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French Version

Lebanese business mulls means to end crisis

Can a strike or a demonstration bring the politicians to their senses?

With the economy reeling beneath the spate of assassinations and political vacuum, business leaders and investors are still contemplating an effective step that would compel rival politicians to settle their differences for the sake of the country.

But despite several meetings and strongly worded statements since the crisis started less than two years ago, the business leaders have failed to send a strong message to the political class.

The business associations and bankers even called for a two-day strike in 2006 in another desperate attempt to break the political impasse.

However, less than 30 percent of the businesses in the country responded to this call.

Pierre Ashkar, president of the hotel owners' association, is one of the few business figures who feel an open strike will convince politicians that the crisis is dealing a severe blow to the economy. In a statement to the press, Ashkar, who owns two hotels in Beirut and Broummana, has urged business associations and trade unions to shut down all businesses until Parliament elects a new president.

Fadi Abboud, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association and a vocal critic of successive governments, told The Daily Star strikes would not produce the desired results.

"If you call for a strike during Christmas season then it is very likely that the majority of merchants will not even heed this call," Abboud said.

In his view, the best way to deal with the politicians is to stage a wide demonstration to prove that the majority of Lebanese are not sympathetic with any of the political groups.

Abboud admits that staging a demonstration at this critical moment may not be easy.

"If you want to call for a demonstration then the fist thing you should do is hold a national conference to prepare for this step," Abboud said.

He stressed that the Lebanese are fed up with the behavior of the political class.

"Most Lebanese are concerned about their daily economic problems. They want to see an improvement in all of the services such as electricity and telephone. They also want an improvement in living standards which have declined in the past two years," Abboud said.

He added that most supporters of March 8 and March 14 groups will not rally behind their leaders again because they want to see an end to this long-running crisis that has affected their livelihood.

Apart from the banking sector, which is still witnessing growth, most economic indicators have plunged since July 2006 with many firms relocating to neighboring states and thousands of highly skilled Lebanese emigrating to the oil-rich Arab states or the West.

Beirut 13-12-2007
The Daily Star

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