The Lebanese government yesterday went on with its plan to crackdown on unlicensed audio-visual media in an attempt to end the ongoing "media disobedience". The second step, following the closure of the Islamic Unification Movement's radio and television stations in Tripoli, covered the "Voice of Beirut" radio station, the mouth piece of the "Lebanese Popular Conference" headed by the self-exiled Moslem opposition leader Kamal Chatila. The step ended successfully just after midnight yesterday when the radio station went off the air voluntarily.
The reactions in Tripoli and other locations to these steps did not hamper the government's resolve to go on with its plan. Interior Minister Michel Murr, poised to implement the government's decision to the end, affirmed in a statement yesterday that his ministry is implementing the government's decision "gradually and step by step, considering that matters in Tripoli have "ended at this limit".
However there is a general believe that the government's plan will not face any major obstacles, with the exception of the one represented by the closure of a clandestine radio station belonging to the rebellious Moslem Shiite cleric Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili in Baalbeck. The way this station will be closed will constitute the ultimate test for the government, not only with regard to finalizing the audio-visual file, but also in relation to how the government will deal with the social files raised by Tufaili.
Aware of what is heading his way, Tufaili yesterday prepared himself for the worst, announcing that he is "fully prepared for the coming phase, and will take strong and escalatory steps to confront the authority during the coming few days". He also announced his full support for the Leader of the Tripoli based leader of the Islamic Unification Movement Sheikh Saeed Shaaban, saying that the government's action in Tripoli was a "crime that should not go without punishment".
Hizbullah, in a statement yesterday, also condemned the closure of the Tripoli stations, saying, "nobody accepts the relation between the authority and the people to be one of challenging freedoms, on the one hand, or challenging the law, on the other". The government, Hizbullah said, "should in the first place be responsible for making laws in a way not touching public freedoms, then comes the responsibility of the people in practicing their freedoms in a way that would not hamper or obstruct laws".
Shaaban, in a press conference yesterday, reiterated his attack against Prime Minister Hariri, saying he was going to sue him along with the police force that carried the "crime" with him.
Kamal Chatila, reacting to the closure of his "Voice of Beirut" radio station, described the step as part of a conspiracy aiming at eliminating freedoms in Lebanon. The Police also broke yesterday into Chatila's "Al Mawkef" magazine, searching for its managing director Mohammad Saeed Rozz, without producing a search warrant. Angered by the move, the President of Lebanon's Reporters Association Melhem Karam phoned Hariri protesting the "government's attempt to muzzle the freedom of the press". Following that, the Police reportedly withdrew from the magazine's premises.
At a later hour today, press reports said that radio "Al Basaer", a station in Tyre belonging to Muslim Shiite Higher council, has voluntarily closed down. At an earlier date, the radio station used to operate under the name "Elisar" .
Reports said that "Zahle Television" today, has voluntarily closed down following a decision by Bishop Andre Haddad who, in a statement, hoped media permits would be fairly distributed, and law would apply to all.
Other than reiterating its resolve to carry on the plan of silencing unlicensed audio-visual media, the Council of Ministers, in its session tomorrow, is expected to reassess its $1bn development plan.
Preparing for the session, Prime Minister Hariri yesterday held a ministerial meeting during which the development plan was discussed. State Minister for Financial Affairs Fouad Siniora, following the meeting, said the projects' semi final broad lines were set out, and a more accurate assessment of the needs was made. Accordingly, it was decided to lower the $1bn amount to about $800m.
In its broad lines, the project deals with the return of displaced citizens, development projects, building schools in remote areas, settling amounts due to hospitals, and allocating funds to the Council of the South for implementing social and developmental projects.
As to the sources of funds, it was learned that the plan focuses mainly on increasing the price of gasoline, along with augmenting custom duties and collecting the returns of sea properties. The project sets two tasks for the sources of funds: Bridging the budget deficit to enable the government to borrow more money, and settling the generated loans. It was also learned that Prime Minister Hariri will deliver a televised statement clarifying the whole matter.
The Lebanese Finance Ministry and CDR delegation to the World Bank's 52nd annual session in Hong Kong, yesterday held two meetings with the Bank's officials: The first was with the World Banks' Deputy President for the Middle and North Africa Section Kamal Darwish, and the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa Director for Lebanon Anwar Soud; and the second was with the representative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Andre Hafogimonian.
During the first meeting, discussions centered on the financial situation in Lebanon and the budget deficit. The Lebanese delegation explained the measures proposed by the government to deal with matter. Darwish and Soud, generally welcoming the measures, emphasized the necessity of continuing the measures to hold down the deficit, going on with the projects aiming at developing human capacities, and enhancing vocational and technical education. Both officials, however, asked the Lebanese side to expedite the legal measures required for approving proposed projects.
In the second meeting, discussions focused on IFC's provision of loans and facilities to small and medium-size enterprises, and the gearing of loans to the tourism in Lebanon, which the IFC desires to develop according to studies pointing to the promising future of this sector.
