Friday, November 30, 2007

Berri delays election again as all sides rally behind Suleiman

Berri delays election again as all sides rally behind Suleiman
Jumblatt: 'stability and prosperity loom on the horizon'

By Mirella Hodeib
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri postponed a session to elect Lebanon's next president for the sixth time in a row on Thursday, announcing that Friday's scheduled vote would be delayed until December 7. At the same time, politicians from various groups expressed their willingness to elect the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman. "In order to permit further consultations toward reaching a consensus on the election of a new president, the speaker decided to postpone the session scheduled for tomorrow until Friday December 7 at 1:00 p.m.," said a statement issued by Berri's office late Thursday. Observers said that the sixth postponement was different from the previous ones, since the identity of the next president is apparently no longer subject to debate, with the focus now shifting to finding the most suitable constitutional scenario for having Suleiman elected. For Suleiman to be elected, the Parliament will have to amend the Constitution as it prevents senior state employees, including army commanders, from running for the post while in office. Berri had told As-Safir newspaper in remarks published Thursday that he has informed politicians that he was ready to find "technical ways" to amend the Constitution. "There are four ways to do that but the basis should be a political agreement between concerned groups," he added, without elaborating. Suleiman is seen as a neutral figure in a country where political divisions are often obvious. The presidency has been vacant since midnight last Friday, when incumbent Emile Lahoud's term expired.

On Thursday, leaders from across Lebanon's political spectrum said they endorsed the Suleiman option. MP Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement said he backed Suleiman to become Lebanon's new president, a move that could help to fill a week-long political vacuum. "Yes of course, I back him and I am very happy," Aoun said after the weekly meeting of the Reform and Change parliamentary bloc he heads. "If the majority wants, and other parties in the opposition want, then it is okay." Asked if he will support any constitutional amendments to open the way for Suleiman, Aoun replied in English: "I will not oppose. ... Right now, I will accept the compromise." Aoun, like Suleiman a Maronite as all presidents should be under Lebanon's confessional system, put himself forward previously as a candidate, but the parliamentary majority refused to back him. "However," he said, "there are constitutional obstacles that should be removed because the government is illegitimate." Any constitutional amendments would have to be drafted by the government and then presented to Parliament for ratification. Aoun and the opposition consider the government headed by Premier Fouad Siniora as illegitimate since six ministers, including all five Shiites, resigned from their posts in November last year. Once a harsh opponent of having military figures accede to power, the head of the Democratic Gathering, MP Walid Jumblatt, said "flexibility should be shown concerning a constitutional amendment so as to find a solution to the current impasse." "Having the Constitution amended should not be that complicated for stability and prosperity loom on the horizon," he said after a meeting with ex-MP Tammam Salam. Echoing Jumblatt's stance, Siniora said that discussions were "under way to decide on the possibility of having the Constitution amended."

Siniora also met on Thursday with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Feltman called for holding the presidential election "as soon as possible." "We hope the presidential vacuum will be filled very soon," Feltman said following a meeting with a delegation from the Maronite League headed by Joseph Torbay. "Washington supports any president elected by the Parliament according to the Constitution," he added. Feltman said the US financial, political and social commitments to Lebanon remain intact, adding that his country was "looking forward to cooperating with the new president." Feltman held talks on Thursday with several political and religious figures, including Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea and former interim Premier Najib Mikati. Various media reports speculated that Mikati, also considered a consensus figure, would head Lebanon's next Cabinet if a president is elected. Also endorsing Suleiman for president, Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khoja said on Thursday his county would support the nomination of the commander of the army if it was backed by consensus. For his part, Geagea told reporters on Thursday that "a constitutional amendment is a possible scenario, [but] only if it were amended for Suleiman." - With agencies, additional reporting by Nafez Qawas

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Suleiman becomes front-runner in presidential race

Suleiman becomes front-runner in presidential race
Largest bloc willing to elect general

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Lebanese Armed Forces Commander General Michel Suleiman came back into the spotlight as a serious contender for the presidency on Wednesday, after Future Movement MP Ammar Houri announced his bloc's acceptance of amending the Constitution to allow for his election. The announcement pointed to a change of heart on the part of Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri, as Suleiman had long been a favorite candidate of the opposition. Houri, speaking to Al-Arabiyya satellite news channel Wednesday, said his bloc was taking this "positive step" after Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir announced he would accept a candidate from outside his list as long as there is broad national consensus on such a candidate. "We declare our acceptance of amending the Constitution in order to achieve consensus over the nomination of [the army commander], a symbol of unity of our armed forces that shed its martyrs' blood in defense of the nation against those who threaten civil peace," Houri said. The ruling coalition has long opposed amending the Constitution to allow the election of a grade-one civil servant to the presidency, a move which would be required to allow Suleiman's election to the presidency.

A source close to Speaker Nabih Berri said only that "there is nothing official on making Suleiman president." Berri met with Suleiman at Ain al-Tineh Wednesday, shortly after Houri's comments. Suleiman also received March 14 MP Nayla Mouawad at his office in Yarze Wednesday and later visited Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Beirut Elias Aoude in Achrafieh and Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani in Beirut. Resigned Energy Minister, Hizbullah's Mohammad Fneish, told The Daily Star that any consensus candidate has to be approved by the party which represents a majority of Lebanese Christians, which he said is Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, with whom Hizbullah has signed a memorandum of understanding. "Aoun is the starting point to any consensus. The question here is whether this move is a maneuver on the part of the ruling faction to create a rift between us and [Aoun] or is it a serious offer by the ruling faction and a clear position?" Fneish asked. He said if Suleiman is considered a serious candidate by the ruling coalition, then his election should be discussed with Aoun first and the other opposition parties. He added that the party does not object to Suleiman in principle.

