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French Version

France backs Arab plan ahead of Moussa's return to Beirut

Opposition wants early deal on platform of next cabinet

Local and international powers restated their support on Tuesday for the three-point Arab initiative to solve the political standoff in Lebanon, while the opposition announced that the ministerial statement for the next government should be approved by all groups before agreement is reached.

"France supports the three-point plan as well as mediation efforts to solve the deadlock; we also endorse mediation efforts undertaken by [Arab League Secretary General] Amr Moussa to bridge the gap between feuding groups," French Charge d'Affaires Andre Parant told reporters following a visit to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Moussa is expected to return to Beirut on Friday in a new bid to nudge feuding Lebanese groups to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud, whose term expired at midnight on November 23, 2007.

On January 5, Moussa and Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo proposed a three-point plan calling for the election of Lebanese Armed Forces [LAF] commander General Michel Suleiman. The proposal also calls for the formation of a national unity government in which is not dominated by any one party, and the adoption of a new electoral law.

While the ruling coalition has accepted the plan, the Hizbullah-led opposition is demanding a third of the seats in any new government so it can acquire veto power.

"We welcome Moussa's visit to Lebanon ... and we stress the need to reach a full consensus over pending matters, including the platform of the next government, before a comprehensive solution is reached," Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil told LBCI television Tuesday evening.

Parliament is due to convene on February 11 to elect a new president, but 13 previous sessions since September have failed because of political feuds.

All the main parties have previously accepted Suleiman as the consensus candidate for the presidency but his election could not go ahead until they agreed other details of a complete package, including the structure of the next government.

On Tuesday, however, pro-opposition Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that two of the opposition's main pillars, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) head and MP Michel Aoun, would shortly announce that they no longer support Suleiman for the presidency.

Nasrallah and Aoun are expected to comment on recent developments during a joint interview to be aired on FPM-owned Orange Television Wednesday evening. The interview marks the second anniversary of the signature of the memorandum of understanding between the two parties.

In response to a question on whether his mission would focus on electing Suleiman, Moussa told An-Nahar daily in comments published Tuesday "Have you got another candidate?"

"I'm coming back to Beirut to discuss the Arab initiative. That's it," Moussa added.

Also on Tuesday, Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea boss lashed out at the opposition, Hizbullah in particular, holding it responsible for the impasse.

"Hizbullah now opposes the candidacy of General Suleiman because they want to restore Syrian hegemony over Lebanon," Geagea told a news conference at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.

He also condemned criticism of the LAF over its handling of the January 27 protests in which seven protesters were shot dead and dozens wounded.

As-Safir newspaper on Tuesday quoted Suleiman as saying he never declared his candidacy.

"I did not declare my candidacy," he was quoted as telling senior army officers at a meeting on Monday. "I ... announced that I was willing to assume my responsibilities, but if another candidate emerges, then I will be the first one to give him my support and facilitate his mission in my capacity as army commander."

While Hizbullah on Monday expressed "full support" for the military in the wake of the protests, the party also argued that some army officers had not abided by the mission and principles of the LAF.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the ruling March 14 Forces coalition also voiced support for the Lebanese Army on Tuesday, saying that targeting the LAF was "taboo."

Siniora said Tuesday that protests last week against what he described as "alleged" excessive power cuts in Beirut's impoverished southern suburbs were "used as means to corner the government."

"There are those who are seeking to stir divisions within the army and put down the military's spirits," the prime minister said during a news conference at the Grand Serail.

"Showing skepticism with regard to the mission and role of the LAF is unacceptable," he told reporters.

Echoing Siniora, the March 14 Forces warned against what it called a "suspicious campaign" launched by the opposition against the LAF.

"Such attacks fall within the framework of a well-defined plan to tear down constitutional institutions in favor of creating a state that does not represent the Lebanese," a statement issued by the Western-backed group said.

Beirut 06-02-2008
The Daily Star

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