Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lebanon postpones vote yet again

Lebanese members of parliament have postponed for an eighth time their vote to elect a new president, with 17 December called as the new date.

The pro-West ruling bloc and pro-Syrian opposition have agreed on army chief Gen Michel Suleiman, but are divided on the make-up of the new government.

There is also said to be a dispute over how to amend the constitution to allow a senior civil servant to be elected.

The deadlock meant Emile Lahoud stepped down last month without a successor.

Under Article 49 of the current constitution, senior civil servants like Gen Suleiman are barred from becoming president within two years of stepping down.


Under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, the country's president must be from the Maronite Christian minority, while the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the president of parliament a Shia.

Gen Suleiman, who is a Maronite, left a meeting with the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, on Monday without making any comment.

The deadlock over the president is Lebanon's worst political crisis since the country's long civil war ended in 1990.

The economy and parliament have been crippled, and the opposition have refused to recognise the government.

Correspondents say Gen Suleiman has remained neutral amid feuding between the government and opposition, and has repeatedly called for the army to be kept out of politics.

The governing coalition needs a two-thirds majority to elect the president, or 86 of the 128 MPs, but holds only 68 seats

Published: 2007/12/10 23:57:28 GMT


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kouchner Back In Beirut to Help Settle Presidential Crisis

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner returned to Beirut Tuesday in a fresh bid to spur feuding political leaders into electing a new president and ending a year-long political crisis.
Kouchner held talks talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for one hour and left without making any statement to reporters. He also discussed with al-Moustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri "efforts exerted to hold the presidemtial elections," according to a statement released by the Hariri Press office.

The French official also met Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun in Rabye, according to the National News agency.

Kouchner's visit comes ahead of a parliament session on Friday for lawmakers to elect a new head of state to replace Emile Lahoud, the former pro-Syrian president who stepped down at midnight on November 23 at the end of his term.

But there was wide speculation that the session -- the seventh since September -- would once again be delayed amid lingering disputes between the ruling majority and the pro-Syrian opposition.

France, Lebanon's former colonial power, has been leading international efforts to end a political crisis that emerged a year ago when six opposition ministers quit Saniora's government, plunging the country into disarray.

Kouchner's visit is the seventh by the French official to Lebanon in six months and comes as negotiations among Beirut's feuding politicians have homed in on the army chief, General Michel Suleiman, to succeed Lahoud.

The general was formally endorsed by the ruling majority on Sunday while the Aoun-led opposition has not made a firm commitment.

Aoun, himself a former army chief, said he would back Suleiman for the top job only if he held the office until legislative election in 2009, instead of the full six-year term stipulated by the constitution.

In any case, Suleiman's election requires a change to the constitution as Article 49 bars public servants from assuming the presidency within two years of stepping down from their posts.

Six sessions in parliament to elect a successor to Lahoud have already been postponed because of the bickering between the parties.

"Friday's presidential election is at the mercy of the political bazaar," the French-language L'Orient Le Jour, which is close to the ruling majority, said in a banner headline on Tuesday.

The pro-opposition daily Al-Akhbar also expected Friday's vote to be postponed. "The presidential election is once again facing complications despite the agreement between the opposition and majority on Suleiman," the daily said.(Naharnet-AFP)

Beirut, 04 Dec 07, 18:13

"a viewpoint that remains personal"

Hizbullah's Mohammed Raad: No to a Constitutional Amendment by Saniora Government
By Dalia Nehme
The head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad said Wednesday Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's majority government does not have the authority to propose a constitutional amendment allowing the election of Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman president.

Noting that he is voicing "a viewpoint that remains personal," Raad told Naharnet: "To me, at the personal level, I believe a constitutional amendment in parliament is possible after resignation of Fouad Saniora from the government which is neither constitutional nor legitimate."

"Parliament cannot meet with a non-constitutional government. I am not making a proposal, but expressing a view point that remains personal."

However, Raad stressed that "we will not block any consensus possibility if the intro to it is a constitutional amendment, provided that all opposition factions have agreed on it."

In answering a question as to whether the Hizbullah parliamentary bloc will attend a session to amend the constitution, Raad said: "We believe that any constitutional amendment will be fabrication based on tacit approval by both the pro-government factions and the opposition due to an extraordinary and very important matter."

"This issue should be discussed in detail by the opposition," he added.

What would your stand be if amending the constitution to elect Gen. Suleiman is the only salvation solution? Raad was asked.

