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French Version

Lebanon to boycott Arab summit in Damascus

Siniora cabinet may opt to send message to be read at gathering

After Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa urged the Lebanese to take part in an Arab summit this weekend in Damascus, the Lebanese government on Tuesday decided to boycott the summit without ruling out the possibility of sending a message that could be read at the summit.

"Lebanon's absence from the summit does not imply any negative stands against Syria, but rather an occasion to assert Lebanon's democracy, sovereignty and independence," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters when reading the minutes of the Cabinet meeting.

Moussa had earlier said he hoped Lebanon would not miss the March 29-30 summit.

"I hope that Lebanon will not be absent from the summit," Moussa told journalists on arrival in the Syrian capital, shortly after a parliamentary session to elect a Lebanese president was postponed for the 17th time.

Also on Tuesday, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told a crowd of LF supporters in Los Angeles that Lebanon would boycott the summit in Damascus in response "to Syria's refusal to recognize Lebanon as an equal sovereign state."

Meanwhile, opposition MP Ibrahim Kanaan told The Daily Star on Tuesday that the Siniora government was only pretending to defend Lebanon's sovereignty by deciding to boycott the summit. "It would have been much better had Siniora tired to achieve internal consensus in Lebanon ahead of the summit," he said.

Kanaan said that Arab countries should keep Lebanon away from their disputes. "We do not want Arab parties to display their disputes in Lebanon. We only want them to encourage consensus," he said.

The Free Patriotic Movement MP stressed that the opposition has national priorities that are not in any way related to the Arab summit.

"The solution to the crisis should be a Lebanese one and not an Arab one," he added.

Meanwhile, March 14 Forces former MP Fares Soueid told The Daily Star on Tuesday that Lebanon cannot participate in a summit that is hosted by a country responsible for undermining Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.

The summit, scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday, has been mired in controversy. Some Arab states have vowed not to attend if the Lebanese Parliament has not elected a president by then.

Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt have blamed Syria - which was the dominant political and military force in Lebanon for decades - for obstructing the election.

A Saudi official said Monday that Riyadh's decision to send a low-ranking diplomat to the summit reflected its rift with Syria over the crisis in Lebanon.

Egypt and Jordan are also expected to emulate the Saudi move by sending low-level representation to the summit.

However, the leaders of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are expected to attend.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since November 24, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stood down.

On Monday, the speaker's office announced that a parliamentary session to elect a new president had been postponed from Tuesday until April 22.

The decision marks the 17th time since September that a Parliament session to elect a successor to Lahoud has failed amid a standoff between the Western- and Saudi-backed government and the Hizbullah-led opposition, backed by Syria and Iran.

Meanwhile, French charge d'affaires Andre Parrant said on Tuesday that France was worried about holding an Arab summit without Lebanon.

"We regret the recent postponement of the presidential election and we are worried to see Lebanon with no president to represent it at the Damascus summit," Parrant said after meeting former President Amine Gemayel.

Gemayel was the only March 14 Forces leader who favored attending the summit and has said that Lebanon should send a representative to make its voice heard.

Beirut 26-03-2008
The Daily Star

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