January 8/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 2,1-12.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Free Opinion
India has valuable lessons for those would would turn Lebanon around -Daily Star 08.01.07

Latest news from The Daily Star for January 08/07
Douste-Blazy visits Cairo, Riyadh for sake of Beirut
Lebanon's economy minister lashes out at plans for general strike
Hariri accuses opposition of 'intellectual terrorism'
UN rejects Russian call to name states hampering Hariri probe
Lahoud denies seeking special treatment for diplomat
'Syrian, Iranian threats paralyze Berri' - Jumblatt
Labor considers action to block Siniora's reforms
Doves become new source of Ain al-Hilweh violence
Grieving Gemayel urges Lebanese to 'wake up'

Latest news from Miscellaneous sources for January 08/07
Lebanon Commemorates Slain Gemayel-Naharnet
Hariri says Lebanon is Facing 'Political-Intellectual Terrorism'-Naharnet
Cultural Background Affects Health, Says Study-All Headline News
Union sit-in plan may hurt recovery in Lebanon-Alarab online
Iran does its best to defuse Lebanon tension: envoy-Kuwait News Agency
Lebanon opposition seizes on Paris aid conference-Middle East Online
De-Blazy hopes Paris-3 conference on Lebanon would succeed-Kuwait News Agency
Report: Military Intelligence Lacking during Lebanon War-Arutz Sheva
Saudi calls for Lebanon unity-Gulf Times

Aoun: 'Holiday Truce' Ends Sunday-Naharnet
Lebanon opposition seizes on Paris aid conference-Middle East Online
France urged Lebanon leaders to end conflict-Ya Libnan
Israel denies planning Iran nuke attack AP

Hezbollah: Saudi can play mediating role in Lebanon-Ya Libnan
Protest against economic reforms-Gulf Times

Hezbollah: Saudi can play mediating role in Lebanon
Saturday, 6 January, 2007 @ 9:21 PM
Beirut- Lebanon's pro-Syrian and Iranian Hezbollah group believes Saudi Arabia could mediate in the country's political crisis, one of the movement's government ministers was quoted as saying to a local paper.
Mohammed Fneish, energy minister in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government before he and five other pro-Syrian ministers resigned in November, told As-Safir newspaper Friday that he and Hezbollah number two Sheikh Naim Kassem met King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia at the end of December.
"Saudi Arabia can play the role of mediator between the Lebanese, especially since it says it is impartial," Fneish told the daily As-Safir, which is closely associated with the pro-Damascus opposition. He and Kassem were granted an audience with the king in the kingdom's Red Sea port city of Jeddah last month. The Lebanese opposition, led by the pro-Syria and pro-Iran Hezbollah and their allies including General Michel Aoun, has staged a central Beirut sit-in for more than a month in a bid to bring down Siniora, a Sunni whose government is supported by the parliament majority and the world community except Syria and Iran. The opposition wants the right of veto in a government of national unity -- a demand rejected by the anti-Syria majority -- and it considers the government to be illegitimate since the ministers quit in November. "The Jeddah meeting was positive, especially on rapprochement between the kingdom and Hezbollah," Fneish was quoted as saying, adding that the encounter was "the first of its kind" between a Saudi monarch and his party.
"Saudi Arabia can use its influence to end all discord" between Sunni Muslims and Shiites, he said. When Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers last July 12, sparking a devastating 34-day war with the Jewish state, Saudi Arabia slammed the movement's cross-border raid as "adventurism".
Saudi Arabia is also close to the leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, Saad Hariri, whose former premier father Rafiq was a duel Lebanese-Saudi citizen who made billions in construction in the oil-rich monarchy. A UN probe into Rafiq's killing last February has implicated Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials.Sources: Ya Libnan, Agencies

