News from Beirut June 11  1997 ...Search

Lebanon-Economy, Agriculture and Imported Cars

The Lebanese government extra 4 hours session yesterday endorsed an agriculture plan aimed at developing the sector. The plan aimed to rescue and vitalize the sector. President Elias Hrawi said Lebanon annual agriculture imports amount $1.5bn, and major part of the amount should be now invested to serve the national agriculture.

Agriculture minister Shawki Fakhoury introduced his ministry's plan on banning agriculture imports as from Oct this year, also outlined concepts and details of the plan. Local markets, industrial agriculture, protection of local products, enhancing exports, looking for exportable cultivations, storage and cooling warehouses, loans and financing, were all topics of the plan. The government endorsed the plan which included a list of agriculture products that are totally banned, products that can be imported but for a charge, and other products that can be extraordinarily imported but in accordance to a time schedule or calendar. The calendar and the list are the first ever precise one in Lebanon. Lebanon agriculture sector is to mark a future boom and shift to a productive sector, but time only can prove feasibility and credibility of the plan.

Another controversial decision taken yesterday was rising up charges on imported cars. The decision would increase price of imported used cars, at a time the public transport is insufficient. The table of increase is as follow:

-L.L5 mn minimum custom charge

-20 percent of the car value L.L15mn up to L.L50mn

-100 per cent of the value from L.L50mn to L.L100mn

-200 per cent of the value from L.L100mn and over

State minister for finance Fouad Seniora said raising the custom duty on imported cars will have positive impacts on three levels, environment, reducing number of cars, and balance of payments. Seniora said Lebanon cannot cope the enormous number of cars, recalled that the present number in Lebanon is 1,3 million, additional to annual 75 thousand imported car. Seniora said the average in Lebanon is one car for every three persons and that is an average higher than the USA. He said value of the imported cars is around $800mn yearly. He stated that the increase of charge is on middle cars and above, that is cars with over L.L15mn value.

News reports today said many ministers opposed increase of taxes and charges that would have included maids, cellulars, oil, and others. The ministers succeeded to avert sharp increases on many other items. Some reports said the government economical decisions came at a time a public unrest is observed in agricultural areas, also at a time the practical steps to resume trade relation with Iraq are underway, something would have impacts on the size of foreign labor s in Lebanon. However, the economical circles were reserved on agriculture decisions, since the world is heading to free trade in the coming ten years, not to forget GATT and the partnership with Europe. They also are worried of effects on demand and supply of the agriculture products, also of the direct increase of commodity prices, since banning or curtailing imports may have reverse effects.

The decisions taken would help

  1. enhances the agriculture sector local production
  2. reduces imports and increase revenues
  3. revives large rural areas in the country that are facing hard living conditions
  4. opens the door for more investments in the sector and create a new labor market
  5. encourages storage, financing, and industrial agriculture, time before the decision goes into effect as of Oct 1.1997
  6. encourages lendings and loans to agriculture, both through government support represented in low interests or state guarantees.

Lebanon-Iraq, Trade Relation

"Talks with Iraqi officials discussed promoting bilateral cooperation between the two brotherly countries in the industrial, commercial and investments fields", Head of Lebanon's trade delegation to Iraq Nabil Ladiki said. Ladiki said a Lebanese foodstuffs exhibition is to be held in Baghdad on 20th July. The Lebanese trade delegation 4 days visit to Baghdad ended yesterday. They held talks with Iraqi officials on resuming trade relation between Lebanon and Iraq, and the possibility of concluding agreements to supply Iraq with essential commodities, in framework of the oil for food accord.

Lebanon-USA, No Threat To Lebanon

An American official denied that the USA threatened to lift its support to the UNIFIL in south Lebanon saying "there were no such threats and we don't threat our friends". He assured that his administration is still supporting the peacekeeping force and its mission in south Lebanon. Another US official reiterated that the US administration policy toward UNIFIL is unchanged and "support of the force is unchanged because we still believe it contributes to restoration of stability and for that we support extension of its mission" . The official refrained to give details of what was told to Lebanon also denied his knowledge of Lebanon's requesting clarifications".

Two US senators including Karl Livin of Michigan and the Lebanese origin Spencer Ibaraham, in a message to secretary of state Mrs Albright, demanded that the US travel ban on Lebanon be modified and replaced by a warning saying "as long the foreign military forces are there the situation remains unusual". Livin, who wrote the message, spoke on his meetings with Lebanese civic and religious leaders during his visit to Lebanon. He said he intentionally raised the travel ban, and said he was told that so many Americans are in Lebanon and they are safe. He said the Lebanese refered always to the visit of his pontiff to Lebanon. He also said he was told that the travel ban policy avert and obstruct the private investments and split relatives. Livin quoted Gen. Emile Lahoud telling him that members in Hizbullah, which is the most worrying group for the USA, are now elected members in the parliament and no incident against any American did take place in five years". Senator Livin refered to the important point that the US ambassador Richard Jones, the embassy staff, and representatives of many other US administration's offices in Beirut are in favour of lifting the ban.

