Hours before he hands the presidency of the Lebanese Republic to the next head of state, President Elias Al-Hrawi is expected to address the nation in a farewell speech tonight.
President Hrawi yesterday took part in the official ceremony held on the occasion of the National Independence Day. House Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and a number of government officials and representatives of Syrian forces and UNIFIL troops working in Lebanon also attended the ceremony held in the Mathaf area. This was the 55th anniversary of Lebanon's independence.
A concise reception ceremony was held afterwards at Baabda followed by a bilateral meeting between President Hrawi and President-elect General Emil Lahhoud. Meanwhile, the president is expected to leave the presidential palace tomorrow after he hands the presidency to General Emil Lahhoud.
President-elect General Emil Lahhoud will be handed his new constitutional mission tomorrow. The upcoming president will be sworn in at 10:55 a.m. in parliament as the country's next president.
The session will be attended by ambassadors, diplomats and Arab and foreign officials. Delegations today started arriving in Beirut to attend tomorrow's meeting. Among them were official delegations from Brazil, Canada, Chile and the US Congress.
The new president, along with House Speaker Berri, will later receive well-wishers in parliament's grand hall. Lahhoud is also expected to give a speech before heading to the Baabda presidential palace.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today held talks with a number of deputies and ministers on the last day of the government's term during President Elias Al-Hrawi's mandate. Some deputies later expected parliamentary consultations around the naming of the next Prime Minister will begin either on Wednesday or Thursday. The premier also told reporters at the Grand Saray he will be paying the new head of state a protocol visit on Wednesday at the Baabda presidential palace.
Prime Minister Hariri also received today his deputy, Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr, Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa and Agriculture Minister Shawki Fakhoury. Minister of Administrative Reform Bshara Merhej also presented the premier with an administrative reform plan for the year 2000. The project, prepared by a number of experts in the field, discusses possible ways for upgrading the country's administrations.
A delegation from the US Congress today arrived in Beirut to attend the presidential oath session tomorrow in the Lebanese Parliament. Among the delegates are two congressmen of Lebanese origin, Nick Rahhal and Ray Lahhoud.
The delegation, accompanied by the US ambassador to Lebanon David Satterfield, early today visited President-elect General Emil Lahhoud. Discussions centered on recent developments in Lebanon and the region. They later headed to the Grand Saray where they held talks with Lebanon's premier.
US Congressman Ray Lahhoud expected any development in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would reflect positively on Lebanon and the situation in the South. For his part, Senator Rahhal reiterated the strong bilateral ties between Lebanon and the US.
The Congressmen also met today the head of the foreign affairs committee in parliament, Deputy Ali Al-Khalil. The US ambassador later announced that the US administration is looking forward to cooperate with the new government in all possible fields. He stressed great progress was achieved in the country during the last few years. The US delegation is scheduled to hold talks tomorrow with officials at Beirut's International Airport.
French President Jacques Chirac today sent his Lebanese counterpart, President Elias Al-Hrawi a letter praising the accomplishments achieved in the country during his presidential term. The French Ambassador to Lebanon this morning handed Hrawi the letter at Baabda. In his message, Chirac expressed his confidence in Lebanon and his optimism regarding the ongoing development of Lebanese-French ties.
In a similar letter, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad also congratulated President Hrawi on the occasion of Lebanon's independence. In his message, Assad praised the various accomplishments and courageous decisions that Lebanon witnessed during Hrawi's nine-year term in office.
Also at the presidential palace today, President Elias Al-Hrawi received Minister of the War Displaced Walid Jumblatt in a family visit. Jumblatt was accompanied by his little daughter.
Israeli army officials are still proposing Israel's conditional withdrawal from occupied territories in Lebanon. Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai today reiterated Israel's proposal of "Lebanon First", whereby Israel would pull out its occupying forces from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa in return for security guarantees. The Lebanese government refuses such offers stressing the immediate and unconditional implementation of UN Resolution 425.
Meanwhile, as part of its daily attacks on South Lebanon, Israel late this afternoon shelled the villages of Kfar Tibnit and Mazraat Al-Hamra. The Lebanese Resistance later retaliated by attacking Israeli positions in Dabshe and Ali Taher.
On the occasion of the Day of the Lebanese Detainee, prisoner Samir Al-Qentar today sent a letter to the Lebanon Watch Organization in Australia. In his message, the Lebanese detainee described the suffering of his inmates in Israeli prisons.
Al-Qentar also referred to the medical negligence there and to the systematic torture implemented in these jails. The detainee, however, praised the prisoners' high spirits despite the bad and inhumane conditions of their detention.
Al-Qentar called on the international community to pressure Israel to release all Lebanese prisoners in Israeli and Israeli-run detention camps. Al-Qentar is one of those prisoners who have been detained in Israeli jails for several years now without trial.
The Lebanese Government today signed a trilateral understanding agreement with the United Nations whereby Lebanon grants the UNICEF, the UNDP, and the UN Housing Fund the right to operate from designated places at the UN House in Beirut. The UN House also serves as the permanent headquarters of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
At Boustros Palace, Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz signed the agreement on behalf of the Lebanese government with ESCWA's Executive Secretary, Hazem Al-Biblawi representing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The signing was also attended by the foreign ministry's secretary general Zafer Al-Hassan and the director of international organizations, Walid Nasr.
The pact comes as part of a plan proposed by the UN Chief to group all UN agencies and commissions operating in Lebanon at the ESCWA headquarters in the downtown area of the capital. Foreign Minister Boueiz said the move reiterates the position of Beirut as a cultural capital in the whole region.
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