Lebanon’s Turbulent Politics Cool off after President’s Meeting with Christian Opposition, Cabinet
Christian opposition lawmakers on Thursday asked Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to release activists arrested earlier this month in an army crackdown against anti-Syrian Christians.
Seven lawmakers, accompanied by Maronite Bishop Yussef Beshara, made the demand in the name of the Kornet Shehwan Gathering, which groups opposition figures close to Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.
Sfeir is the head of Lebanon's largest Christian community, which has been the main critic of Syria's political and military dominance of the country.
In their first meeting with Lahoud since the crackdown, the deputies handed him "a memorandum requesting the freedom of all the detainees," one of the lawmakers who met with the president, Fares Suaid, told AFP.
They also demanded the arrests be considered "null and void and illegal," Suaid said.
According to the Daily Star, the meeting signaled the start of a dialogue between Lahoud and what has quickly become country's main Christian opposition group, with both sides expressing a desire to cooperate for the nation's best interests.
Afterward, participants expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting, which lasted more than two hours. The optimism, however, was tempered by caution.
One of the gathering's members was quoted by the daily as describing the session as "positive and sincere" but added that future actions would be the true gauge of success.
Among those they want released is Tawfiq Hindi, a prominent political advisor of the dissolved Christian Lebanese Forces party, who is also a member of the Gathering.
Earlier this month, a Lahoud-backed army intelligence services crackdown led to the arrests of more than 200 anti-Syrian Christians. Hindi and two other journalists are still detained for "contacts with the Israeli enemy."
A presidential statement said Lahoud and the opposition delegation "agreed to consolidate the climate of reconciliation and the role of the institutions ... and to give priority to the economic situation."
Most of those arrested have been released on bail, while a few dozen others were sentenced by the Beirut military court to jail terms of between one month and 45 days.
The arrests, some of which were carried out in a brutal manner, have triggered sharp criticism and a political crisis after Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and many ministers said they were launched behind their backs. The crackdown was also criticized by France and the Vatican.
In a sperate story, the Daily Star said that President Lahoud and Prime Minister Hariri cemented their reconciliation on Thursday, co-chairing a cabinet session for the first time in weeks and heralding end to political bickering that had left the economy in serious jeopardy.
Hariri arrived at the meeting shortly after his return from Syria, where he briefed President Bashar Assad on the new attempt to strike a working formula with Lahoud and get the government's economic and financial reform drive back on track. The premier described his talks in Damascus as "excellent," but would not go into details.
The cabinet session was the first to be attended by both Lahoud and Hariri since their split over the security sweep.
Emerging from the meeting in a clearly upbeat mood, Energy and Water Minister Abdel-Hamid Beydoun remarked that there was "a surplus of affection" among Lahoud, Hariri and the ministers.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi was equally upbeat, said the report, insisting that the polarization between Lahoud and Hariri that had torn the Cabinet apart made the two leaders and their allies realize that "everyone stood to lose."
"We have to avoid mistakes that would have a negative impact on socio-economic conditions ... The loss will be for all, the same way overcoming the economic crisis would benefit all," he said – Albawaba.com
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