News from Beirut May 8 1997 ...Search

Pope's Visit: Preparations, Expectations

Lebanon House Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to visit Baabda palace on Friday after today's session of the council of ministers works out a direction, news reports said. While the public opinion, spiritual leaders, and other groups move on to prepare welcoming his pontiff, Lebanon's officials move out on Beirut-Damascus line in order to pave grounds for an adequate welcome. Prime Minister Rafic Hariri has been shuttling between Baabda palace and Ain Tineh residence of the speaker during the past 48 hours in a bid to concile opposite views of the two officials before the Pope's arrival. Minister Walid Jumblat contributed to this effort, but results were yet inconclusive. Hariri counseled May 5th Syrian V.P. Abdel Halim Khaddam on the issue asking his help to sort out differences and to cool atmospheres between Hrawi and Berri. On May 6 speaker Berri met in Damascus with Syrian president Hafez Assad and vice president Khaddam, also met on his way back to Beirut Brig. Ghazi Kanaan at Anjar. Two phone calls between presidents Assad and Hrawi were reported May 5 and May 6. The conclusion is that a way out or breakthrough is seen imminent concerning relation between Hrawi and Berri.

Lebanon council of ministers today is being held in an atmosphere of  internal relaxation and regional complexion. The council is expected to put final touches on all levels on verge of the upcoming visit. Information  minister Bassem Sabbaa said after the evening meeting president Hrawi outlined at the opening session that the official reception of his pontiff at Beirut Int. Airport will be of the same protocol measure given to heads of states and his pontiff will shake hands with 70 official and personality. Hrawi quoted saying the audiences with the Pope will include only the three presidents and heads of the religious communities.

-The Maronite Bishops Council meeting May 7 under Patriarch Sfair said the visit has united the Lebanese and it will give the energy to overcome disagreements and to surmount what might face the Lebanese in an atmosphere of conciliation, peace, and sentiment.

-Patriarch Sfair has been informed by delegates representing the army command of the army measures concerning the visit. He was also informed of the measures taken by the national airliner MEA especially on the airplane set for his pontiff by the company and which will take him back to the Vatican.

Douri Chamoun, who was among the visitors of Sfair, said opposition memo to his pontiff will not be delivered because the schedule did not include meetings with politicians but only with officials. Chamoun said, however, the memo will reach to his pontiff by those ready to do that. He called all Lebanese namely the Christians to participate all in the welcome because of the importance of the visit which will be observed by more than one billion people around the world.

- Batroun MP Butros Harb said Lebanon is passing the worst ever phase and the Lebanese citizen is a victim of political paralyze, fragmentation, and hard living conditions. He said the time is the worst ever for the state image and the worst ever phase for Lebanon. Harb assured that the contact with his pontiff at Bkerke would be expressing the real situation in Lebanon, including the opposition view.

-Head of the national dialogue conference Samir Franjieh expected the visit to help return the missing balance between Lebanon's Christians and Muslims. Franjieh said marginalizing the Christians is due firstly to deep misunderstanding between them and Syria and also for their concessions to Muslims without gaining nothing in return, and secondly because of their inter bloody battles which had occurred in 1990. He said his pontiff would draw the framework of reviving coexistence in Lebanon, return of the infringed sovereignty because of the Israeli occupation, and because of the Christian hard relation with Syria. Franjieh added that the Christians are not anymore raising the issue of Syrian forces withdrawal from Lebanon, which had been stipulated in Taif, in order to not weaken Syria in its peace negotiations with Israel. He said Syria did not realize yet Patriarch Sfair support to the establishment of distinguished relation with Syria and it is still blaming Christians for their alliance with Israel, despite the Syrian intervention in their favor in 1979, against the then Muslim-leftist alliance. He said the Syrian cautious reflected in the exclusion of the Christians in favor of a fragile alliance between the Moslems. Franjieh noted that the official posts of Christians now in rule at present are not owed to their communities and for that they did not enjoy the capacity of representing these communities, and at the best, the Christian ministers and MPs form sort of a frequent backer of this or that Muslim community battling for power shares with another Muslim community.

- The political hot issues including release of Samir Geagea, Hizbullah memo on the Israeli occupation of south and its policies on Jerusalem, and the mount Lebanon MPs move to raise the displaced issue, all start to show up on verge of the visit. Mrs. Geagea confirmed that a memo on Geagea's health, security, and political conditions will be handed to his pontiff through Patriarch Sfair "if the underway effort to arrange an audience with his pontiff, at the Vatican mission at Harissa, proposed to be attended by his spouse and his father and mother failed".

