Political leaders met for the first time in nearly five months yesterday for talks designed to bring calm to Lebanon, which has seen bombings and threats to bring down the government by mass demonstrations.
The leaders met in the parliament building in downtown Beirut at the invitation of speaker Nabih Berri, who has warned that unless they settled their disputes, the country would face "dangerous" destabilization.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers cordoned off parliament in a major security operation that caused huge traffic jams in the city center.
The main items on the agenda are the demand by the militant Hezbollah group and the mainly Christian faction of Michel Aoun for the formation of a new coalition government and a new electoral law.
All the participants of the previous "national dialogues" attended yesterday's meeting, except the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who sent his party's chief legislator, Mohammed Raad, because of Israeli threats to assassinate him.
Last week, Nasrallah caused a stir when he announced that Hezbollah wanted the Cabinet to be reshuffled so as to give his party and its allies a third of the 24 ministerial positions -- effectively veto power.
Nasrallah said that if Prime Minister Fuad Saniora did not grant this, Hezbollah supporters would stage mass demonstrations to bring down the government.
The US accused Syria and Iran, which back Hezbollah, of trying to topple Lebanon's government -- a charge that Syria denied.
Saniora said Nasrallah's demand would be discussed in the all-party talks. And a Christian faction that supports his government threatened to bring its supporters on to the streets if Hezbollah staged large protests.
Pro-government parties want this week's talks to include the future of President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian whom they have been trying to oust for more than a year. Lahoud has rejected repeated calls for him to step down.
The all-party talks began in March but have not taken place since June 25 because of the 34-day war with Israel that began the following month. In the previous sessions, the leaders repeatedly failed to reach consensus on the future of Lahoud and the UN Security Council demand for the disarmament of Hezbollah.
Six bombs have detonated in Beirut in recent weeks, wounding six people.
Last year, much larger bombings targeted anti-Syrian figures and commercial centers in Christian areas. The largest explosion was in February last year, killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in central Beirut.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong (FCC) yesterday said that reporters in the territory were experiencing “highly unusual” visas problems, and called on the US and China to stop using the media as a political weapon. Journalists have been caught up in US-China tensions, with both sides placing limits or expelling reporters from their territories in the past few months. Now the spat is filtering into Hong Kong, a regional press hub nominally in charge of its own immigration policies. The FCC said in a statement that multiple media firms had reported delays getting visas in recent months. “The delays have affected journalists