Aoun, asked by reporters Wednesday to comment on Suleiman's candidacy, said only "let [the majority] shed their contradictions and let them amend the Constitution and first consult legal experts, then we will comment." Aoun said that the opposition will take practical peaceful steps to express their opposition to the government. Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan called on the majority to prepare a draft proposal for a constitutional amendment and express a serious desire to support Suleiman for the bloc to express its position. "Is this just a maneuver or a serious offer? Our experience with [the majority] in the past has not been very encouraging, many times they made overtures and went back on them," Kanaan told The Daily Star. Loyalty to the Resistance bloc leader MP Mohammad Raad said a constitutional amendment is possible only if Premier Fouad Siniora resigns from the "unconstitutional government." "Parliament cannot meet with an unconstitutional government," Raad said, adding that this is just his personal opinion not the opposition's stance. Raad said Suleiman "knows our position well." "When [Suleiman's] candidacy is put forward in a serious and objective manner we will discuss it," Raad said in an interview with Naharnet on Wednesday. Raad said his bloc will not "hinder any possibility for consensus" if a consensus requires a constitutional amendment, provided all the opposition parties are in agreement. "Is a constitutional amendment possible from a constitutional standpoint? And who amends the Constitution now, the unconstitutional government under whom Parliament refuses to convene?" he asked, adding that at the very least, the matter requires further "discussion and contemplation." Raad said any amendment is only possible through collusion between the majority and opposition. "This matter needs to be discussed in detail among the opposition before we take the right decision," Raad said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Wednesday that amending the Constitution remains "one of the options" being considered to settle the presidential crisis. He said all options are being considered to salvage the top post and "huge efforts are being exerted to fill in the vacuum at the presidential office as soon as possible." Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani told the army head that the safety and stability of Lebanon is entrusted to the army, which is performing its mission impeccably and that the army is fully aware of the dangers threatening Lebanon. He called on the army to "rally behind the legitimate and constitutional government of [Siniora] which proved its ability to shoulder its responsibilities with patience, audacity and courage." Hariri received in Koreitem Wednesday French Charges D'Affaires Andrea Parant and discussed developments concerning the presidential election. He later met US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman and discussed political local and regional developments. Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt called on both Berri and Hariri to resume dialogue to elect a consensus president from among the names on Sfier's list, adding that it was not right to wait to see the results of the Annapolis peace conference to act. He stressed the need for a president even if only to manage the crisis, as such an option is preferable to a void, adding it is in no one's interest to risk clashes. He said managing the crisis will ensure security and limit the damage that Lebanon could suffer. - with additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aoun back in presidential running after March 14 rejects 'salvation initiative'

Aoun back in presidential running after March 14 rejects 'salvation initiative'
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 24, 2007

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun said Friday that he was back to being a presidential candidate, hours after the ruling March 14 coalition rejected his "salvation initiative" as "unconstitutional." "We came up with this initiative after various foreign powers called on us to save the country from an imminent vacuum ... and it is really unfortunate that they [March 14] dealt with it with utter negligence," Aoun said Friday evening. On Thursday the FPM leader had offered a conditional package to end the deadlock over Lebanon's presidency, proposing that he withdraw his candidacy in favor of a neutral figure to be named by him, who would serve an abbreviated presidential term. At the same time MP Saad Hariri, leader of the majority in Parliament, would name a neutral prime minister to head a government of national unity. Under the terms of the deal, March 14 would receive 55 percent of the seats in Cabinet, while the opposition March 8 camp would get the rest. The four senior-most positions, however - defense, finance, foreign affairs and interior - would be evenly split.

The FPM leader warned, however, that his proposal was valid only until 10:00 p.m. Friday, two hours before incumbent Emile Lahoud's term expired. As repeated the caveat as a deal began to look increasingly unlikely on Friday. "By 10 p.m. I will return to being a candidate for the presidency," he said, adding that "by tomorrow many changes will take place." Under his proposal, the new president would only have served a two-year term before stepping down after parliamentary elections in 2009. The parliamentary majority, whose leaders met late Thursday, dismissed Aoun's plan without directly mentioning it. Following a meeting at the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel in Beirut, leaders of the March 14 coalition urged all of the country's MPs to take part in the electoral session in Parliament that had been scheduled for Friday. "Parliament is the sole authority that elects presidents, chooses premiers and grants governments votes of confidence," the March 14 statement said, in a thinly veiled rejection of the formula proposed by Aoun. "The March 14 forces will not be lured into proposals that require the adoption of unconstitutional options," the statement added. - With agencies

Lahoud steps down, but no one else steps up

Lahoud steps down, but no one else steps up
Cabinet says army is on its side after berri postpones election yet again for lack of consensus
By Hani M. Bathish and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Emile Lahoud left Lebanon's presidency at midnight on Friday, just hours after announcing the transfer of security responsibilities to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) because Parliament had failed to elect his successor. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora issued a statement shortly thereafter declaring Lahoud's move unconstitional. Lahoud's announcement explained his gambit by asserting that existing conditions in the country "could lead to a state of emergency," but Siniora's statement affirmed that only the Cabinet has the executive authority to declare such a state. "[Lahoud] aims to deceive citizens into believing that the whole country is under intense danger, whereas the situation is secure as the army is maintaining security in the country," the statement read, adding that since a new president was not elected "this government will continue to assume its responsibilities and exercise its full authority." Education Minister Khaled Qabbani, speaking to New TV late Friday, said that the LAF's commander, General Michel Suleiman, had been in contact with Siniora and assured him that the army would follow the directives of the current Cabinet. Sports and Youth Minister Ahmad Fatfat confirmed this, telling The Daily Star there was "complete coordination" between the government and the military and that the Cabinet has "no doubts" as to Suleiman's commitment. "Lahoud does not have the right to issue such a statement in the first place," Fatfat said, adding that it was designed to spread fear. "The army has already taken all the precautions necessary in coordination with the government," Fatfat said, adding that no extra security measures would be taken. In a statement read out by spokesperson Rafik Shalala, Lahoud said: "There are conditions and risks on the ground that could lead to a state of emergency," leading the outgoing president to hand the army responsibility for maintaining order. The statement argued that the present government is illegitimate and unconstitutional and therefore incapable of assuming power in "a safe and constitutional" manner. Lahoud further instructed the army to report to the government once a "constitutional" one comes to power.

