Friday, April 27, 2007

Police find bodies of missing youths, step up security measures in Beirut

Police find bodies of missing youths, step up security measures in Beirut
Jumblatt urges all sides to 'let the investigation take its course'

By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

Beirut: The bodies of two Lebanese youths who went missing earlier this week were found late Thursday, dumped near a road south of Beirut in an incident that shook the country and sparked fears of renewed sectarian violence. The bodies of Ziad Qabalan, 25, and Ziad Ghandour, 12, were found in Jadra, between the capital and Sidon, by the police at around 7 p.m. Thursday. The two Sunni youths had been missing since Monday. The police found the bodies dumped near a Jadra gas station after having received an anonymous phone call disclosing the location. Media reports quoted police sources as saying that the bodies were bloated, suggesting they had been dead for at least 48 hours. No information was immediately available on how the two had been killed. A security official quoted by The Associated Press said that Qabalan and Ghandour had been shot to death and that the bodies bore signs of beating.

Late on Thursday, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met with the heads of the security forces and with Education Minister Khaled Qabbani. A statement issued after the meeting ordered all schools and universities to close in mourning on Friday. As The Daily Star went to press, there were reports of men gathering in Wata al-Mosseitbeh, the Beirut neighborhood where Qabalan and Ghandour lived, and in the adjacent district of Corniche al-Mazraa. Roads were closed in the areas of the gatherings and in the southern suburb of Ouzai out of security concerns.

The youths' disappearance triggered nationwide fears of another round of sectarian violence in a country tense from five months of political deadlock between government supporters and opposition forces. Four people were killed in Beirut on January 25 in sectarian clashes. The fathers of Qabalan and Ghandour belong to the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who has repeatedly urged all parties to remain calm and allow the authorities to investigate. "Let's let the investigation take its course so that we don't fall into [the trap] of political rumors," Jumblatt said on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation's "Kalam al-Nass" political talk show after the news of the deaths emerged. "Let's distance politics from this issue," he added, calling on his supporters to remain calm and not to take matters into their own hands. "It is very important not to politicize the incident, and we have left it to the state and its security apparatus," said Jumblatt. Earlier in the week, Jumblatt had contacted parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri to garner his support in helping to keep the situation under control. Siniora had said in a statement earlier in the day that the kidnapping was a "terrorist act" aimed at "sowing dissent between the Lebanese and dragging them toward civil strife." "It is a trap that the Lebanese will not fall into," the prime minister added.

Security sources told The Daily Star that the top suspects in the case are relatives of a 29-year-old Shiite Hizbullah supporter, Adnan Shamas, who was killed in the January 25 sectarian clashes on the Beirut Arab University campus. The sources added that a man is currently in police custody and is being interrogated over the incident, and one of Shamas' brothers is being pursued and is believed to be hiding some where in Bourj al-Barajneh, near Beirut. The Shiite Shamas clan, who mainly reside in the Ouzai area, released a statement Wednesday in which they condemned the kidnapping and distanced themselves from the perpetrators. Earlier on Thursday, Ghandour's father, 52-year-old Mounir Ghandour, was taken to the hospital upon hearing a rumor of his son's death. "A woman approached my husband as he was sitting outside the house, and told him that his son and that of Qabalan have been found dead," Samira al-Saghir, the mother of missing Ziad Ghandour and wife of hospitalized Mounir Ghandour, told The Daily Star. Upon hearing this, Mounir Ghandour fainted and was taken by his neighbors to a hospital in the nearby Cola district. "He has a weak heart, he had a surgery to install a pacemaker just two months ago," said Saghir. It was on the eve of his 12th birthday that Ziad Ghandour went missing. Before the news was made public, Ziad's mother said she feared the worse and said: "If it was about theft and money, they would have just taken their wallets and van." Officials at the hospital would not let members of the media enter the building, saying only that Mounir's "condition is stable," without giving out any further information. "The police are now looking for the woman," said Saghir, adding: "She was not from our neighborhood."

Earlier in the day, 30 pupils of the Wata al-Mosseitbeh Government School, which Ghandour attended, staged a half-hour sit-in outside the school in order to call for the 12-year-old's release. "Let us learn. Let us live. The kidnapping of Ziad Ghandour is a crime against childhood," read some of the pamphlets carried by the students. Lebanon's most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, condemned the kidnapping, describing it as a "major crime whose perpetrators should be prosecuted." President Emile Lahoud requested in a statement that all security measures be taken to prevent "any repercussions of this deplorable incident." Lahoud added the situation in Lebanon "cannot bear such acts that harm stability and further ... increase tension and rekindle strife."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One life can touch so many

One life can touch so many
By Dennis Campbell
Published in the Daily Star

First person by Dennis Campbell

The tragedy at Virginia Tech last week demonstrated, among other things, a diversity of nationality and ethnicity that defines the modern American university. Among the fatalities were citizens of several foreign countries: Canada, Peru, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel/Romania and Puerto Rico. The killer was from Korea. Of the Americans, one was a Chinese immigrant and another lived in Germany for several years and had a German wife. Two had strong ties to Lebanon. One of these, Reema Samaha, was my neighbor.

So it was that I decided to extend my weekend and attend her funeral service today. I didn't know Reema, but I have learned a lot about her over the past few days. She was the youngest of the Virginia Tech victims, two months shy of her nineteenth birthday, finishing her freshman year. Her passion was dance of all kinds, and she was actively performing in both high school and college. Ironically, she was stranded in a war zone in Beirut last summer while visiting relatives, and was among those evacuated by the American military. She spoke Arabic and was conversant in French, which her mother teaches at a local high school. That explains her being in an intermediate French class last week when the killer burst in, shot the teacher point-blank, and proceeded to mow down Reema and 10 of her classmates, the highest death toll of any classroom. Five students survived.

