Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Geagea defends Siniora against charges of 'Islamizing' state

Geagea defends Siniora against charges of 'Islamizing' state
Qassem slams ruling coalition as 'tool to fulfill us interests'

Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea on Monday whole-heartedly defended Premier Fouad Siniora's government, denying it was trying to "Islamize" the country and saying that a recent statement by the Maronite Bishops Council on the matter had been exploited for political ends. During a news conference held at his new residence in Mirab, Geagea instead accused Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of having plans to Islamize Lebanon, saying that in a 1982 speech the opposition leader spoke about plans to make Lebanon an Islamic state. "Is Prime Minister Siniora trying to Islamize Lebanon or are others are seeking to do so?" Geagea asked. "We regret the political use of the latest statement issued by the Bishops."

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Sunday the monthly statement of the Council of Maronite Bishops was misinterpreted by parties on both sides of the divide. The bishops' statement had criticized the government's attempts to "Islamize" the country by making it a signatory to the Children's Rights in Islam charter. It also criticized the acquisition by foreigners of more than 7 million square meters of land in Lebanon. "Premier Siniora, in all his statements ... stresses the importance of keeping the balance between all Lebanese sects," Geagea said. Geagea told reporters that the biggest acquisition of land by foreigners came as part the "Sannine Zenith" project, which planned the construction of a $1 billion ski resort on Lebanon's Sannine peak. Geagea said that Siniora, who was finance minister at the time, had objected to the project and that President Emile Lahoud had supported it.

A debate over whether the developer of the project, Al-Salam Holding - a Lebanese company with possible non-Lebanese shareholders - was legally entitled to purchase the land for the project caused the land sale to stall. In response to Geagea's comments about the Zenith project, Lahoud issued a statement on Monday accusing the LF leader of "falsifying facts in a bid to rally support from the public and provide a cover-up for the current Siniora government." The statement added that Lahoud, "unlike Geagea, refuses to take part in any sectarian fracas and has always implemented policies that would restore national interests and maintain national unity."

Hizbullah number two Sheikh Naim Qassem, meanwhile, slammed the government on Monday, saying it was a "mere tool" to fulfill the United States' interests in Lebanon. "Our demands for true partnership did not aim to increase the number of opposition ministers and lawmakers, but was rather aimed to save Lebanon and limit the US interference," Qassem said during a political rally organized by the education unit of Hizbullah. Hizbullah had lashed out at US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman on Friday, accusing him of being the "true leader" of the March 14 Forces. Qassem said that the ruling coalition had several obligations to the US to fulfill. "Our demands for partnership have a sole objective, which is to protect the Lebanese as well as the ruling coalition from US influence." Qassem added monopoly has "only contributed in weakening Lebanon even more on all levels." He further said the ruling coalition was following a strategy designed to "waste time and reject any calls for dialogue." "Even if they consider that it is too late to form a national unity government, we think that such a government is likely to defuse tensions," he said. "A national unity government will work as an icebreaker and pave the way for healthy and constitutional presidential elections."

On the issue of foreign interference in Lebanese affairs, Sfeir said the Lebanese should not rely on external forces to solve internal problems. "Foreign forces are not charities, for such forces would rather fulfill the interests of their own countries rather than Lebanon's interests, and it is up to the Lebanese solely to reach a solution to the continuing impasse," Sfeir told reporters during a gathering at Diman, his summer headquarters. Sfeir said he hoped a summit of Lebanese leaders to be held in France next week would "produce with positive outcomes to solve the crisis." Participants in the dialogue session will head to Saint Cloud, near Paris, on July 14. - The Daily Star

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