Protest against economic reforms
Published: Sunday, 7 January, 2007
Spanish UN soldiers, wearing Christmas hats decorated with Lebanonís symbol the cedar, blow their trumpets during an Epiphany celebration in the southern Lebanese border town of Marjayoun BEIRUT: Lebanonís opposition-backed main labour union called on Lebanese yesterday to stage a sit-in outside a finance ministry building next week to protest Prime Minister Fouad Sinioraís economic reform programme.
The latest move is part of a drive by the Shia Hezbollah-led opposition to step up its protest campaign to try to topple the government by paralysing the country.Ghassan Ghosn, president of the Lebanese General Confederation of Trade Unions, called on workers, students, unemployed youth, employees, farmers, drivers and citizens with limited incomes to join the sit-in at 0900 GMT on Tuesday outside a finance ministry tax office in Beirut.
"Our families in every area, institution, factory and home ... we direct to you that our sit-in ... is to reject any direct or indirect taxes especially on raising value added tax," adding that it would be peaceful.Lebanonís government on Tuesday unveiled economic reforms to be presented to an international donorsí conference in Paris this month which Beirut hopes will bring financial help to an economy reeling from the July-August war with Israel. The plan included tax reforms, as well as raising VAT rates.The reforms, which aim to boost economic growth and ease the burden of Lebanonís massive public debt, will be presented at the January 25 ĎParis 3í conference. Asked if there would be any future steps to escalate the protest campaign after the sit-in, Ghosn said: "We received authorisation from the (labour unionís) executive committee ... to continue with the movement programme that starts from a sit-in to protesting to striking." The government proposals had also included privatisation efforts in the mobile telecom sector and a monetary and exchange rate policy aimed at maintaining price stability and legal changes to reduce the costs of doing business in Lebanon. Ė Reuters

Lebanon opposition seizes on Paris aid conference
Siniora critics accuse government members of absolving themselves of economic responsibility.
By Salim Yassine Ė BEIRUT
An international conference on aid to Lebanon, to be held in Paris on January 25, has become a new bone of contention between the sparring Western-supported government and the Syria- and Iran-backed opposition. The opposition, led by the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement, has seized upon the cost of social reforms proposed by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government as its new rallying cry ahead of the so-called Paris III conference.
Hezbollah parliamentarians have accused Siniora supporters of absolving themselves of responsibility "in advance, with the aim of exploiting the Paris III conference in order to bolster their position," a statement said. "There couldn't possibly be reforms before a government of national unity is formed, since those monopolising power are themselves responsible for the economic crisis," the statement said. Opposition protesters, also including Christian followers of former general Michel Aoun, have since December 1 laid siege to the government's offices in central Beirut in a bid to bring down the Siniora administration. They want the right of veto in a unity government, a demand rejected by the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority which was elected in 2005. The opposition considers that the Siniora cabinet lost its legitimacy after six pro-Syrian ministers, five of them Shiite, resigned in November.
Siniora's economic reforms aim to encourage growth and investment through social measures, financial changes such as raising value-added tax from 10 to 12 percent and privatising the mobile phone and electricity sectors.
In return, Lebanon hopes to obtain financial aid and a rescheduling of its public debt currently running at 41 billion dollars -- or 200 percent of gross domestic product. Last year the country experienced zero growth mainly because of the devastating 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel from July 12 to August 14. The cost of the damage has been put at 3.5 billion dollars. Western countries and oil-rich Arab states support the Siniora government, and hope the Paris conference will be a stabilising factor for Lebanon. Aoun, who heads the Christian opposition to the government, has slammed "the politics of borrowing pursued by Siniora for years, which caused the huge public debt burdening Lebanon".
Siniora was finance minister under former premier Rafiq Hariri, who was assassinated by a massive bomb in Beirut on February 14, 2005. It was Hariri's government that spearheaded the reconstruction drive after the 1975-1990 civil war, a project that led to colossal public debt.
Aoun has said the opposition plans to "harden the protest movement next week -- the holiday period truce is over", and advocates a campaign of civil disobedience. The opposition now includes within its ranks Ghassan Ghosn, who heads the 200,000-member Federation of Labour Unions (CGTL).
Ghosn has called for a CGTL sit-in outside the finance ministry on Tuesday in protest at "hikes in direct and indirect taxes" under the Siniora reform plan.
Lebanese trade unions oppose tax rises, lifting subsidised fuel prices and bemoan a lack of policies encouraging sectors such as industry and agriculture to employ more workers. A preparatory meeting attended by experts will be held on January 10 ahead of the Paris III conference.
More than 30 countries from Europe, the Middle East and members of the G8 will attend the conference proper. It will be presided over by French President Jacques Chirac and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may also attend.Chirac has said the conference "will be an opportunity to turn our solidarity into action".

