Yesterday, Rafic Hariri's government withdrew a draft law on the municipal elections, a move that might jeopardize the plans for the summer poll. At least 36 MP including prominent opposition figures, and 3 Christian ministers - Shawki Fakhoury, Michel Murr, and Elie Hubeika - normally allied with the prime minister, voted against the move, and 54 MPs voted in favour of the government request to withdrew the draft bill. Mr. Hariri refused to reveal when the draft law will be resubmitted to parliament, thus casting doubts as to whether the elections will be held as scheduled this summer. "I do not want this to seem as if the government does not want the elections to be held on time but it is better to take back the bill and study it again in order to see what we can do about it and what changes we can introduce," Hariri commented.
The government is to meet tomorrow to discuss the controversy. The government's request came after a second day of a parliamentary session to vote on 21 draft bills, including the proposed law on municipal elections. Some 28 MPs and one minister addressed the house in turn, many were in support of holding elections on time; others asked that the poll be delayed until there is more appropriate political climate and a new law on municipalities is decreed. The MPs who were in support of holding the elections disagreed on two grounds;
1.Whether the government administered appointments at the security zone replace elections, and
2.What procedures should be adopted in the villages affected by the displaced issue.
The question now is whether the elections are to be postponed or canceled. On the surface, it appears to be an internal problem in the parliament, but in depth, some regional factors are contributing to this developing realities. News reports said the current regional atmospheres were pressing enough and Damascus, which view the region's situation as a boiling one, wants the Lebanese to avert being preoccupied with local issues, whatever their importance, because it is perceived the situation to be out of control soon. President Elias Hrawi was adamant about holding the elections on time, but after yesterday's result, he emerged as a big looser. He was quoted as saying that the state's credibility is at stake including that of the parliament and all measures to hold elections should be taken.
Hariri's circles said the preliminary evaluation of the session proved that all parties have acted with a sense of responsibility. Hariri wished the session could have been televised, saying all sides have given their justification to postpone elections without anyone asking for it, except Hizbullah MPs. The present municipal and mayoral councils terms in office expire at the end of June, and predictions say that either the voters would be called to elect in accordance with the 1977 law or that the term of the councils would be extended.
General Aoun loyalist National Central Coordination Council said in a statement that the government postponement of the municipal elections is a signal of its fear of public opinion. The latest governmental measure is seen as a way out from the massive popular trend, following the determination and moves of the opposition to run for the elections.
--"I officially announce my resignation from the presidency and membership of the council", head of the Constitutional Council judge Wajdi Mallat said in a letter read yesterday to parliament by Speaker Nabih Berri. Giving no specific reason, Mallat is said to have been under pressures and interventions and caught up in a controversy over a total of 19 appeals presented to the council, challenging the legitimacy of 17 parliament seats submitted by the losing candidates. 18 losing candidates asked the council to overturn the results of their contests and declare them winners; another one demanded the court to overturn last year's entire election. All 19 claimed irregularities and rigging of the elections results. The 10 members council began investigating the appeals and was expected to release its findings within the next few days. Speaker Berri said he received the resignation yesterday, and it seems that Mr. Mallar is convinced by his decision.
He said another president for the council would be elected in a month. Mallat told news agencies his resignation is irrevocable and reasons will become eventually clear to everyone. MPs demanded that the reasons of resignation be clarified and that any intervention or pressure is to be considered a serious matter. MP Najah Wakim said ironically that other officials should follow Mallat's lead, suggesting that Mallat has to appear in parliament so that the MPs listen to the reasons. Wakim said, "If Mallat is resigning because of pressures, it is the parliament responsibility to protect him."
MP Butros Harb noted, "it is obvious that the council was subjected to pressures, and we want to know who is pressuring the council." Harb suggested formation of a parliament committee to investigate the case. Chuf MP Zaher el Khatib asked if the government and the prime minister in particular is pressuring the council over the issue of objections. Former speaker Hussein Husseini hoped the resignation would be withdrawn, saying "if the present laws do not protect the council, there should be new drafted laws to do so." According to news agencies, at least 3 of the 19 appeals were acceptable, and the council was ready to overturn three elections results, replacing the incumbent with the defeated candidate who appealed.
Names of those who could face de-selection are Bekaa MP Henri Chedid, Akkar MP Khaled Daher, and Jbeil MP Emile Nawfal. It said the council was also unlikely to rule in favour of politically more prominent applicants, like the defeated Christian opposition leader Albert Mukheiber, because of the wide gap of votes between him and the candidate who won. The resignation, a first such outcry of the painful situation, raised the issue of pressure on the entire judicial body. Mallat's resignation was an outcry for politicians to get hands off the judiciary, following another outcry by the LU president to get hands off the LU.
Rafic Abi Yunes, a Lebanese Christian and a former senior member of the pro Iraq Baath party branch in Lebanon, had been freed this week following two and half years detention in Syria. Two other Christians, from the Karam family, who were detained and taken to Syria two months ago for suspicions of collaborating with Israel, because of frequent visits to their hometown Jezzine, were also freed.
Cardinal Sfair said to have expressed satisfaction with the release. News analysts said the move was a step in the right direction and would help narrow differences between the Cardinal and Syrian leadership. Bkerke and Damascus were on dialogue during the past four months through Christian political mediators. The Vatican stepped in recently, sending Foreign Minister Jean Louis Tauran to Damascus, in a bid to clear the atmospheres ahead of the Pope's visit. Last month, deputy speaker Elie Firzli said mediations were moving ahead but the results would not be imminent because of the complexity of the issue.
