News from Beirut June 19  1997 ...Search


Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammed ended yesterday his first three days official visit to Lebanon but without signing bilateral agreements as expected, "because we are still discussing and we did not reach the stage of agreements", he said. Mahathir Mohammed has said in Beirut that Lebanon is a "good risk" for investment. He said he advised Malaysian businessmen of looking seriously at the potentials provided by Lebanon. He said Lebanon is not a small resort but a very big country, very well built up and people are very active in trade and industry. There is a wide coverage of the visit and several interviews with the visiting guest, who's country is admired by the Lebanese people. Mr.. Mohammed took the opportunity to outline the policies that over the past 16 years have propelled his nation to the forefront of east Asian economies. He said political stability is essential for any country trying to improve its economies well being. "To attract investments it is necessary to create conducive environment, and that could be achieved by reducing taxes. The privatization policies played a major role, and through privatization Malaysia could built news roads, airports, and others", he said. Mr. Mahathir said his strategy was based on the tenets of Islam and the Koran had provided him with inspiration, and "Islam cannot make people poor". We call ourselves fundamentalists because we stick to the fundamentals of Islamic teachings", he pointed out. Mahathir said the world should rally to put pressure on Israel to adhere to international resolutions, and that the US house of representatives recent vote on Jerusalem, is not contributing at all to the peace process, and showed that the US congress is totally insensitive to the conflict in the region. He reiterated his country's full backing to the implementation of the UN resolution 425.

-"We want to be pioneers, we want Beirut to be become the Mediterranean and Sahara hub for Malaysia airlines. We want to build our regional network from here and invest in Beirut airport to bring it up to required standards", Malaysian airline's chairman Tajudin Ramil said. Malaysia airlines is one of Asia's top five carriers, with one of the most modern fleet jets. Large number of international flights are between Asia and Europe. At present, the airline is using Dubai and Bahrain as regional hubs. "Many of the airline's 16m-17m passengers a year can make stop at Beirut and benefit the Lebanese economy, but Lebanon's policy on air traffic liberalization needs to move forward quickly", Ramil said. "Lebanese skies need to be deregulated, so that Beirut could get direct connections from a multiple of airports and passengers. Privatization and deregulation of the transport sector is vital for any economy", he said. He encouraged the Lebanese government to take steps to completely liberalize the economy if it wants to receive long-term Asian investments. Ramil cited his failure to get a suitable flight from Beirut yesterday morning as a symptom of the problems faced by those traveling through Lebanon. However, an official of the airline said yesterday that chances of Beirut to recover its former position as a regional hub for airlines is slim because of the level of competition. "Most airlines are well served by Gulf airports. Encouraging them to switch to Beirut would be along uphill struggle", he said.

South Lebanon, Series of Bomb Explosions In Jezzine

- Series of explosions along Jezzine roads killed four and wounded two in less than 24 hours. The spate of explosions that struck Jezzine was regarded as a worrying development. A general strike is to be staged today in the area to protest the event, while the region's MPs will move on to call officials to urge them avert the development and its consequences. Leading report today said the case would be placed over today's government meeting . Reports said three SLA officers and a militiaman were killed in two separate attacks near Jezzine. The first attack was near Bkassine in Jezzine area, where two SLA officers killed. The second attack was at a road near Jezzine. Hizbullah claimed responsibility of the two attacks and said the SLA officials were executed by a car bomb explosion. Later in the day amid the resistance attack, two Israeli warplanes fired a total of four rockets in two runs into hills in the southwestern part of Bekaa, north of the Israeli occupied security zone. "The Israeli artillery heavily shelled the area, and it spread to the outskirts of Mashghara, coming increasingly close to homes", Security sources said. The Israeli military sources said the air raid was aimed at positions below Jezzine, which is 5 Kms from Mashghara, on the other side of Jabal Niha mountain ridge. The Israeli raid yesterday was the 39th this year. On Tuesday evening, two Lebanese civilians including an SLA security agent and a policeman were wounded in a roadside bomb near Jezzine.

-Head of the south council Qabalan Qabalan yesterday declared that the council's engineers have already started investigations in the occupied villages in south Lebanon, in order to provide people there with public services, and link them to the people north of the occupied security zone. He said first aid is health care to 1,000 detainees who have spent a year or more in the Israeli jails. He said second step is to grant special freedom medals to released detainees, and give them priority in public posts, whether they are disabled or not.

Government-Custom Duties and Agriculture Protection

- Lebanon council of ministers meeting today is to review earlier decisions on custom duties on car imports and protection of the local agriculture products. Prime minister Hariri is reiterating that the decisions are irrevocable. The government would discuss today moves to calm down the public worried of price increases as a result of the agriculture plan.

- The agriculture ministry appeared to backtrack from its controversial list of food import bans and restrictions. Minister of agriculture Shawki Fakhoury, anxious about his daily defense of the measures, after a meeting at Baabda palace with president Elias Hrawi, said the government meeting would produce an amendment of the list of banned imports, and clarify ambiguities in last week's decree. Fakhoury said there is misunderstanding over items that will be banned. He said items such as foreign imported ice cream and other dairy products will continue to be allowed into Lebanon, but duties will be imposed to protect the national production. He emphasized that the merit of the plan is not to hurt neither the merchants nor the consumers. An ominous sign of the potential for disagreement at today's meeting of the government was Fakhoury placing responsibility of the ban implementation on the ministry of economy and trade. Economy minister had said earlier that he would have no role in policing a decision he is vehemently opposed to. Local and foreign opposition to the measures continued. Kuwait's ambassador after a meeting with the foreign ministry director general said "constructive dialogue" only could solve the problems posed by the ban's threat to the two countries trade agreement.