There were hundreds of people at the service this morning. One life can touch so many. I got to the church early and managed to get a seat in the back, but lots of people were left standing. There was a large overflow outside, along with many police and news cameramen. Luminaries were present. I recognized Virginia's ex-governor, Mark Warner, sitting behind me, and I later conversed with a correspondent for an Arabic-language newspaper whom I have seen on television. The religion of the church is Christian Melchite. They practice the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church. They pay some fealty to Rome, but it mostly leaves them alone. The church has been described as something of a bridge between the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity, but is much smaller than either. A majority of the members of this particular congregation have Middle Eastern backgrounds. I have never before met so many Arabic-speaking people. Many congregants are from Lebanon, but Syria, Egypt, Armenia and perhaps others are also represented. At the funeral today, of course, there were many non-congregants, including Arab Muslims. The older priest who performed the funeral ceremony also baptized Reema and married her parents. The Samaha family is very active in this church.

I rode one of the buses that were provided to the cemetery. I hesitated about going because of the size of the crowd, but I am glad I decided to go because the weather was beautiful and I ended up with a good vantage point. There were nice gestures along the route: American flags at half staff, Virginia Tech colors and shirts. At the gravesite another religious ceremony was performed, followed by a walk-by of the casket by all present. Many of the women placed a flower on the casket and kissed it. Reema's immediate family members were the first to leave. Back at the church we were served a "mercy meal," excellent Middle Eastern fare. Then we watched a slideshow of photographs depicting the life of Reema, from her birth to young adulthood, put together by extended family members. It was accompanied by music, songs mostly in English but some in Arabic. Very touching - there was not a dry eye in the place.

Joe Samaha is Reema's father. He is a Lebanese American who studied at the American University in Beirut. That is where he met Mona, Reema's mother, a native of Lebanon whose accented English reflects that. They had three children, two girls and a boy, with Reema being the youngest. Reema was very pretty, as is her mother. In fact, all members of the family, male and female, are strikingly good-looking. Joe has been thrust into the media limelight, but has handled himself very well. Sunday's Washington Post featured an article about the family on the front page, and I saw Joe interviewed this past week on CNN and NBC. Both Wolf Blitzer and Brian Williams were struck by how articulate and composed he was. That was also true today. He told us that "Reema" means "fawn" in Arabic, and "Samaha" means forgiveness. He asked for sympathy for and remembrance of the families of the other victims, and the Cho family, whom he noted had also lost a son. Other family members also spoke about Reema: her cousins, an uncle, her brother and sister. Her godparents described the Samahas as deeply devoted to their children. Even if Reema had only a short life, she was very much loved, something not true of every child. All in all, it was a class act. I introduced myself to Joe as his neighbor, and he welcomed me. I told him I admired his strength of character.

I trust I will never have to bear a burden as heavy as that of this family, but if I do I hope I can find the strength to conduct myself with the grace and dignity it has demonstrated these past few days. Tomorrow I go back to work. In a few days the emotions of the past week will begin to fade. For the Samaha family, the loss will be felt for the rest of their lives.

Dennis Campbell is a financial advisor based in Fairfax, Virginia. His e-mail is

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

False bomb threat causes stir at USJ campus

False bomb threat causes stir at USJ campus
By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: An anonymous phone call initiated a state of alert at the St. Joseph University (USJ) campus in Mkalles on Tuesday but the bomb threat turned out to be false. "At 10:05 in the morning, we received a bomb alert for the Faculty of Science," a representative of USJ told The Daily Star, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We evacuated the Faculty of Science but it turned out to be a false alarm." "The threat came from an anonymous caller," the representative added. "We checked and took care of the situation. The students left after they heard the news but all other faculties held class." The Daily Star visited the campus but was denied access to the science building. Several students confirmed that the Lebanese Army had been on the scene with bomb-sniffing dogs.

"A bomb alert was called in and then the police and dogs arrived," Antoine, 18, a student at the Faculty of Engineering, told The Daily Star. "I'm not worried though. Campus is really normal today." On March 22, a small bomb was found by a janitor at the American University of Beirut and was defused by the army. Since February, unexploded ordnance and old arms have been discovered throughout the country.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Siniora confirms rival camps met in Switzerland

Siniora confirms rival camps met in Switzerland
'This is a good thing ... but no breakthroughs have been reached so far'
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora confirmed on Monday that "some Lebanese sides" had held talks in Switzerland, but he said that no major progress had been made in solving the country's ongoing political stalemate. "This is a good thing and we encourage such meetings that allow each side to convey its points of view, but no breakthroughs have been reached so far," Siniora said from Cairo, where he was meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Switzerland recently offered to host talks in Geneva between leaders of the pro-government and opposition camps, local daily As-Safir said in its Monday issue, quoting a Lebanese source. The source said such talks would be held behind closed doors, without media scrutiny.

As-Safir said a Swiss presidential envoy secretly visited Beirut a few weeks ago and met with leaders on both sides of Lebanon's political divide. The source said the UN's top legal adviser, Nicolas Michel, had raised the issue of a Swiss summit with leaders in Beirut last week. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had reportedly wanted to study the proposal before consenting. Separately, President Emile Lahoud met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Qatar on the sidelines of the 7th Democracy, Development and Free Trade Forum in Doha on Monday to discuss the situation in Lebanon. The talks focused on a proposed international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, according to a statement issued afterward. The UN chief was scheduled to visit Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

After meeting Mubarak on Monday, Siniora said that "pressure tactics, fearmongering and threats" would result in the paralysis of constitutional and economic institutions in Lebanon and that only "dialogue" could achieve results. "Over the past month it was shown beyond a doubt that such tactics bear no results and it is not in keeping with the nature of the Lebanese system that is built on dialogue and understanding among all parties concerned," Siniora said. The prime minister said the tribunal was a priority, and would serve as a deterrent against future assassinations in Lebanon. "There has to be an international tribunal and we are working hard, exhausting all avenues that would lead to the ratification of the tribunal," the premier said. Siniora added that he would prefer that the tribunal be ratified by Lebanon's Parliament, however, he went on to say that the difference between that option and the establishment of the court through the UN Security Council was the same as the difference between "a natural birth and caesarean section" - in any case, he said, it's the same baby. Siniora discussed with Mubarak developments in Lebanon and the region since their last meeting in Riyadh on the sidelines of the Arab summit last month. The premier, who was accompanied on his visit by Public Works Minister Mohammad al-Safadi, also met in Cairo with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. Siniora said Moussa would resume his efforts at brokering a Lebanese compromise when there was real progress in talks between the Lebanese sides.

