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French Version

Business, labor agree on need to defuse Lebanon's long crisis

But how? politicians 'hardly pay any attention'

Business associations and trade unions said Monday they are considering several options to compel politicians to settle their differences and elect a president on Friday.

Following a meeting of representatives of business associations and trade unions, some participants even called for civil disobedience across the country or to shut businesses indefinitely in order to send a strong message to the political class.

But a number of business leaders preferred to give the politicians until Friday before taking any action.

A statement urged legislators to do "their duty" and elect the president before matters get even worse.

It added that Lebanon's economy suffered heavy losses due to the political deadlock and repeated assassinations.

"It is useless to talk to these politicians because they only care to remain in their seats, even if the country falls apart," a prominent business leader told The Daily Star.

The businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, argued that it was a waste of time ... to meet politicians and discuss the economic situation.

"These guys [politicians] frankly are not interested in the economy or the well-being of the people. They hardly pay any attention when you raise the issue of economic difficulties," the businessman said.

Prominent industrialist Jacques Sarraf urged business associations to resort to all kinds of means to force politicians to end their differences.

Sarraf even favored open-ended civil disobedience measures, although he gave no details on how businesses could accomplish such a plan.

Adnan Kassar, president of the Economic Committee which groups all the associations, has spearheaded a campaign to persuade the divided politicians to set aside their differences

"However, Kassar and many business leaders have decided to stop making regular visits to the politicians after they concluded their efforts were falling on deaf ears," one participant said.

He added that businesses, merchants and investors have lost all hope that the politicians will return to their senses.

"If the foreign ministers of European countries failed to persuade the deputies to elect a president of the republic then don't expect anything from us," the frustrated businessman said.

The business associations and banks observed a two-day strike in 2006 to encourage the politicians return to dialogue.

"But less than 40 percent of businesses observed the strike call and those who did comply shut their offices and stores for few hours only," said Fadi Abboud, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists.

He added that many employees have resigned in the past few weeks in order to emigrate because they feel that the political deadlock will continue for a long time.

"We are losing qualified staff and it will be difficult to replace these people under the current circumstances," Abboud said.

He added that business leaders are seriously considering strong steps in the near future if the appeals do not pay off.

"This time we are going to invite civil society and NGOs to attend a broad meeting. But we will not ask politicians to attend this conference to make them understand they must get their act together," Abboud said.

However, some merchants argue that it would be a big mistake to call for an open strike just weeks before Christmas.

"Christmas is one of the few occasions to improve business and any call for a strike now will not be received well," one businessman said.

Beirut 27-11-2007
The Daily Star

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