yesterday. He will discuss with the Italian counterpart the peace process in the M.E and the investments opportunities in Lebanon. In the Vatican Hariri will discuss the arrangements for the Pope's visit in early May. He would discuss also the controversial 1995 Synod's statement on Lebanon, which said the Lebanese Christians are politically marginalised and criticised the presence of the foreign troops in Lebanon.
The interior minister Michel Murr discussed with Jonathan Winer, the deputy assistant of the state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, who heads an American delegation now visiting Lebanon, the progress in the Lebanese government's efforts to eradicate Lebanon's drug industry. Mr Winer was accompanied at the talks by the US ambassador in Lebanon. Mr Murr said he was assured by the delegation that the next US report on the international anti drugs campaign in April will include a favourable assessment of Lebanon's fight against narcotics. Winer's visit came two months after a White House report described Lebanon as one of 32 countries allegedly still involved in the international drug trafficking. Washington says that although drug production and processing have been largely destroyed, but some narcotics are still passing through Lebanon.
Minister Murr complained that the US did not deliver any of the $20m it pledged to the Lebanese farmers, who lost their livelihood in the government crackdown on the cultivation of the narcotics, also complained about the White House report which still portrays Lebanon as a haven for the drug industry. He said during the past five years the Lebanese security forces, backed by the Syrian troops, have almost entirely eliminated the cultivation, processing and peddling of the drugs. Murr added that the delegation will seek upon return to the USA to provide technical assistance needed by Lebanon to combat the drugs. Winer described the situation in Lebanon as better now than than it was 10 years ago.
The cold and rainy weather reflected badly on the commercial markets on the third day of the shopping festival, but the merchants expect better shopping by mid week when the El Fitre is nearer. The hotels association says that almost all of the hotels and resorts in Lebanon complied with the 50 per cent discount, including the mountains hotels and the ski resorts in Al Arz and Faraya. The observers here think the factors which would help the festival is it's coincide with the Ramadan Fitre occasion, the end of the January month when the salaries are paid, the media campaigns, but the credibility of pricing the commodities is now at stake.
The state prosecutor Adnan Addoum's review of the 1987 assassination of the then prime minister Rashid Karami, demanded the death penalty for Samir Geagea and 16 others, including LF agents and some Lebanese army officers, if found guilty, of the assassination.
Addoum's review said Geagea wanted to kill Karami because he refused the appointment of Geagea in a ministerial post, also for blocking Geagea's plan to set a civil airport at Halat.
Addoum asked the death penalty also for Geagea aides including Ghassan Touma and his brother Gaby, Antoine Elias Elias, Elias Tony Obeid, Afif Khoury, Joseph Sukkar, Assaad Kassab and his brother Elias, Ghassan Menassa, George Zoghbi, Antoine Shidiak, Mickail Saneh and Aziz Saleh. Similar penalty also asked for the army officers including Brig. Khalil Mattar, retired Major Kietel Hayek and Sgt Camille Rami. The investigating magistrate George Ghantous will build up his indictment on the review of the prosecutor Addoum. Throughout the trial, Geagea maintained he is innocent.
The governor of the central bank Riyad Salameh says that reducing the interest rate on the 2- years treasury bills would save around L.L 600 mn of the debt service interest in 1997. He also said that the accurate implementation of the 1997 budget, especially the first part of the budget, would result in a surplus and the readjustment of the financial situation.
The national airliner MEA's new planes, a computer network, hiring two European consultancies and the possibility of raising the capital through a Eurobond release, are all amongst the future plans for the MEA aim to bring the national carrier back into profit.
The Beirut airport contractor Hochtief/CCC, in an apparent response to the yesterday's report published in Beirut, denied in a statement the tension with the Lebanese CDR and said it has no intentions to withdraw from the project.
Brazil's foreign minister arrived to Beirut yesterday on a two days official visit to Lebanon. He declared upon arrival that Mr Rafic Hariri has given the impression, during his last year visit to Brazil, of what Lebanon aims, and " we know of all the projects now implemented, Brazil can see what contributions it can give to the process of reconstruction, and such contribution can be made easier because of the large contingent of the Lebanese expatriates in Brazil", he said. He added that "many Lebanese have attained high posts in Brazil as ministers, deputies or successful businessmen and Brazil had greatly benefited from their experiences".
He also said his country would like to play a significant part in reaching the peace in the M.E. The Lebanese foreign minister said Lebanon aims to develop the economical and cultural relations with Brazil, also there will be discussions over the political coordination.
The Bulldozer of the Lebanese football Wael Nazha says the Arab teams are not better than our national team. He says he wishes to be the best soccer player in the world. Wael is regarded as one of the best attackers in Lebanon. He gave Lebanon the winning goal during the recent match with Algeria.
The Safaa is to play a friendly match with the Homentmen on Saturday on the Safaa playground in Musseitbeh.
The Tadamoun-Zouk Michail beat the Wardieh in a friendly Volleyball match yesterday in Jounieh.
The secretary general of the Lebanese Basketball union Walid Yunis came back from Thailand where they presented the arrangements in Lebanon which will host Asian cup for 1997.
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