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French Version

Siniora vows to remain in office, insists he is premier 'of all the Lebanese

Lebanon's prime minister dismissed claims on Thursday that his government would resign to make way for one of national unity, arguing that the Lebanese people are "happy with this government and it is here to stay."

Fouad Siniora made the remarks at a press conference Thursday at the Grand Serail, in which he was asked about the current political crisis, Hizbullah's weapons and the opposition's increasing calls for the government to resign.

Hizbullah official Sheikh Nabil Qaouk said last week in a statement that the party's arms were still present in the South but were hidden.

Siniora commented on the statement, reiterating previous assurances that the army has clear instructions to seize any weapons found in the South.

"We reiterate our respect for all those who struggled and fought in the South, but there will be no weapons in the South apart from the army's," he said.

"The Lebanese Army will not deal with those who fought Israel as bandits - but at the same time only the army's weapons will be present in the South," he added.

Asked if efforts to empower the army in the South were aimed at disarming Hizbullah, the prime minister said: "We want to strengthen the army and train the soldiers according to modern standards, but the army will not be in confrontation with the resistance."

Asked whether he would include his biggest critic, former General MP Michel Aoun in his government, he said: "We are happy and comfortable with this government as it is. We have said this before. The Lebanese people are happy and there will be no change in the government."

"It is my duty to defend the government," Siniora added, arguing that its "achievements during the last Israeli war against Lebanon are many," most important of which were the amendments to UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

As to whether the current tense political situation could be a result of the tension between him and Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Siniora said: "I do not have tense relations with anyone."

"I am the prime minister of all the Lebanese, those in Cabinet and those outside of Cabinet," he declared. "Hizbullah is amply represented in the government and in Parliament and we have very good relations with Hizbullah's ministers."

He also responded to a question on whether a meeting with Nasrallah would put to rest fears of a Shiite-Sunni rift, saying: "Who says that we do not see each other? Just because it is not a public affair, doesn't mean it is not happening."

The premier also said he had not received any official request from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is currently touring the Middle east, to visit Lebanon.

The news conference was held to announce compensation plans for war-stricken citizens outside Beirut's southern suburbs. Siniora said that 10 percent of aid to Lebanon has been handed over to the Higher Relief Committee (HRC) and 90 percent to civil institutions. He did not specify which aid money had been distributed. The government has come under fire recently from donor NGOs and countries for not having established a clear and concrete plan for financial allocation.

The premier stressed that the HRC would soon issue a report detailing its accomplishments, the donations received by foreign and local parties and the mechanisms adopted to help the Lebanese since the first day of war.

He added that all donations received by the committee and distributed to the Lebanese were listed on its Web site.

The premier said 92 bridges had been destroyed by Israeli attacks, 68 of which would be rebuilt by grants from Lebanese figures and institutions.

"Six bridges have been built by a grant from France, six others from Russia and one from Britain," he stated, adding that 151 roads have been repaired so far by the Public Works and Transport Ministry.

As to the electricity sector, Siniora said two of the five generation units at the Jiyyeh power plant have been restored and all distribution wires repaired.

He added that the Council of the South would assess damage caused to residential and non-residential buildings in the South and the western Bekaa Valley, while the Ministry of the Displaced would evaluate damage in the other Lebanese areas, except for Beirut's southern suburbs.

The suburbs' exclusion stems from the government's delay in assessing all damages and compensation to the victims.

Siniora said the government has established special mechanisms for countries wishing to donate money and other forms of aid to Lebanon.

The prime minister also said the villages that donors have pledged to rebuild represent 75 percent of the total amount of destroyed towns.

He said many countries had already pledged to rebuild destroyed villages, explaining that Saudi Arabia would rebuild 29 villages; Kuwait 21 villages; Qatar, four; the United Arab Emirates, 18; Jordan, seven; Egypt, seven; Spain, five; Syria, three villages; Yemen, one village; and Bahrain, one village.

A statement released by Siniora's office following the new conference said the government would pay LL 50 million for each totally destroyed residential unit and a maximum of LL 40 million for every partially destroyed residential unit in two installments.

Replying to a question, Siniora said the government would welcome any Syrian aid to the country, adding that he had already approved Iranian applications to restore some bridges and roads.

Beirut 06-10-2006
The Daily Star

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