Hizbullah visited the Vatican mission and handed papal nuncio Pablo Puente a memo which centered on spiritual values, Jerusalem, Israeli occupation, Lebanon, and Christian Muslim dialogue. Puente showed interest of the meeting and called for further meetings.

Mount Lebanon MPs, in coordination with minister Walid  Jumblat, discussed presenting a memo to his pontiff on the displaced repatriation, and the possibility of a joint visit to the Vatican to pursue discussion on the issue. The Armenian MPs see it is not necessary to present a memo because the community was accustomed to call on the local authority in what concerns the internal affairs. The Armenian Catholic and Orthodox communities called for massive participation in the welcome of his pontiff also at the mass in downtown Beirut.

- A portrait representing the chains binding spirit and soul, drawn by artist Rodie Rahmeh, will be presented to his pontiff through Patriarch Sfair in case no meeting is arranged between him and spouse of Samir Geagea.

- Lebanese Parties and leagues in Australia in a message addressed to his pontiff called for the release of Samir Geagea and return of Gen. Michel Aoun and Amin Gemayel.

- Lebanon presidency press advisor May Kahale at a meeting with Arab and foreign correspondents, explained the details of the visit and responded to their questions inquiries on the arrangements and measures related to the visit. Kahale said the foreign press room at the information ministry will extend all facilities to the correspondents including possibility of live coverage, by that their time is saved and burdens of movement on the roads would be averted recalling that roads will be closed at the arrival time of  the Pope. Kahale, speaking in a press interview, said the presidential palace extends invitations only to officials and the opposition has not the official capacity. She said "if his pontiff wishes to meet any party he is the only one entitled to decide that". Kahale also said that the Druze religious appeal court decided Sheikh Mercel Nasr is to represent the community at Baabda reception and not Sheikh Bahjat Ghaith. Kahale affirmed that the presidency does not interfere in the Druze community affair.

- Bishop Habib Basha clarified details of his pontiff meeting with the Lebanese youths at Harissa basilica at 7.00 p.m. Saturday. He said the meeting will continue for an hour and half and be followed by a folk and spiritual evening time at the surrounding courtyards. Basha said the invitations were extended to university and school students, members of the various movements, non Catholics and non Christians included also handicaped.

- 50,000 young scouts will stand along the 80,000 meters road on which his pontiff will pass in his Papa Mobile car.

-The apostolic guidance which will be signed by his pontiff Saturday is to be distributed after the Sunday mass.

- His pontiff signing of the apostolic guidance in Lebanon for the first time out of the Vatican is an expression of his sentiment towards the youths of Lebanon.

- Organizers preoccupied in setting down the 70 thousand chair at downtown Beirut near the seaport where the mass will take place. The chairs are devoted to officials and bearers of cards while some 200 thousand are expected to attend the mass.

- Interior minister Michel Murr recalled that the government has charged the Lebanese army the security of the Pope's visit. He said the ISF is to be in charge of traffic and roads movement. Murr estimated that some 5,000 police force will be stationed along the roads, and estimating the army units number by 17-18 thousand, additional to the secret service agencies, and all under army command.

- Lebanese army command set up a special operation room which will be composed of army, ISF, general security, state security, Red Cross, civil defense, and others. The army measures include Land, air, and sea patrols. Lebanese army sources said the army was on alert and total mobility for the visit.

- Lebanon Council of Ministers under President Elias Hrawi is to convene today to discuss an agenda of 38 item. On top of the agenda is an item on emigration attaches at Lebanese missions abroad, which is one of many controversial and disputed issues between president Hrawi and speaker Berri.

Prime Minister Remarks and Views

-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, speaking to a delegation representing the Lebanese Journalists Association under Mohammed Baalbaki, in presence of  information minister Bassem Sabbaa, said postponing the municipal elections was due to miscalculations. He pointed out that "there was a mistake which was fixing date for elections before being sure of finalizing the municipal and mayoral elections law and the relevant required measures. Further mistake was to go on holding the elections, and I acted considering turning back from a fault is a virtue, so the elections was postponed". Hariri added that "the miscalculation was not realizing the Christian exodus from regions in the mountain, Bekaa, and even Beirut to the region of Kesrouan.