The Cabinet held a ministerial meeting Friday night ahead of assuming presidential powers in accordance with the Constitution. All majority-aligned ministers attended, except for Defense Minister Elias Murr. The session, which started at 6 p.m., was held to discuss the impact of postponing the presidential electoral session in Parliament. The session was postponed for one week to allow time for further negotiations. MPs from the ruling March 14 coalition warned that they retain the right to elect a president by absolute majority and that as of midnight Friday Parliament would be in continuous session, as per the Constitution, until a new president is elected. Speaker Nabih Berri announced the one-week postponement a little after 1:30 pm "to allow time for further consultation and to reach a consensus." He added that if consensus were reached before that date, the session could be held sooner. In all, 109 majority and opposition MPs went to Parliament on Friday, but while the former entered the main chamber and waited for the session to convene, the latter waited outside. Berri met with MPs from various blocs and held closed meetings with both March 14 MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Democratic Gathering, and parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri. Telecommunications Minister and March 14 MP Marwan Hamadeh told The Daily Star majority MPs were determined to thwart what he described as "further attempts to hinder the election of a president." "From midnight tonight we are free to gather. Not only is this a right, but also a commitment imposed on us by Article 74 of the Constitution," he said. Asked if the majority were considering electing a president by simple majority, the minister did not respond. MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, of the opposition Loyalty to the Resistance, noted that the postponement was to complete negotiations toward agreement on a consensus president. "This is far better than resorting to reckless choices like those the [majority] have talked about," Hajj Hassan said. "The opposition is ready to move to face any coup attempted by the group in power. The real coup would be electing a president by simple majority and giving the Cabinet presidential powers." Asked what these moves would be, he said: "Let them carry out their coup to see what we will do," adding that this was a step the opposition would prefer not to take.

Fatfat told The Daily Star that according to the Constitution, from midnight Friday Siniora's government would assume presidential powers. "The government only assume these powers temporarily until a new president is elected," he added. Hariri, speaking from Bkirki, where he met with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Friday, said that consensus remained possible. "The time has come for us as Lebanese to understand that we have no path open to us but consensus," he said. "It is our duty and we will always seek it." He added that electing a president by simple majority was a constitutional right that March 14 has not resorted to because it wants consensus. "We said from the first moment that Speaker Berri an-nounced his initiative," the MP said, "we want consensus and we proceeded along this path on the understanding that there is a list that the patriarch has put forward through French mediations, but consensus failed to transpire due to some political disagreements with certain political parties." Refusing to respond directly to a last-minute initiative put forward by MP Michel Aoun, leader of the opposition Change and Reform bloc, Hariri nonetheless said that any changes to the president's term in office would amount to tampering with the Constitution and the office. Aoun had suggested that he choose a neutral president to serve a two-year term, while Hariri select a neutral prime minister to head a government of national unity. The majority rejected the proposal. "If we can agree on a president let him be a president for a full six years," Hariri said. At midnight, as a festive mood prevailed in pro-March 14 neighborhoods, Lahoud made good on earlier pledges and left office as scheduled under the terms of the extension granted to him under Syrian pressure in 2004. He also unloaded a few parting shots at his detractors at home and abroad. "The majority will be the losers in the end if they don't accept to elect a new president, either by consensus or at least with a two-thirds [quorum in Parliament]" he told Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV moments after leaving Baabda Palace. "Lebanon is not America or France," he added, mentioning two of the Siniora government's strongest foreign backers. "It is a consensus democracy." "No matter what [US President George W.] Bush says, this [Siniora's] government is unconstitutional and illegitmate," Lahoud said. "And they know it."

Familar faces, familiar arguments
Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT Majority and opposition MPs performed a well-practiced routine on Friday, mimicking their reactions to three earlier failed attempts at holding a presidential election session. As always, majority legislators asserted their right to elect a new president, while the opposition insisted its boycotting of the session was a legitimate constitutional tool. Deputy Speaker and March 14 MP Farid Makkari read out the majority's statement, affirming that it would not relinquish its rights and obligations and would not be absent from any electoral session. "Boycotting is not a democratic choice but it is a violation of the Constitution," Makkari said. "The majority is committed to stability in the country and will not resort to any steps that could take the country into the unknown." He added that the majority would not relinquish its right to resort to an absolute majority to elect the next president. "This is a constitutional right, so there is no debate about it," Makkari said. Development and Liberation MP Ali Hassan Khalil responded by questioning Makkari's knowledge of constitutional law. "What was said by the deputy speaker does not reflect the general mood of understanding that prevailed in secondary meetings held on the sidelines of [Friday's] session, which resulted in agreement to postpone the session until November 30," Khalil said, adding that opposition MPs' non-participation in an electoral session was a democratic right. Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri told reporters after leaving the House that there would be "no compromise at the expense of our martyrs," a reference to several assassinations of majority MPs. "We came to parliament as MPs of March 14 who represents the Lebanese people and the people want to elect a president; we came to say democratically we are here and we are with consensus and we want to elect a president for a full six-year term, and people cannot interpret the constitution any way they like," Hariri said. March 14 MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, read out a statement at Parliament in which he said agreement had been reached with Speaker Nabih Berri to keep seeking consensus. "We took it on ourselves as the March 14 Forces and the Lebanese people to stay within the constitutional framework and to preserve civil peace no matter what the price," Jumblatt said. He added that attending the session Friday was to reaffirm consensus and "our constitutional right to elect a president." Another March 14 MP, George Adwan of the right-wing Lebanese Forces, said that from Friday the legislature does not need an invitation from Berri to convene, but is in continuous session by law until a new president is elected. "We have a Parliament and that is were we should elect a president and Parliament is not exercising its right," Adwan read from a prepared statement. "It is our constitutional right to exercise this majority." Adwan said that violating the Constitution places the country at risk, but he also sought to allay fears, saying: "We have a strong army and security forces and leaders who are aware and capable."

