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French Version

House 'will convene to pick new president in September'

Speaker Nabih Berri will call a parliamentary session to elect a new president on September 25, MP Ali Bazzi said on Sunday. Speaking to supporters at a rally in the South to commemorate Amal members who have fallen in combat, Bazzi warned that no political decisions would be made in Lebanon until the opposition was represented in the government.

The MP praised Berri, "who has sought solutions from all quarters toward reaching a compromise acceptable to all."

"Some in the March 14 Forces do not possess the will, nor the intention to cooperate for the sake of saving the country from the political crisis it languishes under," Bazzi said, adding that the pro-government coalition was working to "place a spanner in the works of any positive proposal."

Bazzi said that the opposition had no problem with an international tribunal to try those accused of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and others, but with the "unconstitutional" government, "which the speaker cannot allow to be represented in Parliament."

As evidence of this illegitimacy, the MP quoted the preamble to the Constitution, which says that "there is no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the pact of communal coexistence."

Also speaking at the rally, Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil stressed the need to achieve consensus over the next president.

The opposition is committed to calling for presidential elections, as stipulated in the Constitution, Khalil said.

"The text [of the Constitution] is clear concerning the need for a two-thirds majority in order to convene the session [of Parliament]," Khalil added.

Article 49 of the Constitution stipulates that "the president of the republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies."

Hizbullah MP and resigned Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, speaking at a Hizbullah rally in the South, warned against the majority meeting privately to elect a new president, which he said would be "constitutional heresy."

A presidential election can only be held if the majority reaches an agreement with the opposition, he said.

Fneish blamed the parliamentary majority for plunging the country into a four-month-old political crisis and of serving foreign interests.

"We have grown frustrated with these groups and we no longer rely on their national awareness or their clear outlook on matters. We cannot rely on reaching a compromise with them, as the extent of their subservience to external powers has become very clear," the resigned minister said.

Fneish said the opposition was ready to reach an agreement at any time, but that the majority would bear the responsibility if it continued to monopolize power. The opposition will not allow Lebanon to become a stage on which the US settles regional scores, he added.

On the tribunal, Fneish said: "Neither the United Nations nor its Security Council has the right to take the place of a country's constitutional institutions," and warned "those who claim to be concerned for Lebanon's security, among them UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, not to interfere in Lebanon's affairs or put added pressure on the country."

Ban said Friday he would dispatch UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel to Lebanon on Tuesday to discuss the tribunal.

Michel will attempt to "clarify all concerns or apprehensions" about the court.

Michel, who helped draft the text of the pact on the tribunal between the UN and the current government, was quoted on Sunday as saying that he would stay in Beirut for as long as necessary but insisted the UN had no intention of getting involved in an "internal controversy."

He said that if there are "very convincing arguments that we can improve the treaty" establishing the tribunal "then we'll see what can be done."

In comments to Voice of Lebanon radio Sunday, Justice Minister Charles Rizk said the visit by Michel would be "more political than legal or technical, as he will attempt to bridge the gap between both sides of the political divide so they agree to establishing the tribunal, to avoid its creation under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter."

Rizk added that nothing more should be read into the visit, "to avoid disappointment if he fails to close the gap between the political factions."

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov is also scheduled to arrive in Beirut this week.

"Russia is playing a pivotal and positive role regarding the political crisis in Lebanon and it is trying to remain at an equal distance from all parties which lends [the Russian role] greater weight and effectiveness and lends this visit special significance," Rizk said.

Meanwhile, MP Walid Jumblatt, a senior member of the ruling coalition, toured Aley Sunday to speak to residents after clashes in the village of Majdal Baana. Two people were wounded on Friday in violence between supporters of Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party and former Minister Wiam Wahab's Lebanese Unification Party.

During a stopover in the village of Btater, Jumblatt stressed the need to cool tempers and ensure that violence did not intrude into "our areas."

"Our party's motto has been and will remain to respect others' opinions, whatever their affiliations," he told villagers. "We have but one succor, and that is the government, its army and security forces. You must not make the mistake of falling into the trap laid for you."

Beirut 16-04-2007
The Daily Star

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