DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 9,7-9. Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, "John has been raised from the dead"; others were saying, "Elijah has appeared"; still others, "One of the ancient prophets has arisen." But Herod said, "John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?" And he kept trying to see him.
A majority that refuses to act like one.By Michael Young. September 27/07
Time for Lebanon's private sector to stand up for the right thing.Daily Star.-Daily Star
A dark shadow hovers over global financial markets.By David Ignatius. September 27/07
Lebanon must set a counter-example in an undemocratic Middle East rife with violence By Chibli Mallat.September 27/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for September 27/07
Hariri Reviews with Sfeir Qualities of New President.Naharnet
Berri: Electing a President Folds 1559-Naharnet
Votes and assassinations in Lebanon.BBC News
Clinton: IAF attack in Syria justified.Jerusalem Post
Arabs-Europeans Outraged at Syria, Support Lebanon's Consensus March-Naharnet
Egypt, Saudi, France and Arab League urge dialogue for Lebanon ...Jerusalem Post
UN Lebanon Force Goes on Defensive After Summer Bomb Attacks.Bloomberg
US House votes to 'strongly back' Siniora Cabinet.Daily Star
Former Official: North Korea Aids Syria. AP
Israeli journalist visits site of incursion into Syria.AFP
Syria said ready to cede disputed area to UN.Reuters
Lebanon launches first-ever Pollen Count Project-Daily Star
Berri, Hariri lead new push toward consensus-Daily Star
Transparency group rates Lebanon as corrupt-Daily Star
'No effort will be spared to elect president-Daily Star
Lahoud urges 'full implementation' of Resolution 1701 at meeting with Ban-Daily Star
Lawmakers take every precaution to stay alive until presidential poll-Daily Star
Hordes of security forces guard Downtown Beirut-Daily Star
Border closure costs Iraqi Kurdistan $1 million a day.AFP
Philip Morris to help curb cigarette smuggling in Lebanon-Daily Star
Ministry approves plans aimed at streamlining EDL.Daily Star
US chastises Ahmadinejad for 'closing' nuclear issue.Daily Star
Bush 'threatened retaliation' against countries that refused to back Iraq war.AFP
Unlikely allies rally to Ahmadinejad's defense .AFP
Syria leery of US-led talks 'called under banner of peace.AFP
votes to 'strongly back' Siniora Cabinet
Daily Star staff
Thursday, September 27, 2007
WASHINGTON: US Congressman Gary L. Ackerman led the House of Representatives Wednesday in pass a resolution calling for strong US support for the government of Lebanon by a vote of 415 to 2. Ackerman, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, warned the House that "Lebanon is being bullied by Iran, Syria and their proxies, Hizbullah, Amal and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement."
Citing the campaign of assassinations, bombings, weapons smuggling and the instigation of a jihadi insurgency, Ackerman accused Damascus and Tehran of destabilizing Lebanon in order to pursue their own national interests.
"Now is the time for Congress to send a strong message of support for the democratically elected and fully legitimate government in Lebanon" Ackerman said.
"Time is short. The Syrian-backed campaign of murder is creeping ever closer to its goal of destroying the majority of the Lebanese Parliament, bringing down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and again imposing a pro-Syrian president on Lebanon.""The current Lebanese government, which is under siege, is both legitimate and representative of the majority of Lebanese. The attempts to undermine it are not some kind of retaliation. Lebanon's government is being systematically attacked only because it is unwilling to subordinate its authority and Lebanon's sovereignty to external and extra-legal demands," Ackerman added.
The resolution condemns Syria and the Islamic Republic for providing weapons to Lebanese militias, particularly to Hizbullah, and Palestinian factions in Lebanon in clear contravention of Security Council resolutions, and endorses "prompt action" by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the Security Council to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. The resolution also pledges continued US material support to help preserve and strengthen Lebanese sovereignty and independence. On September 19, a massive car bomb killed lawmaker Antoine Ghanem along with four other civilians, and left many dozens of innocent bystanders wounded. Ghanem, a member of the Lebanese Parliament and a supporter of the Siniora government, was just the latest in a string of 11 political assassinations over the past three years. As a consequence of this pattern of violence, the Lebanon's ruling March 14 alliance's majority has dropped from 72 to 68 out of 127. - The Daily Star
Arabs-Europeans Outraged at Syria, Support Lebanon's Consensus March
Arabs and Europeans denounced Syria's alleged meddling in Lebanon's affairs and declared support for a consensus approach to select a new head of state for the deeply divided nation.