The present technique now does not allow citizens to vote where they actually reside now. In case the elections was held as it was decided, the available estimations we have indicated that not more than 25 per cent of the Christians would win the poll in around 800 village in various regions, while the Muslims would have won 75 per cent of these municipalities". He said "if such thing took place it would have a bad consequence on the entire situation in the country and caused many shake downs ". Hariri also said "there is no problem for the government if candidates from any opposition trend such as Aoun or Geagea trends won any of the municipalities seats, and the basic reason was to avert the results which would have threatened the basic foundation of the country". Speaking on the Constitutional Council, Hariri said " the law governing the council provides total independence and enough immunity to the head and members of the council allowing them to assume their duty regardless of any pressure. We as a government have no authority on the council and have no right to intervene in its affair ". He questioned what blame could be directed to the government regarding what is going on in the council, argued if any member or jurist Mallat can tell who is exercising pressure on the council.

He pointed out that the government has nothing to do with what the council is doing at present. Mr. Hariri remarks, particularly his remark hinting to Lebanese army was a significant development in Hariri stand. "since I assumed the office, there are ongoing attempts to show civil institutions, starting with the presidency, including parliament, government, the judicial and public administration, as not good and trying to smash it and reduce its credibility".


Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati visit to Beirut started May 5th and ended May 6th. He handed president Hrawi an invitation to attend the OIC summit in Tehran in Dec., also two invitations to prime minister Hariri to visit Tehran in near future before June also to attend the OIC summit.

Velayati met with speaker Berri, foreign minister Boueiz, and a delegation of Hizbullah under S.G Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Velayati said in Beirut that Israel know nothing other than force, and the negotiation table will not return back people's right. He said Iran stands beside Lebanon and ready to extend any help. He said he reviewed some views on the serious situation in the region with foreign minister Fares Boueiz. He said the visit of Hariri to Tehran will be important to Iran and hopefully it would develop the two countries economical relations. Velayati noted at his meeting with Hizbullah leadership the role of the resistance in foiling the enemy schemes.

News In Brief

- The 5 nation cease-fire monitoring committee after a 14 hour session at  Naqoura today to discuss two complaints lodged by Lebanon and Israel equaled between Lebanon and Israel for violating the last year April's understanding.

- The Constitutional Council is to convene today under deputy head Mohammed Majzoub to continue discussing its rulings on parliament seats.

- Hizbullah S.G Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah affirmed that the American, Turkish, and Israeli threats, and the present war drums, aim at pushing the region into more serious situation, also it is waging a psychological war against the peoples of the region. Nasrallah said Lebanon will not remain for this or that community or party same as in 1982 invasion since we are drowned in our daily life details and special concerns.

-Caldian Synod now held in Lebanon under Patriarch Bedaoid continue debating unity of the Caldian and Assyrian churches. The Synod coincided with the visit of the Pope.

- Head of the Muslim Shiite Council Imam Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddine said facing Israeli assaults and the accumulating debts are things that prove the political leadership is in failure and do not enjoy the required standard.

- Druze religious figures at series of meetings on the exclusion of acting sheikh Akel Bahjat Ghaith from the official reception at Baabda palace reassert unity of the community. Some clerics considered the exclusion a serious harm which cannot be tolerated.

- Muslim Sunni senior religious figure Mufti Kabbani received well wishers in the beginning of the Hijri year and said Lebanon is transforming from recession to revival.

- Ashoura morning councils commenced in various regions in Lebanon May 7. Amal and Hizbullah are coordinating on the councils and black banners were raised in the predominant Shiite areas.

Sports Round Up

News reports said Lebanon was defeated by Kuwait at 7.00 p.m. today's game with 0-2. Kuwaiti and Lebanese players quarreled with each other at the first round, after Lebanese keeper could catch the ball while the Kuwaiti attacker violently attempted his way in. Lebanese player Kivork and the Kuwaiti Yussif Doukhi were both issued red card. At the second round the Lebanese tried hard to finish equal but a penalty in their favor played by Lebanese  Mussa Hjeij was a failure. The Kuwaiti players responded by intense attacks and could score second goal.

- Prime minister Hariri is to open today at 10.00 a.m. the 18th Arab Golf  Championship organized by the Arab Golf Federation. Delegation from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Morocco, UAE, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria are participating in the championship. Libya apologized.

- Lebanese committee in charge of organizing the Asian Volleyball Clubs 9th championship has formed a delegation to visit the patronage president Hrawi. The Championship will start on 12th May at Riyadi Ghazir.

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