MP Ibrahim Kanaan of the opposition Reform and Change bloc said those who want to serve the Lebanese "do not push for a rejection of consensus," referring to the majority's dismissal of a last-minute proposal put forward by the bloc's leader, MP Michel Aoun. "Those who want to preserve sovereignty and independence do not seek confrontation," Kanaan said. Lebanese Forces MP Elie Keyrouz said that Hizbullah was "the real source of danger to the Lebanese formula," accusing the resistance of serving Syrian interests. Answering Keyrouz, opposition Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said that the "Lebanese Forces alone seem to have decided [for March 14] to oppose consensus

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lebanon's Independance day!

For those who do not know today we celebrate our country's Independance Day from the French mandate which lasted from 1922 until around the end of WWII in 1943. The last of the French troop withrdrew from Lebanon in 1946. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations had mandated the five provinces that make up present-day Lebanon to the direct control of France... more details here:
A little summary about My Beloved Lebanon:
  • Located on the Mediterranean Sea
  • Bordered by Syria and Israel
  • Land area: 10,452 km2
  • Population: 3.5 millions
  • Formed by: A narrow coastal plain, The Bekaa Valley, The Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountains
  • Literacy rate: 92.4%
  • Capital: Beirut
  • Languages: Arabic, French, English & Armenian
  • Subtropical Climate: Mild to Cool: Wet winter & Dry Summers, Temperatures: 23-30°C (Aug.), 11-17° C (Jan.), 300 sunny days/year, 899 mm of rain in Beirut
  • Winter Ski Destination: Qornet es Saouda (3,090 m), from December to May
    Examples: Faqra, Faraya, The Cedars, Laklouk, Zaarour Qanat Bakish
  • The Capital Beirut: The City that Would Not Die, Once Known as “The Paris of the Middle East”, Five Universities, Flourishing Art Scene (theater, filmmaking, music, plastic arts)… City on the move!, Natural venue for international, regional or local conferences and conventions, Ancient City, Numerous archeological sites
  • Several Religious Communities: ­11 Christian groups: 6 Catholic, 4 Orthodox and 1 Protestant (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, other Christian minorities), ­5 Islamic groups: Shiite, Sunni, Isma’ilite, Alaoui, Druze…, Judaism
  • Three Social Classes: Multitude of cultures and traditions, Muslims mostly part of poor communities, Three social classes: Lower, Middle & Higher, Middle class slowly but surely disappearing
  • Byblos, Tyre & Beirut Are Some of the Important Ancient Phoenician Cities:
    •Lebanese people are proud of Phoenician heritage
    •Semitic & European civilizations owe alphabet to Phoenicians
    •Mythological figures: Beautiful Adonis, Europa who gave name to Europe
    •Colonies: Carthage, Corsica, Marseille,…
  • “Old History” Lebanon: The biblical “Land of Milk and Honey”: Settlers: 10,000 BC onwards, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, Persians, Romain province of Syria, Byzantine Empire, Umayyad, Abbasids, Fatimid Dynasty, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamelukes, Ottoman Empire, Turkish military rule, French Rule (1918)
  • “New History”:
    •1975 – War broke out because of Muslim/Christian conflict, displaced Palestinians (500,000 currently),…
    •Syrian intervention
    •Israel set up surrogate militia to protect from PLO
    •UN set up Peacekeepers
    •1988 – Attempt to expel Syria
    •1993 – Operation Grapes of Wrath
    •2000 – Israeli retreat
    •Conflicting players in Middle East use Lebanon as turf to fight their battles: PLO, Syrians, Iranians, Israelis, UN
  • The Governmental System: Independent Sovereignty since 1946, Democratic Country, Parliamentary system headed by the Prime Minister, Separation of executive, legislative & judicial powers, President elected for 6 years, 128 members of Parliament for 4 years, Half Christian & half Muslim (TAIF agreement)
  • The Republic: October 1989 – TAIF Agreement: ­MPs: half Christians & half Muslims,
    ­Executive power of state transferred from president to cabinet of ministers, ­Lebanon proclaimed Arabic country, Religion of ministers and president laid down in constitution (1926) in proportion to demographics, No state religion, Personal freedom & freedom of the press guaranteed and protected
  • Current Situation With Syria: ­35,000 Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon (civil clothes), Syrian will not leave until agreement signed between Palestine & Israel, ­Parliamental and Presidential elections pre-decided by Syria: Lebanon NOT sovereign or independent country, ­1989 - TAIF agreement redistributed power between Christian & Muslim, gave Syria chance to institutionalize hold over Lebanon
  • Current Situation With Israel: ­Embargo, ­Total naval blockades imposed by Israel on ports
    ­1993 – Grapes of Wrath operation, ­2000 – Israeli withdrawal from the South, Bombardments of electricity power plants in Christian area usually beginning of summer, summer war July 2006:
    –Kill touristic season
    –Discourage potential investors
    –Show that Syria alliance ineffective to defend Lebanese people or territory

the above might need a bit of updating ;)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Moussa blames both sides in Lebanon's presidential crisis

Moussa blames both sides in Lebanon's presidential crisis
Berri postpones electoral session for fourth time

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Arab League chief Amr Moussa expressed frustration Tuesday as the continuing failure of Lebanese leaders to agree on a consensus president to replace the outgoing Emile Lahoud led Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone yet another electoral session in Parliament - this time to Friday, just hours before the incumbent's extended term expires. "There is still some hope, although there are still difficulties," Moussa told reporters, hours before Berri announced the postponement. A statement from the parliamentary secretariat said the session was put off until 1 p.m. (1100GMT) Friday. Berri, in another statement, asked the Lebanese "not to be pessimistic," and to enjoy Independence Day on Thursday. Three other sessions to elect a successor to Lahoud have already been postponed over the past two months.