A few hours after canceling a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem to protest the killing of anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner discussed the Lebanon situation at the United Nations Tuesday with his Saudi and Egyptian counterparts, Prince Saud al-Faisal and Ahmed Abul Gheit, respectively. Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa also took part in the meeting, according to the daily an-Nahar.
Arab Foreign Ministers also held a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly deliberations in New York and issued a statement denouncing political assassinations in Lebanon and calling for the holding of Presidential elections without foreign interference, the newspaper reported. The ministers, in a statement, said they deliberated the "Lebanon developments and condemned the acts of political assassinations that have targeted a number of political figures, intellectuals and journalists. The last of whom was MP Antoine Ghanem" by a powerful car bomb blast in Beirut's eastern suburb of Sin el-Fil on Sept. 19. Such attempts, the statement added, aim at "destabilizing Lebanon and blocking the presidential elections." The ministers also called The "Lebanese political factions to maintain national dialogue with the aim of achieving the proper atmosphere for successful presidential elections in line with the constitution and the constitutional schedule and without foreign influence."The ministers, furthermore, asked Moussa to "proceed with his efforts and contacts with all the concerned parties to help the Lebanese" hold presidential elections on time. Kouchner's meeting with his Saudi and Egyptian counterparts and Moussa's participation in the discussion came a few hours after the French foreign minister said he cancelled a meeting with Muallem because of the Ghanem assassination.
Kouchner said the meeting with Muallem was cancelled because he was "shocked" by Ghanem's assassination. "I was extremely shocked by this latest assassination ... I felt that I should not meet my counterpart as had been planned," he told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session. Syria last Saturday rejected as "baseless and without proof" accusations by Lebanon's ruling coalition that Damascus was behind the Ghanem's killing. Ghanem was the eighth Damascus critic to be killed in Lebanon since the February 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafik Hariri, and the fourth anti-Syrian MP killed since the 2005 elections. "This is an intolerable situation, and we are trying not to tolerate it," Kouchner said. "The least we can do is to not pretend that he and four other people were not assassinated in the same attack," he said. Asked if he held Syria responsible for the attack, Kouchner responded: "I did not say that. I think they are very influential in the region."(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 27 Sep 07, 08:24
Egypt, Saudi, France and Arab League urge dialogue for Lebanon elections
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Egyptian, Saudi and French foreign ministers and the Arab League secretary-general urged all political forces in Lebanon to restart a national dialogue so they can reach agreement on the election of a new president. They said in a communique issued late Wednesday after a meeting on the sidelines of the high-level UN General Assembly session that the timeframe in the Lebanese constitution for election of a new president must be respected.
Lebanon's parliament on Tuesday put off a session to elect a new president until October 23 after the legislature failed to muster enough lawmakers because of a Hezbollah-led opposition boycott. More than a dozen declared or undeclared candidates are vying for the post, three of them members of the pro-government camp and one from the opposition. The attempt to choose a successor to President Emile Lahoud before he steps down on Nov. 24 has become a struggle between the anti-Syrian coalition, led by US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, and the opposition, led by the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah.
Lebanon: mirage of peace
After an Al Qaeda video threat aimed at the French and Spaniards on 21 September, Islamist groups in Lebanon are ready to finish with the apparently quietened situation in the 'Middle East's Switzerland' UNIFIL observation base, Lebanon (Manila Tyce/ Flickr) It's a euphemism. France, Italy, Poland and Spain are not in the south of Lebanon to help bring about peace, but to act as peace intermediaries. UN intelligence reports detail that up to six terrorist factions currently threaten the security of European troops participating in the interim force for Lebanon (UNIFIL). The mandate has just been extended to 31 August 2008. The troops know, and Europe knows, just as Setefilla Garrido knows. The grandmother of David Portas, a Sevillan soldier who was killed at the age of 20 in an attack, says 'David knew the risk. But my grandson also knew that he wanted to help those who needed it. If his death contributes to bringing about peace in that country, that will go with him in his coffin.'
Last May, the UN informed the Spanish government (the third national force deployed in Lebanon, with 1, 100 soldiers), that it should be on 'high alert' before the proliferation of Sunni groups against the foreign presence on the border with Israel. There is also the threat of a growing illegal arms business from Syria and Iran.
