News from Beirut June 18  1997 ...Search


-An agreement to establish full diplomatic relations between two countries, in order to boost political and economical ties, was one of the outcomes of Malaysian prime minister's visit to Lebanon. Plans for Malaysia to provide Lebanon with technological and industrial expertise as well as training, was a topic of discussion. Setting up free trade zones to assemble Malaysian products for re-export to other countries in the region, was another topic. Setting up joint ventures in the electronics and light industry fields, and looking into Lebanon's tourism needs, particularly in the hotel's sector, was also under discussion. Further, an agreement on the export of Malaysian vehicles to Lebanon was expected to be signed by private companies. Malaysian foreign minister left yesterday , one day before the prime minister's departure, back to Malaysia.

-At a joint news conference today with prime minister Hariri, before his departure, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammed said fields of investments in Lebanon for Malaysian businessmen, is still not specified and chances of investments need further thorough discussion. He proposed joint commissions on ministerial level to study and follow up the issue. He also proposed a joint Lebanese Malaysian business council, and said there is lack of information between two countries. He proposed the two countries news agencies to exchange news reports. Mahathir Mohammed said generating an economy needs openness toward neighbors. He suggested that reason of the stumbling M.E. peace process is the lack of international pressure on Israel. Mr.. Mohammed visited today president Elias Hrawi.

-A Lebanese leading daily quoted Malaysia's prime minister saying his country is a small investment player in Lebanon but even though it will contribute to its reconstruction. He said he is optimistic that the 8 Muslim states' economical group, which emerged recently at a meeting in Istanbul, will be successful. He said the east Asian countries trade exchange was minor at first and now it reached a very high figure. Comparing the protection of agriculture products in the two countries, he said his country is protecting the vehicle and car industry, not the agriculture.

-A report today said Malaysian businessmen accompanying Malaysia's prime minister signed yesterday a contract with Solidere to buy 8,000 meter sq.. in down Beirut near Saint George hotel. The businessmen are planning a tourist-residence complex of 24,000 meter sq.. construction, including a five star hotel and a residential complex. The project is expected to cost $75mn and construction is to start after one year and finish by 2000. The buyers are five Malaysian companies, and they are the first Asian investor in Lebanon and first Malaysian.

Lebanon-Government, What's Next to Malaysian Premier's Visit

-Lebanon's government is to catch breath Thursday after Malaysia's visiting premier Mahathir Mohammed leaves the country ending his three days visit. The government is to face next a set of social and living conditions problems, including the repercussions of its decisions on custom duties and agriculture produce protection policy, the new scales of rank and salary for the civil servants, the possible impacts of the "hunger Revolution", and the by elections in some regions.

-Lebanon's prime minister Rafic Hariri, who reiterated that the government decision is irreversible and "of no way back", is to make more clarifications tomorrow during the government session. He may also point out to difficulties facing the new scales of rank and salary. According to ministerial sources, the modifications of the parliament budget and defense committee on the government proposed draft plan, have in fact led to postpone the plan, until further notice, and perhaps within the coming two years. The cost of the new scale is the most difficult, since there are no available resources to finance the L.L600bn cost for last year, and another similar amount for this year. Head of the parliament budget and finance committee MP Khalil Hrawi yesterday declared that "until now, we have not discussed financing the increase in salary scales". Hrawi said premier Hariri, Minister for administrative reform Beshara Merhej, and state minister for finance Fouad Seniora, who attended most the meetings of the committee, did not discuss the financing requirements. The rise in salaries of the state employees is expected to occur on three levels: a 20 per cent increase on minimum wages, a ten per cent increase on wages of up to L.L 800 thousand, and a 5 per cent increase on wages above L.L 800 thousand. Hrawi said the modifications introduced to the bill by his committee aimed at transferring the powers granted to government, over the choice and evaluation of the state employees to the civil service council. Hrawi said he expects the government to send a bill to increase salary scales in the army. Speculation has grown recently saying that additional taxes could be levied on various products, including fuel, water, electricity, and telephones.

- However, Prime minister Rafic Hariri's reiteration and reaffirmation that his government's decision will not be reconsidered, did not put an end to the mounting protest against the decision. The labor union, economists, traders, importers, and vast majority of the business and economy society are against the government plan. Some ministers are opposing the move and perhaps will ask, at tomorrow's meeting of the government, to review and modify the plan and decision. Declarations of some government ministers against the decision of their government revealed fragility of the government solidarity in such serious economic issue. Lebanon's economic societies rejected the decision at their meeting today. They accused the government of directing the free economy system by restricting the imports.

