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French Version

Sleiman sees 'no problems' in forming unity government

President pays first visit to maronite patriarch

President Michel Sleiman said on Sunday that there were no obstacles hindering the formation of the new unity government.

"There are no problems in forming the new cabinet," Sleiman said during his first visit as head of state to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

Sleiman said his meeting with Sfeir was "traditional," adding that it did not have any political connotation.

"I wanted to welcome the patriarch back home after his recent tour," Sleiman said.

He also praised a statement by the Council of Maronite Bishops calling for true partnership in government as well as social and economic reforms.

In addition, Sleiman hailed the bishops' call for establishing the best of ties between Lebanon and its neighbors.

In his Sunday sermon, Sfeir criticized rival factions for "competing in grabbing seats and harvesting gains." Sfeir said such competition had delayed the formation of the new cabinet and pushed the government away from the right track.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad said on Sunday that the differences over distributing portfolios in the new cabinet were nothing but a natural process which preceded the formation of any cabinet.

"If all parties involved open their minds, the cabinet will see the light next week," Raad said, adding that he was not pessimistic about the formation of the new government.

The Hizbullah MP also criticized some parties for linking the government's formation to irrelevant issues. He was referring to parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, who said last week he would halt all talks on the new cabinet because of security breaches.

Hizbullah's second-in-command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, was also quoted as telling a Kuwaiti daily that Hariri's decision to halt talks was not connected to the security situation.

"We all know that the security and armed forces can handle the security situation in the country ... There is no need to link the recent security incidents and the talks to form the government," Qassem said.

Hariri's decision came after a shooting incident last week targeting Imad Zaghloul, an activist for Hariri's Future Movement who was seriously wounded on Tuesday.

Security reports said that Zaghloul was being chased by security authorities with seven arrests warrants against him.

The Central Security Council instructed the security and armed forces to start implementing a plan aimed at preserving order. Rival parties in the country voiced their support for the plan, stressing that they would not cover up for any violations whatsoever.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamdeh said Sunday that the security plan has started yielding positive results. He also said a new government would arise next week.

Also on Sunday, MP Ali Hassan Khalil of Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement sounded optimistic as he told New TV that the government would be formed in the next few days.

"Things are moving in the right direction, and the new cabinet should see the light in the next few days," he said.

Khalil described as "exaggerated" the attempts to link the formation of the government to the recent security incidents in Beirut and other areas.

The Amal legislator said there were no differences within the opposition camp over the distribution of portfolios in the new cabinet.

Meanwhile, Zahle chief and Popular Bloc leader Elias Skaff said Sunday that the Lebanese Armed Forces "has demonstrated unity and courage in combating terrorism aimed at undermining security and order as well as damaging our internal unity."

Skaff said he blamed the ruling March 14 coalition for slowing the government consultations, saying that an internal dispute within the parliamentary majority over the Defense Ministry was holding up the next cabinet.

The former industry minister added that his Zahle constituency, which traditionally received two ministers when large cabinets were constructed, "has been deprived of proper executive representation for some 30 years."

Beirut 09-06-2008
The Daily Star

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