10 November 2007

Lebanon presidential election delayed for 4th time

"Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has decided to postpone the session scheduled for next Monday to Wednesday November 21 at 10:30 am," a house statement said.

Berri and Hariri, in a separate joint statement issued after their meeting, pleaded with Sfeir to sponsor a meeting of "major Maronite leaders with the aim of proposing a list of candidates for the presidential office on a consensus base."

"We strongly support this initiative so we can all choose a consensus president (from the listed candidates)," the statement added without further elaboration

The developments followed reports that Sfeir is putting together an initiative to facilitate the election of a new head of state by proposing a list of three-to-five presidential candidates so that MPs can elect one of them.

The daily newspaper an-Nahar attributed the information to officials who held talks Friday with visiting French presidential envoy Claude Gueant.

"The Bkirki initiative, for which foreign and domestic support is being marshaled, goes along the lines of putting together a list of three-to-five presidential candidates," the report stated.

Such a list, the report added, would be referred either to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for consideration with Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, or to Parliament for the nation's legislators to elect one of them.

Gueant's mission, according to an-Nahar, focused on "testing" Syrian President Bashar Assad's response to the Bkirki initiative and awaits a "guarantee" from Berri that a Parliamentary session would be held to elect a new president succeeding Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud whose extended term in office expires on Nov. 24.

Berri was quoted by an-Nahar as telling the French envoy that it is "only normal to accept presidential candidates proposed by Bkirki on a consensus base and unanimously backed by Christians."

In answering a question as to whether he and Hariri would support a candidate proposed by Bkirki, Berri said: "yes, but the important issue is to achieve Christian agreement on the consensus candidate, whom I will accept unconditionally."

An-Nahar reported that efforts are underway to arrange a Berri-Hariri meeting to "find a political exit for postponing" a parliamentary session set for Monday to elect a president.

Gueant held a series of meetings during his one-day mission in Beirut Friday, stressing that Paris "strongly supports consensus" among the rival Lebanese factions on a presidential candidate.

Gueant, the French president's chief of staff, urged the Lebanese to elect a new president on time and according to the constitution, "in such a way to preserve Lebanon's sovereignty and independence."

He held separate meetings with Sfeir, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Berri, who is aligned with the Hezbollah-led opposition and who expressed optimism France could break the deadlock.

"No doubt, we're counting on France's efforts, especially after the talks between Presidents Bush and Sarkozy," Berri said.

The visit came a few days after Gueant and Jean-David Levitte, Sarkozy's chief international adviser, held talks in Damascus with Assad whose country has been accused by the United States and Lebanon's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority of blocking the presidential election.

Gueant said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who visited Lebanon with the Italian and Spanish foreign ministers last month, will be in Beirut early next week to continue French efforts on the presidential election.

"France has distinctive relations with Lebanon and President Nicolas Sarkozy has strong relations with the Lebanese people. Therefore, he cannot watch seeing Lebanon plagued by crises," Gueant said upon arrival at Beirut airport.

"Hence, he attaches great importance to the presidential election in Lebanon being held on time and according to constitutional rules and respect of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence far from any foreign interference," he added.-(Naharnet)

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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.