Following in the footsteps of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Moussa continued a frenzy of mediation meetings with rival Lebanese leaders. "There is more than one obstacle, and they all concern agreeing on the name of the next president," Moussa said after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, adding that both the government and the opposition are still "committed" to the list of candidates drawn up by Sfeir last week. Several reports have indicated that the most agreed-upon name on Sfeir's list is former Minister Michel Edde, who is in his eighties, but that the ruling coalition is insisting on MP Robert Ghanem or the former central bank governor, Michel Khoury (another octogenarian), as the second name to be taken to Parliament for a vote. Sfeir was also visited by Kouchner, who thanked the patriarch for his efforts. "We still have time to pick a name for the next president from Sfeir's list," Kouchner told reporters after the meeting. "There are two days left and I hope that the leaders of this country will pick a candidate," he said, adding that he planned to remain in Lebanon until Friday.

Moussa also visited Lahoud, Siniora, Berri, and Aoun , with media reports that the Arab League boss is also to remain with Kouchner in Lebanon until an agreement is reached. "It is not right to despair," Moussa told reporters after meeting with Lahoud. Moussa added that both sides are contributing to the continuing impasse. "Every group has its own vision and concerns over this or that candidate," he said. When asked what Lahoud's role would be over the next few critical days, Moussa said that "Lahoud assured me that he would not divide the country." A senior Hizbullah delegation is expected to pay a visit to Baabda Palace on Wednesday to thank Lahoud for his support of the resistance during his nine years in office. After meeting Aoun, Moussa told reporters that the MP does not "give in." "General Aoun does not submit to any pressures," Moussa said. Speaking in Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria and France were working toward the same goal, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also dispatched two top aides, Claude Gueant and Jean-David Levitte, to Damascus to discuss the crisis with Syrian President Bashar Assad for the second time in two weeks. French presidential spokesman David Martinon announced the visit in Paris, saying: "The Lebanese must have the possibility to choose their next president freely, without foreign intervention." - With agencies

Monday, November 19, 2007

Security forces bear down on Beirut for presidential election

Security forces bear down on Beirut for presidential election
Readiness likened to 'undeclared state of emergency'

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: More than 10,000 troops from Lebanon's various security forces have been brought into the capital to maintain order ahead of a uncertain parliamentary session called for Wednesday to elect a president. The force includes personnel from the Internal Security Forces (ISF), State Security and General Security, as well as a Lebanese Army brigade which arrived in Beirut late Saturday. A similar number of rapid-response troops will be on hand for support if needed, which could bring the total number of forces on the streets to 20,000, a security source said. From midnight on Sunday, army and security forces in Lebanon are on a state of heightened readiness, a security source told The Daily Star, in preparation for potential violence accompanying the presidential election. The precautions will remain in place "until the political situation stabilizes," the security source said. "This state of readiness means that all long vacations for army officers and men have been cancelled, all unmarried soldiers have been instructed to return to their units, while married soldiers are given 12-hour leaves to sleep at their homes only if they are close to their units," the source said.

The Beirut Marathon, which on Sunday lightened the tense mood, also served as a dry run for security forces to shut down many Beirut streets and helped conceal movements of army units into the capital, the source added. Saturday night and early Sunday morning were noisy for many Beirutis, as armored vehicles trundled into the capital. "A curfew or a state of emergency can only be declared by the entire Cabinet, not the interior minister as used to happen in the past," the source said, adding that the state of readiness is the closest the country can get to an "undeclared state of emergency." A meeting at the Interior Ministry for heads of security branches expected on Monday will discuss the latest developments, while Defense Minister Elias Murr and Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa will keep Premier Fouad Siniora updated on the latest developments so Siniora can make decisions quickly. The security source said that protection has been beefed up around the seat of the government, the Grand Serail, and around pivotal ministries and departments and the Banque du Liban. He said more troops could be called up from the South if the security situation in the capital deteriorates.

The army's response to shootings at the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp Friday, with troops positioning themselves at vital intersections soon after the incident, indicates the army will not sit idly by and watch the camps descend into chaos. "The camps are under constant observation. If anything happens that endangers security, the army will move in," the source said. The combined strength of army and security forces in the country totals about 90,000 troops, the sources said, with some 60,000 army, 15,000 ISF and 2,500 state security troops. How the army and security forces will respond to political developments is less certain, however, especially in the event a new president is not elected. One worry concerns which political authority the army troops and security forces would obey, whether the outgoing pro-Syrian president or the outgoing anti-Syrian government. The Constitution says that if the deadline passes for a new president to be elected without a new head of state, the Cabinet combined assumes presidential power and organizes a presidential election as soon as possible. "One possible scenario remains that Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman heads a two-year, interim government and organizes fresh elections for the presidency and Parliament in that time," the source said, pointing out that while the scenario remains a last resort, Suleiman taking over could prove popular with the armed forces.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

March 14 officials accuse Nasrallah of 'killing' consensus

March 14 officials accuse Nasrallah of 'killing' consensus
Aridi condemns 'harsh' speech

By Mira Borji
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Lebanon's ruling March 14 coalition took aim at Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday, condemning the Hizbullah leader's speech a day earlier as a blow to ongoing attempts to resolve the impasse over the selection of a new president. Speaking on behalf of the Cabinet, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi called Nasrallah's speech "harsh and bitter." "Nasrallah's speech has destroyed the Lebanese people's hope [to reach consensus]," Aridi said after a meeting with Premier Fouad Siniora on Monday. "Is the speech directed against [Parliament Speaker Nabih] Berri? Is it a message that goes beyond Lebanon? Have we reached a point where consensus cannot be reached to elect a new president?" he asked. Democratic Gathering bloc leader MP Walid Jumblatt also criticized the speech, but refrained from identifying Nasrallah by name, instead referring to him as "someone who has announced the death of all political initiatives aimed at resolving the Lebanese crisis, which he himself ignited." "Someone appeared before us yesterday threatening and menacing as usual ... and announced to the Lebanese the beginning of a new era of wars and conflicts which he hopes will change the face of the region, and certainly through the Lebanese gate," Jumblatt said in his weekly interview with his Al-Anbaa mouthpiece to be published on Tuesday. "Someone talked about thieves and murderers," he added. "It would be relevant to say that the thieves and murderers are those who [...] hampered the establishment of an international tribunal [to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri]."

