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French Version


Business leaders call off plans for general strike

Merchants seek talks with politicians to ease tentions

Business leaders decided Sunday against further strikes, and instead will meet with politicians soon to promote dialogue and discourage taking political quarrels into the streets.

The Economic Committee's main goal is to send a message to bickering politicians that they must urgently address Lebanon's disintegrating economy, said Wajih al-Bizri, vice president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association and member of the committee - which is comprised of about 15 business leaders and chaired by former Economy Minister Adnan Kassar.

"The economy cannot take any more carelessness from [politicians]," Bizri later told The Daily Star. "There's an economic crisis. The economy is already crippled. We know that people are fed up."

The group plans to send a delegation to meet politicians on both sides of the political divide to communicate the business community's needs. Apart from discouraging protests, the delegation will also emphasize the importance of keeping Beirut's shopping areas tension-free during the vital holiday season.

The committee had tried to communicate its message by calling a two-day general strike Friday and Saturday last week, but the proposed work stoppage was largely ignored by most businesses except banks.

Merchants stayed open because they will have to pay salaries and cannot afford to close at the end of the month, said Paul Ariss, head of the Hotel, Cafe and Restaurant Syndicate.

"[The strike] wasn't such a good idea," Ariss said. "A strike wouldn't lead to anything."

Gemmayzeh florist Amanda Awad agreed that the timing of the timing of the proposed strike was inopportune. Awad closed her Gouraud Street shop Wednesday and Thursday following the November 21 assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, but could not afford to close for two more days, she said, although she is in favor of a later strike to awaken politicians to the economy's hardships.

Last week' strike was the first phase of the business community's strategy to get politicians' attention, but the committee did not impose the closure as they did not want to inflict any further hardship on small- and medium-sized enterprises, Bizri said.

"We didn't try to enforce the closures," Bizri said. "The purpose of the strike is not to stop working. They're not the people who are making the problem. Let them make some more business. It's not important."

The point was to make politicians aware that continued threats of street protests are hitting the commercial sector hard. Many businesses rely heavily on the upcoming holiday season, and mass demonstrations would deal yet another blow to Lebanon's reeling service sector.

"We're asking everybody to clear out of the street," Bizri said. "Leave the streets for the economy and for the people to prosper. The streets are not made for destruction."

Demonstrations would only be counterproductive, Ariss said.

"It's not the time for demonstrations," he said. "Any simple accident will lead to God knows what. Let them sit together and find a solution."

Alternatively Bizri suggested that demonstrations be held in noncommercial areas such as the Cite Sportive.

Business leaders may launch a media campaign to call attention to the economy's plight, Ariss offered.

"Lobbying with the political parties is not enough," he said. "Very few [politicians] care about the economy. We just need one thing - stability."

Awad only had two or three customers in her shop on Sunday, a drop she attributes to the latest round of infighting.

"There have been slow Sundays before," she said. "But not like this."

Beirut 27-11-2006
Redaction
The Daily Star



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