"There is no doubt that the Arab initiative that was developed by [Moussa] is the only initiative that can be called comprehensive and currently on the table, and we are, as we have always said, committed to it." Siniora said. Asked if he was waiting for the results of Ban's visit to Syria before sending a second letter requesting UN assistance in the formation of the tribunal, Siniora said that the matter "was discussed in Cabinet and we are following developments closely and will take the suitable decision in this regard." Addressing the question of Israel's occupation of the Shebaa Farms, Siniora said that the territory was not part of the occupied Palestinian territories and asked that Israel withdraw and place the area under UN control until Lebanon and Syria could agree on the border.

Also on Monday, Phalange Party leader and former President Amin Gemayel said there was still a possibility of organizing an internal dialogue to achieve consensus over the presidential elections issue. Speaking at a Phalange Party meeting, Gemayel said the matter of a national unity government had been closed and that the tribunal issue tribunal was now in the hands of the Security Council. "Six months on from the emergence of the current crisis that followed the July war and its impact on the internal situation with the resignation of the six ministers, it is still unclear whether some Lebanese factions still recognize the Lebanese system and the Taif Accord, or whether they are working to re-examine all that and push for a new Constitution," Gemayel said, referring to the opposition. He said the current crisis was never over the signature of a decree or over participation in government or the tribunal, as such matters would not have warranted the damage he said had been wrought on Lebanon. "The real aim is to create a vacuum in the Lebanese system and institutions and push the country toward a new reality under the rule of jungle law, and then to restructure the country on a different basis than we would freely accept," he said. Gemayel said the Lebanese had not made so many sacrifices to see all their achievements erased.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Divided Lebanese leaders set sights on battle for presidency

Divided Lebanese leaders set sights on battle for presidency
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Presidential elections in Lebanon have taken center stage in the country's political deadlock, as pro-government MPs weighed their next step to ensure that a tribunal to try suspects in the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri is formed. A government source told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International television station that the government will not take rapid steps toward creating the court under Chapter 7 until after UN chief Ban Ki-moon's trip to Damascus on Tuesday and until a report is issued by the UN's top legal adviser, Nicolas Michel. The source added that for the time being, the ball is in the UN Security Council's court. Earlier reports had said that the March 14 Forces MPs were considering sending a new letter to the UN from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, urging the world body to do all it could to establish the international court if Parliament does not convene soon. As a final warning to the opposition and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the MPs will once again head to Parliament on Tuesday - the same day that Ban heads to Damascus to discuss the tribunal - to protest the body's paralysis for the sixth week since ordinary sessions were first due to resume.

Meanwhile, the deeply divisive issue of the upcoming Lebanese presidential election, scheduled to be held in September for the first time since Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon in 2005, is becoming the new focus of the ruling coalition. Berri had announced earlier this month that he would convene Parliament on September 25 to elect a new president, provided a quorum of two-thirds can be attained. Lebanese Forces MP Georges Adwan, speaking to LBCI Sunday morning, said his party's main focus now is the issue of the presidency, adding that the matters of the tribunal and the government are "behind us now." Adwan said a compromise between the two camps on this issue could be reached, but he ruled out three scenarios: "another six years with a president whose loyalties are unknown, selecting a president from a list of 'known names' [Syria's allies], or choosing a candidate who is mired in corruption." He said the two pivotal issues for all the Christians are the presidency and the new electoral law. But Hizbullah's second in command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, addressing a rally in Haret Hreik, said his party would consider any president not elected by a majority of two thirds an "impostor and a traitor to the Constitution" with no right to rule. Addressing the parliamentary majority, Qassem said: "If you elect him he will be your president; he will not be president of the country, only the president of your parliamentary majority."

LF leader Samir Geagea, speaking on Saturday, the 13th anniversary of his arrest and detention for war crimes, said the struggle today is between the government of "March 14, that of the Taif [Accord], of resolutions 1559 and 1701, of the international tribunal and Paris III" and the government of "March 8, a government rejecting Taif and the UN." Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, speaking to reporters in Baalbek on Sunday, responded to Geagea's remarks, saying the LF leader has no right to make comparisons between a March 14 and March 8 government. "No other government exists but that which is seeking to usurp all authority," he said. Geagea "should have instead compared the February 14 government to that of May 17," Hajj Hassan said, referring to the US-sponsored bid on May 17, 1983, to forge a peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon.

Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri, speaking to Italian TV Rai Uno, said Saturday that the opposition in Lebanon does not want the tribunal established because it is defending the Syrian regime, which survives in the midst of strife, assassinations and terror. "This regime is fighting us in Lebanon because we are a moderate and democratic country with freedom of thought, which they consider a threat to their dictatorial regime," Hariri said. Hariri said that the Syrian regime has played a very negative role in the region, adding that they make promises they do not keep. He said Lebanon has tried to establish diplomatic relations with Syria and to start dialogue, but the Syrian regime closed all doors. Hariri said the problem lies with arms smuggling across the Syrian border to Lebanon, which gets to those "who wish to create strife in the country." But the MP discounted the likelihood of civil war in Lebanon, saying that neither Hizbullah nor the leadership of March 14 wanted such a conflict.
MP Walid Jumblatt, speaking during a tour of the Chouf town of Aley Sunday, said that the current government is that of the "Taif and we want the resistance to be under the control of the legal government." Both sides' statements came amid media reports that majority and opposition MPs met in Geneva over the weekend to hold talks on the current political crisis. But those reports were denied by both sides, according to An-Nahar. MPs Ayyoub Humayed, Samir Jisr, Farid Khazen Hussein Hajj Hassan, Antoine Saad and Yeghia Gergian went to Geneva last Tuesday to take part in a UNDP workshop on the role of the Parliament in Forging and Developing State Security Policies.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Families grieve for loved ones caught in US campus massacre

Families grieve for loved ones caught in US campus massacre
By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The families of Reema Joe Samaha, 18, and Ross Abdullah Alameddine, 20, are still reeling from the shock of discovering that their loved ones were among 33 victims killed earlier this week at Virginia Tech in the United States. Two days on, and with information slowly leaking out about the circumstances surrounding the horrific massacre, both families have been forced to adjust to the harsh fact that Reema and Joe are gone.

"She was so sweet, such a nice and lively young girl," Claude Samaha, Reema's uncle, told The Daily Star. Her uncle said that Reema not only enjoyed life in the United States, where she was born and raised, but also felt a strong connection to her Lebanese heritage. "She danced the debkeh, and was entering competitions all the time," Samaha said. "She would come over every summer and hang out with her cousins and the family ... She wanted to learn Arabic - she was always asking her grandfather to teach her Arabic."

Reema and Ross were both attending a French class at Virginia Tech on Monday morning when 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui stormed into their classroom and fired round after round at his fellow students from a recently purchased Glock 9 mm handgun. Two hours earlier he had killed two students across campus in the university dorms.
Walid Matta, the husband of Samaha's cousin Layal, recalled the enthusiasm with which Reema studied French. "She was really enthusiastic to learn French," Matta said. "She was practicing with her grandfather last Easter, and she had planned a trip to Paris at the end of spring to work there and practice more." Matta said that Samaha was very close to her grandparents (originally from the village of Kencharra, Metn) who up until 2001 lived near them in Virginia, before moving back to Lebanon to retire. "She was really full of life, and very much attached to her country and family here in Lebanon. She loved going to the beach, hiking, hanging out with her cousins because they were all very close in age," he added. Reema visited Lebanon last July, but was forced to cut her trip short and evacuate because of the 2006 war with Israel. "Her grandparents were ready to go and visit her in the states this year - they bought their tickets only a few days ago," Matta said. Matta, himself a graduate of Virginia Tech, was shocked to hear that such an incident could happen at his alma mater. "The university is so big, but it's such a safe place," he said. "It has its own community, and there is always campus security around. Everything revolves around the university."

Like the Samahas, the Alameddines are in complete shock that such a horrific event could occur and end the life of such a young family member. "He was such a soft and gentle person. He never got angry with anyone, and was such a bright student at school," said Omar Alameddine, Ross's uncle. "He had specifically chosen to go to Virginia Tech, even though he received offers from other universities and even though his father wanted him to study somewhere closer to home [in Boston]. But he wanted to be with his friends in Virginia," Alameddine added. Even though the young student had only visited Lebanon once before, his uncle said Ross was excited to do so again. Plans to visit last year were put on hold due to the war. "I would speak to him regularly on the phone," Alameddine said, "and each time he would say 'Uncle Omar, when I come over I want you to teach me how to swim.' And then, just like that, he's gone."

Samaha said that a small memorial service would be held for Reema on Sunday at the Greek Catholic Church in Beirut, following Sunday Mass.

Alamaddine said that no such plans have yet been made for Ross.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Demand for plastic surgery rises despite political tensions, economic downturn

Demand for plastic surgery rises despite political tensions, economic downturn
By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Last week a Lebanese bank put up hundreds of billboards across the country advertising loans for plastic surgery. Though the language of the advertisement differs according to location - for the most part it appears in French and English in Christian areas and Arabic in Muslim communities - the same blond-haired, blue-eyed, fine-featured woman can now be seen from Haret al-Hreik and Hazmieh to Sidon and Beit Mery. It might not seem like the ideal time to launch a campaign geared exclusively to superficial concerns. But the postwar climate of prolonged political and economic decline has done little to dilute the infamous quest for physical perfection in Lebanon. This year local demand for cosmetic surgery has increased by between 10 and 20 percent from 2006, according to four of the country's leading aesthetic surgeons. By most accounts the mushrooming local market has sufficiently compensated for a sharp decline in Gulf patients following last summer's hostilities. Lebanon's cosmetic surgery market has been steadily expanding over the past decade, with demand for procedures like rhinoplasty, liposuction, collagen implants and injections of Botox - a toxin that paralyzes facial muscles to remove wrinkles - trickling down from the wealthy few to middle-class professionals across the socio-economic and religious spectrum. But some doctors say the latest boom is an unexpected consequence of the prevailing political uncertainty.

"People are not going out anymore so they are staying home looking in the mirror," said Dr. Nabih Sader, the president of the 62-member Lebanese Association of Cosmetic Surgeons. "Since they're not spending their money at night they come to get work done, but Lebanese women have always been concerned with their appearance, and plastic surgery here is competitively priced and meets the highest standards." Sader estimates that local demand has risen by 20 percent since October, when surgeries began to pick up following the war. Now he caters almost entirely to the local market, though Gulf clients and Lebanese citizens from abroad have slowly started to book procedures this summer, shrugging off fears of an unexpected airport closure or an outbreak of violence. Like all of the doctors interviewed by The Daily Star, Sader cites rhinoplasty - nose jobs - as the most popular procedure, due to the "oriental noses we have in Lebanon." Liposuction comes in a close second, followed by Botox and filling - injecting a patient's own fat into wrinkles - which have become increasingly common among 35-to-50 year-old-women. Breast augmentation always booms in the spring when women prepare for the swimsuit season, and 2007 has proven no exception, doctors say. About half of Sader's patients are non-working housewives. The remainder are female professionals making between $800 to $1000 per month, self-employed women who "own their own stores or restaurants" and students accompanied by their mothers. "A lot of 18- to 22-year-old women come now asking for liposuction in the hips because they wear low-rise jeans, but most of the time I tell them to go buy different pants," Sader said.

