The Lebanese Parliament today started a two-day debate over the new government's policy statement. A vote of confidence is scheduled to be held late Thursday.
Parliamentary blocs have been busy examining the statement and determining whether they will give the new government their vote of confidence accordingly. House Speaker Nabih Berri's bloc of Development and Liberation met yesterday but released no statement concerning its decision. The Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc announced after a meeting yesterday its members will vote for the new government.
But deputies belonging to Former War Displaced Minister Walid Jumblatt's bloc said their decision will be announced during the parliamentary session. Jumblatt has been highly criticizing the new government. Former Prime Minister Deputy Rafik Al-Hariri's group in parliament will meet as soon as Mr. Hariri returns to Beirut. Hariri sources earlier said the bloc is likely to abstain from voting.
Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss said his government is open to criticism but made clear policy statements are usually brief. He added he had made clear at the beginning that his government's policy statement would not contain all the problems faced in the country and their possible solutions.
Hoss was responding to criticisms on his government's policy statement that described it as ambiguous. Many deputies had complained that the statement failed to make clear how the government intended to implement its targeted reform program. Their criticism was also based on the fact that specific details were not mentioned in the statement and that no timetable to carry out the government's program was set.
Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss held meetings at the Grand Saray with a number of diplomats and ambassadors who extended their governments' congratulations for the new premier.
The British Ambassador to Lebanon, David MacLenin handed Hoss a congratulatory message from his British counterpart, Tony Blair. In his letter, Blair reiterated his country's support to Lebanon adding his government will work for peace in the region.
Hoss also received the ambassadors of Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Romania, Greece, Jordan, and Holland. The diplomats congratulated the premier on the formation of his new government. Their visit to the Grand Saray also aimed at examining the policies and priorities of the new cabinet in light of the ministerial policy statement read by Hoss in parliament earlier this week.
The US ambassador to Lebanon, David Satterfield visited Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss accompanied by the newly appointed American charge d'affairs in Lebanon, David Hill. Satterfield handed Hoss a congratulatory cable from US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The US ambassador later said discussions focused on the new government and the content of its policy statement. In a statement to reporters, Satterfield also reaffirmed Washington has been holding contacts to try to reinforce calm and stability in Southern Lebanon.
Satterfield also held talks with House Speaker Nabih Berri on the latest developments in the region in light of US President Bill Clinton's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in addition to the situation in South Lebanon. The US Ambassador later met Deputy House Speaker Elie Al-Firzli.
A high ranking Kuwaiti delegation is visiting Lebanon to inspect projects funded by Kuwait. The delegation held discussions with President Emil Lahhoud at Baabda on cooperation underway between the two countries in the presence of Lebanon's Finance Minister George Qorom.
The delegation includes the Kuwaiti Minister of Planning and Development Ali Moussa, the head of the Kuwaiti Development Fund Bader Humaidy, and Kuwait's ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammed Saad Sablal.
Humaidy later discussed medical projects financed by Kuwait with Health Minister Karam Karam. Kuwait's medical assistance to Lebanon has mainly centered on building hospitals, clinics, and emergency systems throughout the country especially in needy areas.
During his visit to Lebanon, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Sader met the country's religious leaders. The Iranian envoy held talks with Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani. After the meeting, Sader referred to the canceling of clauses from the Palestinian National Charter that call for Israel's destruction as " the shameful initiative of the Palestinians".
Sader also held talks with Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nassrallah Boutros Sfeir and Druze Qaemaqam Sheikh Bahjat Gheith. Sader was accompanied by the Iranian charge d'affairs in Lebanon, Mohammed Irani who said the subject of Lebanese Resistance against Israeli occupation in the South was tackled in all the meetings held by Sader during his visit to the country.
Economy Minister Nasser Al-Saiidi yesterday called on all the country's traders to fix their prices in the Christmas and New Year season. He added the Consumer Protection Authority would intensify its inspection patrols on shops and stores during this period. Saiidi also said citizens can submit their complaints to a special office in his ministry.
In a statement to reporters, Saiidi also commented on the ministerial policy statement saying it was the cabinet's mission statement. He added it is intended to provide a general overview of the measures the government plans to adopt.
Lebanon's Agriculture Minister, Suleiman Franjieh received the FAO representative in Lebanon, Omar Bin Ramadan. Discussions focused on ways to boost cooperation between the agency and the ministry.
Franjieh later held a meeting with the German Ambassador to Lebanon, Peter Wittig who handed the minister an invitation from the German Agriculture Minister to attend the "Green Week" in Berlin, an agricultural exhibition to be held in January.
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