News from Beirut June 12  1997 ...Search

Government Recent Economical Financial Decisions, Impacts and Repercussions

The government's recent decisions on agriculture and car imports are the nation's concern today. Reflections on the economy and living conditions are controversial. State minister for finance Fouad Seniora hinted to the near accomplishment of the new scale of salaries and the 20 per cent salary increase, but observers see it an attempt to contain public reactions to the government decisions. Economical experts viewed lack of guarantees and necessary arrangements which protect large groups of the Lebanese of commodity price hike. The government, though strongly backed by speaker Nabih Berri, is facing some critics. Former prime minister Selim Hoss, perhaps reflecting views of many economical experts, said the new custom duty on cars is an "exaggeration", namely on the middle price cars that are purchased by families. Hoss expressed his fear that banning agriculture imports will have impacts on prices and on the trade relation with other states. The experts said positive aspects of the decisions can't be ignored, but going through the details evoke fear of a chaotic demand and supply, inability of local production to meet demand, how much small farmers could benefit from banning, and what effects the decisions will have on the trade agreements Lebanon had concluded with many foreign states. As to the new custom duty on cars, the government decision is vague, though experts are in favor of the ladder increase on luxury cars. Preliminary comments today said the farmers are welcoming the decisions while the industrialists are critical and skeptical. The first amendment of the decision to protect the Lebanese agriculture product is to exempt raw materials imports for industries located in the free zones, in order to give it the potential to export.

-The government yesterday held an ordinary session under prime minister Hariri at Sanayeh government house. During a one hour session, the government endorsed the creation of a Lebanese national company to ensure implementation of the Arab highway, Beirut ring road, and the northern outlet of Beirut. The government appointed a new administration for Tripoli seaport, agreed to start operation of Charles Helou station for public and private transportation between Beirut and other regions, also appointed some of the Lebanese University LU deans. The finance ministry request to create a national company to implement road projects was endorsed. Prime minister Hariri explained the financial and practical difficulties that had faced companies that signed earlier the contracts. The company will have a capital of $350mn.

Lebanon, Rejection of Qana Payment

-A total of 107 countries on Saturday voted in favor of a motion calling on Israel to pay $1,7mn for damage and injuries inflicted on the Fijian battalion's HQ and personnel during last year April's blitz. The US which voted against the motion, threatened to block the renewal of the UNIFIL's mandate, which comes up next month, if Lebanon pressed ahead with the draft. The general assembly is expected to vote to confirm the committee resolution tomorrow. Nonetheless, the vote is not binding to Israel which would not be compelled to pay compensation. Lebanon's foreign minister Fares Boueiz rejected as unjustified the US claims of encroachment on the grounds that the resolution was strictly political and financial, and had no military or security aspect to arouse the security council's recrimination. Boueiz affirmed Lebanon's determination to press ahead with the resolution.

-US ambassador Richard Jones yesterday backed his country's rejection of a UN vote calling for Israel to pay damages for its shelling of the UNIFIL HQ in Qana last year. Jones claimed that the UN general assembly had exceeded its authority in supporting the motion, but the US stance was not an affront to Lebanon. He said "From the US perspective the matter is a UN issue and precisely a question of UNIFIL, which as a peacekeeping force falls under the control of the security council, not the general assembly". Jones said the resolution that was put forward was in a committee that reports to the general assembly and it was in effect telling the security council how to run its business. He explained that the US is concerned about the issue because in addition to overlapping with the security council, it sets a precedent whereby a single state was asked to pay for a particular UN operation. He said that had never happened in the history of the UN , and "All UN operations come from the common fund and all contributions to the UN go to a common fund". Jones added that "somebody, somewhere must have misinterpreted the US position and portrayed it as hostile to Lebanon".

-Lebanon's speaker Nabih Berri said the US position was not new but reminiscent of the stance Washington took against former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, over the publication of a UN report on the Qana massacre, which concluded the Israeli shelling was probably deliberate. "I believe that the Lebanese government should not only lodge a complaint with the general assembly for compensation, but should file a lawsuit with American courts for compensation to the families of more than 100 children and civilians killed in UNIFIL's HQ by American arms" Berri said.

