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French Version

Business leaders lean on politicians to end crisis

'No one is ready for any compromise'

A delegation of business leaders visited members of the ruling March 14 coalition and the opposition on Tuesday, in the first phase of a week-long push to end the political infighting that has paralyzed the government and Lebanon's economy since mid-November.

First the six representatives appointed by the Economic Committee - an association with members from several key sectors - met with the head of the parliamentary majority, MP Saad Hariri, and his ally, MP Walid Jumblatt. They later visited the head of the opposition Free Patriotic Movement, MP Michel Aoun. On both occasions they pressured the politicians to stop threatening street protests and resume national dialogue sessions.

The president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI), who participated in the talks, was not optimistic about the reception.

"Our feeling is that no one is ready for any compromise and everyone is standing by their own conditions," Abboud told The Daily Star in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "Hariri is insisting that this [returning to dialogue] is not possible, and there is just no trust between parties. But there is a solution."

The ALI's position is that the March 14 and March 8 groupings, which have come to dominate Lebanese government since the Syrian withdrawal, do not account for an unaligned third of the population whose voices remain unheard in Parliament.

"ALI is in favor of five or six parliamentary seats going to politicians who are not associated with either March 14 or March 8. These people are truly suffering because of the economic situation, and all they want from the government is health coverage and to be able to live and work in a prosperous country," Abboud said.

On Wednesday the delegates will meet former President Amin Gemayel, after which "the Maronites among us" will visit Maronite Patriarch Butros Sfeir, said Abboud. On Thursday they plan to visit Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Speaker Nabih Berri, and "hopefully" the leader of Hizbullah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Both Abboud and the committee's secretary general, Adnan Kassar, declined to share the business community's future strategy should this week's campaign prove unsuccessful, since it must be determined by all 14 general assembly members at their next meeting.

But Kassar toed a decidedly less controversial line than Abboud. "We are visiting these officials to make them aware of the serious economic crisis we live in, which is very much a consequence of the recent political events," read a statement from Kassar's office released late Tuesday evening.

The delegation begged politicians, especially the "wise Nabih Berri" not to do anything to jeopardize the economy, since Lebanese businesses cannot handle any more turmoil.

"We have to save Lebanon's economy and ... restore life to the country gradually," said Kassar. "Our only choice is to go back to dialogue and learn from past experiences."

Kassar also dismissed accusations that the committee supported the ruling coalition over other political parties, insisting that last week's largely unobserved two-day strike was not coordinated by the government.

"The Economic Committee in Lebanon has always been united," he argued. "We are nationalistic and would never favor one party."

Beirut 29-11-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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