Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss today started holding consultations in parliament to form the first cabinet during the new presidential term of General Emil Lahhoud.
Hoss first held a half-an-hour meeting with House Speaker Nabih Berri, who later refused to make any statements to reporters. The new premier later met former House Speaker Hussein Al-Husseini who expressed his comfort at appointing Prime Minister Hoss. Husseini described the new premier as one of the greatest political leaders in the country who actively participated in the national reconciliation process.
Most visiting MPs and parliamentary blocs today called on the new premier to form a strong and homogeneous government. The consultations are expected to be concluded tomorrow. Hoss is later due to officially announce the formation of the next cabinet.
Shortly after he was offered to head the country's next government yesterday, Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss set three priorities for his mandate: reducing the budget deficit, repatriating the war displaced, and liberating all Israeli-occupied territories.
President Emil Lahhoud then personally asked the new premier to form a new cabinet. Upon meeting the president, Hoss outlined the main priorities of his term in office. Hoss also described President Lahhoud's inaugural address as "comprehensive" and pledged to work along its lines.
The new premier referred to the "great challenges that are facing us", adding he will form a cabinet that is up to those challenges and that satisfies the aspirations of the Lebanese people.
Hoss was named as the next premier during the second round of parliamentary consultations by 95 deputies out of the 128 members of parliament.
Salim Al-Hoss, 69, is the country's next prime minister. He is a veteran politician who took the post of a premier three times during the civil war, which ended in 1990.
After serving as a prime minister from 1976 to 1980, Mr. Hoss was handed a second cabinet portfolio (1987-1990) during the final years of President Amin Al-Gemayyel's mandate. In 1990, Hoss headed an administration that overlooked the first phase of the implementation of the Taef Accord. Hoss' West Beirut-based administration was at odds with former General Michel Aoun's military government.
Salim Al-Hoss also served as education and labor minister from 1985 to 1987. He has been a member in the Lebanese parliament since 1992.
After the 1996 parliamentary elections, Hoss became a member of an opposition group in the house. The National Gathering group also included MPs Hussein Husseini, Omar Karameh, Nassib Lahhoud, Mohammed Youssef Baydoun, and Boutros Harb.
Apart from his experience in politics, Hoss was perhaps best known as an honest lawmaker with a background in economics. Hoss has served as a Kuwaiti Fund Financial Expert before the civil war, an Arab Monetary Fund Consultant in the UAE during the 1980's and a World Bank Consultant for the Middle East and Africa between 1992 and 1996.
Hoss holds a degree in Business Administration from the American University of Beirut, where he taught for 14 years. He also holds a PHD in Business Administration and Economics from the University of Indiana in the US.
He is a biographer of 10 business and economics books. Mr. Hoss has one daughter, Wadad. His late wife Leila Faroun died in 1990.
President Emil Lahhoud this morning held talks with the Secretary General of the Arab League Dr. Issmat Abdel Majid. Abdel Majid earlier today laid flower wreaths on the tomb of former Prime Minister Riad Al-Solh. He also visited House Speaker Nabih Berri in parliament.
During his visit to Lebanon, the Arab League Chief also held talks with former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and signed his new book at the 42nd annual Arab and International Book Fair in Beirut.
Also at the Baabda Presidential Palace, Lahhoud today received a delegation of Greek Orthodox Archbishops headed by Patriarch Augnatious IV Hazeem.
Sources close to House Speaker Nabih Berri today denied he reported any expectations regarding the size of the next cabinet. The sources added all what was published in this regard is not true.
The Lebanese press had reported that House Speaker Berri told visiting deputies yesterday that he expected the new government to be formed of 14 to 16 ministers. Reports also said Berri expected the new cabinet make-up would be officially announced sometime between Saturday and Monday.
The House Speaker had earlier stressed his party, the Amal Movement, will not participate in the next government if other parties also follow suit.
In parliament today, House Speaker Berri received outgoing Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr. Discussions centered on recent developments in the country. Berri earlier held talks with the Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon during a farewell visit.