In the same context, the Deputy President of the World Bank's Middle East and Africa Section Kamal Darwish, in an interview with Middle Eastern reporters, said, "It is essential to go on with the reconstruction policy which is a major step in the process of economic reforms. But the question of deficit should be more carefully dealt with, meaning that the budget should be placed under control". "Clearly there are some difficulties in setting out the order of priorities, but I believe the Lebanese government is willing to accurately specify its priorities and targets, especially with regard to the internal debt", he added. "The Lebanese government is facing hard choices at a time when the poor social infrastructure must continue to receive support". "The most formidable challenge, however, is the budget deficit, the government spending, and the way this is done", Darwish concluded.
The Lebanese official delegation to the annual meeting of the World Bank in Hong this year included Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, his Deputy Dr. Nasser Saiidi. The participation of the Minister of State for Financial Affairs Fouad Siniora was not yet confirmed. However, Siniora's advisor Dr. Basel Fuleihan and a CDR delegation participated.
A Lebanese bankers' delegation also participated. Lebanon's delegation also included the President of the Union of Lebanese Chambers Commerce Adnan Qassar, and the President of Lebanon's Finance Company Michel Ferneini.
Arab diplomatic sources viewed that the only victor in the recent Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo was the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a leading newspaper reported today.
Throughout the duration of the meeting, the sources said Albright alerted the American Embassy in Cairo to observe what was going on in the Egyptian capital with regard to the Doha Conference, and exert the necessary pressure on the countries wanting to boycott it.
Diplomats from the American Embassy in Cairo toured luxury hotels hosting the ministers, especially "Semiramis" and "Hilton Nile", to know what was going on at the back stage, and inform Albright.
The sources interpreted the American victory in Cairo in the following manner:
1. The Arab Foreign Ministers' unanimous consideration that Albright's visit to the region was a success, and their praising of her announced stances, especially her holding to the Madrid authority and the principle of land-for- peace.
2. The non-issuance of a unanimous decision rejecting the Doha Conference, and replacing that with "the advisory points" praised by the Chairman of the current session Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud el-Faisal, who considered that these points give the Arab countries a "flexibility of action".
3. The stand of the Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad ben Jasem in face of those who opposed holding the Conference in Doha, and his refusal to postpone it.
The sources said the controversies that surfaced in Cairo with regard to joining or boycotting the Doha Conference, were apparently a result of the talks Albright had with the officials of the countries she recently visited. True she was unable to alter the stances of Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia, but she made Egypt suggest giving each country a freedom of choice based on the principle of sovereignty. Albright was able to strongly influence the Qatari minister without visiting Doha, when she promised him during his presence in Washington that she would defend holding the Conference on schedule, regardless of the need for Arab solidarity.
The sources concluded that the American eye which was wide awake in Cairo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, will work on guaranteeing the largest possible Arab participation in the Doha Conference.
-Interior Minister Michel Al Murr, following a meeting with House Speaker Nabih Berri, yesterday announced that the draft laws relating to the municipal and mayoral elections, decentralization, and parliamentary elections, would be ready in October. He said the three-draft legislations would be sent to the parliament before the end of the aforementioned month. In the same context, House Speaker Berri was quoted as saying that upon receipt of the draft laws, the parliament would immediately discuss and approve them "so as to begin the necessary arrangements for performing the municipal elections next Spring.
-Hizbullah Deputy Ammar Musawi, following a meeting with President Hrawi yesterday, said Hrawi informed him that he has affirmed to the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that "Lebanon will be the last to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and that resistance is Lebanon's option for liberating the land".
-President of World Vision, US branch, Robert Seiple yesterday began a first-ever official visit to Lebanon after Washington lifted the ban on American travel to Lebanon. During his first day in Lebanon, Seiple visited President Elias Hrawi, House Speaker Nabih Berri, and Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir. Following his visit to Baabda, Seiple said that World Vision - the largest international Christian relief agency - has donated during the preceding 20 years assistance and services to the Lebanese people amounting to $50m. He said he was pleased to see Lebanon's reconstruction projects and have a close look on what world vision can offer to this process in the field of health and other sectors.
-The General Labor Confederation (GLC) and the President of the Independent GLC Elias Abou Rizk yesterday expressed their refusal of the new draft rental law recently announced by Justice Minister Bahije Tabbara. They both warned of linking between inflation and the rental rates, especially since salaries and wages were never linked with inflation despite repeated demands to adopt a mobile salary scale.
-Lebanon's Golf championship this year was won by Ali Hammoud after overcoming last years champion Sheikh Moussa Zein who scored third. Karim Salim Salam won the second position. As to the ladies' championship, Lebanon's current champion Myrna Raad retained her title for the fourth consecutive year. Jumana Hathout and Ghadoun Ramadan respectfully won the second and third positions.
-Homenmen Beirut and Liwa Saida moved to the finals of Lebanon's table tennis championship. Al Maani Saida won against Antranik (3-0) the third and fourth positions. The fifth and sixth positions were won by Riadi Beirut against the Army (3-0), and the seventh and eighth position were won by Kahraba against Intilak Anfa (3-0).
-In two volleyball matches held at the Sadaka Stadium in the framework of Lebanon's youth championship, Mont La Salle overcame Sadaka (24-23), and Mar Elias overcame Al Shabab Haret Saida (33-30). The Lebanese Volleyball Federation organized the matches.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
........ Coming Soon !
[ Lebanon.com Weekly Business Reports ]
Lebanon.com Local News Wire Archives