News from Beirut June 13  1997 ...Search


The UN general assembly plenary council's meeting today voted in favor of the draft resolution demanding Israel pay $1.7mn that was already approved by the fifth committee. 127 out of 130 voted in favor of the draft, with two against, and abstain of Russia. Lebanon media this evening said the voting is a moral victory to Lebanon .

Government Decisions-Protests

Mounting reactions against the government recent agriculture and custom's decisions are top story in the country. Car importers held protests allover Lebanon yesterday against the government controversial decision on Tuesday to increase custom duties on used and new cars. Association of automobile importers after a meeting with state minister for finance June 12 said his only comment was "each person had his point of view". The association at a press conference said "the decision will negatively effect the free trade economic policies the government claims to follow". It also said the car import companies employed more than 20,000 people and "we will either be forced to slow down or lay off some of them", according to association member Fuad Homsi. He said the figures as they are now are illogical. Another member said that duties of 35 per cent on cars costing between L.L15mn and L.L50mn , and 50 per cent on anything above that were a more reasonable solution. "It would have brought more money to the treasury and satisfied us", the member said. Batroun MP Butros Harb said the decision to set L.L5mn tax on importing used cars, irrespective of its value, would transform the country into a "an old car garage", that would increase pollution and create financial problems for the middle class. Meanwhile, yesterday used car importers in Tyre staged a sit-in in front of the customs office against the unjust decision. The same did take place in Zahle and Tripoli after customs offices refused to hand over cars already at ports unless the owners pay fees according to the new system. A news article today said the government justification of the rise in duties was to preserve environment, but it is the same government which permitted import of diesel engine cars which is far more dangerous on the environment.

New Salary Scale-More Taxes

Khalil Hrawi, head of the parliament budget and finance 17 man committee, yesterday said the committee is likely to endorse Monday the long-awaited rank and salary scales of the state employees. At yesterday's session of the committee, in presence of prime minister Rafic Hariri, the committee adopted number of pending clauses. Hrawi said the committee agreed to increase working hours in public institutions from 32 to 36 hours per week, with the addition of one hour per day from Monday to Thursday. Office hours on Friday and Saturday will remain unchanged. The committee has also agreed to the procedures to be followed in selecting first and second grade civil servants. Candidates have to sit to an exam by a special committee that yet to be appointed.

-President Elias Hrawi estimated cost of the new scale by around L.L600bn. Meanwhile, the government and parliament have to look now into financial resources to cover the cost. Hrawi said ensuring the funding is through cooperation between the government and parliament. State minister for finance Fouad Seniora had always reiterated that financing the scale is only possible through new taxes on items other than those included in the recent decisions. Speaker Nabih Berri, who strongly supported the government decisions on agriculture and custom duties on cars, told the Journalists Association yesterday he won't accept any increase on gasoline or else. Without parliament support the only feasible measure is to simply increase salaries of the public sector by 20 per cent and the new scale to be postponed until further notice.


Agriculture minister Shawki Fakhoury is scheduled to hold a press conference today to defend his policy banning agriculture import as from Oct 1. Union of food and beverage importers said the decision was based on "inaccurate statistics and insufficient planning". The union after an emergency meeting produced a statement saying "the absolute ban on a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and other products is the "worst" kind of stimulus to production. The union predicted there would be a deterioration of quality and high consumer prices. The statement said the plan contradicts the most basic principles of the free economy. MP Nassib Lahoud gave focus to the "quick and partial" nature of the proposed solution. MP Boutros Harb said "the protectionist measures have been overtaken by time and science, and have become an outdated type of policy, even in countries with economic regimes that suffer from a lack of freedom". Mp Abdel Latif Zein cited the danger of producing excess produce that will not be imported by countries angered of the fact of closing the Lebanese market". Meanwhile, the ministry of agriculture announced the creation of a 14 man higher committee which will see to the plan, also another 14 public and private sector committees which will tend to specialized sub-sectors of the agricultural economy.

-News analysts today said Lebanon's economical situation, under the steady budget deficit and public debt service, requires formation of a commission to draw a financial and tax policy, because economy is subjected to conflicting evaluations and expectations.

