News from Beirut April 10 1997 ...Search

President Hrawi Press Conference, Impacts and Repercussions

President Elias Hrawi's televised press conference, in presence of chief editors of the Lebanese audio-visual stations and newspapers, was not escalatory but at the same time it has revived the municipal elections' crisis. Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted saying the press conference was "ordinary and acceptable."

Prime Minister Hariri, asked to comment on telephone, said he is against the principle of political bickering between presidents. Though the Speaker and Prime Minister refrained from involving themselves in a bickering with the President, the press conference's political and constitutional merits led in practice to inject the impasse with all basic elements.

President Hrawi also commented that "there will be no battles and we are far from it." In fact he staged the battle of defending his constitutional power and said his stand on the extradition of the draft bill amending the municipal law is "in the framework of his obligation to preserve institutions." He said he is not ready to "obstruct the constitution and to accept hypocrisy on the constitution."

Constitutionally, he raised up the ceiling of his stand, to the extent of  not recognizing both the government and the parliament. He affirmed that the draft bill is still at parliament and not extradited. He conditioned that the Council of Ministers' vote be of two third majority in order to accept the extradition, and in that case he will not oppose the move. He added if the parliament voted against holding the elections with the required majority he will comply. Hrawi said the people wants the municipal elections be held and the "MPs should fulfill their promises." Hrawi contended that he wants to apply the constitutional terms on himself first but not ready to apply the customs which already withered with the old constitution.

He affirmed that he will place the constitutional amendments and civil status law on the Council of Ministers.

The significant remark was President Hrawi's reference to the Christian opposition. He named the Aoun loyalists, NLP, National Bloc, and Kataeb dissidents, to show up the enthusiasm given to the municipal elections. He recalled the influence of these opposition groups on the 1992 parliament elections which it had boycotted. He said these forces decided, for the first time, to run for the elections, "what more we want to consolidate, strongly, the state foundation." This is the first remark by a government official that recognizes the opposition.

President Hrawi hinted that he might issue the draft bill through decree, since it is in the parliament and extraditing did not take place, basing it on the 40 days time limit given to him by constitution. President Hrawi apparently bore both government's and parliament's responsibility of postponing or "smuggling" the elections. He bore the Prime Minister's responsibility of violating the constitution, and outlined a whole concept of what the Prime Minister could have done instead.

Analyzing the importance of the press conference, observers said the President  wanted to:

(1) show himself innocent of postponing the elections and blame the government and parliament for the situation,

(2) to make a stand against any attempt to minimize the prerogatives of the president, and avert any further attempted  precedent to repeat the extradition move in complicity between the government and parliament

(3) to give the impression that participation of the opposition in the elections was a personal achievement by him.

What will be next. First scenario suggests  that the ministerial committee would lay down a new draft bill amending the municipal law, taking into consideration all the opinions and stands, and refer it to the Council of Ministers and later to the parliament. That scenario means the original date for the elections on 1 and 8 of June will not be possible.

Consequently, the term in office of the municipal councils expiring at the end of June would be extended to next spring or autumn, and most probably to next spring. The spring date is uncertain and perhaps unsuitable. The ideal way, which would also "save-face" for all the parties, would be a new draft bill, fixing a new date for the elections.

- Batroun MP Butros Harb said the file is still open for further discussion, since President Hrawi announced he determined to hold elections and that he will oppose constitutionally any proposal to amend or cancel it. He added that the Prime Minister should come back immediately from his trip abroad in order to bear his responsibility toward such a serious national issue. Harb wondered whether the Prime Minister's trips abroad was decided by the government or it is his own decision.

- News analysts today questioned how the parliamentary elections could have been held, despite the majority boycott, and the municipal elections now postponed after all parties decided to participate in.

In a statement yesterday after a meeting with Cardinal Sfair, The Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops Council said, "The people's will is crippled and the democratic system is shifting gradually to an adverse." The statement added, "The resignation of jurist Mallat has a great significant dimension and Lebanon judiciary is losing independence day after day."

