20 September 2007

Fear turns Phoenicia Hotel into residence MPs

The March 14 alliance has rented Beirut's plush Phoenicia Hotel and changed it into a bastion-like safe residence for its threatened parliamentary deputies who would take part in electing a new president for Lebanon.



The sea-side hotel is now off limits to all non-authorized personnel and would not accept any guests until after the presidential elections, a senior source told Naharnet.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "even MPs representing the opposition and non-March 14 factions would not be allowed into the hotel. This is a private property."

"It is more of a castle now," he said of the hotel, which is across the street from site of the explosion that killed ex-Premier Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005.

The source said some of the March 14 MPs "have already moved into the Phoenicia which was totally screened, searched and checked in the past 48 hours."

"All the entrances to the hotel, its basements and parking lots have been blocked. Security Personnel, waiters and administration employs have been checked, and some of them given paid leaves and replaced," he added.

The source disclosed that Phalangist MP Antoine Ghanem, who was assassinated by a car bomb explosion a few hours earlier, was "supposed to move into the hotel this evening."

Ghanem returned to Lebanon from Abu Dhabi two days ago.

The Phoenicia Hotel is hardly one kilometer south of Parliament compound, where legislators are invited to elect a new head of state as of next Tuesday to succeed pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, whose extended term in office expires on Nov. 24.-(yalibnan)

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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.