Aoun: 'Holiday Truce' Ends Sunday
Gen. Michel Aoun has warned that the Hizbullah-led opposition will step up its campaign aimed at toppling Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government after the so-called "holiday truce" ends Sunday, but said the protest will maintain its "peaceful" image."I tend to be crucial with that group which seems to be unwilling to deal with anybody outside its ranks," said Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement which is a Hizbullah ally. He was referring to the pro-government March 14 coalition."What is the rational explanation for their insistence on clinging to a government that has lost its legitimacy," Aoun said in reference to the resignation of six cabinet ministers in November. Aoun's announcement coincided with statements by other opposition officials from the March 8 alliance, which is spearheaded by Hizbullah, toward an escalation in the ongoing sit-in outside Saniora's offices in downtown Beirut. Beirut, 07 Jan 07, 11:07

Lebanon and the Limits of Protests
Ghassan Charbel Al-Hayat - 04/01/07//
After a month has passed since the opposition in Lebanon began its protests, any objective observer can put forth a number of observations.
First, the opposition's success in setting off a large-scale mobilization of the masses while keeping it strictly peaceful should be noted, because no violence against public or private property has taken place during the last month. It is no secret that this was due to the ability of Hezbollah, the backbone of the current mobilization of the masses, to control its supporters and prevent emotion from turning into street confrontation, despite the provocative rhetoric.
Further observation would suggest that the mobilization has not lost impetus, in the sense that the opposition is still capable of repeating the scene of mass demonstrations, capitalizing on the wide public appeal of Hezbollah among its sect, as well as the Party's long past experience in organizing massive street action that is undisputedly controlled and disciplined.
This does not negate the participation of other sides in the action, particularly the Michel Aoun movement. However, consistent tracking of the events of the past month would reveal that Hezbollah's masses are the actual center of this public action, and that it is Hezbollah's agenda that is governing and controlling the drive.
Furthermore, after a month of mass mobilization, unbiased observers will be able to conclude that the opposition still maintains the same strength it displayed at the beginning of the protests, and that it has succeeded in attracting citizens from outside its original camp.
At the same time, it is also clear that the other camp is now stronger than it was when the protests broke out, as the march of the masses to the presidential palace, which was accompanied by threats to storm it, led to an unprecedented fueling of sentiments, and generated an equally unprecedented show of support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora among his own ranks, in addition to his followers' base from within the ranks of the March 14 Forces.
The same applies to MP Saad Hariri, who experienced a surge in popularity among the ranks of the March 14 Forces.
As the opposition enters its second month of protests and sit-ins, opposition leaders must be aware of the significant and extensive deterioration witnessed during the past month in the Sunni-Shiite relations, which has not been seen since the independence of Lebanon.
Accordingly, it would be wise to assume that it is no longer possible for the opposition to clash with PM Siniora without also clashing with his sect, especially when taking into account that the opposition's rejection of street action that aimed at overthrowing President Emile Lahoud, and even threatened to take action against any attempts of that sort.
Therefore, when it convenes to approve the plans for the next stage of its action, the opposition will have no choice but to direct its attention to new elements, as the first month of protests led to an impression by Arab and international capitals that equates any victory by the Lebanese opposition with the success of the large-scale offensive waged by Iran in the region.
This impression was also among the key factors that consolidated the standing of the Siniora government on the Arab and international levels.
The opposition would also be better off taking into consideration the fact that the savage, vindictive execution of Saddam Hussein has added fuel to the fire of sectarian strife in the region, and has further heated the debate regarding the looming 'Iranian threat'.
The opposition in Lebanon is anything but marginal; it is a force that stands to represent half, or a little less than half, of the nation. Therefore, it would be fair to expect from it a rational review of lessons resulting from its action over the past month, as it, too, has a responsibility toward the nation and its stability, and toward protecting the nation from the storms of sectarian feuds, even if the price is in the form of lowering demands or accepting compromises it previously rejected.
At the same time, no one can claim the right of keeping the nation under the threat of sectarian sedition or civil war, or of pushing the nation toward the brink of total collapse, just because peaceful means have failed to topple PM Siniora.
Just as the government is expected to exert serious effort to open the door to the possibility of reaching resolutions and settlements, the opposition is also required to review the local and domestic scene before taking any escalatory steps.
Any reasonable and acceptable settlement remains a far better choice than keeping Lebanon hanging in a region that faces a bleak future.

