News from Beirut April 16  1997 ...Search

Lebanon-The Reunion

President Elias Hrawi received today Prime Minister Hariri, who just came back from a long tour. Hariri also met today Speaker Nabih Berri. These meetings took place while the country is still plagued with certainties such as the municipal elections, the conflict of interests between the President and the Prime Minister in one hand and the speaker on the other hand, and the dispute over the Labor unions. The President has maintained the same stands as before on the disputed issues but without mounting up his campaign.

The Speaker, at a press conference held yesterday in Qatar prior to his return back to Beirut, said another extension of three years for the President is not under discussion in Lebanon at present. He said disagreements among the officials are natural thing in democracies, including the one between legislative and executive power. He blamed the media for exaggerating the issue. "The Lebanese constitution is not an ordinary law and any amendments on it should enjoy a general consensus something is not realized now in Lebanon", Berri said. He affirmed that the withdrawal of the draft bill was for making a review and to avert the missing points which were complicated. He said the move was a government request and by the Prime Minister personally.

Mr. Berri also said that "the government is not capable to hold elections even if the parliament endorsed the amendments on 1977 law, and instead of having disagreements on that point, it is more possible for them to say that completing the required measures needs a time of 3, or 5, or even a year." Berri added, "Who have been patient for 34 years without holding elections can be patient one more year."

The 8 member ministerial committee under Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Michel Murr concluded the following points-recommendations which are supposed to be referred to government:

1-The municipal elections supports the national entente

2- Better to adopt appointment in the security zone and the displaced  villages

3- Establishing more municipalities and dividing quarters in villages needs several months to set up ground measures

4- The municipal elections would not be held in the summer because of the tourism season, neither in autumn or winter because of the weather situation, and the next spring would be the more convenient

5- The current municipal and mayoral councils' term will be extended.

6-The electoral cards will remain valid and number of those obtained the card is nearly 1,117,000.

The ministerial committee, including loyalists and representatives of the three top officials and other political tendencies, said to have surmounted its diversity and recommended holding municipal elections at the earliest time, together with all the "logistical" requirements, "which however justifies postponement for at least one year. The committee has unanimously agreed on the importance and necessity of holding the elections. The next spring is the date preferred by most of the officials.

The spring is the time which the government would most likely adopt. The ministerial committee has noted on the other hand that increasing municipalities and dividing large towns exceeding three thousand to quarters would need several months, but the committee define it by at least six months. Minister of the Interior Michel Murr let the date ranging between spring and autumn, "but not after 5 or 10 years". Minister Suleiman Franjieh expected the postponement for one year.

- Bri.Ghazi Kanaan is reported to be mediating between President Hrawi and Speaker Berri on the basis that Hrawi is to sign a decree appointing emigrants attaches at Lebanese missions abroad, which was one of the disputed issues, and later the Speaker Berri is to visit Baabda palace.

- Prime Minister Rafic Hariri held an hour and half meeting in Paris with President Chirac before departing to Beirut. It is the fourth such meeting since early this year. French presidency source said Mr. Hariri is the most frequent visitor of Elysee, out of the European community counterparts. Mr. Hariri said views were identical on the Middle East situation, affirming that there are "existing French moves over the peace process, but it is facing now a serious impasse." He discussed the cease-fire monitoring committee work "which enjoys the support of all parties". Hariri blamed Israel for the impasse, and denied reports that he discussed the possibility of a show down in the region saying such possibility is not placed over at present but a peace process crisis instead is existing.

Among the other topics he discussed was the Pope's visit to Lebanon, Lebanon-Europe-France relation, and M/E partnership. President Chirac said to have expressed a clear dismay toward Israeli Premier Netanyahu, rather much more than the French official statements, which try to avoid cutting bridges with Israel.

- Prime minister Hariri said that two mistakes took place in Sidon GLC election; one is the arrest of journalists, and second is that security forces could have acted in a better way. He said postponing municipal elections, in order to ensure representation of all Lebanese and all regions is justified. He said he does not want to give any new date for the election and he preferred to take his time instead of rushing things. Hariri said he agreed with former Premier Selim Hoss and Tammam Salam that Beirut municipal council to be shared equally between Moslems and Christians

Lebanon-Government and GLC showdown

- The question in Beirut is whether Hariri's government would go far in confronting GLC President Elias Abu Rizk to force him to quit or to be removed, or it would find out a half way compromise and achieve the goal of domesticating the union. The GLC leadership went to Sidon yesterday and held a protesting and solidarity meeting joined by MPs, political and party representatives. Speeches denounced the intervention by government, rejected result of the Sidon poll, and called for a trial of those responsible of  oppression and rigging. The security forces did not come close to the venue and H.Q of the south union where the meeting was held and the newly elected south union evacuated the venue giving place for the GLC leadership. Minister of Labor Assaad Herdan met with journalists yesterday and affirmed that his ministry is neutral in the inter GLC power struggle. He said his ministry is ready to annul the Sidon poll results if the two GLC factions agreed to that. He assured that he had refused fragmenting the GLC but urged it to accept membership of 8 unions who applied for membership but not accepted.

