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French Version

Hariri, Gemayel say dialogue must lead to presidential vote

Leader of the parliamentary majority MP Saad Hariri said on Monday his participation in dialogue sessions coordinated by Speaker Nabih Berri was tied to the election of a new president on May 13. "We haven't received any guarantees, but we are in a path that leads to the election of a president on May 13.

All March 14 MPs would go to Parliament to elect a president," Hariri said after talks with Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Naim Hassan at the latter's seat in Beirut.

"We were never against a dialogue ... but if we participate in a round-table [discussion] it will be to elect a president," Hariri reiterated.

Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal played down on Monday the Syrian Foreign Ministry's recent warnings against internationalizing Lebanon's almost 18-month-old political standoff. Saud told reporters in Norway that the international community was actively involved in trying to settle the Lebanon crisis.

Prince Saud said Riyadh supported "any settlement based on the interests of Lebanon away from any external intervention."

A 19th attempt to elect a president for Lebanon is scheduled for May 13, a spokesman for Parliament speaker Nabih Berri said Saturday.

"Speaker Berri has fixed a session for May 13, at midday," spokesman Ali Hamdan said.

Speaker and opposition leader Berri has called on Lebanon's rival factions to hold talks under his auspices on forming a national unity government and on a new electoral law.

"We have a real chance to elect a president on May 13," Hariri said on Monday.

Hariri returned to Beirut on Saturday after an almost two-month stay in Saudi Arabia. On Sunday and Monday Hariri discussed the political deadlock in Lebanon with an array of political and religious figures including Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, vice president of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, Beirut Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audeh, former president Amine Gemayel and Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt.

Also on Monday, Hariri met US charge d'affaires Michel Sison, French charge d'affaires Andre Parant and Egyptian Ambassador Ahmad al-Bidyawi.

After meeting Hassan, Hariri did not rule out a meeting with Berri "to be held soon."

"As long as no one is against dialogue, no one should be against electing a president on May 13," he added.

Hariri said Lebanon was "the only country in the world that does not have a president. This is a major crime committed against us and against the country."

"We support a qada-based parliamentary election law and we support the formation of a national unity government as well as any other proposed settlements, but we cannot achieve all that without a president. We should focus on electing a president on May 13," he added.

Lebanon is gripped by deadlock with feuding political factions unable to agree a deal to elect a replacement to Emile Lahoud, who stepped down in November at the end of his mandate. While the governing coalition demands the immediate and unconditional election of consensus presidential candidate and commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Michel Suleiman, the opposition stresses the need to agree on all pending issues including the shape of the next government and the electoral law.

Echoing Hariri's comments, Gemayel said Monday that he endorsed the call for dialogue, "only if this dialogue will lead to the election of a president."

"We refuse the notion of dialogue for the sake of dialogue," Gemayel said during the weekly meeting of the Phalange Party he heads.

"The dialogue should be fruitful and come up with a clear cut calendar and strategy for the election of a president," he added.

Meanwhile, MP Ali Hassan Khalil of Berri's Development and Liberation bloc said the "positive attitude" that Jumblatt had espoused lately, "has encouraged the Speaker Berri to set a date for an election session." Khalil spoke to reporters during a tour in the southern village of Marjayoun on Monday.

Jumblatt had said on Wednesday that dialogue was the only solution to the political crisis.

Asked about Hariri's latest comments on Berri's call for dialogue, Khalil said: "Let us wait for a unified stand from the March 14 Forces, especially since they were talking about the need to come up with a unified decision." Khalil also said he hoped that the dialogue would lead to the election of a president.

Beirut 29-04-2008
The Daily Star

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