Douste-Blazy visits Cairo, Riyadh for sake of Beirut
Compiled by Daily Star staff -Monday, January 08, 2007
France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt called over the weekend for Lebanese political factions to end their confrontation ahead of the Paris III donor conference, saying that stability was key to restoring the country's struggling economy. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy stopped in Saudi Arabia and Egypt on Saturday to discuss Paris III, which is scheduled to take place on January 25.
"We want Lebanon to overcome its current turmoil," he said in a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmad Abou al-Gheit. "Egypt and France agree on the ways to achieve this," Douste-Blazy added, listing mediation efforts by the Arab League as the way to promote a political solution to the standoff and prevent "any attempts to destabilize Lebanon."
Douste-Blazy said he and Abou al-Gheit agreed on the need to "support the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, protect Lebanon from foreign interference, help implement UN [Security Council] Resolution 1701 and respond to public demand for perpetrators of national crimes to be prosecuted in an international tribunal," the official Kuwait News Agency reported.
Protesters have camped out in central Beirut since December 1 to demand that Siniora's government share more power or resign.
Economy and Trade Minister Sami Haddad warned last month that Paris III could be postponed or cancelled because of the political crisis.
But speaking earlier in Riyadh, Douste-Blazy said international donors have not changed plans.
"This is the opportunity to show support to the [Lebanese] government ... which is an elected government that came from an elected majority," he said after talks with his Saudi counter-part, Prince Saud al-Faisal. "As far as I know, the current crisis has not at all led to any review either in the participation of any country or in the amount of reconstruction aid."
Prince Saud, who confirmed reports of a recent meeting between King Abdullah and a Hizbullah delegation, gave cautious backing to Paris III.
"Saudi Arabia welcomes the Paris conference ... and will continue its efforts to make it succeed. It is, however, important to reach a national consensus formula on the current Lebanese crisis to make sure the conference achieves its goals," he said.
"There is nothing strange about the meeting" with Hizbullah, he added. "Saudi Arabia is not a party to the dispute, but it wants to be a friend of Lebanon and of all its groups."He said the meeting had been requested by Hizbullah and was approved by King Abdullah, KUNA said.
Prince Saud called on Lebanon to accept the Arab League's initiative, saying it represents "the appropriate conciliatory solution" to the impasse "away from foreign interference that targets Lebanon's unity," KUNA quoted him as saying.
In separate comments, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel-Aziz urged Lebanese leaders to negotiate.
"We fear some of the incidents that Lebanon is going through represent dangerous turning points that threaten its economic and political security and stability," Prince Sultan told Asharq al-Awsat daily. "I ... urge the brothers in Lebanon [to use] self-restraint and dialogue and to put wisdom above emotion and work to unite ... ranks and return to the legitimate constitutional institutions." - Agencies, The Daily Star

Lebanon's economy minister lashes out at plans for general strike
By Hani M. Bathish -Special to The Daily Star
Monday, January 08, 2007
BEIRUT: Lebanon's economy and trade minister slammed the country's opposition-backed General Labor Confederation (GLC) on Sunday, saying the timing in which they have called for a general strike this week was "suspicious." In response to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's economic reform plan for the Paris III donor conference, the GLC president, Ghassan Ghosn, called for a protest outside the Finance Ministry building - housing the Value Added Tax administration and the Institute of Finance - on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
In an interview with Reuters Sunday, Economy and Trade Minister Sami Haddad said that plans by the country's main labor union for a protest against tax reforms would result in more damage to Lebanon's war-torn economy. "We are not imposing any taxes for another year," Haddad added, "so what is the point of all this? The timing is suspicious to put it mildly." Haddad said that the government's economic program was for all the Lebanese "it is not a program of the majority against the opposition." Haddad made it clear that there will be no increase in taxes before 2008, adding that the program will create "thousands of jobs in the telecom sector."
The Cabinet's plan includes tax reforms, as well as raising VAT rates and the sale of a majority stake in or full sale of mobile telecom sector companies by the second quarter of 2007. Haddad left Sunday for Paris, where he will be part of a team representing Lebanon at the Paris III preparatory meetings scheduled for January 10. The meeting will be attended by representatives of all participating donor countries and organizations. The main donors' conference will be held on January 25.
In a 12-point statement issued Saturday, Ghosn said the GLC rejects any new taxes "direct or indirect," in particular any increase in VAT.
The GLC - backed by Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement - "calls for the adoption of a sound financial policy by the government," according to the statement. It also demanded a halt to privatization programs, which the group said "threaten workers' job security, deprive the state of revenue and prevent citizens from obtaining vital services at a reasonable price." The GLC's 12 points include: fighting unemployment; halting brain drain and the migration of youths in search of jobs abroad due to economic stagnation in the country; increasing the productive capacities of the agricultural, industrial and services sectors; and promptly establishing a social security contract, rather than adopting economic policies that increase debt.
In an interview with Voice of Lebanon Radio station on Saturday, Siniora said that the government's reform plan was aimed at revitalizing the economy and includes tax exemptions and incentives as well as a financial aid package for small- to medium-sized enterprises of around $900 million.
He said the reform plan aims to create job opportunities for all the Lebanese and not just for one group.
Siniora said the reform bill includes a proposal to increase assistance to the poorest and most disadvantaged citizens. He said that while in 1992 the public debt stood at $3 billion, in 2006 the interest owed on public debt alone was $15.5 billion.  "There is a saying that goes, if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging," Siniora said.Siniora said there are two sides in the country. "One favors dialogue," he said, "while the other aims to deepen the crisis."
The premier added that his government has always endeavored to include all its citizens, stressing that no government should operate without the support of the majority of Parliament and the people - which he said his government has. At a news conference last week, Ghosn stressed the need to initiate serious administrative reforms by ensuring the independence of monitoring institutions, and to combat corruption, bribery and theft from the public purse.
He also called for adjusting wage scales and raising the minimum wage to ensure a descent living standard. Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Nawar Sahili described Siniora's radio comments as being "full of conceit and an attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes."
In a ceremony in Choueifat, in the capital's southern suburbs, Sahili said that Siniora "acts as if the country is not in a deep political crisis." Sahili added that the Cabinet meeting held last week to approve the reform plan was a dangerous precedent that threatens the principle of coexistence.In a report by its economic committee, the Free Patriotic Movement's said the reform plan aims to increase the primary surplus by 10 percent, adding that as the primary surplus increases, purchasing power declines, which in turn will reflect negatively on citizens' standard of living. The statement added that the government aims to obtain financial assistance of between $4 and $9 billion from Paris III. "The government aims to use [this money] to cover the interest on the debt in an attempt to slow the growth of the debt, and not to reduce the size of the debt," the group claimed. "Paris III will end up much like Paris II did," it said, adding that the program "is based on a lot of political hype but lacks any real economic basis and is devoid of deep institutional reforms." - With Reuters