Former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri this morning held a press conference at his residence in Kraytem to brief the Lebanese people on the whereabouts of his decision to refuse an offer to head the country's next government. Hariri stressed his decision was based on the principle of respecting the country's constitution.
Hariri opened the conference at 11:00 this morning with a speech highlighting the main accomplishments scored during his six-year term. Hariri also stressed he will cooperate with President Emil Lahhoud and Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss.
In his 15-minute address, Hariri praised the role of former President Elias Al-Hrawi and the courageous decisions he took during his term. Hariri also noted the ongoing support of Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad to Lebanon adding his efforts enabled this country to develop after the long years of war. Hariri also thanked all friendly countries who stood by Lebanon against all odds, naming Saudi King Fahd Bin Abdel Aziz, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, French President Jacques Chirac. The former premier noted the US support to Lebanon but stressed the US has its own policy in the Middle East.
Hariri later answered questions by reporters and journalists of local and international media. Hariri said although he decided not to stay in power, he will remain active in the country's political life. Asked whether he would take the stance of an opposition MP in the coming phase, Hariri said his position in the next government would depend on its policies. Hariri answered a question by a Financial Times reporter saying the role of the opposition is not to weaken a government or eventually take over adding the opposition should help the government develop the country.
On the stability of the country's financial market, Hariri said this proves the success of the economic and financial policies followed by his government.
Hariri also told reporters his parliamentary bloc did not nominate Prime Minister Hoss during the consultations because Dr. Hoss, Hariri said, had his own political stances that contradicted with those of the former government. Hariri stressed he had nothing personal against Dr. Hoss. He reiterated he will continue his consultations with the country's leaders and he will always tell them what he thinks is right.
The parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today held talks with Lebanon's new premier, Salim Al-Hoss. The National Decision Bloc's spokesman, outgoing Minister Bshara Merhej stressed the bloc's concern for the success of the new era. He also voiced support for the new government. Merhej added the National Decision Bloc supports a conciliatory government that meets the demands of the new phase and represents all the Lebanese.
Former Prime Minister Hariri last night headed a meeting of his parliamentary bloc at his residence in Kraytem. The meeting discussed the bloc's position regarding the second round of parliamentary consultations.
Today in Kraytem, Hariri held talks with the Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Adel Al-Khodari. Al-Khodari later praised the unique ties between Hariri and the Egyptian leadership. Hariri earlier met the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Al-Kohaymeh who voiced his country's ongoing support to the former premier.
The former premier later headed to Damascus where he will meet Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam before heading for the US on a private visit.
Before leaving for Damascus, Hariri visited former President Elias Al-Hrawi at his residence in Yarzeh.
The US ambassador to Lebanon, David Satterfield today reiterated his country's ongoing support to Lebanon. Satterfield was speaking to reporters during a visit to the southern port city of Tyre this morning.
Satterfield's visit to Tyre today comes as part of a southern tour that took him to the village of Nabatieh yesterday. The US ambassador also intends to visit the village of Qana that witnessed the latest Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in April 1996.
The US Health Minister Donna Shalala, who is of Lebanese descent, today started her talks with Lebanese officials. Shalala is the first US minister who visits Lebanon following President Emil Lahhoud's official accession to the presidency of the republic. Shalala arrived in Beirut last night.
Shalala's visit follows the signing of a letter by a number of US deputies calling on the Mideast Department at the US Foreign Ministry to spend an amount of 12 million US dollars on projects in Lebanon. The US congress is expected to issue a similar letter in the coming days.
The British Environment and Transportation Minister today opened a conference organized by the Rich Water Organization in the Lebanese capital. The conference was also held under the patronage of outgoing Minister of Electricity and Hydraulics, Elie Hobeika. The meeting tackled different ways of exploiting water resources and disposing sewage water in the country.
The British official arrived in Beirut last evening ahead of delegates from a number of British firms in addition to representatives of the British ministries of trade and industry who all took part in the inaugural symposium today.
The British Minister earlier today held talks with former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri at his residence in Kraytem. Also present at the meeting was the British Ambassador to Lebanon, David MacLenin.
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