Sources from the Spanish ministry of defence learnt this on the same day that a bomb killed six of its soldiers near the Lebanese base Miguel de Cervantes on 24 June. 'They are groups reinforced with contraband, who have settled down firmly in the small southern towns. We've had a few issues with them since we moved here in September 2006,' says a soldier deployed in the zone inside the Spanish operative force.
Using refugee camps
The zones in which the terrorists are the most active are the poorest centres, where a large number of Palestinian refugees are concentrated, such as Ein el Hilweh or Jund Al Sham (in Sidon, Lebanon's third largest city, and haunt of Osama Bin Laden, where the most attacks and stops have been carried out against UNIFIL troops).
They weave a dense network of social assistance, in the style of Hamas in Palestine, with Lebanese complicity. Foreign troops assist against the Hebrews, but are also a hindrance imposed by the west: this is how they think. There are light attacks on military bases, entire settlements which refuse to collaborate with international forces and which on occasion launch attacks themselves.
European governments have intensified their contacts with the interim organisation that is the Palestinian National Authority, bearing in mind that five of the main militias which besiege troops (Syrian-backed Fatah al-Intifada, Sunni Fatah Al Islam, Jund Al Sham, Osbat Al Ansar and Jund Allah), are factions emerging from the recognised Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Radical groups have their breeding ground within the twelve refugee camps which house about 45, 000 of the 400, 000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, according to the UN. 'Authentic zulos as explosives, car bombs and stores of light arms,' according to Spain, who advises her troops to stay far away from some of these enclaves.
Since the 38-day war ended in summer 2006, UNIFIL has discovered five training camps led by Fatah Al Islam and Jund Al Sham, the groups closest to Al Qaeda. International observers affirm they are responsible for 'middle scale attacks on hotels and western interests,' of an attack on the US embassy in Beirut, and of 'constant, low intensity attacks' against the Blue Helmets (UN peacekeepers).
Hezbollah protects Europeans
After complaints from the French, Italian and Spanish embassies stationed on the Litani river in southern Lebanon (closest to Israel), the leaders of Hezbollah -have ensured that their henchmen have protect UNIFIL and try to prevent Al-Qaeda from attacking.
This at least is in the words of renowned journalist Robert Fisk, made in June. UNIFIL troops have brought stability to Lebanon; they stopped Israel trespassing airspace and guarantee a protected front. Until the terrorists manage to wage their own war within the Lebanese state, like Hezbollah, they are obliged to compromise. But the danger of Al-Qaeda is omnipresent in the UN bases.
Bush Calls N.Korea a 'Brutal Regime'
U.S. President George W. Bush denounced North Korea as a "brutal regime” in the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, ending months of restraint in his remarks about the country while nuclear negotiations are underway. North Korea in turn strongly protested against suspicions raised in the U.S. that it sold nuclear materials to Syria. The new development bodes ill for six-nation nuclear talks slated to start on Thursday in Beijing.
In his speech at the UN, Bush said, "The people of Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq have asked for our help, and every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand with them. In Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people fundamental rights." He criticized the UN Commission on Human Rights, which "has been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran.” "To be credible on human rights in the world, the United Nations must first reform its own Human Rights Council."
U.S. President George W. Bush finishes his address to the 62nd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday. /Reuters
Bush also denounced autocratic governments in Burma, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Sudan, citing the human rights situation there. He mentioned no concrete human rights violations in North Korea.
Meanwhile, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, meeting reporters at Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday, denied the Syria story. "Madmen have created rumors about our dealing with Syria on nuclear materials,” he said.
North Korea’s Workers’ Party daily or Rodong Shinmun carried a commentary the same day titled "Mastermind of the Destruction of Non-Nuclear Proliferation." The commentary said, "Abusing its status as a nuclear power, the U.S. is making it a rule to tyrannize, threaten and blackmail non-nuclear nations... For a long time, the U.S. has pro-actively encouraged and cooperated with Israel in its nuclear armament program."
The previous day, the North Korean daily touched on an Israeli air strike in Syria on Sept. 6, the focus of the suspicions about North Korean-Syrian transaction in nuclear materials. "This is obviously a violent infringement on Syria's sovereignty,” it said. “The U.S. is protecting and defending this brazen act."