Hariri accuses opposition of 'intellectual terrorism'
Hizbullah blames ruling majority for failure of mediators to end deadlock
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Monday, January 08, 2007
BEIRUT: Lebanon's Parliament majority leader slammed Hizbullah and its opposition allies on Sunday for what he called "political and intellectual terrorism" against Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government. In a statement, Mp Saad Hariri said Lebanon was facing "a new wave of political and intellectual terrorism that coincides with the preparations" for the Paris III conference of donor nations, which he said would provide Beirut with badly needed financial aid to re-start the economy. "Hizbullah, regretfully, is heading this crippling campaign against Lebanon and is promising more protests at a time when it should be focusing on helping the country solve its serious economic and social problems," Hariri added.
Hariri's comments came a day before the launch of what the opposition forces have called "phase two" of their campaign to topple Siniora's Cabinet and create a national unity government. Opposition leaders are expected to convene for a meeting at MP Michel Aoun's Rabieh residence on Monday at 10 a.m., after which, they say, will release the details of phase two.
Hariri warned of the negative consequences from more escalation and called on Lebanese to "unite around the noble objectives of the Paris III conference." The conference "is a great opportunity for Lebanon, and so we should not drag the country into further mayhem. We should meet and resolve our differences by dialogue," he said. Hizbullah "has closed all doors in the face of [Arab League chief Amr] Moussa's return and in the face of Saudi Arabia's initiatives," as well as all other initiatives launched to break the political deadlock, Hariri said. Hariri also questioned the reason behind Hizbullah's continued opposition to the international tribunal to try suspects in the killing of his father, former Premier Rafik Hariri, and other assassinations in Lebanon over the past two years. "The court is not there to focus on any particular party but rather to reveal the truth, so we are surprised that Hizbullah thinks we will use this court to try the group," he said.
He also stressed that he believed "Hizbullah will be cleared of any association" with the killing of his father. But he added that the "essence of the current escalation is this particular issue [blocking the tribunal] and it is part of attempts that have been under way for over a year to create a Lebanese safety net ... on behalf of the Syrian regime." Hizbullah, he added, "cannot hide the external plot that is targeting Lebanon."
Hariri said such a scheme "is no less ferocious than the Israeli aggression. ... Unfortunately, it integrates with the destructive goals of that aggression and enables it, by agitating the internal dispute, to achieve what it failed to accomplish during the war on Lebanon" last summer. "Lebanon is facing a new link in the chain that seeks to destabilize it," he warned, "as if we are facing a renewed copy of another security system, a joint Iranian-Syrian security-political-financial system." Hariri pledged that "we will not withdraw from the arena and we will confront whoever is empowered by external support to destabilize the nation." Hariri called on Hizbullah to "give the country a chance and not cause any further escalations and hindrance."
In response, Hizbullah's number two, Sheikh Naim Qassem, issued a statement on Sunday placing the blame for the deadlock on the ruling majority.
Addressing Hariri indirectly, Qassem said that the MP should look to Siniora when laying blame for blocked initiatives. "While Siniora appears to be calling for dialogue, he is actually doing everything possible to ruin dialogue attempts," he said. Qassem added that he believes Paris III will be a failure, since "Siniora does not deliver on his promises and since we're not part of it, it will not pass."Meanwhile, Hizbullah politburo member Mohammad Qmati said Sunday that the first step of "phase two" would be supporting the General Labor Confederation in its strike on Tuesday. The GLC has called for a protest against the Cabinet's reform plans for Paris III.As to whether the campaign would include closing the airport and blocking roads, Qmati said only that the opposition "has always promised peaceful action that will not hinder the country's progress." But Hizbullah's main ally, Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, vowed over the weekend that the so-called "holiday truce" would end soon.
"The holiday truce is over and we will launch actions of a peaceful nature," he said. "I lean toward completely cutting off this group that is unwilling to deal with anybody outside its ranks," Aoun told the media on Saturday, referring to the March 14 Forces.Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri's role as a mediator in defusing the crisis appears to have ended as yet another charged exchange of accusatory words took place between Berri and the March 14 Forces. On Saturday Berri criticized the March 14 Forces as "troublemakers.""We can expect anything from this group now, they are troublemakers and are trying to hinder any attempts at reconciliation," Berri said during an interview with local daily As-Safir published on Saturday.
Asked about reports that the March 14 Forces were trying to find a way to conduct a Parliamentary session in his absence, Berri said: "They wouldn't dare make such a move, as it will be a very costly one to them. It's nonsense and heresy.""They will regret what they are doing now," Berri said, adding that the March 14 Forces need to stop shifting the blame for the failure of initiatives onto him or the opposition.
As for the details of "phase two," Berri said protests will take place in three stages across the professional and vocational sectors. "A sit-in, protests and then a strike," he said, without adding any further details. The minister of state for administrative reform, Michel Pharaon, responded to Berri by saying that the Parliament speaker had received the March 14 Forces' petition to start Parliament sessions to discuss the international tribunal in the Hariri case and a by-election to fill the seat of assassinated Industry Minister and MP Pierre Gemayel, and "he is now in an embarrassing position."He denied that MPs were planning on holding sessions without the speaker.