"Thieves and murderers are those who have besieged Beirut, closed Parliament and paralyzed constitutional institutions to spread the culture of poverty and hunger in parallel to the culture of death." In his speech Sunday, Nasrallah addressed President Emile Lahoud, saying: "Do not allow the country to fall into the hands of thieves and murderers," in reference to the ruling coalition. "Thieves and murderers are those who launch such instigating speeches that are delivered at every fateful moment," Jumblatt said. "Such speeches are delivered on behalf of the Syrian agent or ally who ... makes us believe that he is not thwarting political solutions in the country." Jumblatt said the thieves and murderers are those who want a president who rejects international resolutions and the establishment of a state that owns the decision of war and peace and monopolizes weapons.

"This contradicts the vision of thieves and murderers who hide themselves under the name of resistance to transform Lebanon into an arena [for regional conflicts] to serve the thieves and murderers of the Syrian regime and their Iranian partners," he added. "Thieves and murderers are those who set up their own phone networks and link them to their security zones ... those who steal electricity and do not pay their bills," he added, in reference to Nasrallah's opposition to the government's plans to privatize the country's two mobile-phone networks. Sports and Youth Minister Ahmad Fatfat on Sunday accused Nasrallah of protecting the murderers of the March 14 Forces figures who had been assassinated in the past two years. "With his speech, Nasrallah has protected those who have assassinated our March 14 Forces allies," Fatfat said. "He has not only protected them though his alliances but also through his security zones." "What Nasrallah did is a stab in the back of Berri," he added. "It was an attempt to thwart all efforts to reach consensus." Fatfat said Nasrallah has "declined to an unprecedented ethical standard, particularly when he accused the majority of being a bunch of murders and thieves, while he knows that his allies are the killers and he is the one protecting the killers." Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh also defended the March 14 Forces. "We are not murderers, he [Nasrallah] is the one protecting murderers," he said. "The one who establishes illegal phone networks, the one who does not pay electricity bills and the one who protects hashish in certain Lebanese regions does not have the right to talk about thieves." Democratic Gathering MP Akram Chehayeb said Monday "the guide of the Lebanese republic appeared yesterday, clinging to his weapons and rockets, classifying people as usual and threatening without forgiving." In a statement, he said Nasrallah "is eager to change the face of history as a show of victory for Iran, immunity for Syria and destruction of Lebanon

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nasrallah backs early polls to defuse presidential crisis

Nasrallah backs early polls to defuse presidential crisis
'The whole world' cannot disarm resistance - and cabinet is 'a bunch of thieves and murderers'

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah cast a broad net on Sunday, vowing that no one could disarm his Hizbullah resistance fighters, recommending early parliamentary elections as a remedy to the standoff over Lebanon's presidency, and warning that recent Israeli military exercises were preparation for a new conflict. Nasrallah also reached out to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, many of whom live in camps near neighborhoods known as hotbeds of Hizbullah support, and voiced opposition to the government's plans to privatize the country's two mobile-phone networks. In a televised address to a crowded Hizbullah rally in commemoration of Martyrs Day, Nasrallah promised that no power could force his group to give up its arms. "If the whole world came and tried, it wouldn't be capable of implementing the clause concerning the disarmament of the resistance in [UN Security Council] Resolution 1559," he told the crowd. Resolution 1559, adopted in late 2004, calls for the disarmament of all nonstate militias in Lebanon and has been one of the most contentious issues separating the Hizbullah-led opposition from the Western-backed government, as Hizbullah and numerous Palestinian groups remain armed. Nasrallah told his followers that Hizbullah held exercises of its own in South Lebanon last weekend in response to the Israeli maneuvers near the border and to send "a clear message" to the Jewish state that Hizbullah fighters were prepared "day and night" to defend Lebanon. "The enemy has been conducting military maneuvers for months. The latest maneuvers occurred a few weeks ago near the Lebanese border, in which 50,000 Israeli officers and soldiers participated," he said. "These maneuvers are to prepare for an attack on Lebanon." Nasrallah said his fighters were ready and Hizbullah had the "determination, the will, the manpower and sufficient weapons" to face Israel in conflict. "The resistance is ready, day and night, to defend South Lebanon as well as all of Lebanon ... to achieve a historic victory that will change the face of the region," he said. Nasrallah also warned that Hizbullah and the opposition would "never" accept a new president elected by simple majority and without a two-thirds quorum of legislators, adding that if a consensus president could not be agreed upon in the upcoming days, then the country should hold early parliamentary elections. "Let us hold early, transparent parliamentary elections where the true majority gets to elect the new president," he said.

The Syrian-backed March 8 opposition has been unable for months to agree with the March 14 ruling coalition on a consensus successor to outgoing President Emile Lahoud. Three scheduled sessions in Parliament have been postponed because of the tussle, with the latest vote called for November 21. Nasrallah thanked Lahoud for supporting the resistance and called on him to step in if a consensus were not reached. "We appeal to His Excellency President Emile Lahoud to do what his conscience and national responsibility stipulates ... and take a step or a national salvation initiative to stop the country from [sliding into] a vacuum," said Nasrallah. He did not elaborate on what he wanted Lahoud to do. Lahoud has threatened not to hand over power to the government if his term expires without a successor, and many have voiced fears of parallel governments arising, as happened at the end of Lebanon's 1975-90 Civil War. Nasrallah also labeled the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora "a bunch of thieves and murderers" backed by the US and Israel. Siniora's March 14 cohorts have said they plan to elect a president by simple majority if the feuding camps cannot agree on a consensus successor. The Constitution allows MPs to elect a new head of state by simple majority only a first session attended by two-thirds of MPs. Addressing Lahoud, Nasrallah said, "Do not allow the country to fall into the hands of thieves and murderers." Nasrallah also turned his attention to reports of potential problems brewing in Beirut's Palestinian refugee camps - Burj al-Barajneh, Sabra and Shatila - located near the Hizbullah-controlled southern suburbs. He said his followers enjoyed "strong and good" relations with the Palestinians. "There will be no war between the camps and their neighbors," he said, calling on the Palestinians to act responsibly and not allow "strife to infiltrate the camps." The Lebanese Cabinet had called on Saturday for vigilance in the face of reports of new attempts by Islamist militants to infiltrate the country's dozen Palestinian refugee camps. The Hizbullah leader also warned against the recent move to privatize the cellular industry, a move long opposed by the opposition with accusations that the tender would be rigged to favor bidders close to the government. "Just you wait and see who buys it up," Nasrallah said, echoing the concerns of many observers who believe powerful politicians will steer the deal toward their cronies and/or relatives. - With agencies