Roger Tamraz Release Raced with Lebanon's Extradition File

-The US naturalized Roger Tamraz has been released in Georgia before a Lebanese file to extradite him reached Tiblissi. State prosecutor Adnan Addoum yesterday received a cable from Interpol's office in Tibilisi, capital of Georgia, informing him the release of business tycoon Roger Tamraz the day before. Reasons of the release were not disclosed in the cable. Lebanese government's sources said the release could be part of a deal between Georgia and the US. The same sources said three US administration's officials accompanied Tamraz on the way back to the US. The release of Tamraz was confirmed by US state department spokeswoman Eleine McDevitt, who said the "US did not take a position on the extradition request for Mr.. Tamraz from the government of Lebanon". Mr. Addoum said Tamraz was arrested Friday, after the Georgian Interpol acted on two Lebanese arrest warrants, but the Lebanese authorities were not notified of the detention until Saturday. The judicial authorities in Beirut said Tamraz was not held in a prison in Georgia but kept under house arrest at his hotel. He left back to the US on a private jet.

News In Brief

- Justice minister Bahij Tabbarra today said there were some 100,000 law cases in 1996, and that Lebanon's judiciary lack some 150 judge. He proposed that administration of the prisons in Lebanon be transferred from the interior ministry to the justice ministry. Tabbarra said judges in Lebanon should be immune against any intervention and should take their rulings in accordance to law and their conviction. He said non extradition of Roger Tamraz was a lesson for Lebanon to deal same way with other countries. He said there is no judicial agreement with the US, and perhaps the US regarded Tamraz as an American national not Lebanese, but Lebanon regarded him Lebanese. He said extradition cases with Europe always faced the issue of death sentence which is rejected in Europe and permitted in Lebanon. Tabbarra said the telephone tapping should be applied according to a specific law.

-Parliament committee on telephone tapping at today's meeting named state prosecutor and MP Sami Khatib to head a special follow up committee. The two man committee is to investigate and check tapping both in the public and private sectors, ordinary and cellular. MPs who attended the meeting today under house speaker said they were not convinced that tapping is not existing and taking place. They said they did not believe that only 70 telephone lines were tapped for reasons of national security. They also said that tapping is not only carried by the general security agency.

- House speaker Nabih Berri has suggested that the state monitors the cellular phone lines. The rationale of the suggestion is to make sure that the cellular phone companies in Lebanon , are not involved in bugging and that no one else is either. Mr.. Berri has been vocal in insisting that the cellular phone calls are monitored, despite technical difficulties.

- Former MP Pierre Helou today said after a visit to Bkerke that changing the name of the sport city is a challenge. Former MP Fouad Saad questioned who is buying Lebanon's coast land, particularly the seaside real estates at Damour, and for what reason, and by whom. He said he knew that large areas are being bought by some people who are not known yet. Saad said buying the Damour land is a proof that the return of the displaced is not desired. He said the real estates being bought are for establishing resorts and institutions which is not in the interest of Damour people. Yesterday, MP Shaker Abu Suleiman urged, from Bkerke, the Maronite League's members to reach consensus .

-Speaker Nabih Berri proposed today that the sport city in Beirut be named "Elias Hrawi sport city".

-Kataeb party yesterday said prime minister Hariri was asked to keep the "Camille Chamoun Sport City" name, also to keep the name of the closed stadium "Pierre Gemayel stadium", same as before without change. The party said Hariri did not respond to the request and insisted instead to name it "Beirut Sport City". The party regarded the move as a challenge and provoke of a large mass of the Lebanese society, which regard the two as independent heros.

-Henri Chedid, who's election result last year was nullified by the Constitutional Council, and was supposed to run for the seat in the upcoming by elections on 29th June in west Bekaa, announced today his withdrawal. Chedid, at a news conference said the decision to oust him is being taken already and no need to go on running for the election. He said the move against him was a complementation of the rigging and aimed to drop him down. Withdrawal of Henri Chedid suggested that Hizbullah is going to take neutral stand during the by elections on west Bekaa seat and that is not in favor of Chedid. Interior minister Michel Murr, following the withdrawal of Chedid, said candidate Robert Ghanem is the winner of the seat according to the law.

-The National Bloc party under Raymond Edde reaffirmed it is boycotting the by elections in Byblos electorate.

-Lebanese police yesterday destroyed three tons of Hashish and cocaine at Burj Hammoud dump. Worth of $6.5mn went up in flames under the supervision of Lebanese Brig. Selim Slim, Beirut public prosecutor Abdallah Bitar, head of the Syrian anti narcotic department Ali Darbouli, and representatives of the French, Italian, and Spanish embassies in Beirut. Slim said the Lebanese anti narcotic department, in cooperation with the Syrian forces in Lebanon, will double their efforts to combat drug cultivation, trafficking, and dealing.

-Norway state secretary Jan Egeland yesterday, at a meeting with Lebanon's foreign ministry director general, stressed his country's commitment to keep its peace keepers in south Lebanon, despite possible US opposition, and annual costs of $600mn over the past 20 years. The Norway's official excluded a US veto to be taken during the session to extend UNIFIL mandate at the UN.

-Lebanon's former MPs league said Israel has instigated the Africans against the Lebanese in the continent, in order to monopolize and dominate Africa's economy and natural resources.

-An estimated 200,000 custom declaration were forged by corrupt custom employees and transitors. 11 suspects were sent today to Roumieh prison for charges of forging custom documents and accepting bribes. Forging the documents is said to have continued during the past four years.

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