Lebanese Overseas

A report by Australia's Bureau of Statistics showed that the rate of unemployment within the Lebanese community was one of the highest among immigrant groups. While the overall unemployment rate among immigrants was 9.9 per cent, or 1.2 per cent higher than the national average, the rate among Lebanese was 38.9 per cent. Unemployment was also high among the predominantly non English-speaking immigrants from the M.E.- north Africa (20.9 per cent) and from Vietnam (19.4 per cent). The figures, from November last year, detail the unemployment status of almost 1.5 adult immigrants who have arrived in Australia since 1970. Past studies have consistently shown that immigrants from the non-English speaking backgrounds, especially from Vietnam, Turkey, and Lebanon, were poorly educated and experienced a severe long term unemployment.

-An envoy of Congolese president Pascal Lissouba yesterday handed foreign minister fares Boueiz a written message about the fighting in Brazzaville and the conditions of the Lebanese community. Envoy Nael Assaad said the Lebanese fled the fighting in the capital and sought shelter and safety in nearby villages. He said the community conditions are acceptable as they have fled the capital.

Speaker's Views

Speaker Nabih Berri told the Journalists Association that he supported rise in duties on car imports in general . He supported the early discussion of the new election law and said adopting the concept, that all Lebanon is one electorate, "requires participation of the entire nation in discussing the law". Mr. Berri said the government decisions on agriculture should go parallel with consumer's protection too by fixing prices, and in some seasons prices should be reviewed every two days, also by averting profiteering of merchants and mediators. He said smuggling agriculture product should be banned, otherwise, what is the merit of banning agriculture product imports. He said it is the time to say that smuggling such products is harmful to both Lebanon and Syria, and there are some people in the two countries who benefit smuggling. He said knowing movement of goods and how to protect the two countries' markets should be maintained.

News In Brief

- President Elias Hrawi, addressing the alumni club at the La Sagesse School in Achrafieh, said "When I spoke to the UN during the Israeli onslaught, I called on the international community to hold Israel responsible for the carnage(Qana) and for financial compensation for the attack". He vowed not to bow to the US pressures and to press ahead with a demand that Israel pay $1.7mn for damage it inflicted on the UNIFIL HQ last year in Qana. President Hrawi added "We are still insisting on this demand irrespective of threats". The draft resolution has been already approved by the UN general assembly's fifth committee. Today it is expected to be submitted to a plenary council meeting for approval.

-Patriarch Sfair speaking to a delegation of the German Anglican Church said the unity of the Lebanese people is enough to end all political and economical difficulties. he said what makes Lebanon special is the co-existence of its different confessional groups. The Patriarch received a delegation from the National Syrian Socialist Party NSSP(emergency command). Head of delegation MP Marwan Fares said all parties and political authorities should conduct a common dialogue in order to enhance national unity. He said they discussed the Pope's speeches and the apostolic guidance which he said "carried important and vital points". The Patriarch was briefed by Bosnian ambassador in Lebanon on the efforts in his country to strengthen cultural and religious co-existence among Bosnians.

- The housing parliamentary committee yesterday discussed the war displaced issue and ways to raise money for the National Fund for the Displaced to speed up their repatriation. Head of the committee MP Talal Merebi urged quick solution and said financing return of the displaced, cost at $1bn. Chuf MP Wadih Akl, who submitted a draft bill, suggested raising funds from taxes and fines imposed on the illegal constructions on the seashore. Akl said "There are ghosts that fight the funding of the return".

-UNRWA said yesterday it was fast running out of money despite receiving millions in donations. Head of UNRWA Peter Hanssensaid a $2.4mn gift from Saudi Arabia and $1.2mn from Sweden may not be enough to cover a cash crisis.

-Lebanon's foreign ministry secretary general Zafer el Hassan continued his talks in Bejing-China on political, economical, and cultural cooperation.

-So far, 15 candidates submitted their applications to run the by elections in the four electorates. Deadline is to end midnight today. The interior ministry is to hold tomorrow training course for those in charge of the polling centers.

-The National Council on audio-visual media advised licensing three first rank radio stations, which have right to broadcast political news and programs, including Voice of Lebanon, Voice of the People, and Voice of Tomorrow, additional to four second rank stations including Pax Network, Nostalgie, Radio Liban Star, and Mix F.M. The council rejected license applications of nine first rank radio stations. The council rejected too all the license applications of T.V. stations.

- Israel denied it is detaining four Iranian diplomats that were considered missing since 1982, Israeli prison administration spokesman said.

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