Following its first session yesterday after last week's parliamentary vote of confidence, the Lebanese Cabinet decided to fill posts in the country's supervisory bodies and a range of other administrative, military and security positions. Accordingly, Dr. Michel Tabet was appointed as the head of the Disciplinary Council, Fouad Haydamous as the president of the Central Inspection Department, and Monzer Al-Khatib as the head of the Civil Service Council.
Cabinet also decided to appoint Brigadier Michel Suleiman as the Army Commander, Brigadier Abdel Kareem Ibrahim as the director-general of the Surete General, Brigadier Edward Mansour as the director-general of State Security, Brigadier Hassan Fawwaz as the deputy director-general of State Security, and Brigadier Jamil Al-Sayyed as the director-general of Internal Security Forces. Brigadier Nasser Al-Rahban was also appointed as the Commander of the Gendarmerie and Brigadier Raymond Azar as the director of Army Intelligence.
Information Minister Anwar Al-Khalil said the appointments were made according to the criteria of efficiency, qualifications, seniority and honesty. The appointments came in line with the Taef Agreement, which stipulates that first-rank government positions should be divided equally among Christians and Moslems. But cabinet's decisions last night reshuffled the positions among the two religious groups.
In line with the government's policy of preserving public liberties especially the freedom of expression, cabinet lifted a 1993 ban on demonstrations, thus allowing street protests but only with the approval of the Interior Ministry. Demonstrators should first submit a written demand in accordance with the law and some measures specified by the Interior Minister.
The ban on demonstrations was imposed five years ago after nine people were killed in clashes between security troops and demonstrators who were protesting the 1993 Oslo Accord.
Cabinet also discussed some administrative files aimed at increasing productivity in the public sector. In another decision, government employees were ordered to strictly observe working hours and disciplinary regulations.
Cabinet also charged the Finance Minister of signing an agreement to avoid double taxation with Canada and the Minister of Electricity and Water Resources of preparing a study to improve the collection of electricity bills.
Following cabinet's session yesterday at Baabda, Information Minister Anwar Al-Khalil said the government will reconsider the current implementation of the audio-visual media law, thus halting previous government decisions regulating audio-visual media in the country.
Al-Khalil also stressed that the problems of Tele Liban will be handled as soon as possible. In his capacity as Information Minister, Al-Khalil was charged of preparing a comprehensive report on the financial situation of the state-run television on the way of finding radical solutions to this file.
Cabinet also decided to freeze employment at the Information Ministry, Radio Liban, the National News Agency, and Tele Liban until a comprehensive study is completed by the Information Ministry on the financial and administrative situation of the ministry and all these institutions.
At the presidential palace in Baabda, President Emil Lahhoud held talks with House Speaker Nabih Berri. After the meeting, the House Speaker left the palace without making any statements to reporters. But presidential sources later said the meeting tackled the current situation in the country and the region.
Lahhoud later received the Italian Ambassador to Lebanon, Guiseppe Cassini, in a protocol visit. He also held meetings with a number of newly appointed officials in the country's security and administrative supervisory bodies.
Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss described the decisions issued by cabinet after its meeting yesterday as highly important. He added these decisions mark the beginning of the implementation of the ministerial policy statement and accordingly the beginning of the process of administrative reform in the country.
For his part, House Speaker Nabih Berri told his visitors cabinet's appointments in security agencies and civil administration's supervisory bodies were made without consideration for "shares" for top politicians. He added he was not involved in the selection process.
Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss today discussed the financial situation in the country and the state budget with the head of the budget and finance committee in parliament, Deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi. Hoss later told reporters the subject of the 1999 state budget is currently under study. Cabinet yesterday decided to reconsider the budgets of all government departments before preparing the overall draft budget in a period of two months.
Hoss later met a delegation of Lebanese businessmen. The premier stressed the government's policy of encouraging local and foreign investment in the country. He also held talks with the Chilean Ambassador to Lebanon on bilateral ties between Lebanon and Chile.
In a message sent to House Speaker Nabih Berri, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Dr. Issmat Abdel Majid said Israel's occupation of South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa stands as a top priority in the league's concerns.
Abdel Majid's letter came in response to a message sent earlier by the Lebanese House Speaker on Israel's theft of fertile soil from villages in the occupation zone.
Israeli warplanes this morning carried out air raids against Lebanese Resistance positions in Jabal Abi Rached in the Western Bekaa. Israeli artillery earlier shelled the riverbanks of Zahrani and the outskirts of Habboush. For its part the Lebanese Resistance shelled the Israeli outpost in Sojod saying in a statement direct hits were scored among the position's soldiers.
Last night, Israeli attacks also intensified over the fields of Sojod, Rayhan, Mazraat Okmata, and Jabal Rafii in Iqlim Al-Touffah. The attacks were accompanied by inspection flights over Nabatieh and Iqlim Al-Touffah. Israeli warplanes also carried out mock air raids at low levels over the area.
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