UN rejects Russian call to name states hampering Hariri probe
Daily Star staff-Monday, January 08, 2007
BEIRUT: The majority of the United Nations Security Council members rejected a Russian proposal calling on Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz to disclose the names of the 10 countries that he said in his latest report had not cooperated "satisfactorily" with investigations into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Al- Hayat newspaper reported on Sunday.
"China, Qatar and South Africa were the only countries to support the Russian proposal," Al-Hayat quoted sources close to the council as saying.
The proposal suggested that the council send a letter to Brammertz urging him to disclose the names of the 10 countries he said last December were not cooperating with his commission. A similar proposal was submitted by Syria soon after Brammertz's report was issued, but was also rejected.
Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin refused to address reporters. A source said that "no one expected the Russian proposal and we do not know the incentives behind it."In his latest report issued in December of 2006, the head of the UN probe said that "some states have provided the investigation committee with late or incomplete responses, or have not responded at all."
"Responses to 22 requests sent to 10 countries are overdue," the report said.
According to Russian diplomatic sources quoted by Al-Hayat, Russia "does not have any new information, and the Russian proposal is merely based on Brammertz's report.""Russia did not raise the issue; Brammertz, himself, has said that there were countries that were not cooperating with the UN probe and we believe it necessary to know who those countries are," the source was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Kuwait's state-run news agency, KUNA, said Russia, China, Qatar, Indonesia and South Africa made the proposal during a "private council meeting" late Friday. Citing diplomatic sources, KUNA said Security Council members the United States and France, as well as other unidentified states, rejected the idea. The sources told KUNA that the proposal will be discussed further next Tuesday. - The Daily Star, With Naharnet