Amnesty International, in another appeal to President Hrawi, said the Maghy Karam (a Lebanese woman) was taken to an unknown destination where she is being tortured. The organization said members of the Syrian intelligence arrested her at Shtaura on early March, and would have been taken to Syria later. The organization contends she was sentenced for 9 months jail in 1993 for collaborating with Israel. Earlier in 1988, her arrest was connected to her son's travel to Sweden via Israel for education.
She was accused of taking photos of Syrian officers at a birthday party at her house in Bekaa, while her brother was accused of passing the photos to Israeli agents. The amnesty international demands that Maghy's and her brother Gaby's whereabouts be cleared, so as to be given assurances that they won't be tortured, and be released if no specific criminal charges are proved.
In an open letter to President Hrawi, the Lebanese branch of human rights association asked him to announce the names of 210 Lebanese detainees in Syria, work to bring them back to Lebanon, and release the innocent ones.
President Hrawi has hinted at a press conference that he had held in 1996 210 Lebanese detainees in Syria. The association said the arrests, despite the Cooperation and Brotherhood treaty between Lebanon and Syria, is contradictory to the Lebanese constitution. The association added that the state of emergency in Syria does not allow it to take them to Syria where they stand trial before Syrian judiciary.
Lebanese University (LU) is to stage three days strike, involving all of its branches on 14 to 16 of April. A day of solidarity with the LU has been staged yesterday with 1,000 people attending at the law faculty at Sanayeh.
The crowd included teachers, students, and representatives of political parties such as Hizbullah, AMAL, the General Labor Confederation (GLC) and others. LU President Assaad Diyab attended, expressing his support to the demands. Head of the teacher's league threatened to take further measures.
Speakers at the crowd demanded government to decide salary increases, tenures for 550 teachers, suitable budget for the university instead of wasting money on armored cars and bodyguards. Hizbullah MP said the LU issue is now political and not administrative one.
-Five Japanese Army members, arrested in February, were indicted yesterday for forging passports, government seals, visas, residence permits, entering and residing illegally as well as giving false identities. If convicted, they will face up to 10 years jail. A trial date is expected to be announced later this month.
- Lebanon's Council of Ministers is to convene tomorrow at Baabda palace with 39 items on the agenda. Fresh reports at noon today said the session was canceled after Prime Minister Rafic Hariri left on his way to a visit to Russia.
- Minister of Finance Fouad Seniora asked for L.L100 billion credits to pay due compensations for projects related to public works, CDR and the Ministry of Defense. The amount is not included in the fiscal budget of 1997.
- Cardinal Sfair received Prime Minister's envoy Mohammed Sammak extending congratulations for Easter on behalf of Hariri.
- The Muslim Muftis Council's meeting yesterday, under the leadership of Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani affirmed that touching on Dar el Fatwa will be regarded as a major harm to all Muslims and to the entire nation. The council described the Pope's visit to Lebanon as a visit to all Lebanese aiming to enhance national unity, peace, and liberation of land from Israeli occupation.
Mufti Kabbani said the Iftaa is far from religious stagnation, and above conflicts. He denied an Algerian style situation would occur in Lebanon. He also denied an alleged reports of conflicts between the Muslims and state authorities.
- Greek Catholic High Council after a meeting yesterday said the Pope visit is historical, a sign of Vatican's concern over Lebanon , and noted it is an exclusive visit to Lebanon in the Middle East. The statement said the Pope is keen about the coexistence in Lebanon. The council denounced the latest critics which aimed at his pontiff and which do not serve the interests of Lebanon. It also highlighted the Muslim voices welcoming the Pope visit and which called for an address uniting not splitting the country.
- At its second day in Beirut, the Syriac Heritage Second Conference dealt with the early Christian monastery life.
-Argentinean President Carlos Menem promised yesterday to make a state visit to Lebanon during a meeting with Lebanon's Minister of Immigration Talal Aersalan. Menem, whose ancestors emigrated from Yabrud in Syria, said he will be pleased to return back to the area. Menem described Lebanon as the most beautiful country of the world, and he is ready to cooperate in any issue of bilateral interest.
- Baalbeck festival will reopen on July 30 with a performance by the Russian Cellist Mestislav Rostropovich, festival president May Arida said yesterday. She said the program is not yet known and further announcements will be made later. The last festival was in 1975. Arida noted that this years festival will not include ballet, on the ground that Hizbullah will not welcome it in its Baalbeck stronghold.
- Lebanon's and Norway's football game at Burj Hammoud stadium yesterday ended with scoreless draw of 0/0. It was the last for Norway team in the region, and last warm up for Lebanese team before the world cup elimination.
-Lebanon is to play with Thailand today in the semifinal of the Asia-Oceanea group two Davis Cup competition at Kahraba indoor courts in Zouk. Lebanon will be hosting the cup for the first time. Lebanon hopes rest on player Ali Hamade, who is ranked now 890th in singles and 580th in doubles. He played in 1996 Lebanese Davis Cup team in Dubai, winning all his group three singles and doubles matches. He also played in the last Lebanese victory in Saudi Arabia. Hamade will play with Thailand's number two player.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
[ Lebanon.com Weekly Business Reports ]
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