He replied: "In fact, this issue needs to be judged to realize its seriousness in the candidate-proposing formula, and to know if the other side considers it the salvation solution."

He recalled that Saniora had "pledged to chop off his hand before signing a constitutional amendment decree. If he is ready now to chop off his hand lets discuss this issue," Raad added.

"We see no seriousness in tackling this issue, some (factions) are trying to maneuver by throwing the ball into the other side's court."

Raad said Gen. Suleiman "knows well our stand regarding him, we explained our stand to him in details a long time ago. And when nominating him is proposed seriously we'll discuss the topic."

He asked "why wasn't (suleiman's nomination) in the basked on candidates. Is constitutional amendment possible now, from a constitutional point of view? And who amends the constitution now? A non-constitutional government, and a parliament that doesn't meet with this non-constitutional government? This issue requires a discussion."

In answering a question as to whether nominating Gen. Suleiman could be proposed as a salvation exit out of the ongoing political crisis, Raad replied:

"If the opposition adopted this view point, then why not. But the opposition might not adopt this view point … This issue requires a decision. But this government is neither legal nor constitutional, how can it be entrusted with a constitutional amendment … in the first place it does not exist as far as we are concerned. Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote by a legal government so that a decree can be referred to parliament.

"Parliament does not accept illegitimate decrees by the illegitimate government."

Raad concluded by asking: "does the extraordinary situation prevailing over the country require us to surmount all these issues and the constitutional mechanism to amend the constitution?"

"I don't know, though I find it to be difficult," he replied.

Raad said Hizbullah's presidential candidate is Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun "or whoever is chosen by Gen. Aoun."

"It will be difficult to agree on any candidate of whom Gen. Aoun is not convinced," Raad added, stressing that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri "realizes this."

He said "pressure cards" of the majority have "faded away and collapsed. The pro-government team would find itself obliged to seriously accept a compromise."

Raad said any protest organized by Aoun would be coordinated with all the opposition factions, noting that the people are "suffering from economic hardships and the increase in prices of basic commodities."

"This requires serious and thorough handling that can only be available through intact rule," Raad added.

He accused the United States of aborting a French initiative to elect a consensus president before Nov. 23 when former President Emile Lahoud's extended term in office expired.

Syria, he said, "played a positive role and did not interfere in naming candidates and supported consensus on a candidate."

Raad warned that electing a president by simple majority, an option that the majority had pledged to resort to, "would open the door to chaos in the country."

The majority, Raad added, "can maintain this option for as long as they want, but can they practice it?"

Hizbullah, he said, wants a president who enjoys "Christian popularity and who strongly believes in Lebanon's strength and would be ready to maintain the national balance."

Raad said the peace conference hosted by U.S. President George Bush at Annapolis gave nothing to the Palestinians and the Arabs, while Israel was labeled a Jewish state and the Israelis did not make a commitment to halt the building of settlements or the "wall of isolation."

Israel, he said, "insisted on dealing with the Palestinian Authority through the road map, the starting phase of which insists on starting a Palestinian civil war through what the Israelis term ending terrorist operations."

The Arabs who took part in the meeting went to Annapolis "empty handed and proposed the Arab (peace) initiative that the Israeli enemy did not even accept to discuss."

Beirut, 28 Nov 07, 17:28

Iraqis 'left to rot' in Lebanon

A human rights watchdog has sharply criticised Lebanon's attitude to Iraqi refugees who do not have valid visas.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says hundreds of Iraqi refugees face the prospect of "rotting in jail" unless they agree to return home.

About 50,000 Iraqis are thought to have fled violence and instability in Iraq to the relative safety of Lebanon.

HRW says at least 500 Iraqi refugees are in jail in Lebanon and 150 were expelled in the first half of 2007.

Its report Rot Here or Die There: Bleak Choices for Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon urges the authorities to ease restrictions on Iraqis and grant them temporary legal status.

"By giving Iraqi refugees no option but to stay in jail indefinitely or return to Iraq, Lebanon is violating the bedrock principle of international law," said HRW refugee policy director Bill Frelick.

A Lebanese official quoted by AFP said the country did not offer special treatment for Iraqis, but did offer residency to anyone who qualified for it.

Lebanon never signed the 1951 UN convention on refugees. For decades its politics has been dominated by finely balanced sectarianism, which analysts say makes it hyper-sensitive to demographic changes caused by influxes of refugees.

More than 2.5 million Iraqis are refugees, most of them in neighbouring Syria and Jordan and at least 2 million more are internally displaced.

Story from BBC NEWS