Monday, May 26, 2008

Suleiman elected president, goes straight at toughest issues

Suleiman elected president, goes straight at toughest issues
By Hussein Abdallah
Daily Star staff

New head of state picks up 118 votes out of 127 cast

BEIRUT: Lebanon's Parliament elected the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Michel Suleiman as president on Sunday, ending six months of presidential vacuum. Suleiman got 118 out of the 127 votes cast, with six blank ballots and three invalid ones. The votes counted as invalid were cast for Nassib Lahoud, Jean Obeid and "slain former Premier Rafik Hariri and the martyred MPs." The election took place in the presence of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, his Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, members of the Arab ministerial committee which brokered the recent Doha agreement, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and a number of senior Arab and international figures (see the complete list of attendees on page 8). After Suleiman was sworn in, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora resigned in line with the Constitution but will stay on in a caretaker capacity.

Suleiman arrived at Parliament shortly after the election accompanied by Speaker Nabih Berri, who left the Parliament building after the vote and returned with the newly elected president in line with protocol. After taking the presidential oath, Suleiman delivered an inaugural address that dealth with several contentious issues, including Lebanese-Syrian ties and the deadly clashes that struck Lebanon earlier this month. He called for good and balanced relations with Damascus - whose foreign minister, Walid Moallem, was in attendance - based on mutual respect. "Both Lebanon and Syria should also respect each other's borders," the president added. In an indirect reference to the recent clashes between opposition and pro-government supporters, Suleiman said Lebanon's weapons should only be directed at the Israeli enemy. Prior to Suleiman's address, Berri congratulated the new president and praised the patience and sacrifices of the Lebanese people. "This is a historic moment," Berri said. "I ask God to help you succeed in steering the Lebanese ship to a safe haven ... today no one in the world can turn Lebanon into a fighting arena," he added, addressing Suleiman. Berri thanked various countries, including Russia, France, Italy, Spain as well as the Arab League for their help in bringing an end to the 18-month old political crisis. But he took a swipe at Washington, saying: "I thank the United States nonetheless, seeing that it seems to have been convinced that Lebanon is not the appropriate place for its New Middle East plan." He was referring to comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who described the plight of Lebanon during Israel's 2006 war against it as part of the "birth pangs of the New Middle East."

After Suleiman's inaugural address, Qatar's emir delivered a speech to the Parliament and international guests. "I want to tell you that there is a victor and a vanquished in Lebanon today ... Lebanon is the victor and internal strife is the vanquished," Sheikh Hamad said. "Two years ago, I saw the courage and strength of the resistance in Lebanon when resistance was necessary ... today, I am seeing another form of courage ... it is the courage of wisdom," he added. Sheikh Hamad appealed for Arab unity while stressing the role of the Arab League in solving inter-Arab disputes. "Our similarities are far more than our differences," he said. Suleiman, who met separately with Berri and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at Parliament, was to spend the night at his home before heading to the Presidential Palace on Monday morning. Mottaki also met Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at the Parliament. The newly elected president is expected to start parliamentary consultations on Tuesday in a bid to name a new prime minister, who, in turn, will hold his own consultations on the lineup of the next cabinet. Prior to the election, MPs Butros Harb, Hussein al-Husseini, Nayla Mouawad and George Adwan voiced reservations about the procedure of used to elect Suleiman, describing it as "unconstitutional." The lawmakers said they preferred to see Suleiman elected after amending Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution. The article bans the election of grade one officials unless they have resigned two years prior to being elected to the country's top post. Berri responded that the election process was in line with Article 74 of the Constitution. The article stipulates that if a presidential vacuum occurs, Parliament should immediately meet and elect a president. - With AFP