Lahoud denies seeking special treatment for diplomat
Daily Star staff-Monday, January 08, 2007
BEIRUT: President Emile Lahoud denied reports over the weekend that he had urged the Education Ministry to speed up equivalence procedures for the university degree of the newly appointed Lebanese ambassador to Kazakhstan. A statement issued Saturday by the media office at the Presidential Palace rejected reports that Lahoud had asked the director general of the Higher Education Authority at the ministry, Ahmad Jammal, to expedite the papers of Vasken Kavalkian. The statement said the reports were "totally made up and fabricated."
"The president's refusal to interfere politically in the affairs of public administrations and institutions has always been clear," the statement added.
Al-Mustaqbal daily had said in an article published Saturday that Lahoud had "once again breached the Constitution" by asking Jammal to sign the equivalence forms before the meeting of the committee concerned with such procedures was held. The report added that Jammal had compiled a list of 15 names, including that of Kavalkian, "to remove any responsibility concerning such an unlawful act from them." Jammal also denied the report, saying this alleged presidential interference is "false." In a statement issued Saturday, Jammal said he had not received any phone calls from Lahoud, and that no one interfered with the work of the equivalence committee. He added that Kavalkian's file was still under study, "since the committee has still not issued its final proclamation yet." - The Daily Star

'Syrian, Iranian threats paralyze Berri' - Jumblatt
Speaker scoffs, says druze Mp 'has changed'
By Maher Zeineddine -Daily Star correspondent
Monday, January 08, 2007
BEIRUT: The war of words between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt picked up over the weekend, as the latter said that Berri was paralyzed due to "Iranian and Syrian guns" held to his head. In an interview Saturday on Abu Dhabi satellite television channel, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party said that Berri had "a bundle of Iranian and Syrian guns directed toward his head, which is why he seems paralyzed and unable to make any decisions."In response, the speaker lashed out at Jumblatt, saying: "There is no gun pointed at my head, and I've never been threatened by anyone; I am who I am."In an interview on Amal-affiliated radio station Al-Rissala, Berri said: "I am still the same; it seems that you [Jumblatt] have changed quite a lot. What a pity this loss is!"Jumblatt charged during his interview that Berri's current stances have rendered the Parliament "totally" inactive. "Similar to the majority of the Lebanese Shiites, it seems as if Speaker Berri has lost all freewill," Jumblatt said.
"This became quite clear when Berri started considering [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora's government as illegal and unconstitutional directly after his visit to Tehran," the Druze leader added. Jumblatt also claimed during the interview that the Syrian and Iranian regimes oppose the establishment of an international court to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, "because they want to protect some of the Hizbullah members involved in the 2005-2006 string of assassinations."
Jumblatt also accused Hizbullah of not being a truly Lebanese organization. "While it is true that Hizbullah has Lebanese roots, it is funded by regional forces, and carries out Iranian and Syrian agendas," the MP said. Jumblatt denied accusations that he was nourishing Sunni-Shiite strife in Lebanon.
"However," Jumblatt added, "it's not right that Hizbullah controls the decisions of both the Shiites and the Lebanese."Jumblatt added that he refused to have an individual meeting with Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and that he preferred to meet up with him during future dialogue sessions. Meanwhile, speaking to a delegation from the town of Jahliyeh in the Chouf that came to visit him on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, Telecommunications Minister and PSP MP Marwan Hamadeh said Hizbullah was working to transform Lebanon into a "Persian governorate."
He said all the Lebanese would take part in fighting Israel, "in the case where the battle is purely Lebanese, and not done for Syria's sake."
Hamadeh added that the opposition's actions in the past few weeks "are not targeted toward ensuring true partnership as they claim."
"The opposition works to restore Syrian hegemony over Lebanon," Hamadeh charged.

Grieving Gemayel urges Lebanese to 'wake up'
Mass marks 40 days since ex-president's son was slain
Daily Star staff-Monday, January 08, 2007
BEIRUT: At a church service held on Sunday to commemorate the 40 days that have passed since his son was assassinated, former President Amin Gemayel called on the people of Lebanon to put aside their differences and unite for the wellbeing of their country. "There is a voice in this country telling people to think beyond short-term community interests and wake up to the needs of Lebanon as a whole," he said.
Exactly 40 days after his son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated, the former president, who is also the leader of the Phalange Party, asked the congregation to pray for "the tortured but good-natured people of this diverse country," which he said was "unique in the Middle East."
"Forget your insults, put aside your divisions and stop this violence!" he declared. "Lebanon deserves more. If we do not give this country all we can today, history might not give us another chance tomorrow.
"Lebanon will once again become a haven for truth and justice. We will not rest until justice prevails throughout Lebanon. Now that the international community is showing solidarity with our problems, we have the chance to make things work."
He urged people to "take advantage of the Cedar Revolution and realize the aspirations of the nation," which, he said is "calling for a strong, clean, just, and transparent state." The service was held at Saint Anthony's Church in the north Beirut suburb of Jdeideh, not far from where Pierre Gemayel was shot to death in his car on November 21, 2006.
The Maronite bishop of Beirut, Boulos Matar, said the slain minister was "a symbol of the freedom, strength and love inherent in this nation."
"Pierre Gemayel was killed because he represented Lebanon's ambition and dignity," he added. "His assassins were aiming to annihilate everything he had worked for. We will not allow our oppressors to make our dear country a cemetery for martyrs. If more innocent blood is shed, we will only be even more willing to make sacrifices." Among those in attendance were Education Minister Khaled Qabbani representing Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh representing the Democratic Gathering; Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis; and Future Movement official Nader Hariri, who was representing that party's leader, MP Saad Hariri. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Phalange Party president Karim Pakradouni, National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun and Democratic Renewal Movement chief Nassib Lahoud were also on hand. March 14 Forces MPs included Boutros Harb, Antoine Ghanem, Fouad Saad, Henri Helou, George Adwan, Akram Chehayeb, and Antoine Zahra.
Also present were Reform and Change MP Ghassan Mokheiber and independent MP Robert Ghanem.  The service saw the participation of a number of other political, religious and military leaders, as well as many Phalange members and officials.Afterward, Gemayel laid a wreath at the crime scene and unveiled a statue in memory of his son. - The Daily Star

