Lebanese council of ministers meeting under premier Rafic Hariri on April 30 , in absence of six ministers including four abroad, and two failed to attend, approved three draft laws dealing with legal affairs. The cabinet also approved amending parts of the design plans for suburbs of Beirut highway network and the extension of Sin el- Fil Boulevard-Nahr el Mott-Boushrieh-Mar Youssef intersections.
The ministry of rural and municipal affairs plan to remove billboards was also approved, same as CDR plan to complete and expand construction of the Cocodi-Khaldeh road passing through Beirut Airport road. Regarding the controversial move to institute competency tests for certain Lebanese university faculties, the cabinet decided instead to raise the passing level on Baccalaureate examinations to 12 of 20 from its current ten. The faculties are law, pharmacy, medicine, dentistry and engineering. Hariri discussed the move to extend the parliament term with the cabinet. He said the solution to not hold summer elections could lie in either extending the mandate by eight months or shortening it four months. Speaker Nabih Berri has said on the same day that the extension of the term requires a constitutional amendment and he preferred trimming the tenure. He added that the issue should be postponed until the government completes a draft law on elections, in which the mandate would be included as an article.
-As the constitutional council's findings into the legality of 17 parliamentary seats draws near, the nine judge panel came under harsh critics from MPs who are facing the threat of a final judgment. The council had become a battleground for rhetoric and its impending decision fueled a war of words. Speaker Nabih Berri asserted the importance of showing respect and trust in the council and the judicial authority whatever the circumstances. Berri said "the confusion surrounding the appeals and the questioned efficiency of the council were due to
1.The sudden resignation of the council's former head Wajdi Mallat and
2. The steady growth in the bulk of the appeals files, and some of the less complicated files could have been handed rapidly to avoid a build up".
Premier Hariri warned April 30 that the council was the target of a campaign aimed at undermining trust in the panel and the entire judicial system. "A ferocious war is being launched against all government institutions by certain sides seeking to project a distorted image of Lebanon as though not single issue is being handled correctly", Mr. Hariri said at the beginning of government session. He said "the constitutional council is the only authority in the country that enjoys absolute immunity and is above all pressures and interference. What is happening is abnormal, at a time we are appealing to the world to participate in reconstruction, and we find people from within trying to undermine the country's image".
However, the council did not convene April 30 for lack of quorum with only four of the nine members appearing. Its final rulings would be announced by Saturday or early next week. Judicial sources said the council will rule in favor of only three out of the 19 challenges submitted to it. Three MPs who face loosing their parliamentary seats, including West Bekaa MP Henri Chedid, Jbeil MP Emile Nawfal, and Akkar MP Khaled Daher, casted doubts on the validity of the council's decision. Some of them accused some members of the council of being corrupt and biased to their competitors. Chedid accused council member Khaled Kabbani of "intending to please his master'.
He asked for a parliament investigating committee to be formed to unearth the facts about a rumored financial scandal involving a council's member. Mr. Hariri denied having made any contact with any of the council's members, also denied having interfered to grant a bank loan to anyone. Another denial was issued by the Hariri owned private Bank Mediterranean. MP Emile Nawfal lashed out at council members Kabbani and Adib Allam saying they both biased with his competitor Nazem Khoury. He said Kabbani was on the payroll of the state minister for finance as a judicial consultant. Elsewhere, Shura council's member judge Rashid Hteit said to have filed a lawsuit for slander against jurist Wajdi Mallat.
Mallat was said to have expressed skepticism as to efficiency of the judges and the judicial corp. He also accused the Shura council of being inconsistent in its decisions and changing its mind after an initial judgment had been taken. Speculations said the Shura council might file a lawsuit against Mallat for linking his resignation to the inefficiency of the judicial body. Mallat responded saying the Shura has neither the power nor the right to judge him on anything.
Interior minister Michel Murr said April 30 that "once the issue of challenges is settled, the government should look into by-laws of the council, of which some were ambiguous.
-The 5 nation cease-fire monitoring panel, in a final conclusion following two-day meeting at Naqoura April 29 and 30, has found that neither Lebanon nor Israel violated the cease-fire. The panel discussed two complaints lodged by the two sides. The Lebanese complaint was lodged after a school bus was hit by Israeli machine gun fire on Sunday from a position manned by Israeli soldiers and the allied SLA on Kawkaba in the occupied zone. Lebanon said the firing was a violation of the cease-fire, Israel denied it has any connection with the incident, and the monitoring panel described as "factual" claims that the bus had been hit by two rounds but did not issue any condemnation. Israel's complaint was lodged against mortar bombardment by the Islamic resistance on an Israeli army base on the border with Lebanon on Friday that injured two soldiers. Israel said the bombardment was a breach of the cease-fire, the Lebanese side asserted that all but one of the mortar shells landed on Lebanese soil and was consistent with the April understanding, and the monitoring panel conceded that the stray of mortar shell was "an unintended result of the attack". Israel claimed also that Katyusha rockets which were subsequently fired by the Islamic resistance at Mazraet Damaskieh, were launched indiscriminately towards a civilian populated area. The Lebanese denied that the rockets were fired at a civilian area and asserted that the intended target was a military position, and the monitoring panel noted that the Katyusha attack was "factual" and reserved its judgment.
