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French Version

Saadeddine Hariri thanks Chirac for his support

Visit follows announcement of political plans

Saadeddine Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, met with French President Jacques Chirac Wednesday, one day after announcing he would take up his father's political legacy.

"We're helping the government, which is in the process of creating itself, to draw up the electoral law," said Hariri after the visit.

"When there is a law we will decide whether I will run [in parliamentary elections to be held this spring] or not."

But, sources close to Rafik Hariri's Dignity Bloc in Parliament told The Daily Star that Saad will run for office no matter which law is adopted.

Hariri's bloc is known to favor a law that divides the country into large constituencies, roughly one-seventh the size of the country, as stipulated in the Taif Accord.

But, shortly before the late premier's February 14 assassination, Cabinet endorsed a draft electoral law many said was designed to weaken Hariri's representation by dividing the capital into three districts, thereby preventing a repeat of his bloc's complete domination of Beirut in 2000.

But it is understood no matter which law is adopted Saad will be able to win a majority in the capital - if not all of the district's seats in Parliament - due to the massive wave of support triggered by his father's murder.

The sources also said the Dignity bloc's list for the coming elections would remain mostly as is, with a few exceptions.

Longtime Hariri ally former Justice Minster Bahij Tabbara is set to replace pro-Syrian Beirut MP Adnan Arakji after the latter left the coalition; and former Beirut MP Salim Diab, another Hariri ally, will replace Beirut MP Bassem Yamout, who also left the bloc and allied with the pro-Syrian Ain al-Tineh gathering.

Commenting on the timing of his visit with Chirac at Elysee Palace, Saad said: "It is normal for me to visit my father's great friend to thank him for all he has done for Lebanon and for always being at our side."

Chirac was a major driving force behind the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1595, which calls for an international probe into Hariri's assassination. He was also one of the main backers of Resolution 1559, which calls for Syria's complete withdrawal from Lebanon, the disarmament of all militia in the country and the holding of free and fair parliamentary elections.

The young Hariri said Thursday: "The void left by my father's killing is great ... but we will continue in his path with the Lebanese youths who descended to the streets and demonstrated an unprecedented will for national unity."

Initially the late premier's sister, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, was slated to follow in Rafik Hariri's place, with her name passed around Beirut as a potential candidate for the premiership.

However, despite reports of a dispute between Bahia Hariri and her family, the Sidon MP told visitors: "I want to say that I am by the side of Saadeddine Hariri, as I was by his father's side."

Saad Hariri's decision to step into politics comes 65 days after his father's surprise assassination. He graduated from Georgetown University in Washington and has managed his father's construction company, Saudi Oger, for several years.

Beirut 22-04-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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