The profile of local cosmetic surgery consumers has remained relatively stable over the past decade, though the volume of procedures has increased, Dr. Paul Audi of St. Georges Hospital told The Daily Star. "The local market is constant, and all along class has never been a factor. Rhinoplasties have always been number one, and liposuction number two. But we have developed new techniques that get people back to their jobs quicker," he said. One new trend Audi identified in the local market is the rising number of young male clients getting nose jobs and liposuction - love handles are also a prime target. He reckons the number of male patients increased by 10 percent from 2006 and that males will account for 30 percent of the total surgeries this year. "Men are my most gratifying patients," said Dr. Imad Kaddoura, the president of the Faculty of Aesthetic and Cosmetic Surgery at AUB who performs multiple breast reduction, rhinoplasty and hair operations on young men each year. "They follow instructions. If I tell them not to smoke, they don't smoke and they don't sit in Cafe Najjar bragging about their surgeries."

Though no statistics are available, Kaddoura estimates that per-capita demand for cosmetic enhancement in Lebanon is roughly equal to levels in America and Canada, which together recorded over 11 million procedures in 2006 - though only 1.1 million were actually surgeries, with the remainder filling and Botox. As in Western markets, plastic surgery for Lebanese appears to be evolving from a luxury service to a matter of "maintenance." Audi said professionals who do not have time to go to the gym are getting liposuction instead, which at $500 per "area" is a financial commitment roughly equivalent to annual membership fees at Beirut's more expensive health clubs. "It's not vital, but people feel a need to correct their bodies and are too busy to exercise so they go get liposuction or breast augmentation," he explained.

Surgical procedures in Lebanon are also an average of four times less expensive than in America. According to a surgeon who declined to be named "for ethical reasons," the cost of rhinoplasty performed by a local surgeon has not increased in 17 years, remaining between $1,500 and $2,000 compared to between $5,000 and $12,000 in the US. "I don't think people in Lebanon could afford to pay more than $2, 000," he said. Kaddoura agreed that a Lebanese consumer would "go into a coma" if asked to pay the minimum $25,000 fee charged for a facelift in America. But competitive prices cannot account for women's desire to look like Haifa Wehbe and Nancy Ajram. Every doctor interviewed said he received at least one and up to five requests weekly from women hoping to resemble the stars. "Thirty years ago color TVs were luxuries, perfumes were taxed as luxury items, and salmon was considered gourmet food. Is this true today? Plastic surgery is becoming part of routine maintenance, that's why prices have not increased," the anonymous surgeon said.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Local group holds first conference on road safety awareness

Local group holds first conference on road safety awareness
By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Road safety organization Kunhadi hosted its first awarness conference on Monday ahead of the first United Nations Global Road Safety week, which begins on Monday. Coordinated by Kunhadi founder Fady Gebrane, the conference brought the World Bank and the International for Automobile Federation (FIA) to Lebanon in an attempt to bring more attention to the issue of road safety and to make it a priority on the national and international agenda. "Lebanon alone registers around 600 road deaths per year and over 10,000 injured. Against this dismal background, the convening of such a meeting proves inevitable," said Gebrane, who established Kunhadi a year ago in memory of his son Hady, who died in a car accident. "Our assembly is composed of top experts and consultants who will intervene to stand witness to the road massacres and prove that something can indeed be achieved and must be to curb this global plague."

Presentations were given by World Bank road safety consultant Said Dahdah; the director of the FIA's "Make Roads Safe" global campaign, Rita Cuypers; and Bassam Anani, land transport expert at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. "The issue of road safety is among the top 10 leading causes of mortality in the world, next to tuberculosis and malaria," said Dahdah. "But yet more money is invested in the other cases than this one." In November 2005 the World Bank announced the creation of the Global Road Safety Facility, the first worldwide funding mechanism for the prevention of traffic injuries. "The facility is aimed specifically at increasing funding and technical assistance to enable low and middle-income countries prevent road traffic accidents," Dahdah explained. "The World Bank has invested over $4 billion per annum in road projects."

Due to an increasing number of fatalities and injuries directly linked to road safety violations, the FIA has launched an international petition calling for the UN and the G8 to include road safety in their global development policies. "The G8 and the UN influence global priorities for development spending and humanitarian action," said Cuypers. "We need politicians to recognize the scale of the road safety epidemic and to prioritize practical action on road deaths." According to statistics provided by the FIA, traffic accidents kill 3,000 people, including 500 children, around the world every day. About 1.2 million people are killed and 50 million injured annually. More than 85 percent of these casualties occur in low- and middle- income countries. "We have the knowledge, so if we don't do anything about it, it is simply hypocritical," said Cuypers. "Road fatalities come at a human cost. It has both a personal and economic loss because those who die, especially in poor and middle-income countries, are likely to be contributing to both their family's survival and their country's economy." Through its campaign, the FIA is hoping that governments around the world will commit to a $300 million, 10-year global action plan aimed at improving road safety and awareness in developing countries. Anani emphasized the necessity of the campaign by demonstrating the dramatic increase in the number of vehicles in the Middle East. "In Syria in 2001 for example, there were 779,562 vehicles present. In 2006 that number had increased to 1,211,721," he said. "In the UAE, the number of vehicles is doubling every six years."

