Aoun renews ultimatum, warns of street protests

Aoun renews ultimatum, warns of street protests
Russian envoy discusses lebanese impasse with syrian officials in damascus


As the country braces for the opposition”s promised escalation on January 27 by taking to the streets in the event the Arab foreign ministers” meeting in Cairo fails to address the Lebanese political crisis effectively, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has promised to return to Beirut before that date to continue his efforts to reach an agreement between rival factions.


Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov met with Syrian officials in Damascus on Tuesday, declaring his country”s support for Arab efforts to resolve the Lebanese impasse. “We consider this initiative gives the Lebanese the opportunity to determine how they will order their house and elect a new president,” Saltanov said.


Saltanov met with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad. Mekdad said he was certain that Moussa would continue his mediation efforts to help resolve the Lebanese crisis. “There is one interpretation to the Arab initiatiative, that no party have the power to hinder or monopolize government,” he said.


Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun has insisted the opposition be given a third-plus-one of Cabinet posts in a new national unity government; otherwise they will take to the streets. “We want 11 ministers so we do not go down to the street,” Aoun said in an interview with As-Safir newspaper published Tuesday.


Aoun rejected Moussa”s interpretation of the Arab initiative, accusing the Arab League boss of scuttling the Arab initiative by proposing a 13+10+7 distribution of Cabinet posts that only gives the opposition 10 ministers in a new government. He said that even if this interpretation is the Arab League”s official position on the initiative “it changes nothing in our position … We reject the interpretation even if it meets with Arab approval.”


He said the text of the Arab initiative was clear: “We can read Arabic well.” Aoun asked why the majority constantly “plays with numbers,” at times offering a 19+10+1 formula and then offering a 13+10+7 formula, neither of which he said comply with the initiative.


Aoun said he told Moussa that the best distribution of Cabinet posts in a new national unity government would be one that mirrors the current distribution of parliamentary seats between the majority and opposition. “The majority would thus get 16.5 ministers while the opposition gets 13.5 ministers,” Aoun said.


“If it is necessary to give the president a number of ministers, we would give him 2.5 ministers from our share and the majority would give him 2.5 ministers from theirs,” rendering the distribution of Cabinet posts 14+11+5, Aoun added. He asked why the majority presupposes that the blocking third would be used by the opposition to hinder government, whereas the purpose of having a third plus one of Cabinet ministers is to ensure partnership within the government.


“The purpose of this third is so we can thwart anything proposed in government which harms the national interest. It allows us to stop them within [state] institutions rather than on the streets,” Aoun said, referring to a year-long sit-in in Downtown Beirut that has aimed to bring down the government of Premier Fouad Siniora.

Siniora said Tuesday that all contentious issues can be resolved if rival parties trust one another and move to elect a new president. “The one who interprets the [Arab] initiative is the one who created it,” Siniora said, adding that protests in the street, as seen Monday night, will resolve nothing and that the only option for the Lebanese is to talk to one another.


Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07  met with MP Mohammad al-Hajjar and the secretary general of Al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya, Sheikh Faisal Mawlawi, among others.


Future Movement MP Ammar Houri, speaking to Voice of Lebanon radio Tuesday, said that what the opposition has done during and after Moussa”s visit was declare that inter-Lebanese dialogue was ended and “real dialogue is to be conducted elsewhere, specifically in Damascus.” He said the Syrian position was clear in this regard, accepting the initiative “in principle” while intimating to its allies in Lebanon to thwart the initiative.


“We as the March 14 Forces are absolutely open to dialogue. We always extend our hand and offer major concessions,” Houri said, adding that the tire-burning episode Monday night was a reminder by the opposition of its “destructive and hindering capabilities in the street.” He said that the situation must be dealt with more strictly by the government, through the Lebanese Army and the security forces.


According to a report in Naharnet, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner accused Syria of blocking a presidential election in Lebanon and said that efforts to resolve the crisis were stalled. “Things have reached a dead-end because one party does not want presidential elections,” Kouchner told journalists late Monday.


“Syria wants to appoint the prime minister and the ministers and determine their portfolios and set the government”s agenda through its allies in Beirut,” Kouchner added, expressing willingness to return to Beirut if the need arises, but saying a return now was useless.


Efforts to postpone the convening of the Arab League summit in Damascus and hold an emergency summit in Cairo instead intensified following Moussa”s failue to convince Syria to exert pressure on its Lebanese allies to end the crisis.


The An-Nahar daily reported Tuesday, quoting Arab diplomatic sources, that some Arab nations, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular, are frustrated at Syria”s position.


French diplomatic sources told As-Safir the idea of internationalizing the Lebanese problem was “still born,” rejecting the idea that the UN Security Council pass a resolution forcing Lebanese constitutional institutions to elect a president or affirming the Siniora government.


The sources said that the Siniora government is legitimate and is in no need of an international resolution to affirm its legitimacy. “There is no evidence of direct foreign interference to prevent the election of a president,” the sources added.

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