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French Version

Cousseran 'will not be pessimistic' despite unfruitful mission to Beirut

Geagea insists opposition is unwilling to discuss presidential election

French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran ended his mission to Beirut on Saturday without any sign of progress toward defusing the political standoff but he said he remains hopeful of rebuilding trust between opposing political camps.

After meeting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at his home in Maarab Saturday, Cousseran told reporters that the chasm between the opposition and ruling majority was getting wider ahead of presidential elections, but said: "I will not be pessimistic, rather I will work to revive trust between Lebanon's political leaders."

Before leaving Beirut, Cousseran stressed to all parties the need for the presidential election to take place within the timeframe set by the Constitution, adding that a new date will be set "very soon" for French Foreign Minister Bernard Kushner to return to Lebanon.

After a one-hour-long meeting with Cousseran, Geagea expressed his readiness for dialogue, insisting it is the other side that rejects it. Geagea said he had repeatedly approached Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun to agree over the issue of the presidency, but got no response.

He said Hizbullah refuses to discuss presidential elections unless the party gets a government that guarantees its interests. Geagea reiterated that a national unity government, even 15 minutes before presidential elections, will be used by some to hinder the vote.

Sports and Youth Minister, Ahmad Fatfat, in a televised interview Sunday, said that unlike Aoun, the Future Movement and its allies support Taif and do not want to see a presidential vacuum in the country.

"We disagree politically [with the opposition] not over individuals. Let us agree on political matters first, after that there is no objection to giving the opposition a third plus one of Cabinet posts," Fatfat said.

"Let us go ahead with a new electoral law and early parliamentary elections after we elect a president, but we cannot place the country in a complete vacuum," Fatfat added. He said that a president elected by half plus one of MPs is preferable to a complete vacuum, although March 14 are not enthusiastic for that choice.

Former President Amin Gemayel, in a television interview on Al-Arabiya Saturday, said that Hizbullah places unreasonable demands on the majority, adding that if the Shiite sect decided to withdraw from the government Lebanon must not be made to suffer as a result. Gemayel stressed that in 1970 President Suleiman Franjieh was elected by a simple majority and a single vote and everyone accepted him.

"We hope Hizbullah comes back to the table and lets us think of how we can get through this crucial election for the sake of the country," Gemayel said. "Any solution other than electing a new president within the constitutional timeframe would be plunging the country down an abyss toward chaos and internal strife, which we do not want."

Gemayel said that if Aoun needs a public referendum on the presidency, he only has to look at the by-election results from Metn, pointing to Aoun's slim victory in the district as a defeat and sign of a decline in his popularity since the 2005 polls.

But Free Patriotic Movement official Issam Abu Jamra, speaking at a party function Sunday, said that the Metn by-election demonstrated that Aoun's popularity has not waned.

"Those who refuse to see the general get to the presidency prefer corrupt lackeys," Abu Jamra said.

He added that history has shown that foreigners will always deal with Lebanon in accordance with their own interests, by means of a veiled dictatorship and a mock democracy.

"Whatever maneuvers [the majority] makes or blows they direct at us, no presidential elections will take place except in accordance with the Constitution, in Parliament and in the presence of two thirds of its members," Abu Jamra said.

Democratic Gathering MP Antoine Saad, speaking to the Lebanese News Agency, said the opposition is insisting on scuttling the presidential election, overthrowing the government and changing the Taif Constitution. Saad said he has information that points to a revival of the sit-in in downtown Beirut as of September 15.

He said that nothing will stop the presidential election from going ahead as planned, adding that a capable president will be selected from among the ranks of the March 14 bloc, which will strive to protect the country and the accomplishments of the "Cedar Revolution."

Hizbullah MP Hussein al- Haj Hassan, speaking at a book signing ceremony in Baalbek Sunday, said that the coming days carry with them immense challenges for Lebanon and the region. He said that the opposition continues to insist on finding a political solution to the country's problems, forming a national unity government and agreeing on a presidential candidate with the other side in spite of their escalation.

"The Americans are not interested in political or economic reform nor in security for Lebanon, but they are concerned with the issues of the resistance and Syria and for this reason they hindered all solutions," Haj Hassan said.

Beirut 27-08-2007
The Daily Star

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