Speaker Nabih Berri, in a phone call with Lebanon's Journalist Association Melhem Karam, said "what happened in Sidon is a foolish and irresponsible action. We have nothing to do with it and we express solidarity with any stand you take in support of the free opinion and safety of journalists."

Mecca Pilgrimage

Lebanese Pilgrims Committee Head Mohammed Sammak confirmed in a phone call that all Lebanese pilgrims tents were burnt in the fire that erupted at Mona during the pilgrimage, but none of the Lebanese was hurt. Sammak said the Saudi authorities will set up alternative camps in the coming hours to house the pilgrims. Recent reports said 250 pilgrims died and 1200 wounded in the fire that erupted at Mona 5 km south of Mecca. The 70,000 tent which is housing pilgrims had been totally burnt. Most of the casualties were Asians namely Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis.

Lebanon -Zaire, Hostages and Ransom

The case of 46 Lebanese trapped in the Zairian town Mbuji-May now under rebels control is still a main concern in Beirut. News report said the rebels may have reduced a ransom of $750 thousand they demanded for their release. The Lebanese, who are living there under very hard conditions and their property looted by Zaire regulars before the rebels took over, refuse in principle to pay the ransom. It is first time the rebels demanded such ransom from foreigners in order to allow them to leave the town. Head of  Lebanon's mission in Johansburg Shirbel Istifan said the 46 Lebanese, including 10 holding non-Lebanese passports, are banned from leaving the town. Istifan said a chartered plane hired by Lebanese overseas is waiting for a green light to airlift them to South Africa which said it is ready to issue entry visas for them. He asked for the mediation of UN's special envoy and South African government to resolve the case. Minister of immigration said he called the US ambassador asking him to convey a Lebanese request to his administration asking US intervention to evacuate the detained Lebanese but no respond was given yet. The Foreign Ministry S.G Zafer el Hassan handed the US Embassy in Beirut a formal request. Officials in the Embassy said there is no US decision yet to evacuate Americans in Zaire, and if that decision is taken, the US ambassador in Kinshasa will have the authority to allow evacuation of third world nationals. He said the best way is to have coordination and contacts between the Lebanese and US embassies in Kinshasa.

News In Brief

- Russian Federation Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Bosovalik is to visit Beirut today coming from Damascus where he met with his Syrian counterpart for talks on the Middle East stalled peace process.

- News report said Brig. Ghazi Kanaan has visited days ago Byblos Maronite Bishop Beshara Raii in the framework of Syrian-Christian contacts going on since some time on various levels.

-Representatives of Lebanon's local audio-visual media stations, including Tele Liban and the state radio, the Catholic Information Center, and other leading stations, held a meeting yesterday at the Ministry of Information to discuss media coverage of the Pope's visit to Lebanon. May Kahaleh, the information advisor of the President, briefed them on the schedule of the visit and urged coordination of the stations in order to lend success to the visit.

- Cardinal Sfair presided over a series of meetings in preparation for the Pope's visit. He met yesterday with Papal Nuncio Pablo Puente. The Orient Catholic Patriarchs are going to hold a meeting tomorrow to review the measures. The Cardinal received Kataeb President George Saadeh, Deputy Head of the Human Rights International Union Mohsen Selim, and a delegation of the Middle East churches.

- Mount Lebanon Mufti Mohammed Ali el Jouzou criticized the Pope's remark on the Judaism of Jesus Christ saying it is a serious remark. Jouzou asked for a clarification on the remark before the Pope's visit. He wished his pontiff would  visit Qana in south Lebanon.

- PSP party under Minister Jumblat criticized in a statement the "declarations attributed to Egypt's Moslem Brethren leader which is calling for the necessity to expel Christians Copts out from the Egyptian army." The PSP noted that such a declaration is irresponsible and represents an example of the conversion by some political groups. The party cautioned that there should be an Islamic, pan Arab, and national political consensus rejecting such slogan and concept. The party hailed the Christian and Coptic history, roles and stands, reminding their resentment of the crusade offenses, namely the great stand of Patriarch Shenodah who prohibited the visiting Jerusalem as long it is under occupation.

- Iranian Embassy First Secretary, after a visit to MP Zaher Khatib and Mustafa Saad, said the German court ruling against Iran is political and not juridical. He noted that the German government was assured by Iran that its nationals in Tehran will be safe and won't be posed to any harm. He denied knowing anything about some threats which were announced in Lebanon.