Bush also told the UN about U.S. free trade agreements with South Korea, Peru, Colombia and Panama which he said “embody the values of open markets -- transparent and fair regulation, respect for private property, and resolving disputes under international law rules." He also reiterated support for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for Japan, which is opposed by many Asian nations. “We believe that Japan is well-qualified,” he said, but added “other nations” should be considered as well.
The U.S. government has consistently supported a permanent seat for Japan, but this was the first time Bush voiced open support. The U.K.’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband also expressed support in his speech.
But the prospects in Tokyo’s long quest for permanent membership remain dim. The biggest hurdle is China, one of the five current permanent members. And major mid-size nations including South Korea also oppose the idea, arguing that increasing the number of permanent members with veto powers would bring about an undemocratic decision-making structure. The U.K., for its part, supports Japan's permanent membership but opposes Germany's, making for additional friction. Discussion on restructuring the Security Council continued throughout the tenure of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan but reached no conclusion.
Former Official: North Korea Aids Syria
By BARRY SCHWEID – 4 hours ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — The target of Israel's air strike in northeastern Syria earlier this month was either a joint nuclear or missile facility with North Korea, John R. Bolton, a former senior Bush administration official, said Wednesday. "I am definitely hearing it from U.S. and Israeli sources," Bolton said in an interview. "The information is very closely held." The strike raised tensions in the region, but has not stopped the Bush administration from including Syria in its plans for Mideast peacemaking or for six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program. Those discussions are due to commence Thursday in Beijing.
"What the Israelis struck I cannot say; whether a nuclear or missile facility is not clear," Bolton said from his office at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He offered the possibility that it was a joint research venture or simply a North Korea facility located in Syria. "Any of these options is enough to show proliferation by the North Koreans and that is very dangerous," Bolton said.
He ruled out other theories, meanwhile, including that the target was Iranian missiles to be shipped to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon for attacks on Israel or that Israel was testing Syria's air defenses. "I don't think the Israelis would have taken the risk unless it was a very high-value target," Bolton said.
Neither American nor Israeli officials are saying whether the target was a nuclear or missile facility and many don't know, Bolton said.
The former State Department official and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said he did not object to the Beijing talks, which are designed to disable North Korea's nuclear program. At a session last February, North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear facility and eventually disable its programs in exchange for aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil. Bolton said it would be wrong, however, to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of countries that support terror and therefore are ineligible for various benefits. "If they are cooperating with either Syria or Iran, such as on ballistic missile stuff, they should stay on (the list) with Syria and Iran," he said. "If you are supporting terrorist regimes, you are a state supporter of terror," he said.
Bolton, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the Bush administration, guided U.S. programs designed to try to halt the spread of dangerous weapons and technology. North Korea, Iran and Syria were among his primary targets. Democrats, with a smattering of Republican help, blocked President Bush's subsequent nomination of Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bush installed him in a temporary appointment in August 2005 but surrendered to congressional foes last December and gave up his fight to make Bolton the permanent ambassador.
**Hosted by Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Israeli journalist visits site of incursion into Syria
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Thursday, September 27, 2007
JERUSALEM: A reporter for Israel's mass-selling Yediot Aharonot daily recently visited the area in Syria where Israeli warplanes carried out an apparent air attack, the newspaper said on Wednesday. "This is where the Israeli planes attacked," said the front-page headline in the daily next to a photograph of its reporter, Ron Ben-Yishai, standing in front of a sign reading "Deir Ezzor Research Station" in Arabic and English. The paper did not say how its military affairs correspondent managed to enter Syria, which is officially in a state of war with Israel. Deir Az-Zor is where, according to foreign media reports, Israeli warplanes bombed a secret military facility that allegedly contained nuclear material from North Korea - reports denied by both Damascus and Pyongyang. Syria has said that its air defenses fired on Israeli planes that had dropped ammunition deep inside its territory on September 6 and has lodged an official complaint over the incident with the United Nations. Damascus has released no further details of the strike, and Israel has maintained an official wall of silence over the incident. In his report, Ben-Yishai quotes local residents as saying that they heard planes fly over the area on the night of September 5-6. "There were a few Israeli planes here that made supersonic booms over the city and maybe even dropped something. We didn't hear any explosions on the ground," Ben-Yishai quoted a resident as saying. In a separate story, Yediot quoted anonymous military sources as saying that Syria had raised the state of alert for its military along the armistice line with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in recent days. - AFP
Syria ready to cede disputed area to U.N.