- A round table discussion at Beirut chamber of commerce questioned the absence of the chamber during the process that produced the June 10 cabinet decision. Chairman of the chamber Adnan Kassar said since the private sector is the backbone of Lebanon's economy, it should not be ignored when the government makes such decisions. He said "they ask us to participate only when a foreign delegation visits the country, in order to tell them that our economy is booming and hail our free trade economy". Kassar said "We can no longer be expected to project this rosy image with all these bans". Kassar said he felt statistics and studies underlying the decision were faulty. Economists at the round table discussions said they proposed a distinction between the import of agricultural products as raw material and those for immediate using. They proposed too that through custom duties hikes, the farmer can be protected and consumers find the variety they demand. An economic columnist said variety will continue to exist because smuggling would become an option. Other businessmen said their long-term projects were based on the fact of Lebanon's free trading system. Some businessmen said the government's decision was the only option for the government to sustain farming. The economic organizations demanded the government should not touch any of Lebanon free economy's fundamental basis. They said they will meet the prime minister to explain damages that will be inflicted on economical and social conditions. Prime minister Hariri is expected to advocate and outline the government's viewpoint on the issue today on TV after the government meeting.

The Sport City Naming - A New Row

- House speaker Nabih Berri yesterday's proposal to name the newly constructed sport city "Elias Hrawi Sport City" was a surprise to observers. The proposal came at a time political stands protesting the change of "Camille Chamoun Sport City" are mounting. Hariri suggested the name "Beirut Sport City". President Hrawi's stand is not yet clear. Hariri circles wondered the row takes place at this time, saying a new sport city has been constructed on a place, totally different from the place of the former city which had been totally destroyed The circles expressed dismay of placing the issue from a sectarian point of view. Former prime minister Selim Hoss said "the sport city is supposed to assemble all Lebanese, and the name should help too".

News In Brief

-US under secretary of the state department for M.E. David Wallach said his administration has excellent relation with the Lebanese government, and that relation is not posed to doubt because of someone attends a session at sometime". Wallach was referring to a congress session next week to discuss US policy toward Lebanon. Gen. Michel Aoun has been invited to attend. A US senior official said Gen. Aoun has requested an entry visa to the US but no decision yet was taken. The official said this issue is related to consular affair not political. He said "anything done by the administration in this regard should not be viewed as a political message, as the US is dealing with the government of Lebanon which it respects. Lebanese and American sources suggested that Gen. Michel Aoun will obtain the entry visa.

- Henri Chedid, a former west Bekaa MP who lost seat in accordance to the Constitutional Council's ruling, and the only one of 18 other candidates running for the by elections on 29th June, withdrew from the race to win back his seat. His rival Robert Ghanem is now standing unopposed and considered the winner. Chedid said he informed officials of the irregularities that are going to take place in the run-up to the June 29th by elections, but no one listened.

- Parliamentary committee under house speaker Nabih Berri , investigating telephone tapping at a two-hour meeting yesterday, assigned state prosecutor Adnan Addoum, and Bekaa MP Sami Khatib, a well experienced in intelligence and a retired Brigadier, to conduct field survey on land and cellular, to determine extent and source of tapping, which the deputies believe it is rampant. The two man team have less than one month to finalize their report.

- Justice minister Bahij Tabbarra yesterday warned that Lebanon will respond to countries failing to cooperate with its effort to track down its fugitives. He was referring to Georgia's failure to respond to Lebanon's request to extradite fugitive businessman Roger Tamraz. Tabbarra denied his ministry is thinking of a new pardon law. He was responding to a reporter's question saying state prosecutor is going to propose a pardon law for crimes prior to 1991. Tabbarra said Mr. Addoum perhaps was thinking of a solution to the overcrowded Roumieh prison, and he had the view that the problem could be solved through new and more jails.

- The US embassy in Beirut will not extend invitations to the traditional 4th July reception. The reason is cutting the embassy's expenditure.

- Pierre Helou, a former MP and a Maronite prominent figure, said he informed Patriarch Sfair he is going to run for the presidency of the Maronite League.

- Russian born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will open the festival on July 30. At yesterday's press conference, May Arida, who heads the Festival's committee, announced the sole addition of Caracalla Dance Theater, which will perform a new work Andalusia, the lost glory, on the three nights of July 24, 25, and 26.

- Kuwait's ambassador in Lebanon yesterday asked foreign ministry director general Zafer el Hassan clarifications on the possible resumption of relation with Iraq. He declared saying the Lebanese officials would not take any measure that damage Kuwait , its people's interests, and the distinguished relation with Lebanon.


- Iraq and Kuwait are going to participate in the 8th Arab games that will take place in Beirut next month.Its the first time they will share an Arab sports arena since the 1991 Gulf war, Organizers said June 18. The organizers will seek to avert direct meetings between teams of the two countries in the qualification stages of the 27 games. Iraq did not take part in the 7th Arab games in 1992 averting possible conflict. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refused to participate in any Arab games in the past if Iraq was participating. Still, the Kuwaiti athletes will continue to refuse to compete with Iraqis as they have done before. Iraq and Kuwait took part in Asian footballs championship last year, but the two teams did not meet during the tournament. About 2,000 athletes from 20 countries will compete in 21 events during the games, which will be staged at the newly rebuilt $100mn stadium, and other suburban venues.

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