- Islamic resistance foiled yesterday morning an Israeli attempt, by the strong IGOZ brigade unit, to advance north of the occupied security zone in the middle sector. Helicopter, gunships and artillery batteries backed the attacking unit. The Israeli commando force was targeting the village of Ghandourieh and the nearby Froun village. The Islamic resistance announced the death of two men and said it repelled the Israeli advance. Israeli military source said the Ghandourieh village had become a shelter for resistance operation.

- France Telecom Co said its cellular network capacity now is 150,000 line and will rise up to 228,000 by end of the year. The company known as Cellis said the number of transmission stations now raised up to 158 station, and number of subscribers is 124,000. The company denied any possibility of  tapping the phone calls and denied allegation that it fixed machines to tap calls.

- P.T.T ministry said a new updated telephone directory for all Lebanon will be issued by early 1998 in cooperation with the French ODA company.

- Deputy Speaker Elie Firzli, after a visit to President Elias Hrawi, said he suggested adding a provision to the municipalities law, annulling the result of municipalities poll, if it contradicts with the prerequisites of the national consensus. Firzli said such one color ticket won Lebanon's bar  association and could have caused serious consequences on the bar's unity.

- Former Prime Minister Omar Karami excluded the possibility of a government change. He said the three top officials' disagreement "are agreed upon and it is a summer cloud which will go." He assailed the financial policy of the government saying the financial situation would collapse shortly because of  the over the limit public debts. He said Hariri's government placed Lebanon before an economic and financial impasse because it ignored the industry and agriculture sectors and for not protecting the local market. Karami said Hariri gambled on fixing the rate of the Lira and rising up central bank reserves, despite the high prices and the inflation rate, which made Lebanon among the most expensive countries. He said Hariri had domesticated all and there are no more trouble maker ministers.

- Minister for the Displaced Walid Jumblat said this evening, after a visit to President Hrawi, that the displaced fund is empty and waiting for the return of the Prime Minister to see to that. He questioned, "Why to fear municipal elections, recalled we have held two parliamentary elections in the past." He noted that he is at one trench with the President in order to face the peace impasse and deadlock. Jumblat said he is with the Sidon GLC poll and Bahiya Hariri also with the elected labor unionists.

- Observers cautioned of the growing phenomenon of sticking religious posters by both Christians and Moslems on their private cars. One poster represents Jesus with the title "King of the kings", another by the Moslems with a photo of holy Mecca and Islamic verses.

- News comment said Prime Minister Hariri has been granted two PhDs; one by Ottawa University and another by Montreal University. The comment said jokingly Hariri has been granted honorary doctorship for twice in three days.

- The National Gathering under Douri Chamoun demanded the Lebanese officials to stop their shuttling trips and to deal with the people's urgent problems instead. It said it is better for them to save money for social needs, and better to realize they are incapable of resolving any regional or international crisis, so it is better for them to stay at home.

- Lebanese Industrialists Association's delegation headed by the head of  association Jacques Sarraf is to visit Baghdad on the 20th of April for talks on promoting trade relation and marketing industrial products..

- Many MPs proposed that the government annul a decree conditioning a qualifying test for the secondary students wishing to study law, medicine, and engineering. The MPs said that such a decree would represent a major blow to the Lebanese secondary certificate.

-Adha holiday starts tomorrow. Outnumbered apologies of not receiving congratulations in the occasion are published every day. The apologies mentioned Qana first anniversary, which coincides with second day of the Eid  and the continued Israeli occupation, as main reasons .

- Israeli backed SLA militia released yesterday 7 Lebanese, including a security man, all detained for months to several years in Khiam prison. The ICRC transported the detained to their homes and villages.

Sports Round Up

- Trinidadian football player David Naked case with Ansar is over. The football player left already to Beirut in the company of a Trinidadian diplomat official who came to Beirut to negotiate Ansar a settlement for $40,000 on him. The official was dispatched to Beirut following media campaign in Trinidad against Lebanon. Ansar has also decided to dismiss Nigerian right wing player Okopola who is too going to leave today.

- Safa and Homenmen will play today at the end of the primary for group A of Adha 10th tournament. Safa is in the leading and the Homenmen is the fourth and last.

- French basketball women team Limouge A-B-C is to visit Beirut and play with Homentmen women and other games at Sidon and Beirut.

- Boushrieh and Ghazir have to play again for the 5th time for Lebanon's cup. Bushrieh failed to win the cup after losing last game with Ghazir 3-2. The game lasted for 3 hours and Elie Najjar performed well, ranking himself as the best attacker in Lebanon at present.

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