Qatari emir congratulates Lebanese on ending crisis

BEIRUT: "The dangerous political crisis that threatened to lead to the collapse of Lebanon has ended, and we hope this crisis is the last," Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani said in an address to the Lebanese Parliament and newly elected President Michel Suleiman on Sunday. With myriad local and foreign dignitaries crowding Lebanon's reconstructed Parliament building for back-to-back election and inauguration ceremonies, the Qatari emir stressed that the dangers facing the Arab world "do not permit the renewal of conflict between parties every now and again." "The fate of nations, more important than factional disputes, is at stake in our region," added Sheikh Hamad, who helped pressure feuding Lebanese factions into the recent Doha talks that ultimately resulted in an accord after the country seemed on the brink of another civil war. A recurrent theme during the emir's address to the House was his allusion to the "no victor, no vanquished" staple of Lebanese politics, as he at once hoped that the Doha talks transcended that approach, "which buries rather than solves crises," and stated that the Doha agreement saw to it that "Lebanon vanquished strife" by resorting to dialogue. "All the [Doha process] did was to provide a locale for dialogue in the absence of pressure, and I believe the chance afforded by such a dialogue reached its natural conclusion," the Qatari ruler added.

In characterizing the Doha agreement as an achievement for Lebanon, Sheikh Hamad also stressed the "broader meaning of success, as the crisis was taken from the verge of disaster to an arena of dialogue." The emir continued by saying that hosting the Lebanese dialogue "was an honor for us," and added that the Qatari capital would remain "open, unconditionally, as a space for dialogue. "The Arab world is endowed with institutions and organizations - the Arab League, above all - capable of creating an atmosphere for dialogue," the Qatari leader added. Sheikh Hamad concluded by declaring: "That which unites [Lebanese] parties transcends the divisions between them. This is our belief and our goal, so that God may preserve Lebanon." - The Daily Star

Inaugural address ranges far and wide

BEIRUT: "I swear by Almighty God to observe the laws of the Lebanese nation and maintain the independence of Lebanon and its territorial integrity," President Michel Suleiman declared Sunday, taking an oath of office that ended a six-month presidential vacuum. After calling for a moment of silence in honor of those who have died for Lebanon, Suleiman delivered his inaugural address, laying out the governing vision for the coming six years of his term. Suleiman spoke of strengthening Lebanon's constitutional institutions, minimizing incendiary political rhetoric, preserving the rights of diaspora Lebanese and pursuing constructive and balanced relations with Syria. "One of the more dangerous developments of the last few years has been the basing of political discourse on the rhetoric of treason," he said, underlining the political divisions that have paralyzed Lebanon since the summer war with Israel. Suleiman stressed the importance of balanced development, which he described as "a pillar of state integrity," adding that this could be achieved through "more thorough administrative decentralization at all levels in addressing the social, economic and cultural imbalances" between various regions of the country. "Emerging from our state of stagnation and stimulating the economic cycle requires security and political stability, as well as the state's encouragement of competitive production," added Suleiman. " The president touched upon the rights of the diaspora, linking the issue to the controversial debate over citizenship in Lebanon, saying that "Lebanese abroad have more of a right to citizenship than others." In discussing foreign policy, Suleiman expressed his belief that Lebanon should "respect all United Nations decisions" and stressed the importance of following through with "the international tribunal pertaining to the assassination of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri." The manner in which the Hariri tribunal is pursued remains a controversial issue, and much of the dispute has to do with the country's role in the region and its relations with its neighbors. Suleiman tackled these issues in his speech, steering the careful course that marked his tenure as Lebanese Armed Forces commander. The new president said a strong defense strategy is "necessitated by Israeli aggression," calling for a composed dialogue aimed at creating such a strategy, which he said should "utilize the capabilities of the resistance." Suleiman added that Lebanese-Syrian relations should be "brotherly," with mutual respect for the "boundaries of each sovereign country." Suleiman also argued that "the Palestinian struggle cannot be used as a pretext" for terrorism and that "the gun should never be aimed inward, but should always point toward our enemies." President Suleiman, coming to office amid a long-running political stalemate in Lebanon and on the tail of deadly clashes between feuding rival parties, also noted that the Lebanese "have paid a high price for this unity ... Let us strive to preserve it." - The Daily Star, with agencies