Lebanon-Pope's Visit

At a press conference yesterday at the Vatican mission in Harissa, Papal Nuncio Pablo Puente briefed the audience on the schedule for the Pope visit. He outlined the following updated information:

1. His pontiff's plane will land in Beirut at 12.15 p.m. on the 10th of May. The arrival would be a technical station, that is without reception and audience except Cardinal Sfair, he himself, and the president's director of protocol who will take the Pope directly to Baabda palace, where an official reception will take place and where he will hold talks with senior officials. Such measure was applied by the Pope in short visits to other countries in order to facilitate the movement of his pontiff's convoy. The Pope is to move between the airport and Baabda in a panoramic car, known as "Papa Mobile", giving him the chance to cheer and bless people.

2 .After Baabda reception, his pontiff will leave to the Vatican mission at Harissa on board of a helicopter and have launch there.

3. At 7:00 p.m., his pontiff is to meet with the Lebanese youths at the Basilic of  Harissa where he will sign the synod statement.

4. On Sunday the 11th of May at 9:30 a.m., his pontiff will hold sermon in downtown Beirut, at a place below the martyrs square close to seaside. Earlier at 8:30 a.m. he will cross the distance between Jounieh and Beirut along the coastal road to cheer and bless the crowds.

Further clarifications will be announced later by Papal Nuncio. He clarified that religious festivities will not be held because his pontiff wanted the visit to be simple enough as he is visiting Lebanon as a head of the Catholic church, same as with the 70 visits he made to various countries. The traditional move of kissing the land he is visiting won't take place because of health reason and instead his pontiff asked for a little soil in a pot to be able to kiss it. The anti bullet car will be brought from Rome with white glass not black so that his pontiff can cheer and bless the people. The car is used in all trips even if there were no risks. The helicopter will land after Baabda at Bkerke to pay a visit before heading to Harissa. His pontiff will receive, after Sunday sermon, the Greek Orthodox patriarchs and Bishops. At a special sermon he will inaugurate a church at the mission in Harissa built in 1994 in the occasion of his first planned visit to Lebanon. He also said "the purpose of the visit is to announce the synod which has been accomplished and to signal the start of its implementation." He mentioned that the synod statement is in French and will be translated after signing. He added that the Pope considers helping Lebanon in all fields. "His pontiff has great confidence in the Lebanese, and he is confident if they succeed to think of unity they would ensure the most important guarantee of their future, and for that the synod was held".

The Papal Nuncio concluded by saying, "His pontiff decided to come to Lebanon though knowing that the situation in the region is complicated and hard."

US-Monitoring Panel

US Ambassador Richard Jones, accompanied by chief of the American team in the cease-fire monitoring committee David Greenly, met Lebanon's Foreign Ministry Secretary General Zafer el Hassan. Ambassador Jones said his country is currently evaluating the Palestinian and Israeli stands and when this is over it will submit some thoughts. Greenly said he observed that the cease-fire panel was active, honest and sincere in dealing with the complaints submitted by all parties. The US will preside over last  April's cease-fire monitoring group at the beginning of May. Mr. Greenly said the Syrian participation in the group is still valid and he observed no indications on suspending it. He added that they heard official confirmation from the Syrians saying they will continue to participate. He contended that all of the group's members are satisfied of the work done. He also pointed out that the cease-fire committee is acting in line with the framework of the April's understanding and it is part of that, expecting the same course and work to go on as long the understanding is needed.

South Lebanon

Four SLA men in their armored personnel carrier reported wounded in a road mine explosion along Qantara-Taybeh road in Merjeuoun area. The Israeli and SLA artillery shelled in retaliation the vicinity of the explosion scene and shelled the Mejdel Selim, Kabrikha, Wadi Slouki, and the Litani river course. The Islamic resistance claimed responsibility of the attack.

It also claimed responsibility for firing at the SLA outpost at Sojod.

-The UNIFIL's Irish Battalion at Beit-Yahoun-Barachit reported on tension with the Israeli forces which tried to set up a close post in the area.

-In commemorating the Qana massacre, the national committee in charge announced a series of activities for the occasion. A central rally will be held at the Roman field in Tyre on the 18th of April. A statue and museum cornerstone is to be laid down in Qana on the 13th of April. Next Friday sermons' speeches will be centered around the event.