Wed Sep 26, 2007 7:41pm BST
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[-] Text [+] UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria has indicated it is willing to allow the United Nations to take custody of the disputed Shebaa Farms area claimed by Lebanon but which is under Israeli occupation, a Spanish diplomat said on Wednesday. The Lebanese militant group Hizbollah has used Israel's continuing occupation of the area to justify continuing armed attacks on the Jewish state, triggering a 34-day war last year when its fighters kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
The Syrian offer on the small area in the foothills of the Golan Heights, was made to Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos last month and conveyed by Spain to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the diplomat said. He confirmed a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz that Moratinos, a former European Union Middle East envoy, had sent a letter to Ban two weeks ago after discussing the matter with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "The facts are correct," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because his minister did not wish to comment. However, he disputed the newspaper's interpretation that the Syrian move was a gambit to put pressure on Israel, which Haaretz said opposed withdrawing from the area at this time. A spokesman at the Israeli mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the report. Syrian officials were not available for comment.
Israel captured the Shebaa Farms from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and the United Nations certified that it had withdrawn from all Lebanese territory when its troops pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000. U.N. officials say their cartographers are working at full speed to demarcate the disputed territory and analyze which country has jurisdiction. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last September that Israel would be willing to discuss the status of the Shebaa Farms, but only if Lebanon disarmed Hizbollah, which it has refused to do. Haaretz said Syria was willing to transfer the area to U.N. custody before the international border between it and Lebanon has been fully demarcated.
Berri, Hariri lead new push toward consensus
French charges d'affaires says statements from both sides are 'in the right direction'
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Thursday, September 27, 2007
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri met for a third time early Wednesday morning over suhur to continue a discussion started Tuesday morning in Parliament over ways to elect a president within the constitutional timeframe. Liberation and Development MP Ali Hassan Khalil, said that if consensus is reached quickly, nothing prevents Berri from convening an electoral session before October 23. The speaker has already called MPs to attend a session of Parliament on October 16 to elect members of parliamentary committees.
"Berri will continue his initiative in order to reach a solution before the October 23 session," Khalil said, adding that Berri's meeting with Hariri was to narrow the gap over names for presidential candidates but refusing to delve into specifics.
Khalil said Berri's meeting is the first of many with Hariri and other factions to arrive at a consensus. "Berri started his consultations by meeting MP Hariri, who is delegated by the majority to speak on their behalf," he said. "This does not mean that Berri will not be in contact with the heads of other parliamentary blocs at the soonest." Khalil said Berri will not halt his efforts to reach a solution to the impasse in light of negative comments: "On the contrary it will increase his persistence to reach a solution that all the Lebanese desire." Berri also met Wednesday, at Ain al-Tineh, with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Geir Pedersen and discussed efforts to get Lebanon out of its current crisis. Berri also met former Minister Jean Obeid.Hariri later met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail to keep him abreast of his talks with Berri.
Hariri also received British Ambassador to Lebanon Francis Mary Guy in Koreitem.
March 14 presidential candidate MP Boutros Harb met Hariri Wednesday and discussed the latest developments.
"There are many consultations that will happen between Speaker Berri and political factions ... we hope these consultations happen quickly and are successful," Harb said afterward, adding that he feels there is an opportunity for accord. "Our intentions are pure and our hands are extended," the deputy said. "We want to preserve Lebanese unity and to rebuild the Lebanese democratic state - all that helps toward that end we support."
Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, addressing party members Wednesday, said that Lebanon has been in a chaotic state both constitutionally and security-wise for the past two years. He said that some factions continue to push Lebanon toward further deterioration.
"I have put forward an initiative, if there were true intentions to rescue the country, I invited everyone, especially the heads of parliamentary blocs, to talk with each other," Aoun said. "I suggested each participant in dialogue discuss their fears and have others allay those fears. We can reach a result to save Lebanon, we must not allow the country to deteriorate further."
"We want to prevent a clash, we want to open the door to understanding," Aoun said, adding that there is a responsibility on the government's shoulders on the security front and asking how the security ap-paratus has failed to make headway on the assassinations of the last two years.
Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, speaking during an iftar banquet, said presidential elections are a delicate matter that must proceed within the constitutional timeframe. "We are committed to holding elections on time and in accordance with a two-thirds quorum as the Constitution stipulates," Qassem said.
He said the electoral session did not convene because two-thirds of MPs did not attend, adding that the October 23 session will only be legal if two-thirds MPs attend.
"We gave our answer as an opposition and agreed to Speaker Berri's initiative, what is required is for you to give your answer," Qassem said, addressing the majority, "the answer comes in taking tangible steps and we are ready to join with you for partnership, consensus and unity."French Charges d'Affaires in Lebanon Andre Baran met Wednesday with Aoun.
"The assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem showed that there are people who want to hamper presidential elections at all costs and plunge Lebanon into chaos," Baran said afterward, "The only response ... would be to proceed with dialogue and continue the search for a solution based on an understanding among all the Lebanese."
Baran noted the resumption of contact between representatives of the majority and the opposition, adding that statements coming out both camps are "in the right direction." He urged all parties to intensify efforts to elect a president within the constitutional time frame. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir discussed with his visitors at Bkirki Wednesday the parliamentary electoral session, its impact and the contacts between the various political factions. Sfeir also met Change and Reform Bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan, who represented Aoun. Presidential candidate Nassib Lahoud said that the natural outcome in Lebanon is the election of a president from the majority camp who will work with the new prime minister to appoint a national unity Cabinet "in which the opposition may have a third plus one of Cabinet posts."
In an interview with the press on Wednesday, Lahoud said that issuing an international resolution concerning the presidential election is not being considered, nor is the election of a president without consensus, under international auspices and without internal accord. "Nothing bars dialogue with Hizbullah over pending issues, especially since it had a big role in liberating the South from Israeli occupation and we have to benefit from Hizbullah's capabilities," Lahoud said.Lahoud said a state of enmity with Syria is not inevitable. "Once all contentious issues are resolved, relations between both our countries will normalize, provided Syria recognizes that Lebanon is a sovereign and free country," he said.
A majority that refuses to act like one
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, September 27, 2007
The two-month period to elect a new president has begun, and not surprisingly it started with a deal. On Tuesday, Parliament was called into session to find a successor to Emile Lahoud. Instead, the speaker, Nabih Berri, bought an extra month to haggle over a consensus candidate. That may be what many Lebanese want, but the result will not be stability. The deal was roughly this, according to parliamentarians present in the assembly room: Berri rescheduled the parliamentary session until October 23, but not on the grounds that a two-thirds quorum was absent. In exchange, March 14 removed from Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari's public statement a paragraph maintaining its right to vote for a president by an absolute majority of at least 65 parliamentarians. In that way the majority avoided recognizing the opposition's insistence on a two-thirds quorum in all rounds of voting for president. Berri, in turn, locked majority leader Saad Hariri into weeks of negotiations that risk breaking the unity and momentum of March 14 - a vital ingredient in the coalition's efforts to bring in a new president without the opposition's acquiescence.
The tactical differences between Hariri and Walid Jumblatt on the presidency are now out in the open, and this is beginning to seriously hamper the strategy of March 14. However, it is not just Jumblatt and his allies who were displeased with the implications of the Hariri-Berri arrangement. Other parliamentarians aligned with neither politician were equally disturbed that the majority had missed an occasion to elect a president on its own, which would have affirmed its status as a majority.
To be realistic, however, there was no way that March 14 was going to elect a president on Tuesday. Hariri has been under great Saudi pressure to compromise, while Jumblatt knows that a president brought in by March 14 would need to have a prior guarantee of Saudi, American, and European recognition to be politically viable. That recognition may yet come if Syria and the opposition continue to hinder the election process, but it does not exist today. Hariri simply had no latitude to avoid Berri's trap of setting a timeframe to find a consensus candidate.
That said, March 14 cannot afford a consensus president, since such a person is bound to be critically weak. Hariri reportedly intends to be the next prime minister. This will lead to the creation of an unwieldy "political" Cabinet in which all major political forces are represented, and in which the opposition's right of veto power has already been recognized. That veto power, together with Berri's control over parliamentary procedure and the ongoing effort by Syria to brutally change the numbers in Parliament, will give the opposition effective control over policy. An anemic president will be in no position to alter this situation, leading to deepening polarization. The majority will have surrendered executive power in the government in exchange for a nonentity as head of state.
