28 July 2007

France warns of violence if Lebanese crisis unsolved

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned on Saturday of the danger of violence if the eight-month standoff between Lebanon's political parties is not solved through negotiations.

"The Lebanon dialogue can continue, and I think today has seen some progress," he told reporters after meeting the pro-Syrian opposition speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.

"But that does not mean everything has been settled. Far from it," Kouchner added. "If the Lebanese do not resume this necessary dialogue, unfortunately there will be more war."
"There are clans, struggles, sorts of poker games over power... but this is a deadly game in Lebanon," he said.

Kouchner met civil representatives before meeting Berri, a member of the Shiite-led opposition, and then lunched with Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

He later met separately with rival Christian leaders Michel Aoun, a key member of the opposition and declared presidential candidate, and Samir Geagea who supports the government.

Rounding off his consultations, Kouchner also held talks with Hezbollah's former minister Mohammed Fneish and foreign relations chief Nawaf Mussawi.
"I know that deep down, everyone in Lebanon wants reconciliation... maybe not the politicians, maybe not those who seize power and want to keep it... but civil society has had enough of war," Kouchner said.
The resignation last November of six pro-Syrian ministers, five of them Shiite, sparked the current political standoff, the country's worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Hezbollah, the Shiite group backed by Syria and Iran, is pushing for the opposition to be better represented in government in order to give it veto power.
But the majority insists this can only happen if Hezbollah agrees to stop blocking parliamentary sessions in order to ensure the quorum needed for the presidential elections to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud by a November 25 deadline.
If the parties fail to resolve their differences in the coming weeks that could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the creation of two rival governments that would plunge the country into further chaos.
France has taken the lead in trying to resolve the crisis, gathering all the parties for a conference near Paris earlier this month and sending a top envoy to the region for consultations with all the key players.
Kouchner was due to meet later Saturday with the participants of the Saint-Cloud conference.
The talks near the French capital did not yield much in the way of results, but Kouchner stressed on Saturday that the process was ongoing.
"This is not a moment of despair, nor is it a moment of joy," he said. "We will continue, I am available, France is available."
But he also said that any solution had to come from within the country itself.
"We won't find a solution from outside... there are countries that weigh more than others on Lebanese decisions, but the only way to get away from these exterior positions and pressures is to have unity and reconciliation among the Lebanese," Kouchner said.
He is due in Egypt on Sunday to meet the foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Arab League secretary general to brief them on his Beirut mission. — AFP
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned on Saturday of the danger of violence if the eight-month standoff between Lebanon's political parties is not solved through negotiations.
"The Lebanon dialogue can continue, and I think today has seen some progress," he told reporters after meeting the pro-Syrian opposition speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri.
"But that does not mean everything has been settled. Far from it," Kouchner added. "If the Lebanese do not resume this necessary dialogue, unfortunately there will be more war."
"There are clans, struggles, sorts of poker games over power... but this is a deadly game in Lebanon," he said.

Kouchner met civil representatives before meeting Berri, a member of the Shiite-led opposition, and then lunched with Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
He later met separately with rival Christian leaders Michel Aoun, a key member of the opposition and declared presidential candidate, and Samir Geagea who supports the government.
Rounding off his consultations, Kouchner also held talks with Hezbollah's former minister Mohammed Fneish and foreign relations chief Nawaf Mussawi.
"I know that deep down, everyone in Lebanon wants reconciliation... maybe not the politicians, maybe not those who seize power and want to keep it... but civil society has had enough of war," Kouchner said.

The resignation last November of six pro-Syrian ministers, five of them Shiite, sparked the current political standoff, the country's worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Hezbollah, the Shiite group backed by Syria and Iran, is pushing for the opposition to be better represented in government in order to give it veto power.
But the majority insists this can only happen if Hezbollah agrees to stop blocking parliamentary sessions in order to ensure the quorum needed for the presidential elections to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud by a November 25 deadline.
If the parties fail to resolve their differences in the coming weeks that could spark a dangerous power vacuum or even the creation of two rival governments that would plunge the country into further chaos.
France has taken the lead in trying to resolve the crisis, gathering all the parties for a conference near Paris earlier this month and sending a top envoy to the region for consultations with all the key players.

Kouchner was due to meet later Saturday with the participants of the Saint-Cloud conference.

The talks near the French capital did not yield much in the way of results, but Kouchner stressed on Saturday that the process was ongoing.
"This is not a moment of despair, nor is it a moment of joy," he said. "We will continue, I am available, France is available."
But he also said that any solution had to come from within the country itself.
"We won't find a solution from outside... there are countries that weigh more than others on Lebanese decisions, but the only way to get away from these exterior positions and pressures is to have unity and reconciliation among the Lebanese," Kouchner said.
He is due in Egypt on Sunday to meet the foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Arab League secretary general to brief them on his Beirut mission.-todayonline/AFP

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.