-Meanwhile, "the head of Israeli liaison unit Gen. Eli Amitai revealed April 30 that Israel's plans in the coming months to supply the SLA with sophisticated weapons", the SLA run voice of the South said. Emitai said the supplies include night equipment and Tow missiles (wire guided anti tank missiles), that can hit targets at a distance of 3.400 m. He added that SLA members were trained on the weapons in Israel.
- The SLA said its engineering unit detonated two roadside bombs on a road near Dahr Ramleh village in the Jezzine pocket. It accused Hizbullah men of planting the bombs. Hizbullah announced its men attacked April 30 the SLA outpost at Kassret el Ouroush twice at 4.00 p.m and 6.30 p.m achieving direct hits.
-The executive committee of the government-recognized GLC headed by Ghanim Zoghbi visited Wednesday Labour minister Assaad Hardan. A day earlier, the committee visited three top officials. Hardan, same as the troika members asserted he is ready to open a channel of dialogue with the GLC on series of demands.
GLC new leader Ghanim Zoghbi repeated his intention to adopt last year's Coral Beach conference demands, produced under his rival GLC president Elias abu Rizk, but with arranging several priorities. He considered creation of the socio-economic council as top priority. Other demands include increase of production which consequently increase income, fighting unemployment, and improving wages and benefits. Zoghbi said he will not go back on workers demands even if he is forced to use all democratic means, such as strikes and demonstrations. May day celebrations in Lebanon this year is taking place at separate places by separate GLCs.
-USA state department annual report on terrorism, praised Lebanon's major progress in recent years on restoring security and order and for taking measures to contain terrorism. The report said "despite the improvement of security atmosphere, Lebanon is still posing danger to the Americans, and for that, the travel embargo continues to be imposed".
- In Beirut, head of the US diplomatic security office met May 2 with interior minister Michel Murr in presence of US ambassador Richard Jones. Murr said he briefed the visiting delegation on security in Lebanon, and the security measures taken here to ensure protection of the US embassy staff and the airport of Beirut. Murr hoped that the decision on US travel embargo be lifted at earliest, and said the US administration will review the decision in Oct. He said he hopes the decision is not linked to politics, and if its merely security decision, it would be positive because of the current stable situation in Lebanon. Ambassador Jones said the mission of the delegation is not related to the travel embargo, however, the delegation was pleased of what was seeing here.
- Lebanon presidency-protocol and public relations department announced the official program of the visit of his pontiff, including official reception and farewell, and the official and religious figures that will participate. The presidency official program did not include his pontiff's activities at Harissa and Bkerke.
- Cardinal Sfair told his visitors April 30 that a reflection of the visit will be seen in future and the Synod on Lebanon would hopefully participate to regain sovereignty and free decision. He said "sooner or later, the Syrians will leave and there will be no problem in their absence. The Moslems and Christians can live together in peace and run their affairs by themselves". He added that some have went far to certain limits and gave the visit a size which might not be real but the visit will have results that will appear in future". Asked in a press interview whether the sentence on Samir Geagea which is going to be taken one day before the visit is unfavorable to Christian society, Sfair said " We have talked about that and I do not know if the sentence will be postponed". Cardinal Sfair did not answer a question on the return of Gen. Michel Aoun from exile.
-Lebanese army command has laid down concrete, and large ground measures plans to ensure security and safety of his pontiff, following the government decision to charge army of the mission. The government decision last Tuesday charged the army of the mission, exclusively aimed at providing security and safety of his pontiff, during a period of time which is up to army to define, and to ask when necessary the assistance of other security forces.
The army plan depends on land, air, and sea forces to cover regions where his pontiff will be present since the moment of his arrival to Beirut Airport until departure. The plan will include airport area, the suburbs, Baabda, and roads linking it to Bkerke, Harissa, and Jounieh, additional to the large mass army stationing at the site of the sermon near the martyrs square in downtown Beirut. Lebanese navy will monitor the coast between Beirut and Kesrouan, a military chopper will airlift his pontiff from Baabda to Bkerke escorted by other monitoring planes during the visit, especially when his pontiff moves in his automobile. The on hand security escort and personal security will be carried by the presidency guards since his pontiff is a special guest of the president. The presidency guards will be backed by the Mukafaha under the army intelligence, additional to the Swiss traditional guarding of his pontiff. All the army is mobilized and other security agencies will have each specific missions.
-Defense minister Mohsen Dalloul freezed all arms licenses in Lebanon during the visit of his pontiff and as of 3rd May until 12th.
-The Catholic schools namely in Kesrouan took specific measures to arrange participation of students in receiving his pontiff especially when he will move from Jounieh to martyrs square.