The real fight in the coming months will be over who dominates the government. The presidency is important, but many politicians seem to have forgotten what the crisis during the last 10 months has been all about: the opposition's demand to block Cabinet decisions. Nor have enough people in March 14 sufficiently grasped the significance of what has for months been a Syrian and opposition stipulation: that Fouad Siniora is unacceptable as prime minister of a new government.
The majority has made a serious tactical error in not picking up on that condition - either to reject it outright or accept it in return for an exorbitant concession. Instead, Siniora has found himself with little overt backing among the majority - because this might be perceived as an effort to thwart Hariri's prime ministerial ambitions - so he has unnecessarily been sold cheap. Worse, opposition groups will make Hariri sweat before he heads a new government, though they ardently want him to take the post. They know that once in office he would have to accept daily compromises merely to hold his government together, making him less effective on a wide range of key issues, from government support for the Hariri tribunal to implementation of United Nations resolutions.
What can the majority do to break out of its glass box? First, it must come to an agreement on a single presidential candidate who, to borrow from Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, is to March 14 what Berri is to March 8. In other words, the majority's candidate, whoever that person might be, should be open to all sides, but make it a priority to firm up the achievements of the 2005 Independence Intifada. March 14 must then announce that this candidate will be elected by an absolute majority on October 23, unless it can agree with the opposition beforehand on another candidate who has the same general political orientation and objectives.
The current strategy of the majority of having two candidates in hand - Boutros Harb for a consensus, let's say, and Nassib Lahoud for the confrontation - is not working. In fact, the tactic is dividing March 14, as every Maronite in sight contrives to gain the upper hand. The majority is a majority and has every right to announce whom it intends to elect. The opposition can ask for reassurances that this person will take its interests into consideration, but it shouldn't be granted the authority to shoot down all those it doesn't like. After all, what is the value of a majority in the shadow of a minority's right to brandish a perpetual veto?
A second step March 14 must take is to insist that Fouad Siniora is its candidate as prime minister of any new government. This would demonstrate the majority's commitment to a government made up mainly of technocrats, not political heavyweights. It could justify this on the grounds that Lebanon is today in need of expertise, particularly social and economic expertise, not the divisiveness a political Cabinet will generate.
And third, in the coming weeks the parliamentary majority must rally Arab and international support behind its strategy of electing a candidate on October 23 by an absolute majority; that is if it cannot arrive at a compromise with Berri on someone else who might better please the opposition while also fulfilling the majority's conditions of securing Lebanese sovereignty and independence, upholding the Hariri tribunal, and implementing UN resolutions. Saudi endorsement of the majority's candidate will go a long way toward containing a Hizbullah counter-reaction, since the party will want to avoid Sunni-Shiite clashes.
Opposition parties have hijacked the presidential election process and are trying to deny the majority its democratic right to act like a majority. In the face of such brazenness, March 14 has to deploy some audacity of its own. Parliamentarians are being picked off one by one. Tiptoeing around a bogus consensus is futile when the problem has become existential.
*Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.
Lebanon must set a counter-example in an undemocratic Middle East rife with violence
By Chibli Mallat
Thursday, September 27, 2007
FIRST PERSON Chibli Mallat
I had several occasions, since the beginning of my campaign, to underline the need for Parliament to fill the presidential void resulting from the coerced nature of the extension of Emile Lahoud's mandate, over which Speaker Nabih Berri presided in September 2004.
The speaker's absence today, and that of the MPs belonging to his parliamentary group, constitute a further dereliction of their fundamental constitutional duty. Instead of transforming Parliament into the natural place for declared candidates for the presidency to present our program and debate it, tragic undemocratic practices have again denied decent Lebanese men and women their most legitimate political forum, in a country where for the first time since 1972, MPs were freely elected, and where, for the first time since 1970, free presidential elections can be held.
This leaves the people of Lebanon at an impasse where they do not know whom to blame more: the speaker and his allies for these callous practices, reinforced by their violent closure of the streets in the center of Beirut for months on end, or the MPs of the majority who do not dare exercise their basic duties despite the unprecedented serial assassination of our courageous colleagues who dared speak out against tyranny and its brutal practices.
