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French Version

Moussa resumes bid to broker compromise in Beirut

The head of the Arab League returned to Beirut Tuesday in a new bid to end the political standoff between the government and the opposition after the latter escalated its demands with a call for new legislative elections.

Amr Moussa said he was hopeful his mediation efforts would resolve a crisis that has paralyzed the country and spread fears among many that it would turn violent.

"I still hold the view that there is hope," Moussa said upon arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport. He met leaders of all the main factions last week and reported progress but no breakthrough.

Moussa expressed confidence that the differences could be narrowed further.

"There are some areas in which we can make progress right away," he said. "All Arab countries are worried about the dangerous situation prevailing in Lebanon and are working to save this country."

His visit comes amid plans by the Hizbullah-led opposition to escalate its open-ended street protests against the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Moussa went straight to a meeting with Siniora, followed by another with Speaker Nabih Berri, shortly after he flew in from Cairo late Tuesday.

"Discussions with Siniora were very good and I am very comfortable with it," Moussa said after seeing the premier.

He made no statement following his talks with Berri.

Moussa's adviser, Hesham Youssef, said more efforts are needed to make a breakthrough.

"It was a positive and constructive meeting but we still have a long way to go," he said.

Anti-Syrian leaders who are the majority in government are at loggerheads with the opposition, led by Syrian-backed Hizbullah, over its demand for veto power in Cabinet.

The opposition has declared the government illegitimate and on Monday raised its demands from a national unity government to a call for early parliamentary elections under a new electoral law.

Moussa played down the likely impact of the opposition's escalatory demands on his talks.

"The call for early polls from the opposition will not have negative repercussions," he said.

But the governing coalition seized on the new demand as proof that the opposition was not interested in compromise and that Hizbullah and its allies' demands were closing off any room for a deal.

Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem told Reuters on Tuesday it was up to the governing coalition to respond to Moussa's proposals.

"Let's see what Amr Moussa is carrying with him and what will be the answers of the ruling coalition to his initiative - whether they will be responsive to it or reject it," he said.

On Sunday Moussa held talks with officials in Riyadh. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said his country worries about turmoil in Lebanon and urged the Lebanese to seek dialogue and national unity.

He also expressed the kingdom's support for Arab League efforts to solve Lebanon's crisis.

Moussa said he was also in contact with Syria and Iran, which are the main foreign backers of the opposition, adding that his efforts were "focusing inside Lebanon for the time being."

He said he would visit Damascus on Thursday.

Opposition ministers quit the Cabinet last month when talks on giving them more Cabinet seats collapsed. An open-ended opposition protest in central Beirut, on the doorsteps of the government's offices, entered its 19th day on Tuesday.

Supporters of Hizbullah and its main allies - Berri's Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement led by MP Michel Aoun - have erected hundreds of tents in the city center.

The anti-Syrian coalition says the opposition is trying to bring down the government to derail plans for an international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri assassination.

Hizbullah and its allies say they support the idea of the tribunal but want to discuss the details.

Beirut 20-12-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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