Foreign minister Fares Boueiz said June 10 the UN General Assembly is expressing the world's opinion, especially on political and financial matters. He said if the assembly takes military or security resolutions it is right to claim then its the security council's authority. Boueiz argued if the general assembly has no such authority on financial or political issues then what is left.

US ambassador Richard Jones, after a meeting with prime minister Hariri today, said Lebanon is dealing with the issue of UN General Assembly budget committee case, as if its compensating the victims of Qana massacre, but in fact its a technical issue that would undermine the UN work. Jones said the controversial UN budget issue is compensating a UNIFIL camp not Lebanese victims.

President-Speaker, Conciliation .

Lebanon house speaker Nabih Berri is to visit the presidential palace today to meet president Elias Hrawi. The weekly encounters between the two senior officials are to be resumed following months of severed relation. Mr. Berri circles affirmed that his talks will be dealing with the general situation and definitely not connected to the troika rule system. Mr. Berri circles said he distanced himself from a controversial proposed restructuring of the internal security forces. The proposal aims to place the ISF under a command council, with a regional command for each region in Lebanon. The speaker's circles said he is with prime minister Hariri's proposed new election law, and with all Lebanon one electorate, also with the early debating, but details of the proposal should be thoroughly discussed.

After an hour meeting with president Hrawi today, House speaker Berri said relation with the president is normal now, after a dark cloud that has already passed away. Mr. Berri suggested Lebanon to lodge a complaint or suite case before the American courts to compensate Qana victims, which were victimized by the USA made weapons. He said the US law would be supportive to such legal suite. He said he is fully supporting the government's decision on agriculture, but against any further taxes on oil or cellular that harm the Lebanese poor and deprived. Mr. Berri said 40 per cent of the Lebanese people are working in the agriculture sector which should be protected. He said the poor class of the Lebanese should be supported to move up to the middle class.


Lebanon's national council on audio-visual media is to publish June 12 its report in the official gazette. The council's consultive rule is to be refered to the government to take final decision. The government is expected to settle licensing within two weeks time. News reports said prime minister Hariri is to adopt the council's rule as it is. Three radio stations are expected to be licensed, including Voice of the People, Voice of Lebanon, and Voice of Tomorrow "Sawt el Ghad" for minister Suleiman Franjieh. The council did not recommend licensing any new TV station.

News In Brief

- Fresh reports today said 138 Lebanese arrived to Beirut airport this morning on board of a Congolese chartered plane. The Lebanese community hired the plane. General director of the emigrants ministry here Haitham Jumaa said 6 Lebanese only are still in Brazaville in Congo. news reports said 83 Lebanese already evacuated to the nearby African state Gabon. Street battles continue in Brazaville especially around the airport. French ambassador in Beirut said his country is extending every possible help to the Lebanese in Congo and the French ambassador there opened the embassy for Lebanese seeking any help.

- Four Parliament committees meeting today under house speaker Nabih Berri to discuss telephones tapping was "secret". A follow up committee formed today asked security agencies to provide specified documents on tapping. The documents should be available by Wednesday.

- Prime minister Hariri is to leave tomorrow to Damascus for talks with senior officials there on the latest regional developments. Mr Hariri discussed yesterday preparations underway for the coming by elections.

- Lebanon's government is to meet today in an ordinary weekly session with 43 item on agenda. The establishment of "Lebanon Toll road Company LTRC" with a capital of $350mn is on top agenda.

-Patriarch Sfair, addressing the Catholic seculars conference held in Fitka monastery-Kesrouan, said globalization is a danger on the Christianity. He said the conference, one month after his pontiff's visit to Lebanon, is signalling his fatherly patronage of the M.E churches, which now face outnumbered challenges. He said it is known that Christians in the region are facing continued bleeding, with their number decreasing day after another.

- The 19th commemoration of the Ehden massacre will be held Friday 13th June in Ehden with a mass and rally.

-The national gathering including NLP, Gen. Aoun loyalists, and Kataeb opposition, said after a meeting yesterday, they are going to boycott the by elections. The gathering categorically rejected changing the name of "Camille Chamoun Sport City". The gathering observed that the GLC row has revealed the errors in the ruling society.