Intel gears up to give Lebanon high-tech boost ceo Craig Barrett details broad development plan

Intel gears up to give Lebanon high-tech boost ceo Craig Barrett details broad development plan
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff


NEW YORK: Craig Barrett, chairman of the global leader in microprocessors Intel, has already made a pretty serious contribution to changing the way much of the world operates in the fields of business, technology, entertainment and communications. Now, he says, he and his colleagues in the high-tech communications and computer business want to promote change and expand opportunity for every child in the world, through partnerships with governments and private sectors in scores of countries. He will bring that endeavor to Lebanon on Tuesday when he arrives to announce a series of new initiatives that aim to help the reconstruction of Lebanon in a manner that goes beyond traditional assistance for short-term infrastructure repair or construction. "Intel and several other private companies in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector are partnering with the private sector, universities, the government and professional associations in Lebanon to promote long-term well-being through four main channels: economic development, education, healthcare and connecting Lebanese communities to the world," he told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview in New York earlier this week. Intel and other large ICT firms have already worked around the world through the UN-sponsored alliance for development through private-public sector partnerships. The Lebanon initiative is part of a growing new approach that sees Intel and other private sector companies working with non-governmental partners to bring the power and possibilities of information and communication technologies to vast new beneficiaries in the developing world. "We have already launched programs to train teachers and equip schools in countries like Brazil, Turkey, China and Egypt. In Lebanon we want to respond to the unfortunate post-war circumstances by developing opportunities for private sector partnerships that focus on creating job opportunities, training workers, enhancing the education sector, promoting entrepreneurship and generally connecting communities to the world through ICT," he explained. Intel will announce a series of initiatives in these fields, along with healthcare diagnostics that connect hospitals in Lebanon with leading facilities around the world. One aspect of this program, already under way, will offer some 500 young Lebanese internships in Lebanon and abroad.

Barrett did not sense any constraints or obstacles to this effort due to the turbulent political situation in Lebanon and the region. He explains this by noting that the work focuses on fundamental human and national development needs that serve all Lebanese and transcend political disagreements, such as education, job creation and better healthcare. The advances in technology also give Lebanon an opportunity to leapfrog over some developmental stages, by adopting wireless broadband technology in communities that had been held back due to lack of advanced wired communications networks, he said. Remote communities, in particular, can make a leap forward in education, healthcare, commerce and other fields when they connect to the global Internet. "We've seen this happen in several countries already where we worked with local partners to set up wireless broadband connections in rural and remote areas. Teachers and kids were the first to make use of the technology, and in most cases it instantly transformed their lives and conditions in their communities," he said. Working with millions of teachers in over 35 countries, the Intel Teach program has been driving systemic change in teaching and learning since 1999. Teachers learn from other teachers how, when and where to incorporate technology into their lesson plans, with a focus on developing students' higher-order thinking skills. They experience new approaches to create assessment tools and align lessons with educational learning goals and state and national standards. Intel's World Ahead Program has worked throughout the globe to expand the use and impact of advanced technology and communications in four primary areas: greater accessibility to computers and networks; expanding connectivity in remote areas through wireless systems; working with local authorities and non-governmental groups to enrich the content of computer and communications systems; and using ICT in schools to improve education. Barrett became chairman of the board of Intel Corporation in May 2005, having previously served as president, chief executive officer, member of the board and chief operating officer. He was an associate professor at Stanford University in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering before joining the company. Nearly 5 million teachers around the world are being trained in new communication technologies, and a key priority now is to rigorously evaluate the long-term, real impact of connecting communities to the global ICT network. One means of doing this is to work closely with local partners, especially in non-governmental sectors, so that newly introduced systems are well integrated and lasting. Intel's chairman said that he and his colleagues are very aware of the shortcomings that some other foreign aid and development efforts suffered by bringing assistance to a community and then seeing the progress stop suddenly when the foreign donor departed. One way to ensure this is to foster dynamism in the private sector, especially in entrepreneurship and job creation. The new initiatives in Lebanon aim to do this by promoting incubation of new businesses, seed funding for start-up firms, and basic entrepreneurial skills. "It's important for the government to ensure basic needs like clean water and health, and for the state and society to work together to promote quality education. You then need a robust business community to create the new jobs that will absorb the talented young people coming out of high school and college. Ireland showed the world a few years ago how a country that exported its youth because of insufficient opportunities at home transformed itself into a magnet for young talent that reversed its former brain drain and now sees a net repatriation of its talented and experienced workers and entrepreneurs," Barrett explained.

Two key elements for this to happen in Lebanon or other countries that export its educated youth, he suggested, are expanding the local ITC infrastructure and encouraging much more local content, whether in commerce, education, entertainment, media or other sectors. Barrett added that an expanding ICT sector that prods foreign and local investments also promotes sound legal foundations for business, such as investment rules, guarantees, exit strategies and general commercial codes and statutes. "Business codes that attract investment go hand-in-hand with expanding entrepreneurial opportunities and creating jobs, he concluded, pointing to India and China's rapid and sustained recent economic performances that were partly facilitated by clear foreign investment rules. All governments he had dealt with, Barrett noted, shared the common goal of driving economic development that comprised new investments, creating quality and high-paying jobs, raising the standards of the work force, improving education systems, and expands citizens' opportunities in general.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lebanese from all camps voice hope that nation won't return to civil war

Lebanese from all camps voice hope that nation won't return to civil war
'I don't wish for anyone to experience those times again'

By Helena Forsell
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: These days at least one thing still brings the Lebanese together: remembering April 13 and the start of the Civil War 32 years ago - and the wish that it never happen again. The Daily Star interviewed people in a number of Beirut neighborhoods on Thursday, and found that opinions on a new government, a complete change of political system, an international tribunal to try those accused of killing former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri vary considerably. But all of them express a desire to avoid a return to civil war. Dany Saeedo has been living in Achrafieh for a long time. He was 14 when the Civil War started in 1975 and still remembers stopping his car on the way to work to pick up casualties from the street and bring them to hospital. "I don't wish for anyone to experience those times again. I wish that all the children growing up now never need to suffer the way we did during those 15 years," he said.Dany said he will spend April 13 remembering all those who lost their lives. "I will bring many flowers to many graves tomorrow," he said with sadness in his eyes.

