House Speaker Nabih Berri today reiterated the necessity of implementing the public sector pay scales project in a gradual manner through installments as of January 1, 1999. Berri was also quoted by his visitors as saying all discussions on the project's retroactive effect and the retirement plan will remain on hold until the 1999 state budget bill is examined in parliament during the next presidential term.
The House Speaker also reiterated his optimistic view of the country's future. He reportedly added Lebanon is on the verge of a new era of renaissance that would be harmful only to Israel.
The subject of the long-pending public sector salary scales and its retirement plan today topped discussions in Kraytem between Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and the head of the General Labor Confederation Elias Abu-Rizk, who was accompanied by GLC Secretary General, Saadeddine Saqer.
Abu-Rizk later told reporters talks with the premier centered on the public scales project and the subject of housing and rent. Abu-Rizk reiterated GLC demands to ratify the bill and ensure the rights of the retired during the expected parliamentary legislative sessions.
The GLC leader also expressed the union's rejection of canceling the bill's retroactive effect. Abu-Rizk also demanded that plans and laws for housing and rent be finalized soon.
The ministerial committee charged with studying the public sector pay scales draft law will continue its discussions during a meeting tomorrow. The committee includes Acting Finance Minister Fouad Al-Sanyoura, Deputy Anwar Al-Khalil, and Deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi who heads the parliamentary finance and budget committee.
Minister Sanyoura said the mission of the committee centers on reaching a compromise between the amended clauses of the pay scales project and the old scales. Sanyoura added the project's implementation would start as of the beginning of the coming year. He also estimated the project's cost to reach 370 billion Lebanese Liras.
For his part, Deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi expected the bill to be endorsed during parliament's legislation sessions next week. He added these sessions will determine the project's final formula.
More congratulatory messages today continued to pour in at the office of President-elect General Emil Lahhoud. The president-elect received this morning the ambassadors of India, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Romania, Brazil, Belgium, Germany and the Philippines and the chargé d'affairs at the embassies of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Iran.
The diplomats carried their countries' best wishes for Lebanon's new head of state. Lahhoud also received today congratulatory messages from the presidents of Germany and Finland.
The US ambassador to Lebanon, David Satterfield, today reiterated his country's support to Lebanon's new head of state, General Emil Lahhoud. He also voiced the American Administration's willingness to cooperate with the new president and the upcoming government by all possible means.
Satterfield stressed the United States was keen to increase its aid to Lebanon and to improve bilateral ties between the two countries. "We have an aid program for Lebanon through our international development agencies.
We've given to the Lebanese industry ministry four biologic laboratories. I think that this move is good for the Lebanese, " he told reporters after talks with Industry Minister Nadim Salem.
In the village of Qlayleh, Israeli forces detained the Lebanese Bassam Gorgeous Naeem and led him to the Israeli-run Khiam prison. Naeem is a taxi driver who works on the Beirut-Bater way.
In another development, Israeli navy forces today detained a trade ship near the port of Tyre. The ship, carrying cars imported from Belgium, was searched for more than half an hour before it was allowed to enter the port.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes at noon broke the sound barrier over the villages of the Western Bekaa Valley. Israeli shelling of the village of Kfar Roumman yesterday injured Lebanese civilian Mohammed Atwi, 38, when a round exploded near his house.
The Australian Organization for Defending South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa, Lebanon Watch, today called on Australia to pressure Israel to release Lebanese child, Ali Moustafa Tawbeh. Tawbeh has been detained in the Israeli-run Khiam prison for a year now.
The organization today issued a statement demanding the immediate release of Tawbeh and all Lebanese children who are being held in Israeli jails. Tawbeh, who was born in the Southern village of Arnoun, was detained on the 3rd of October 1997.
The United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday sent a statement to the Security Council announcing that an Indian battalion will replace the Norwegian battalion working under the UN Interim Forces in South Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Norway last August announced plans to withdraw its troops from the South during the month of November for internal reasons. Some 520 Norwegian soldiers have served in the South for the last twenty years. Annan reported the council's approval of the change.
The UN chief has been holding diplomatic contacts with the government of India that recently agreed on sending troops to function with other UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon.
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