-Ambassadors of Japan in the ME are going to hold their coming conference in Beirut from June 23 to 25. They will evaluate their country's policy in the region with every ambassador reporting on the relation between Japan and the state he is accredited to. Diplomatic sources in Beirut said the conference in Beirut signals the solid relation with Japan, which was not affected by the Japanese Red Army Five case. China and Australia have held earlier such similar conference in Beirut.

- Lebanon's Journalists Association told the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon there will be no future further wrong articles in the Lebanese press, that harms relation with the kingdom which sponsored Lebanon's Taif accord. A Lebanese publication has carried earlier an article that was regarded harming Saudi Arabia.

- Lebanese university statistics lecturer Anis Abi Farah, in a seminar on Lebanese emigrants between 1975 and 1996, said Lebanon's official authority encourages emigration. The lecturer said in fact Lebanon is trading the elite of its people with some money. He said third of the emigrants are university people and average of emigration is higher than the birth rate. Abi Farah est number of the emigrants between 1975 and 1994 by 729 thousand, representing 19.8 per cent of the total population, and 24.7 per cent of the residents. The USA, Canada, Australia and France hosted 62.2 per cent of the total emigrants. The USA is number one host country for emigrants with 144,443 Lebanese, Australia is second with 109,350, Canada is third with 107,892, and France is fourth with 91,854. The rate of university people emigrants is 32 per cent and the emigrant university people are rather more than resident counterpart. The same is for the technicians who's rate is 5 per cent. The religious breakdown shows 25.4 per cent are Greek orthodox, 22.9 per cent Maronites, and 21.9 per cent Muslim Sunni. The lecturer said the resident population number between 1993 and 1996 increased by 6.8 per cent, with yearly 2.2 per cent average rate, while the emigrants same period increased by 30.3 per cent, with an annual rate of 9.2 per cent.

- Secretary general of the Maronite League Niematallah abi Nasre, commenting on a preliminary ruling of the state shura council, which asked the interior ministry to provide it with all applications of the naturalized people, with reports on the legally binding investigations with each applicant, said the league welcomes the ruling. Abi Nasr argued if it is required to empty the country of its original people and replace them by aliens.

- UNRWA donor countries conference in Amman will discuss the accumulating deficit of the UN agency since 1993. The continued lack of donations and contributions is leading to a further composite deficit and a consequent decline of services to the Palestinian refugees. The unresolved crisis of the UNRWA signals decline of interest to resolve the refugees problem.

-12 candidates have formally submitted their applications so far for the 29th June by elections on four vacant seats. The deadline to apply is midnight Friday.

- GLC challenged former leader Elias abu Rizk is to leave today to Geneva to attend the World Labor Organisation's meeting in his capacity as a member of the board. Abu Rizk at a press conference today said the GLC problem is not with the other GLC faction but with the government.

- Sheikh Subhi Tufeili said his "Revolt of the Starved" is large enough and its not for a sect, party, or region, but its for all the starved and all Lebanese. He said the revolt is only demanding treatment of the starvation and unfair government policy. He said if the government cannot respond to those demand it should quit and let it be replaced by another. Tufeili blamed the USA for the Qana carnage and said we have every right to take our rights from America with the convenient ways and what we say is "a warning and a threat'. Tufeili argued why spending millions on the presidential palace gardens and on the house speaker's residence at Ain Tineh, while the people are starving. He said almost every official is for sale and the biggest head price is worth half million". He challenged the officials if they can stop the drive do not be late, but continued saying "you are weaker and smaller than challenging our people and children. He said the government wants people to cultivate drugs because it failed to ensure substitutes before prohibiting the cultivation.

-The Muslim Sunni Muftis council urged the government to treat positively the hard living conditions, also to mobilise every effort to generate the economical cycle and productivity. The council urged the government to eliminate the suffering of the people.

-Israel's radio said not less than 26 Hizbullah men killed since early 1997, additional to 30 others who were not reported, contrary to Hizbullah information on 16 only. The Islamic resistance claimed responsibility of two attacks against SLA outposts in Jezzine area including Sojod and Ghozlan.

-Secretary general of the Arab League Ismat Abdel Magid said in Cairo the so called security zone in south Lebanon is not anymore secure thanks to the resistance operations. He said the Lebanon people's will is unbeatable because of the enormous sacrifices of the people. He said bearing Israel a symbolic compensation of Qana victims is an unprecedented move in the UN.

- 75 Lebanese intellectual in a cable of congratulation to Iran's new president Mohammed Khatami wished promotion of Iranian Arab relation, and success to face the US and Israel pressures.

- German ambassador visited Naqoura and Qana and checked some UNIFIL batallions.

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