Doves become new source of Ain al-Hilweh violence
By Mohammed Zaatari -Daily Star staff
Monday, January 08, 2007
SIDON: Doves, which are ordinarily regarded as symbols of peace and love, caused the death of two men at the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp over the weekend, in two separate accidents. Mohammad Fawzi, 42, and Mohammed Ayoub, 19, were both shot in separate skirmishes that erupted over the disputed ownership of doves. Armed clashes have become increasingly commonplace in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, located on the outskirts of Sidon. In the past, however, frequent skirmishes usually involved disputes between rival armed factions. But in recent months, a number of ordinary neighborhood quarrels have turned deadly. If a Palestinian fights with his neighbor, or if two housewives have a disagreement, guns are readily available and are being shot with increasingly alarming ease.
The father of Ayoub, who was shot over the weekend during a fight with an unidentified man over the ownership of a flock of doves, called on officials in the camp to find "the criminal who killed my son and turn him over to the Lebanese judiciary.""We are not seeking revenge, we only want the law to prevail," he said.Fawzi was also shot by an unidentified man over the ownership of another group of doves.
Palestinian follow-up committees held an emergency meeting in Ain al-Hilweh Saturday to discuss measures to confront the escalating violence inside the camp, including the confiscation of unlicensed weapons.

India has valuable lessons for those would would turn Lebanon around
Monday, January 08, 2007
Editorial-Daily Star
All eyes are focused on the upcoming Paris III donor conference as a savior for Lebanon's moribund economy, but that can only be a temporary measure. In the long term, the Lebanese must build their own capacity to ignite and sustain healthy rates of economic growth which alone can lessen the burden on future generations by reducing the country's massive debt in relative terms. Examples abound of models that have helped developing countries improve their economies, and India's experience is especially instructive for two reasons. First, the country that bills its inhabitants as the world's largest democracy has found a way to profit from globalization by making itself indispensable to thousands of foreign firms looking to cut costs by outsourcing jobs to cheaper labor markets. Second, Indian companies and investors of all shapes and sizes are now on the hunt for overseas opportunities to expand their increasingly impressive fortunes.
Lebanon has much to gain by emulating certain facets of the Indian model, specifically those that would allow the talents of its people to compensate for the paucity of its resources and the weakness of its industrial sector. Information technology has evolved to the point where myriad service jobs can be done by employees almost anywhere for consumers or employers almost anywhere else. Indians have cashed in on the fact that so many of them speak English; how could the famously multilingual Lebanese not benefit from a similar initiative?
In addition, Lebanon needs to be more aggressive in expanding trade and investment ties with India, where dynamic growth is expected to create one of the world's largest economies in the coming years. To form business relationships with the South Asian country today is to make a down-payment on a better tomorrow. Egypt has been very successful in this regard, and there is no reason why Lebanon cannot do the same.
For the moment, Lebanese politicians are preoccupied with the latest round of domestic infighting and with the run-up to Paris II, but that preoccupation is no excuse for the business community to remain idle. Learning the ins and outs of the outsourcing and global IT revolutions takes time, and the best foundations for increased bilateral trade and investment consist of carefully constructed legal frameworks. Bankers, industrialists and other key players in the Lebanese private sector can do themselves - and their compatriots - a huge favor by preparing now for the day in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future when they can stop worrying about survival and start planning for prosperity.