Baabda palace today received a delegation of Lebanese expatriates headed by Immigrants Minister Talal Arslan. President Elias Al-Hrawi told the delegation, "we are living in a democratic country, my term was to last for six years, I accepted its extension for another three years and that's enough. I don't know how did the Lebanese put up with me?. Hrawi noted article 95 of the constitution calls for abolishing political sectarianism and said he proposed civil marriage for the reason that 22% of marriages in Lebanon are being performed outside the country and registered later in Lebanon. Hrawi said this was his proposal since he was a deputy in 1972 and he reiterated it during a TV interview in 1988 before he became president .
Minister Elias Hanna also met Hrawi today. He told reporters after the meeting the legality of cabinet?s voting on the civil marriage bill can only be discussed inside cabinet and not through media reports
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today received a phone call from Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani. Qabbani praised the position taken by the premier concerning the subject of civil marriage adding the premier's stance helped stabilize the atmosphere in the country. Qabbani stressed that Lebanon was built on understanding and conciliation and the premier's position on the subject helped protect the unity of the Lebanese society. In another development, government sources today reiterated that Hariri will not enter into any political dispute with anybody concerning the issue of civil marriage adding Hariri insists on discussing issues objectively.
Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr today hoped the country's religious leaders would help Lebanon at this stage by spreading a more calm atmosphere across the country. After meeting Prime Minister Hariri at the government palace, the interior minister told reporters ministers were requested to send their notes to the cabinet secretariat on the civil marriage bill adding these notes will be later examined by the government. In this regard, Murr said there is no disagreement between the premier and President Elias Al-Hrawi but added the coming stage needs a calm atmosphere in the country. On the issue of local elections, Murr revealed he will hold a meeting tomorrow with the governors of the country to discuss practical measures that will be followed during the upcoming municipal and mayoral elections reiterating local elections will be held as scheduled. The elections were last held in 1964.
At government palace, Prime Minister Hariri met a delegation from the syndicate of doctors in Lebanon which handed the prime minister a memorandum including their demands from the ministries of defense and health. He discussed the overall situation in Northern Lebanon with a number of deputies form the area. He later held talks with Environment Minister Akram Shhayyeb on the situation of quarries in the country. The prime minister also met a delegation representing different insurance companies in Lebanon.
Immigrants Minister Talal Arslan said the timing of presenting the civil marriage proposal was not appropriate regarding the present circumstances in the country. In a statement issued today, Arslan said he agreed with Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri's objection to the timing of the proposal despite his support to ratifying the law in principle as part of a comprehensive plan to abolish political sectarianism in Lebanon. Arslan said the rejection of the project offends personal liberties which might effect political and media liberties and other forms of liberties in the country as well adding the concept of liberty cannot be divided.
Minister of the War Displaced Walid Jumblatt today called on all officials in the country to intervene regarding the subject of civil marriage under the banner of defending civil society, democracy and liberty in the country. He added a civil marriage law does not threaten the freedom of confession and religion in the country. Jumblatt was speaking after a meeting he held with a delegation from the National Parliamentary Bloc. He added there is no relation between civil marriage and political sectarianism. In another development, Jumble denied he was aware of any government reshuffle adding we support the formation of a new government but not an expanded board of directors.
In parliament today the Justice and Administration Committee finished studying a new law of rent but suspended discussions on some clauses that deal with compensation given to damaged buildings which will be tackled during a session planned for next Thursday. Today's meeting was attended by Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara.
Meanwhile, the Education Parliamentary Committee ratified a law on retirement pensions allotted to members of the education committee in public schools. The head of the committee, deputy Bahiyya Al-Hariri, announced 90% of a teacher's salary will be considered ion calculating the pensions. But concerning public school teachers who have been in the profession for a period of thirty years, pensions will be calculated considering 100% of their salary.
The Committee of Economy ratified the exchange agreement between Lebanon and Syria denoting the free exchange of industrial products between the two countries. The committee said the agreement benefits both countries and serves as a step towards the formation of a Common Arab Market. The committee added the exchange agreement, which will be implemented starting the year 1999, follows the recent cooperation economic agreement signed between the two countries. The session was attended by Industry Minister Nadim Salem.
For its part, the Committee of Planning and Development was updated on the working plan of the Ministry of Hydraulics in the presence of minister Elie Hobeika. Discussions centered on electricity production and collection of fees and the general problems faced by the ministry.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri is expected to leave for Vienna tomorrow evening for a two-day official visit aimed at boosting bilateral ties and encouraging more cooperation between the two countries. Hariri will also hold talks with Austria's top officials concerning the situation in the Middle East and recent regional developments. Hariri will also hold a meeting with Austrian businessmen in an effort to encourage their financial contribution to Lebanon's reconstruction drive. The premier is due to hold talks with members of the Lebanese-Austrian committee at the end of his visit.
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