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French Version

Jumblatt denies rifts over opposition policy (Daily Star)

Druze leader insists on timely polls
Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt insisted again that Lebanon's elections must be held on time and angrily denied charges he was out of step with opposition policy.

Jumblatt's latest comments come at the same time as premier-designate, Omar Karami, said he would announce the new Cabinet later today.

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In a news conference in Mukhtara, Jumblatt said he did not "step out of the opposition's wagon" on issues such as the implementation of UN Resolution 1559, insisting he had never been "onboard the train" of 1559 and "never will be."

Some cracks have surfaced in recent weeks between Jumblatt and some opposition factions, mainly on the issue of disarming Hizbullah and the election law, but Jumblatt said there were no serious rifts among the opposition.

He also urged opposition factions to draw up a political program for Lebanon after a May general election.

In another development, Pro-Syrian Premier-designate Omar Karami said he would unveil his government to lead the country into the election but his insistence on a new law organizing the poll makes a delay almost inevitable.

Local analysts are "certain that the elections could not meet the deadline." An-Nahar said Sunday that Karami is planning to delay the elections three to six months for "technical considerations related to field arrangements of the polls."

In a meeting between some opposition factions Sunday in Jezzine, General Michel Aoun said: "In principle, I accept to postpone the elections for technical reasons, but the delay should not exceed two months under any circumstances."

Jumblatt, in turn, insisted on holding the elections on time, but he presented the big question: "What comes next?"

Jumblatt requested that opposition factions arrange a meeting in which "they must draw a post-election plan, a political program for the next phase."

The program, according to Jumblatt, must answer to issues involving Hizbullah's arms, the Palestinian question, the economic crisis, the U.S. stances and policies in Iraq and Palestine and other strategic issues.

He said: "In my view, we might still need Hizbullah's arms in coordination with the National Army. Others, including some journalist, support Resolution 1559 - I don't."

He added: "I would like to remind my critics that I supported the Taif Accord all along."

Jumblatt reminded his critics that General Michel Aoun was the one who called on the opposition to join the Cabinet. The Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir had announced similar stances, he added.

The other point in which Jumblatt differed from his colleagues in the opposition concerns his stance on the electoral law.

Jumblatt had expressed readiness last week to reach a compromise proposing the division of the districts into nine large

electoral districts or mohafazat, while the other opposition members insisted on the smaller electoral districts (qadas).

He said: "All I wanted was to reach a compromise because time is running out and we must meet the election deadline." But he assured the opposition that "at the end of the day, we will win the elections regardless of the shape of the electoral law."

Asked whether the current Parliament would extend its mandate beyond the May 31 deadline of its mandate, Karami said: "That is up to Parliament to decide. We do not interfere in legislative affairs."

Despite the loyalists' insistence that Suleiman Franjieh return to the interior portfolio in the new government, he had emphatically denied that he would reverse his decision to stay out.

Outgoing Agriculture Minister Elias Skaff announced Sunday he would not join the Cabinet "in conformity with his supporters' wishes and aspirations."

Outgoing Information Minister Elie Ferzly and former Minister Michel Murr also declined to join the Cabinet.

Ferzly, according to London-based Arab newspaper Sharq al-Awsat, said outgoing Minister of State Albert Mansour would replace him.

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Beirut 12-04-2005
The Daily Star

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