Postponement of the electoral process is grave in itself. A graver dimension has emerged today. For no reason, the speaker has called for the next session to be held on the very last day of the month constitutionally prescribed for the presidential election. This is unacceptable, and I call on all MPs to meet immediately, every day, and without discontinuity, in order to carry on open deliberations for the presidency, against tyrannical practices, in the great tradition of world democracies since Philadelphia and the Jeu de Paume. This is also consonant within Article 75 of our Constitution, which considers a "Parliament meeting to elect the president of the republic an electoral body and not a legislative assembly."
Undemocratic practices must be reversed: Instead of petty horse-trading in obscure rooms outside Parliament, with no results due the entrenched positions on either side, Lebanon can and must offer the violent and undemocratic Mideast an historic counter-example.
Considering the threat to their lives and the lives of presidential candidates, and the unprecedented practice of physical closure of Parliament, if this proves too difficult to carry out in Beirut, I am repeating my call to the UN Organization to shoulder its historic responsibility toward peace and democracy in the Middle East, and to open up if necessary its doors in New York for the free exercise of Lebanese MPs of their constitutional duty.
**Chibli Mallat is a lawyer and a candidate for Lebanon's presidential election.
Aoun, Religious Scholar
Al-Hayat - 27/09/07//
It is said, in exaggeration, that every Lebanese who's born a Maronite immediately becomes a candidate for the presidency of the Republic. However, the one who most represents this presidential dream today is, without rival, MP Michel Aoun. His desire for the seat in Baabda has gone as far as to create and borrow expressions and formulas (that none of his presumed competitors has used) for "ruling" a country whose anchoring is not fixed and is not easy to steer.
The "ruling" in question is derived from "wilayat al-faqih" (the rule of the cleric: Khomeini's theory of religious rule), since Aoun has become closer to his ally Hizbullah than he is to the public that looked hopefully to the future upon his return from exile. Instead, the Christians are leaving more and are more profoundly divided, the political and economic situation in the country is worse, and the solutions Aoun's proposing, in which he puts himself forward as the central part of the puzzle, have only seen him reap the wind.
Deciding matters of religious law, or fiqh, shows up on the tongue of the retired general at every occasion. The most recent was of course the parliamentary session to elect a president, which did not see a quorum. When the majority insisted on its constitutional right to elect a new president on the basis of a 50% plus one quorum, Aoun called it "a coup d'Etat" and promised that "all means of suppressing this coup will be 'halal'," or religiously permitted. This is the logical extension of the phrase "unpolluted money," which Aoun's ally uses to explain what it gets in the way of Iranian financing.
On this same occasion, Aoun adopted the policy of accusing others of treason, which the party and its like, those who have been inspired by the near-by Baathist school, have been keen to use. Aoun believed that electing a president from the majority with an absolute majority "would be like a second July war against the resistance, but in a Lebanese context this time." Just as Hizbullah did after last year's war, and like Damascus did when it considered the parliamentary majority "an Israeli product," Aoun hung on the Israeli "rack" everyone with whom he disagrees, those who don't follow his policies and positions, and those who don't believe in him as the sole candidate for the presidency.
He quickly issued a "fatwa" saying that "no one can become the president of the Republic who is hostile to Hizbullah," i.e. placing the presidency that he aspires to, using all possible means, in the hands of his ally and under its conditions, perhaps in an attempt to convince his ally that he will not abandon it and signal his readiness to accept all of its conditions, after talk of a consensus president means that he will be ignored and his opportunities to become president will dissipate.
If the electoral session that didn't convene indicated the possibility of beginning of dialogue or an understanding between the pro-government and opposition camps, then Aoun was the most important absentee. In fact, his allies behaved as if he was a mere appendage of them, nothing more. The two-thirds quorum, which the opposition continues to advocate, can be secured by the attendance of the Shiite MPs, if an agreement is reached with the majority, and there would be no need for Aoun, his deputies or his opinion about the next president. His participation in any understanding would only be pro forma. Aoun's public will discover that he has dragged himself and them into a mistaken political formula, one that not only increases Christian division but also marginalizes the role of those in whose name he spoke; this formula has excluded them position of influence and decision-making. He has given them a regional formula that does not suit their weight, does not give them a role and does not classify them as its local proxy.
Due to his strong identification with Hizbullah, Aoun only needs to disappear for a period of time. Perhaps after that he might appear as a "president