Political and diplomatic activity in Lebanon today was minimal as the country marks its Martyrs' Day. Prime minister Rafik Hariri had called on the Lebanese to meet at Martyrs' Square, to celebrate the occasion. Hariri is expected to deliver a speech on a number of political and social issues.
Municipal and mayoral elections are now in the foreground and tension is mounting. Several incidents, however, have increased the tension, leading observers to believe that further unrest may lead to the cancellation of the polls.
Among the incidents was a war of words between speaker Nabih Berri and Hizbullah's secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that has been raging since the weekend.
Another incident was the shootout in Ouzai on Monday night between Hizbullah gunmen and bodyguards of Sheikh Abdullah Harrari, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Welfare Projects Association, during which the son of Bekaa MP Ibrahim Amin Sayyed was wounded.
Meanwhile, the electoral map around the country is gradually taking shape, indicating that struggles between local politicians in a number of regions are likely to be tense.
Minister of state for finance Fouad Seniora yesterday announced that the cabinet is considering increasing revenues from cellular phone companies as part of its efforts to finance the new public sector employees' scale of ranks and salaries.
Seniora, however, denied rumours that the cabinet intends to increase taxes on petrol, saying that the issue was not discussed during the meeting on Monday.
Seniora also called for increasing work hours for employees in the public sector, considering this as a natural result for the approval of the new scale.
President of the General Labour Confederation (GLC), Ghanime Zoghbi whose resignation was accepted yesterday by the GLC's executive committee, affirmed that his decision to resign was a completely personal one. He insisted that decision had nothing to do with pressures exerted on him by the authorities or from within the confederation.
Zoghbi also argued that he had succeeded in bringing the majority of confederations under his umbrella. He promised to stay in his position until the elections, and continue with a plan of action including sit-ins and demonstrations if government ignores wage and benefits demands.
However, George Hajj, a vice-president of the executive committee said Zoghbi's decision was due to the government's negligence of GLC demands as well as the GLC's inability to carry out an organizational restructuring and to gain the confidence of the workers and the general public.
An "intranet" - a closed computer network based on the same principles as the global Internet - has been set up between the economy and trade ministry in Beirut and the chamber of commerce, industry and agriculture in Tripoli.
During its inauguration yesterday, minister of economy and trade Yassin Jaber said the link-up could provide businessmen in the north with instant access to all they want to know about economy and trade in Lebanon. He also said, "we have saved them the trouble of driving all the way to Beirut and getting stuck in horrific traffic jams."
The ministry intends to supply its intranet to other regional chambers , industrial associations and commerce centers as they acquire the technology to cope with it.
The five-nation ceasefire monitoring group concluded two days of marathon deliberations over ten complaints filed by Lebanon and Israel accusing each other of violating the April 1996 understanding.
The committee ruled in favour of Israel on two petitions and blamed it for targeting civilians in three instances between 25 and May 1.
The committee was unable to apportion blame for the five other charges.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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