Saturday, January 12, 2008

Make it a dozen: Berri delays presidential poll again

Make it a dozen: Berri delays presidential poll again
Moussa calls crisis 'artificial,' says resolution could be easy if lebanese would cooperate
Compiled by Daily Star staff

Speaker Nabih Berri on Friday postponed a Parliament session to elect a new president until January 21 - the 12th such delay - in spite of intense international efforts for rival parties to accept an Arab initiative aimed at resolving the long-standing political impasse. A statement issued by Berri's office said that Saturday's scheduled session had been postponed to allow time for Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa's mediation efforts to continue. While Moussa was expected to leave Beirut on Saturday, he said Friday he could extend his visit to Lebanon should the need arise. Moussa continued his rounds of talks Friday and met with Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea, former Prime Minister Omar Karami, parliamentary majority leader MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 and Berri. The Arab League chief said the Lebanese problem needs time to resolve, adding that his efforts are geared toward saving Lebanon and reaching a solution that pleases all parties After meeting Geagea in Maarab Friday, Moussa denied that a planned meeting between Hariri and Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun had been scuttled and that Geagea was among those who were opposed to the meeting. "No meeting was arranged for there to be any obstacle to such a meeting," Moussa said. "There are many ideas coming out of Beirut, left and right, but we cannot say there was agreement on something which was obstructed. This is not accurate."

Geagea said the opposition does not have a positive attitude toward the Arab initiative, and voiced his support for the initiative in its entirety. "We should begin to implement it, starting with the first clause which all parties support," he said. The first clause calls for the immediate election of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president. "The March 8 Forces do not want to elect a president," Geagea said, adding that the arguments put forward by the opposition "are a cover to prevent the election." He said the first clause of the Arab initiative is very clear: "It calls for the immediate election of General Suleiman as president in accordance with constitutional norms." Geagea said that the clause dealing with the formation of a new government requires a president first to conduct consultations in keeping with constitutional mechanisms and to form a government. He warned against blackmailing the presidency and "taking it hostage" to try to win a certain share of seats in the new government. Geagea also denied obstructing a meeting between Hariri and Aoun. "Why should we meet [with the opposition] as long as they do not apply the first clause agreed on, the election of Suleiman as president?" he asked. "Even if we did not agree on the second clause why not apply the first? Must Baabda Palace remain vacant?" Geagea said the Arab initiative will not fail because it is backed by all the Arab states - with the exception of Syria, which, he accused of publicly supporting the initiative while working in secret to scuttle it. He said the ruling coalition will spare no effort to facilitate Moussa's mission but would not succumb to blackmail.

Moussa also met Karami Friday morning. After the hour-long meeting, Karami said that he agrees with former President Amin Gemayel's proposal for setting up a neutral government. "I would add to that proposal that a neutral government be given a deadline of three months to pass the historic [electoral] law and after six months ... hold parliamentary elections," he said. Karami said the opposition's stance is well known: to let the people decide who wins a majority in Parliament based on the new electoral law. Moussa said efforts aimed at finding a solution are ongoing, reiterating that the Arab initiative is clear. "The wall of crisis is artificial and easy to tear down and get rid of; if the Lebanese work together, breaking down this wall will not be a problem," Moussa said. He described his late-night meeting Thursday with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as very good. Nasrallah reportedly told Moussa that Aoun is the one involved in negotiations regarding the presidential crisis. "Sayyed Nasrallah informed the Arab League delegation that [Aoun] is the one involved in negotiations on behalf of the opposition regarding this crisis," a late-night Hizbullah statement said. Gemayel said the proposal he floated Thursday to set up a neutral government was aimed at supportomg the Arab initiative and moving forward to elect a president rapidly. "We are concerned that any proposal fall within the framework of the Arab initiative and for all leaderships to understand the urgency of electing a president immediately," Gemayel said. - Agencies

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