News from Beirut April 27  1998 ...Search

Hrawi honors Botros-Botros Ghali

The former UN secretary-general Botros-Botros Ghali was today honored by President Elias Hrawi for his strong position against US pressures not to publish a UN report that held Israel responsible for the 1996 Qana massacre.

Ghali the Francophone general secretary is in Beirut to head the 12th major Francophone conference at the Unesco palace.

Hrawi honored Ghali saying he was courageous and acted according to UN principles despite US threats to veto his re-election as UN chief. Hrawi opened the conference which held more than 500 participants from different Francophone countries representing more than 400 French-speaking universities and research institutes.

In his speech Ghali stressed the political and cultural importance of the Francophone Group which was formed during the Hanoi Francophone Summit last year. He also reiterated the Group's effort to help Lebanon and the Arab world regain their occupied territories. The next political Francophone meeting will be held in Lebanon in 2001.

Hariri in Syria and back in Beirut

Prime minister Rafik Hariri left for Syria last night to hold talks about the Iranian position on Resolution 425. Syrian vice-president Abdel-Halim Khaddam had earlier in the day held talks with Iranian president Mohammed Khatami. Both Iran and Syria agreed that the Israeli offer for a conditional withdrawal from Lebanon was an attempt to sever ties between Beirut and Damascus. The two countries reiterated their support for Lebanon's opposition to a conditional Israeli retreat.

On arriving in Beirut today, Hariri expressed satisfaction concerning the Iranian and Syrian positions in particular and Arab and Islamic countries in general. Hariri had also received similar support from President Hosni Mobarak during a visit to Egypt last week.

Boueiz's letter to his Cypriot Counterpart

Lebanon's charger-d'affairs in Cyprus Khalil Al-Habr handed a letter to Cyprus's Foreign minister Katholios from his counterpart Fares Boueiz explaining Lebanon's official stance concerning Israeli proposals related to Resolution 425.

Minister Katholios expressed his country's support for a literal implementation of Resolution 425 as well as for all UN resolutions.

The meeting between Habr and Katholios was also an occasion on which bilateral relations were discussed. Katholios reaffirmed the depth of Lebanese-Cypriot relations.

Escalation in the South

Four Israeli soldiers were injured this morning in a roadside bomb planted by Lebanese Resistanse men in the valley of Shiheen in the occupied zone. Consequent shelling of Yater and Majdelzoon resulted in substantial damage in several houses in these villages. This afternoon Israeli shelling of the road between Habboush and Arab-Saleem resulted in extensive damage in the area's electricity grid and a total power failure in Iklim-el-Touffah.

In the meantime, Lebanon is to file complaints with the five-nation monitoring committee after two children were wounded in Kafra in heavy Israeli bombardment on the village last Saturday.

Pay-scale draft-law approved

Communication minister Bassem Sabeh announced late Friday night the Cabinet's approval of the Rates and Pay-scale draft-law. The law wil be effective as of January 1, 1999 but with a retroactive effect as of January 1, 1996. To finance the new salary-scales, the government also approved an across-the-board two per cent rise in customs duties and a ten per cent rise in taxes on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.

The announcement was met with much reservation and criticism. Former prime minister Salim Hoss warned that the increase will affect society's low-income brackets. "Higher tarrifs are indirect taxes that do not discriminate between the rich and the poor and will definitely have more impact on the poorer brackets," he said. "As the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, the decision comes to widen the gap, consequently undermining social stability." Hoss also criticized the cabinet for failing to exempt imported raw materials necessary for the industry from the decision.

Minister of state for finance Fouad Seniora estimated that prices would rise by only three to four per cent. However, economy minister Yassin Jaber predicted new taxation measures would be imposed.

Moslem New Year in Lebanon

Moslems in Lebanon and other parts of the world celebrated today the Moslem New Year. Mufti of the Republic sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani received well-wishers in Dar-al-Fatwa.

In an address on the occasion, Kabbani stressed the meaning of forbearance in the fight against Israeli occupation and ambitions.

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