Tuesday, February 13, 2007

'Non-political' March 11 bloc urges reconciliation

'Non-political' March 11 bloc urges reconciliation
By Rym Momtaz
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: A recently formed citizens' coalition seeking to bridge the gap between the country's main political movements vowed in a news conference on Monday to work for political stability without seeking a permanent place among Lebanon's myriad political parties. "This is a socio-human outcry, a non-political and neutral outcry by all those who have been harmed and want to salvage what is left [of the country]," said Waleed Arbeed, who read out a manifesto for the movement, known as March 11, to journalists and sympathizers assembled at the Press Federation in Beirut. Monday's news conference aimed to define the movement's framework and future projects. Among other measures, the group announced the creation of a follow-up committee to coordinate and plan future activities.

In early January the March 11 coalition launched a nationwide billboard campaign with such slogans as "fed up with colors" - in reference to the colors that have come to embody different political factions - and "we divided the difference in two" - in reference to the movement's position on the calendar halfway between the March 8 and March 14 factions. Participating in Monday's event were Hani Safieddine, former president of the National Council for Lebanese Economists; Leila Karame, head of the Association of Lebanese Businesswomen; Mohammad Zaatari, president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Sidon and the South; Georges Naffah; Merhi Abu Merhi, CEO of Abu Merhi Cruises and one of the founders of the March 11 movement; and members of the nascent follow-up committee. They were joined by Mohammad Baalbaki, president of the Press Federation, who praised the movement's political neutrality and focus on bringing the country out of deadlock by attempting to bridge the gap between the March 8 and March 14. "Disaster and the love of the nation are what brought us together," Abu Merhi said in a question-and-answer session at the end of the conference. Abu Merhi stressed that the sole purpose of the March 11 movement was to push feuding political leaders to come to an agreement. This would restore political stability and allow businesses to plan medium-term economic projects, he said. To underline the movement's lack of political aspirations, Abu Merhi vowed that the March 11 movement would disband if a national political agreement is reached by March 11.

Arbeed concluded with a call for a popular protest on March 11, should such an agreement fail to materialize.

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