Friday, November 09, 2007

Lebanon launches interactive mapping Web site:

Lebanon launches interactive mapping Web site
By Nicholas Kimbrell
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Representatives from the Tourism Ministry, the Social and Cultural Development Association (IMNA), SRI International, USAID in Lebanon, and the Lebanese Army High Command met in Downtown Beirut on Wednesday to launch the new, interactive mapping Web site is the first free mapping engine of its kind in the Arab world. The Web site, not unlike Mapquest and Google Earth, offers directions to and from 15,000 popular points of interest across Lebanon. Lebanonmaps allows visitors to plan and edit trips to landmarks throughout the country, offering distance and time of travel estimates and lodging suggestions.

In a written statement, Jawad Adra from IMNA said, "When all this work is evaluated, it will be recognized for what it is, as the first comprehensive, interactive and progressive database of its kind in this area and a good example of successful collaboration between international organizations, national NGOs, and both private and public sectors." The Tourism Ministry hopes that Lebanonmaps will open all of Lebanon to foreign and domestic visitors alike. Citing the lack of readily available maps and directions to many of Lebanon's national treasures, the creators of the mapping engine hope to foster greater interest in national tourism, particularly to some of Lebanon's more remote, rural regions. "This new, interactive mapping Web site, removes [prior] obstacles," Raouf Youssef, USAID Lebanon mission director, said in a statement. "It offers everyone, free of charge, comprehensive coverage of the entire nation, and driving directions to thousands of points of interest. It also features tourism-focused interactive maps that include photographs and descriptions of tourism sites throughout the country."

Lebanon's tourism sector has shown only a slight decline despite the 2006 summer war with Israel and the current political crisis. Lebanon welcomed more than 1,062,000 visitors in 2006 and the slightly lower 2007 forecast demonstrates the resilience of the tourism sector. The tourism sector contributes an estimated 9 percent to Lebanon's GDP, comparable to 11 percent in Egypt and 8 percent in Jordan. However, the Tourism Ministry acknowledges tremendous room for growth. In 1974, tourism constituted 19.4 percent of Lebanon's GDP. After the news conference, Nada Sardouk, the director general of the Tourism Ministry, told The Daily Star that Lebanonmaps was intended primarily for "tourists and young Lebanese." The mapping engine successfully solves the "lack of information, communication and distribution" that had inhibited tourism across the country. "This is a scientific tool that will change the culture of tourism in Lebanon," she added. When asked how Lebanon maps compared to more advanced mapping engines like Google Maps and Mapquest, Sardouk said: "It's not our goal to become like [these] Web sites. Lebanonmaps is a national, cultural site, intended to facilitate the exploration of Lebanon." The Lebanonmaps project was funded primarily by USAID in Lebanon.

Sfeir voices fears that Lebanon crisis will end in armed conflict

Sfeir voices fears that Lebanon crisis will end in armed conflict
History proves violence will solve nothing, patriarch warns

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir voiced concern Thursday over the current situation in Lebanon, a day before the arrival of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's top aide in Beirut. "The situation we are going through now is worse than what it was 30 years ago," Sfeir told reporters Thursday. "Some are saying the Lebanese will try to use arms to settle matters, but we have tried that method for several years and it solved nothing," said Sfeir. The prelate reiterated the importance of electing a president "who is at an equal distance" from all main political forces and can bring about stability to the country. "No one can solve our problems better than us," Sfeir warned just a few hours before a visit by US Ambassador Jeffery Feltman. "The Lebanese are more worried about their daily concerns than the identities of the next president, ministers or deputies," he added. Sfeir's comments came as Sarkozy is scheduled to send to Beirut his top aide Claude Gueant, the secretary general of the presidency, along with the technical adviser to the Middle East Bouris Poilon Friday, just a few days after the envoy met with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile, Cypriot Foreign Affairs Minister Erato Kozakou Markoullis, on a visit to Beirut to discuss the Lebanese crisis, said after a meeting with Premier Fouad Siniora Thursday: "We support democracy and will help Lebanon in every way we can in the presidential elections." Markoullis also met with Speaker and opposition leader Nabih Berri and head of Parliament's majority MP Saad Hariri. "We want to play an important role as part of the European Union, which in turn is close to Lebanon," said Markoullis after meeting Berri. "We hope that all internal efforts lead to a positive solution," she added. Markoullis will be heading to Syria and Egypt over the next few days as part of Cypriot efforts aimed at reconnecting the regional players over the Lebanese crisis.

Hariri meanwhile held his own rounds of meetings late Wednesday night, and met with head of the Lebanese Forces (LF) Samir Geagea and head of the Phalange party former President Amin Gemayel. Hariri also telephoned the head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun late Wednesday, and the two leaders discussed developments since their last meeting in Paris earlier this month. Aoun, after reports of an imminent meeting with his staunch rival, declared in a news conference on Thursday, that he had no plans to meet with Geagea. Geagea had said earlier in the day that he would meet with the FPM leader very soon. "The meeting between the two biggest political Christian entities is something expected under the present circumstances," Geagea said. "If world leaders are meeting to discuss the situation in Lebanon, the least we could do is meet among ourselves and seek a solution," he added. He added that LF and FPM representatives have already met to set up the meeting. "We are still waiting for the final details," he said, adding that the chances of reaching an agreement to resolve the crisis are "between 15 percent and 25 percent."