Marie Melki is a 20-year-old Lebanese-French student at a Beirut university who resides in Jounieh. "We need to remember and acknowledge all the bad things that happened in order to move on and change the structure completely. Maybe a revolution, maybe even a civil war, but it would be a pity," she said. In Tariq al-Jdideh, a predominately Sunni neighborhood in Beirut, student Bilal Ikaui was making extra cash working in a patisserie. He said he thinks that the Lebanese have spent enough time discussing the past.

"I'm tired of all the politics and all the talk. We need to move on in order to have a future," he said. Two friends, Mansour Mordaa and Rabieh Zeaati, a Sunni and a Christian, expressed similar views. "We don't need any more politics, and no more conflicts!" they each shouted. When asked how they planned to spend April 13, Mordaa sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I'm going to turn on the television and see what's happening out in the streets - after all, it's Lebanon." Downtown, Hassan Youness and Ali al-Attrash, who have been at the opposition sit-in for four months and 10 days, were sitting outside their tent watching children dance and play with pink balloons. "We don't want another civil war; war is a shame. I hope that April 13 will make all Lebanese remember that war right now is not the answer," Youness said.

Just 50 meters away from their tent, in what used to be the hectic Nijmeh Square, a few restaurants and shops were open for business. "The customers are gradually coming back. But still there is not enough," said Ali Zaaour, manager of La Cita. Jean Kassab, a businessman from Mansourieh, was one of the customers who returned. "I used to come to Downtown almost every night to eat and meet friends. Today is the first day that I'm back since the opposition sit-in started in December 2006," he said. "I love this area; I hope everything will go back to normal soon."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

US waging 'covert war' on Hizbullah

Qassem: US waging 'covert war' on Hizbullah
Party's deputy leader accuses siniora's government of collaborating

The Daily Star

The US government is waging a "covert war" against Hizbullah by arming militias opposed to the group, the party's number two claimed in comments published on Wednesday. In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, which took place in a safe house in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Sheikh Naim Qassem also accused Washington for thwarting attempts between the Lebanese government and the opposition to reach a settlement to the crisis that has deadlocked Beirut. "America is forcing the government forces to prolong this crisis, because they want a price for it," Qassem told the British daily. "They want to tie Lebanon into negotiations that benefit Israel and their plan for a new Middle East. US Vice President "Dick Cheney has given orders for a covert war against Hizbullah," Qassem was quoted as saying. "There is now an American program that is using Lebanon to further its goals in the region." The British daily cited published reports saying that US intelligence agencies have been authorized to provide "non-lethal" funding to anti-Hizbullah groups in Lebanon and to activists who support the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

However, Qassem accused Siniora's government of going even further and arming militias across Lebanon. "This happens with the knowledge of the prime minister and is facilitated by the security forces under his command," Qassem was quoted as saying. Qassem's statements echo a report by American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published in late February. Hersh examined the connection between the US, Siniora's government and Lebanese Sunni extremist groups in orchestrating a "redirection" of US Middle East policy toward countering the Iranian threat, as opposed to fighting the threat posed by Sunni extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora strongly denied Hersh's article in February, calling it "totally unfounded," and the premier's office again rejected Qassemm's claims on Wednesday. "The statements made by Naim Qassem are completely false," a spokesperson for Siniora told The Daily Star, on condition of anonymity. "All the elements are untrue." According to the article published in the Guardian, the US has earmarked some $60 million to bolster the Lebanese Interior Ministry's Internal Security Force, which Qassem described as increasingly biased against Hizbullah.

"The Internal Security Forces have not succeeded in playing a balanced role ... The sectarian issue is very delicate when it comes to the security services," Qassem said. Qassem also said Hizbullah did not rule out a new confrontation with Israel this summer like the 34-day war last July and August that killed more than 1,100 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers. "We are prepared for the possibility of another adventure or the demand of American policy that might push the [Israeli government] in that direction," he said. Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has never denied rearming after the 2006 war with Israel.

Qassem's comments come as Western nations increase pressure on the United Nations to examine recent allegations of weapons smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border. The United States, France and Great Britain are pushing for the creation of a special UN expert committee to examine alleged weapons smuggling across the Lebanon-Syria border, according to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday. The push apparently came on the heel of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the Middle East, after which he briefed the UN Security Council on the alleged smuggling. Ban told the council that he had "received information from Israel and other countries" that arms smuggling was taking place along the border with weapons being delivered from Syria and Iran to Hizbullah. He added that arms smuggling would constitute a "blatant violation" of Security Council resolutions, including 1701, which led to a cease-fire after the 2006 war.

Israel also violates the cease-fire by continually entering Lebanese airspace in South Lebanon and maintaining its occupation of the border village of Ghajar, where talks on an Israeli withdraw stalled last fall. - AFP, with additional reporting by Iman Azzi

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cristos Anesti! Happy Easter!

