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French Version

Moussa extends Beirut mission in bid to end standoff

Franjieh promises civil disobedience if government continues to resist demands

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa will continue his current mission to mediate between the Lebanese government and opposition until Saturday before breaking for the holiday period, an aide said on Friday.

Moussa had said he would wrap up his current round of talks on Friday and hold a news conference to announce the results before flying to Cairo, but then decided to extend his stay by a day and postponed his news conference to Saturday morning, the aide told Agence France Presse.

A Lebanese official described the extension as a positive development, but observers said the postponement suggests Moussa's mediation mission had hit a dead-end.

This came as one of the leading members of the opposition, former Minister Suleiman Franjieh, said Friday his allies might start civil disobedience after the holidays to pressure Premier Fouad Siniora to form a national unity government.

"We will block roads, close the airport, the port and they won't be able to handle that, they will give up as soon as we start escalating," Franjieh said.

"We will escalate the campaign after the holidays to force them [the government] to accept our demands. Our steps are well studied and easy. We will start by blocking roads and start civil disobedience actions," he added.

However, Franjieh said opposition supporters will not storm Siniora's offices.

The Hizbullah-led coalition has been camped out on the doorsteps of the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut since December 1. They are asking for a veto power or one-third plus one seat in a national unity government and new legislative elections under a new electoral law.

After meeting Parliament majority leader Saad Hariri, Moussa said the two had "discussed the details, and it is in the details that the difficulties lie."

The Arab League chief held a series of talks with pro- and anti-Syrian politicians which he described as "positive."

"We are working for a comprehensive settlement and there are no insurmountable obstacles," he said.

Moussa returned to Beirut Thursday night after talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said he was very satisfied with Syria's support for his mediation efforts. But reports Friday said Moussa's visit to Damascus had not led to any breakthrough, and neither did his Sunday trip to Saudi Arabia.

Hariri said the anti-Syrian coalition will not give in to the oppositions demands and accused Hizbullah and its allies, which include Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, of leading this campaign to block the formation of the international court into the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"Escalate as much as you want ... the international court is coming, coming, coming, God willing," Hariri said.

But Free Patriotic Movement MP Farid Khazen said the opposition's actions after the holiday will remain "peaceful."

"I don't think we will reach the level of civil disobedience. There is a possibility of finding a solution ... We can't find a solution to all problems, so we will try to find a partial solution and then move on to the other issues," Khazen said.

Moussa also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, Siniora, former President Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun.

Gemayel said Moussa's initiative is facing major obstacles.

"The coming days give room for expectations but it is not sure they are positive expectations. Clearly Moussa's initiative is stumbling upon obstacles and there is no cooperation with his suggestions," Gemayel told reporters after meeting with Moussa.

Geagea said that "the problem is that the opposition is not ready to make any compromises. They either want full control over the government or continue what they are doing right now," in reference to the protests which have paralyzed the city center.

Moussa also held talks on Thursday night with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and described the meeting as "positive."

The obstacles he is facing are the international tribunal to try suspects in Hariri's assassination, the shape of the new government, and presidential and legislative elections.

Talks are also focusing on to the international donor conference to be held in Paris in January to help Lebanon recover from a devastating 34-day

summer war in July and August with Israel.

Lebanon's political crisis erupted in mid-November with the resignation of six pro-Syrian cabinet ministers.

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and Berri now consider the government illegitimate.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed on Friday the organization's support for Moussa's initiative, but said it is unclear if it will yield positive results.

"Amr Moussa's initiative in Lebanon is being actively supported by the United Nations ... We very much hope for a positive outcome but we don't know when," the secretary general said.

Beirut 26-12-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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