Last night, the Lebanese cabinet voted on the optional civil marriage bill originally proposed by President Elias Al-Hrawi. But the bill still needs further discussions in cabinet and the approval of parliament before it becomes law. The law would let the Lebanese choose civil marriage ceremonies instead of only religious ones. Currently, if a Lebanese couple of mixed religious backgrounds who want to get married refuse to convert, they were forced to marry outside the country. President Hrawi had argued the law would serve in putting an end to political sectarianism in Lebanon.
The President also sent a letter to House Speaker Nabih Berri to form a higher national committee for abolishing political sectarianism.
There has been uncompromising opposition by religious leaders and officials to cabinet's decision to initially approve a bill put forth by President Elias Al-Hrawi to institute voluntary civil marriage in the country. The optional civil marriage bill drew immediate fire from Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani who described it as very dangerous. The Mufti, who arrived at Beirut International Airport earlier today from a visit to Saudi Arabia, told reporters there the decision hurts the essence of religion and the Islamic religious law or Shariaa. Kabbani further called on Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri to take the right decision in this regard vowing the bill would not easily become law. Kabbani will tomorrow hold talks with the head of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine in a bid to co-ordinate moves to counter the civil marriage bill. Both Islamic religious leaders had sent a letter to the government requesting the issue be studied thoroughly before being approved in cabinet. Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir also condemned the decision to approve the civil marriage bill saying anyone who gets married in a civil way will be excommunicated by the Christian Church in Lebanon. Maronite Byblos Bishop Bshara Al-Raii also expected a Christian-Islamic summit to be held soon to discuss the issue. He added the subject touches the heart of the Lebanese structure thus it can only be taken after thorough discussions.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri had objected to the optional civil marriage proposal saying the issue, although important, was not a priority at present adding it can cause internal political divisions in the country.
But the premier today denied having a dispute in this regard with President Elias AL-Hrawi. He told reporters the bill received initial approval and will require further discussions in cabinet. The premier had received phone calls from Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir and number of Moslem Clerics objecting to last night's vote in cabinet. For his part, Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa today quoted Premier Hariri after visiting him at government palace as saying he preferred that consultations are held so that a consensus can be reached on such a sensitive issue.
Sabaa, who said the bill will face further discussions in cabinet, expressed shock at President Elias Al-Hrawi's insistence on voting at this time adding Prime Minister Hariri had no previous knowledge the bill will be subject to voting except through media reports.
The First Conference for Immigrant Committees today opened in Beirut at the UNESCO Palace. House Speaker Nabih Berri said during the opening Lebanon cannot live without his immigrants and residents. He also suggested Lebanese immigrants can contribute to their country's budget through a national fund which can be formed to held Lebanon economically. Berri also called on around 160 immigrant committees to work on condemning Israel's constant aggressions on the Lebanon and its detention of Lebanese in Israeli jails through pressuring the countries immigrants live in especially the United States. Berri also warned that the recent Israeli maneuvers regarding UN Resolution 425 might carry intentions of a possible military strike against Lebanon. The House Speaker added Israel " has scored a record in its level of indifference to international law". Immigrants Minister Talal Arslan who also participated in the conference explained the role of the ministry in organizing immigrants institutions.
The conference lasts until Saturday when a set of recommendations are expected to be issue during a meeting held at Carlton Hotel in Beirut.
After meeting deputy House Speaker Elie Al-Ferzli, the American ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones told reporters necessary attention should be provided for the issue of South Lebanon, a subject which yesterday toped the agenda of discussions held by British Foreign Minister Robin Cook and the Russian Special Mideast Envoy Victor Posovalyuk with Lebanese officials. Jones saw no contradiction in the American and European roles in the Mideast peace process stressing Europe's important efforts paid in this regard since the Madrid Conference. He also pointed out the visits of both Cook and Posovalyuk as highly important. The American ambassador doubted that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was carrying any suggestions or proposals concerning Resolution 425 during his scheduled visit for Lebanon which starts tomorrow.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to head a meeting tomorrow with his ministerial team for security affairs. The extraordinary session will tackle the future of Israeli occupation in South Lebanon.
During the meeting, reports will be read by a number of minister including Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Minister Ariel Sahron in this regard. Sharon has suggested a gradual and conditional withdrawal from South Lebanon.
Iran's foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi is expected in Beirut at the end of this month. During his visit, the Iranian official will meet President Elias Al-Hrawi, House Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. He is also expected to hold talks with his Lebanese counterpart Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz and a number of religious leaders including Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, the head of the Higher Shiite Council Sheik Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine, and Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir. His discussions will center on bilateral ties and regional developments.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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