Christians take time out for Easter

Christians take time out for Easter
'Business has been really good'

By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Supermarkets and sweets shops were bustling over the weekend as the Christian community prepared to break its 40-day fast over the Easter holiday weekend. Giant multi-colored eggs and huge chocolate bunnies were lined up on many store shelves, offering a tantalizing temptation to many customers. Despite an economic crisis exacerbated by a tense political deadlock, retail sales picked up over the weekend as the Christian community got set to remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"This year business has been really good for Easter," said Noura Abboud, the manager of Noura, a posh confectionary near Sassine Square in Achrafieh. "We're lucky because both the Orthodox and the Maronite Easters fall on the same day [this year], so all those celebrating Easter are buying at the same time." "People tend to buy all the traditional things for Easter - the eggs, the bunnies, the chicks," she added. "It is a very stressful time for me, but it is good for business." Across the street at the ABC shopping mall stood Mischa Chamoun, 24, who had spent the last two weeks working for Lindt chocolate. "Business has really picked up in the last few days as people start really preparing for Easter," she said, standing amid boxes of chocolate eggs and cardboard cutouts of Easter bunnies. "I would say this year's Easter celebrations are different - people are not spending a lot of money. They would rather save money as they don't know what is going to happen [politically], and so they're not really splashing out like they have done in previous years."

Preparations for Easter begin on Good Friday with the painting of hard-boiled eggs, which are smashed against one another on Easter Sunday to mark the end of Lent. The egg is seen by many believers as a symbol of rebirth and a representation of the resurrection of Christ. The notion of the rabbit as Easter bunny, believed to have originated in Germany in the 15th century, is also a symbol of fertility and rebirth for many believers. Following the painting (and hiding) of eggs on Friday comes a midnight Mass to commemorate the crucifixion of Christ.

Pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants saw a noticeable dip in clientele on Friday evening as many of their Christian customers attended Mass across the country. "Good Friday is the one Friday I never go out on," said Mirella, a 26-year-old brand manager. "It's a sad and upsetting day. It's the day they put Jesus on the cross." Chamoun echoed the importance of the holiday. "I go to Mass every year on Good Friday ... It is tradition in our family," she said. "We always have a family lunch with my uncles and aunts and cousins" on Easter Sunday, she added.

Some also believe that rain on Good Friday is a sign of a good harvest in the coming year, which, if true, could give many farmers in the beleaguered South something to smile about as the first drops were felt shortly before midnight this year. "The thing I'm looking forward to the most is all the chocolate and Easter eggs," said Tamar, 29, excitedly. Mother of two Ghada Merhi insisted that she enjoys Easter as much as her children. "I don't get stressed out at all with the preparations," she said. "I enjoy running around and coloring the eggs ... and the children absolutely love the chocolate ... Lunch on Sunday is with the family. It has always been like that."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Women form new group to break glass ceiling

Women form new group to break glass ceiling
Organization will also stress workplace rights

By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: An association to boost women's participation in the Lebanese workforce by helping aspiring female entrepreneurs start their own businesses was launched in Beirut Tuesday, with the first installment of a seminar on alternative financing opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Founded by 12 white-collar professionals from a variety of fields including marketing and communications, law, and information technology, the Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB) will assist educated but unemployed ladies to "Take the Lead and Succeed" as its slogan goes. The LLWB aims to close the gap between the rising presence of Lebanese women at higher education institutions over the past decade and their comparatively small contribution to the economy, said Najwa Tohme, the association's president and founder of a pharmaceutical distribution company. "At a time when brain drain is increasing exponentially, we see a market demand for an association to empower women to enter the workforce and drive Lebanon's economic recovery," she said at LLWB's first session at the Gefinor Rotana Hotel Tuesday evening.

The idea was born at a 2005 conference for local businesswomen which drew on statistics from the UNDP Millennium Development Report, Tohme recounted in her opening address. Half of all university students in Lebanon are women but females account for only 29 percent of total national workforce. Almost one quarter of employed Lebanese women work in white-collar fields such as government, medicine, law, academia, the arts, and business and are generally more educated than their male counterparts, but few have managed to climb to the top of the corporate ladder and occupy senior positions. About 90 percent of bank employees are women, for example, but there are no female bank directors in the country, according to the UNDP report. The LLWB plans to address the problems at the root of such statistics both practically and ideologically. For a LL100,000 annual membership fee, the association will help women draft business plans, conduct market studies, and gain access to a bank loan to start-up an SME. They will also advocate women's' rights in the workplace, Tohme said. In the medium term, the goal is to recruit female university students and help them establish businesses when they graduate. Lately Lebanese women are gravitating toward advertising, public relations, "F and B" (food and beverage) and services, said founding member Rima Beydoun, and many potential entrepreneurs want to open their own shops or restaurants.

The LLWB is also targeting women with "empty nest syndrome" for recruitment, Beydoun explained. "A lot of women with grown children, university degrees, and a lot of spare time on their hands want to make themselves useful either for vocational purposes or to contribute financially to their household given the current economic situation," she said. Women hoping to establish an SME confront the same obstacles facing any aspiring entrepreneur in the current economic climate, plus a host of social constraints, said another founding member, Hanan Saab. "Obviously getting a loan is difficult, but a lot of women have good ideas and are reluctant to share them. That's why we thought we would create an environment to encourage them," she told The Daily Star.

The well-heeled guests at Tuesday's reception represented only a small, educated - and by all appearances relatively privileged - swathe of the Lebanese population, though women of all ages were present along with a smattering of men. But Saad insists that membership is not limited to college graduates, and the association's ultimate goal is to focus on educational programs and reach out to a broader segment of society.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Joke: How to make Lebanese HAPPY..

Walid Joumblat, Samir Geagea & Saad Hariri are flying on MEA.
Over Beirut, Hariri turns to Joumblat and says, chuckling,"You know, I could throw a 10.000$ bill right now and make someone very happy."
Joumblat shrugs and reply, "Well, I could throw ten of 1000$ out the window and make ten people happy."
Feeling that he was not considered, and still being intelligent after 11 years in prison, Geagea says: "Hell, I could throw a hundred 100$ bills and make a hundred people happy."
The pilot overhearing this, says to his co-pilot:*"Such arrogant asses back there.* *Hey, tell them I could throw them out the window, and make over 3 millions of people very very happy."

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