Berri takes pointed swipe at US policy during speech

BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri took a swipe at the United States on Sunday following the election of a new president, saying that Lebanon was not a playground for Washington's policy in the region. Berri, an opposition stalwart, thanked various countries, including Qatar, Iran, Turkey, Russia, France, Italy, Spain as well as the Arab League for their help in bringing an end to Lebanon's 18-month old political crisis. "I thank the United States nonetheless, seeing that it seems to have been convinced that Lebanon is not the appropriate place for its New Middle East plan," Berri said. "This plan will not find any place in the entire Middle East," he added. He was referring to comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said while on a visit to Beirut during Israel's war on Lebanon in summer 2006 that the war was part of "birth pangs of the New Middle East." "This is a historic moment," Berri said, while introducing the president. "I ask God to help you succeed in steering the Lebanese ship to a safe haven ... today no one in the world can turn Lebanon into a fighting arena." Berri described as a "great honor" the fact that the election was taking place on May 25, which happens to be the date of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon eight years ago. "May 25 happens to be the eighth anniversary of the victory of our heroic resistance and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from most of Lebanon's territory expect for the Shebaa Farms and the Kafar Shuba Hills," Berri said. "It also happens to be the fist anniversary of the victory of our army against terrorism in Nahr al-Bared," he added, referring to last year's clashes between the army and Islamist militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in the North of the country. Berri also recalled "lawmakers who sacrificed their lives" in the past few years. Since 2005, Lebanon's Parliament has lost seven lawmakers, six of whom were assassinated. Addressing the president, Berri said that Suleiman was the eligible person to sponsor a dialogue on adopting a defense strategy for Lebanon. - The Daily Star, with AFP

World leaders welcome Lebanese election

WASHINGTON: US President George W. Bush led the international community on Sunday in hailing the election of Michel Suleiman as Lebanon's new president as a first step in reuniting the divided nation. "I am confident that Lebanon has chosen a leader committed to protecting its sovereignty, extending the government's authority over all of Lebanon, and upholding Lebanon's international obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions," Bush said. "We look forward to working with president Suleiman in pursuit of our common values of freedom and independence."

Suleiman, Lebanon's army chief for the past 10 years, was sworn in on Sunday after a parliamentary vote that many hope will turn the page on an 18-month political feud that threatened to plunge the nation back into civil war. The vote was held just days after the government and the opposition agreed to a deal after talks in Doha to end the political crisis. Bush said he was "hopeful that the Doha agreement, which paved the way for this election, will usher in an era of political reconciliation to the benefit of all Lebanese."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the election was "an important step forward for Lebanon" and pledged his government's support for the new president. "We will continue to support Lebanon's stability, integrity and independence, and we look forward to president Suleiman working with a unity government to bring Lebanon out of its current fragility," he said in a statement. German President Horst Koehler said he welcomed "this bold step" toward resolving Lebanon's political crisis and wished Suleiman luck in his new role. "I wish you lots of success, the necessary strength and good luck for the big challenges that lie ahead of you," he said in a statement. French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged full support for Suleiman and said he hoped the election would allow Lebanon to take a significant step forward and "confront the challenges that await." His Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner applauded Suleiman as "courageous" in calling for the UN tribunal being set up to try suspects the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to continue its work. He applauded Suleiman's election but said he had hoped it would have gone more smoothly adding he preferred "democracy without weapons," in reference to the gun battles which gripped the country in the run-up to the vote. Jordan's King Abdullah II said the vote was a "positive step for the people of Lebanon and for national unity," according to a statement from the royal palace. "Jordan stands alongside the Lebanese in their desire and their efforts to preserve their independence and their stability," he said. Morocco's King Mohammed VI congratulated Suleiman. "Thanks to your wisdom, your skills and human qualities, you are going to achieve the aspirations of the brotherly people of Lebanon in strengthening national unity," he said. - AFP

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