However, Aoun denied that plans for a meeting were under way. "I haven't heard of any. Maybe it is only Geagea's wish," the FPM leader said Thursday. Aoun reiterated that he was not seeking to eliminate anyone's political role in Lebanon, "yet we will not accept that anyone eliminates our role." Aoun also said that most of the polls of Christians have been in his favor. "What kind of democracy refuses to accept people's choice?" he asked. In recent interviews, Aoun has been calling for "the people" rather than the politicians to decide on the next president. In response to a question over the presidential election set for November 12, Aoun said that if an agreement is not reached, the Change and Reform bloc will "not participate in the session." Commenting on his meeting with Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman, the FPM leader said that it joined a former and a current army commander. "Building the army's capacity is a Lebanese concern," said Aoun, adding: "Everyone should know that there is a head of the Lebanese Army." Suleiman joined in the rounds of meetings taking place in the capital by visiting Siniora, Berri and Aoun on Thursday. Aoun also met with Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Shibani, who reaffirmed Iran's support for Lebanon. "We are optimistic things are moving forward positively ... and Iran fully supports the Lebanese reaching a consensus," Shibani told reporters after meeting with Aoun.

Meanwhile, Hisham Youssef, the Assistant to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, continued his rounds of meetings with officials in Beirut, and met with rival Christian leaders on Thursday in an effort to facilitate a smooth election as he called for "consensus." Separately, Gemayel visited Sfeir on Thursday to discuss the upcoming mass to mark the passing of one year since the assassination of the former president's son, Pierre Gemayel, who was gunned down in November 2006. "We discussed the importance of having the president elected before November 23, and how this is a historic election, different from all previous presidential polls," Gemayel told reporters after his meeting with the patriarch. The Phalange party leader also stressed that the leaders "understand" their responsibilities during this critical time, and that everyone is doing their best to move things forward.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Aoun and Hariri try to break Beirut logjam with Paris talks

Aoun and Hariri try to break Beirut logjam with Paris talks
'If we were not serious, we would not have come'

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The much-awaited meeting between parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri and Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun was held in Paris Wednesday at a hotel away from the media spotlight. Reports indicated a positive mood after the first of two scheduled meetings, which went on for three hours. Aoun, speaking to OTV after the first meeting, said "there is a will to move in the direction of resolving the deadlock" on the presidency and the shape of the next government. "We are not here to waste our time, we both have work to do, if we were not serious we would not have come," he added. As for the November 12 parliamentary electoral session proceeding as planned, Aoun said: "We still have time until that date, till then we need to work seriously to reach a positive result." Aoun earlier met French Envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran, who left around noon without speaking to reporters. Before meeting with Aoun, Hariri met US Undersecretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch, who also left without comment. Wednesday's issue of Al-Akhbar newspaper quoted sources close to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, as saying that he had formed a new three-member committee to name a consensus candidate. The panel would include Michel Aoun and two of his rivals for the presidency from the March 14 coalition, former MP Nassib Lahoud and MP Butros Harb. According to Al-Akhbar, the committee would select a candidate from a list of five names: former Ambassador Simon Karam, former Minister Dimianous Qattar, former Bar Association president Shakib Qortbawi, Maronite League chief Joseph Torbay, and MP Farid Elias al-Khazen.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki postponed his Lebanon visit to head to Iraq instead to deal with pressing matters on the Turkish/Kurdish front. No new date has been set for Mottaki to comevisit, Iranian Embassy Information officer Ibrahim Hurshi told The Daily Star Wednesday. Mottaki had been expected to arrive in Beirut on Thursday on a mission to help break the impasse over the choice for a new president. Speaker Nabih Berri met in Ain al-Tineh Wednesday UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Geir Pedersen, who left without making any comment to the press. Berri also received a delegation from the Tripoli Bloc headed by Minister of Public Works and Transport Mohammed Safadi. "We emphasized the bloc's concern for reaching consensus as a basic step to exit the current crisis," Safadi said. "We hope the meetings between the speaker and Saad Hariri continue and expand to arrive at a consensus." Responding to reporters' questions on the Tripoli Bloc's stance on electing a president by a simple majority, Safadi said the bloc opposes anyone who hinders elections in the last 10 days of incumbent Emile Lahoud's term and will meet to take "appropriate action" if anyone does.

Tripoli Bloc MP Mohammed Kabbara, who attended the meeting with Berri, told reporters that, "God willing," the country will have a president by November 24 and there won't be a constitutional vacuum. "Speaker Berri, as you know, is always optimistic and he is right to be optimistic as he is better informed," Kabbara said. Sferi held a 40-minute meeting in Bkirki with MP Wael Bou Faour, an emissary from Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt. Bou Faour reiterated Jumblatt's stance that the path to choosing the next president starts with Bkirki and ends with Parliament, without passing through any other station."There will be elections and we are on the threshold of an Arab and international 'snowball' that is growing larger with every day to force the Syrian regime to comply with Lebanon's independence... and allow the election to proceed," Bou Faour said, adding that he believes the next president will not be a consensus candidtae but a memner of March 14. "I hope we do not get to the point of proceeding with a simple majority, but if we do it would be the solution of last resort, and a decision that March 14 will not go back on," he said. "It is not a pleasant choice nor is it meant to stir internal conflict, but it is a rejection of a constitutional vacuum."

Hizbullah official Nawwaf Musawi, addressing a rally in Beirut, said the ruling coalition should not bet on "usurping" the presidency via what he termed a "swindle" of half plus one of MPs' votes. "The opposition will not accept, in any shape or form, to have any thief or pirate sit in Baabda Palace," Musawi said. He added that the opposition supports Aoun for the presidency because he cannot be bought with money "like others can" and because foreign pressure does not work with him. Both Jordan and Germany called Wednesday for "national reconciliation" in Lebanon. "The two sides stressed that achieving national reconciliation in Lebanon is a must under these critical circumstances," Jordanian Prime Minister and Defense Minister Maarouf Bakhit said after holding talks in Amman with visiting German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung. Jung arrived in Jordan Wednesday as part of a Middle East tour, which "underlines the ongoing interest and the stake the German government has in this region," according to the German Embassy. During a visit to Lebanon earlier in the week, Jung met with German troops who are leading the naval component of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. - With agencies

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