-Ambassador Jones made the remarks after a meeting with prime minister Rafic Hariri and foreign minister Fares Boueiz, before leaving to Washington to discuss the issue with senior state department officials. Last night Jones flew on a chopper to Cyprus to catch a flight to the US. Ambassador Jones was accompanied by assistant secretary of state for consular affairs Mary Ryan, whom he introduced as the "person responsible for the safety and well-being of Americans all over the world". Asked if her visit signaled an imminent end to the US travel ban imposed on Lebanon, Ryan said " I am going back to make a recommendation so I will leave it up secretary of state to comment". Asked if she felt safe in Beirut, she said "I'm not afraid anywhere. I grew up in NY city".

President-Speaker, Cementing Conciliation

Speaker Nabih Berri said yesterday he resumed his weekly consultations with president Elias Hrawi, cementing a reconciliation that was brokered last week by Syrian officials. The customary meeting had been held on Wednesdays before their dispute flared up seven months ago. Emerging from the meeting with a broad smile he evaluated the outcome of "Ten out of Ten".

Probing Telephone Tapping

A fact finding parliamentary sub-committee was created yesterday to investigate the government's recent revelations that phone tapping is rampant. The sub-committee was established during the meeting of  four parliamentary committees under the speaker. The sub-committee is to be headed by speaker Nabih Berri and its next meeting was scheduled for next Wednesday. The fact-finding sub-committee's task is to examine documents related to tapping, which the security services and the cellular companies will submit within the next few days. The cellular companies will have to prepare reports on the techniques involved in tapping cellular lines. The secret services were also asked to submit documents revealing whose lines were being monitored and on whose authority. Chuf MP Zaher Khatib said he was determined to hold the political authority accountable for any attempts to cover up illicit tapping. The officials who attended the meeting refused to give specific details. It is unclear if the cellular lines are being monitored. Representatives of the cellular companies said it is costly and technically difficult to tap cellular lines, and they refuted allegations that their networks were being tapped. One of the sources said some officials, including speaker Nabih Berri, had said they had information that cellular tapping is taking place. News reports today said the general security admitted tapping some specific telephones, but the state security and army secret service denied any tapping.


An air Congo Boeing 707 plane, chartered by the Lebanese expatriate community in the Congolese capital Brazzaville, carried 134 mostly women and children passengers. According to the new coming evacuees only a few Lebanese remain in Brazzaville, gathered in an area near the airport, under the protection of troops sent to help in the evacuation of all nationals. Most of the 450 Lebanese in Congo, before the recent clashes, have fled to less turbulent African countries. Yesterday's flight marks the third evacuation mission of Lebanese expatriates since April from an African country. Hundreds of Lebanese have had to flee to Zaire and Sierra Leone. Head of the parliamentary committee for foreign and emigration affairs, Tyre MP Ali Khalil discussed the issue of the Lebanese expatriates in Africa with prime minister Rafic Hariri yesterday, calling a sufficient number of flights to be ensured for the Lebanese who want to return from Congo. Khalil said some 250 Lebanese expatriates in Conakry have fled from Sierra Leone. He asked the Lebanese High relief Committee to take care of the Lebanese expatriates evacuated from Africa.

News In Brief

European envoy to the M.E. Migel Moratinos is expected to arrive to Beirut on 20th June in a one day visit for talks with Lebanese officials on the European mediation to resume talks between Israel and the Palestinians also resumption of peace talks on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks.

-Islamic resistance men attacked yesterday SLA outposts at Tallousseh and Qantara wounding an SLA man.

-Douri Chamoun, after a visit to Bkerke yesterday, said the government wants to preoccupy the Lebanese public with by elections in order to let them forget their headaches. He reiterated his boycott to by elections which will be held end of this month saying "nothing has changed from the last elections".

- Lebanon's interior ministry reminded that midnight tomorrow is the deadline for applying to the coming by elections. Some 13 candidates already submitted their applications in north Lebanon. 559 thousand voters in north are to elect at 1346 polling office.

- GLC Elias abu Rizk relaunched his attack against government policy and asserted that he is the legal representative of the GLC, before flying to Geneva to attend the International Labor Organization ILO summit. He said the government attack on the GLC and the arrest of its members was because "It feared a second May 6". He was referring to the nationwide riots and strikes which began on May 6. 1992 and led to the fall of Omar Karami's government, paving the way for Rafic Hariri to assume the premiership.

- GLC government recognized faction under Ghoneim Zoghbi yesterday visited Patriarch Sfair. Zoghbi deputy George haj said their GLC demands paper will be a subject of dialogue not battle with both the government and employers.

-Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah praised Lebanon's official stand persisting not to withdraw the complaint submitted to the UN general assembly despite the US threat against Lebanon.

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