News In Brief

- Prime Minister Rafic Hariri ended his visit to Moscow visiting Petersburg and the Armitage. He arrived to Paris overnight and is scheduled to leave to Canada today.

-Lebanon's Minister of Information retracted yesterday his ministry's earlier decision to seize and confiscate a book titled "Lebanon on Hold" By Nadim Shehadi and Rose Mary Hollis. The minister considered the content to be in the interest of Lebanon and reveals the Zionist schemes, except one article by the Israeli Mark Hales, which should not blackout the other general positive articles.

- A poll result published today show that vast majority of the Lebanese reject both the appointments of municipal councils and the postponement of the municipal elections.

- Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said the affiliation to persons, and a fragile uniform opposition in Lebanon, both made the country move serving interests of persons and not the state. He said, "they speak over law, but they drew red lines before applying the law. They presented the Constitutional Council as an institution which would preserves the constitution and study cases with scientific approach, but when the council ruled out the parliament seat for some MPs, pressures were exerted to undermine function of the council."

- Lawyer Nimatallah Abi Nasr said the real reason for postponing the elections was to pave the grounds for appointing hundreds of municipal councils all over Lebanon after the officials realized their candidates are big losers.

- Lebanon formally asked Washington and the INTERPOL to assist in arresting Roger Tamraz and help in his extradition to Lebanon. General Prosecutor Adnan Addoum asked Lebanese ISF to take all measures aimed at arresting the former chairman of the board of the Al Mashrek Bank. He said the file to extradite Tamraz will be dispatched via diplomatic channels after the US media published Tamraz is in the USA and visited the White House.

- In a statement, Lebanese emigrants overseas denounced the Los Angeles' emigrants conference, denying it has any legal or legitimate capacity to speak for emigrants.

- 12 persons reported wounded in series of car accidents along Lebanon's main roads in past few days. The bad weather, unusual in April, continue to dominate. Snow was falling yesterday on 1,200 m high.

- Speaking yesterday to LU students of the Faculty of Literature, Opposition MP Najah Wakim said the opposition in Lebanon is fragmented and split. He added that the reason for postponing the municipal elections was the Beirut municipality, with its resources, revenues, and real estate property. The officials realized they could not be winners in the poll, despite the low average of electoral cards applicants. He contended that resignation such as the one by jurist Mallat could have forced presidents to quit in other countries.

- Zahle's MP George Kassarji urged the public not to pay their telephone bills because of the new high tariff imposed by the ministry in charge. He said such massive general stand will force the ministry to amend its tariff.

- General Labor Confederation called for the election of its executive board on the 24th of April.

- First lady Mona Hrawi, after founding the Talacimya Medical Center, which is now the Center on the National Heritage, Environment and Lebanese Women Affair,  said yesterday that the current priority is for the establishment of a national museum. She said there are promises to find out a solution for the Zouk electricity plant pollution and everybody is complaining of Lebanon's quarries.

- Minister of the Environment Akram Shehayeb is to announce Tuesday the schedule of activities on the World Environment Day including the campaign to clean out the Lebanese beach.

Sports Round UP

-Riyadi Beirut defeated Hikmeh and scored the leading rank of Lebanon's first group basketball teams. The match yesterday ended with 97-83.

- Adha's 10th tournament: Homentmen defeated the Burj 1-0 in the 3rd stage of the group two, qualifying itself for the semifinals.

- Ansar Club sued player Navid Naked accusing him of embezzling 12 thousand dollars. The amount was paid to Naked to ensure player Peter Prosper's signature to Ansar in the coming season after compensating Prosper Trinidad club. Naked said the amount was paid to him as commission.

- Nijmeh's football club is to host players and trainers at a reception at commodore hotel today in celebration of the Lebanon's cup scored in 96-97 season.

- Lebanese Olympic committee said it has signed sponsorship agreements with leading companies and firms including Pepsi, Holding co, Solidere, Audi and Byblos banks, Future T.V, MEA and Nike. The revenues will go to funding sports activities and back financially sports unions.

- Lebanon Football Federation urged all Lebanese to mobilize and support their national team's match with Singapore. The federation said it expects  an unprecedented Lebanese participation.

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