-The Vatican official circles agreed to a request by Moslem religious leaders Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani and Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddine to have a joint meeting with his pontiff instead of separate meetings at the presidential palace in Baabda. Groups of Lebanese Moslem youths will participate in the audience with his Pope at Harissa basilica. The number is not fixed neither the education level, and they are currently chosen by both Fatwa and the Moslem Shiite council. Questions which will be raised by the Moslem youths include topics such as Israeli occupation of South and West Bekaa and backing the Lebanese people resistance of this occupation until its evacuation, backing implementation of the UN 425 resolution, the issue of occupied Jerusalem and means to safeguard the Islamic and Christian sites there, backing the common coexistence in Lebanon.
- Beirut Maronite bishop Boulos Mattar and the presidency information consultant May Kahale at a joint press conference April 30 announced the arrangements on the visit. Kahale said some 200 foreign media and information already applied to cover the event, additional to 50 journalist accompanying his pontiff.
-Pope John Paul II , in an address to the Lebanese handed today to cardinal Sfeir by papal nuncio Pablo Puente, on verge of his coming visit, said his visit will be "a pilgrimage to part of the land over which Jesus Christ had walked over 2000 years ago. It will stem the same spirit of Jesus' Christ visit to Tyre and Sidon. Its of a deep spiritual objective. Celebrating the final conclusion of the Synod. Deep sentiment toward the Catholic church believers and all other communities. Praying for patients and those facing hard daily living situations. Wishing God bless for the courageous people and Lebanon's reform, conciliation, reconstruction and unity drive".
- Prime minister Rafic Hariri parliamentary "Decision Bloc" expressed dismay of the critics against the state institutions and the judicial independence. The bloc said it is important to have a time distance between parliament elections and the summer season. It also welcomed the coming visit of his pontiff to Lebanon.
- The Vatican mission allowed journalists to observe a newly built church at Harissa where his pontiff will pray, also a hall where his pontiff will receive Greek Orthodox religious leaders and clerics.
- Jbeil MP Emile Nawfal after a visit today to cardinal Sfair said he hopes his pontiff would visit the Mar Sharbel site at Ennaya. Elias abu Rizk after a visit to Bkerke said the government is attempting to put hand on the GLC using force to confiscate its decision. He said his GLC is legitimate until a time the judiciary gives final ruling on the issue.
- French embassy charge d'affaire announced April 30 a French delegation will be visiting Beirut 21st May to discuss issues related to entry visas and residence permits issued in both countries.
- The recent measures on entry visas to Lebanon are regarded as a signal of openness and a start of adopting the concept of tourism industry era. Easy entry visas which would be issued at border points would help Lebanon openness policy. Exclusions will include Passports with Israel seals, the Palestinians who should obtain a prior approval, and nationals of some Arab or Asian countries who are coming for work should obtain same papers as before.
- Japanese parliamentary delegation now visiting Lebanon held separate meetings with speaker Nabih Berri and prime minister Hariri. Head of the delegation said they came as Lebanese-Japanese friendship committee, praised the government concern toward the case of Japanese Red Army members, noting the judicial measures taken by Lebanon, and said he is hopeful the two countries will reach finally a suitable solution of the case.
- Former Premier Selim Hoss questioned why the government had held due amounts that belonged to municipalities, how much the government spent on behalf of the municipalities, and what will be the situation in future after having municipal elections when these municipalities appeal and challenges these spendings on its behalf.
- Moslem Muftis council rejected the sectarian approaches on the issue of naturalization, under the pretext of national balance, and called instead for adopting law and right dealing with the case.
-Information minister Bassem Sabbaa, announcing results of the cabinet meeting April 30, quoted premier Hariri citing the necessity of not holding parliament election in the summer of the year 2000, when Lebanon is scheduled to host the Asian Games sport tournament. When the event was announced in December, Hariri had called it "the country's most important event in decades".
- National team and Tadamoun-Tyr football player Wael Nazha is now the highest paid player ever in Lebanon's football history. Nazha signed April 30 to play for Nejmeh. According to information the amount is $220 thousand, out of it $100 thousand goes to Tadamoun, $70 thousand for Tadamoun former president to settle due debts on Nazha, and $50 thousand to Nazha himself. Iraqi national team player Laith Hussein would sign and play for Ansar in Beirut.
Another Iraqi player, Amer Abdel Wahab, who is keeper of the Iraqi Riyada wal Adab team, would play for the Racing in Beirut for $16 thousand and a monthly salary of $1,250. Tripoli-Lebanon Riyada wal Adab player Ibrahim Husni would play to Ansar.
-Lebanese Ziad Ghandour will be first runner in the 14th Marlboro Spring Rally, 2nd phase of Lebanon championship 1997, for the formula -2 of the group N, which starts May 3. 23 teams will run for the championship.
- Kuwait national team is due to arrive to Beirut 20th June to play with Lebanon's team on 22nd. The Kuwaiti team will be headed by Sheikh Fahd el Jaber Sabah.
-The organizing committee of the Asian volleyball tournament which will take place in Lebanon 12-18th May will include 9 Asian teams.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
[ Lebanon.com Weekly Business Reports ]
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