Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi today arrived in Beirut for a three-day official visit. Upon his arrival, Kharazi held extensive talks at Boustrous Palace with his Lebanese counterpart Faris Boueiz. After the talks, Kharazi told a joint press conference he held with Boueiz, discussions centered on bilateral ties and regional developments. The two officials also discussed the possibilities of bilateral economic and cultural cooperation between Tehran and Beirut. Kharazi described recent Israeli proposals concerning the implementation of UN resolution 425 as a trick which aims at separating Arab countries. He also called on Israel to withdraw from South Lebanon without any conditions.
The Iranian official later held talks at Baabda with President Elias Al-Hrawi. During his visit to Beirut, Kharazi is scheduled to meet House Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, the head of the higher Shiite Council Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir and Minister of the War Displaced Walid Jumblatt. Talks will mainly center on the implementation of UN resolution 425. The Iranian foreign minister's visit to Lebanon follows similar talks he held in Damascus where he also met a delegation from Hizbullah.
Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam said recent Israeli proposals on a unconditional pullout from South Lebanon are mere maneuvers which aim at misleading the world opinion and de-stabilizing the situation in Lebanon and the region. He was speaking to Iranian Journalists who accompanied Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi during his visit to Damascus. Khaddam added Lebanon realizes the danger behind the Israeli proposals which also aim at activating the Israeli occupation and weakening Arab countries in a bid, he said, to implement the Zionist Project in the region.
During the weekend, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri held official talks in Austria and France. Top on the agenda of his discussions were bilateral ties, the reconstruction process in Lebanon and the Middle East peace process. Hariri today headed to Saudi Arabia where he will meet Saudi King Fahd Bin Abdel Aziz. Two issues will be discussed: the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425 and the reconstruction drive in Lebanon. The Lebanese premier is also expected to reiterate Lebanon's gratitude for Saudi Arabia's help and support to Lebanon especially praising the stance of King Fahd, marked during the latest meeting of his cabinet, stressing the necessity of implementing UN resolution 425 without any conditions.
President Elias Al-Hrawi today repeated his firm stance regarding optional civil marriage. The president was quoted by a visiting delegation of graduates of the Information Department in the Lebanese University as saying the bill could not be reconsidered by cabinet during its next session. The controversy over enacting the bill intensified over the weekend with President Hrawi stressing that his proposal was an essential part of the government's plans to rebuild its institutions. At Baabda, Hrawi also met a delegation from the Armenian Tashnak Party headed by Minister of Oil Shahe Barsoumian who said after the meeting, abolishing political sectarianism is a basic article in the Taef Accord adding that enacting civil marriage in the country is a step in this regard. President Hrawi will miss Thursday's scheduled cabinet session because he will be on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates. He heads tomorrow to the UAE where he is expected to inaugurate the new building of the Lebanese embassy and discuss bilateral ties and the Mideast peace process with top officials there.
In Baabda, Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr urged all concerned parties in the country to avoid taking to the streets in protest of the civil marriage bill. He announced no demonstrations will be allowed in this regard. Murr also called on religious leaders to cooperate with the political authority to calm down the atmosphere in the country which is highly needed at present. The Interior Minister told reporters at the Presidential Palace, President Hrawi is working on reducing tensions adding that Prime Minister Hariri also promised to contact the clergy in Dar Al-Fatwa in this regard.
Concerning the upcoming municipal and mayoral elections, Murr said the dates of elections in Beirut will undergo some changes because of the planned visit of French President Jacques Chirac to Lebanon during at the end of next May
At Dar Al-Fatwa, Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani at noon met large delegations from the villages of Iqlim Al-Kharroub which supported his stance regarding civil marriage. He earlier met a delegation from the Association of Charitable Projects which also expressed solidarity with his stance refusing the project. President Elias Al-Hrawi's proposal of the bill triggered strong reactions from clerics who refuse to change their unified stance over the bill saying it contradicts the essence of religion and threatens the country's national and social unity.
In parliament today, House Speaker Nabih Berri held talks with the head of the board of directors at the state-run Tele Liban, John Claude Boulous on the current situation of the station. Boulous reported Berri's support for the station and the necessity of qualifying it for satellite broadcasting.
Boulous told reporters the House Speaker hoped cabinet will take the necessary decisions during its next session to solve the current problems. Meanwhile, Deputy Marwan Hmadeh today called for more support to the station stressing its importance in portraying the country's image. The Tele Liban delegation also met Transportation Minister Omar Miskawi who stressed after the meeting the problems faced by the station needed drastic solutions.
The two unions of public school teachers in Lebanon decided on a two-day strike to start tomorrow. The unions' general assemblies confirmed a decision that reiterates their call for the implementation of their demands. More meetings of the general assemblies are expected to be held to discuss further action over insufficient retirement payments. Public school teachers had voted over the weekend to strike for two days instead of indefinitely. Their unions' statements said they would escalate their action if the government refused to endorse their demands. Meanwhile, the head of the private school teachers' syndicate, George Saadeh, announced there will be no strike in private schools tomorrow.
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