Lebanon: Two ministers accuse Chirac of ”supporting opposition”
Two Cabinet ministers on Saturday accused French President Jacques Chirac of supporting the Lebanese opposition's effort to unseat the pro-Syrian government, with one minister saying Chirac was leading the battle.
The strong criticism followed Chirac's recent visit to Beirut, where he visited the family of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri, a longtime friend.
Opposition leaders and Hariri's supporters have blamed the Lebanese and Syrian governments for the assassination. Both governments deny involvement, and the Lebanese government has accused the opposition of exploiting Hariri's slaying to reap political gains ahead of parliamentary elections expected by May.
A statement issued by Hariri's family following Chirac's visit Wednesday said the French president was in Lebanon on a private visit to pay his condolences. He did not meet any Lebanese officials, the statement said.
On Saturday, however, Information Minister Elie Ferzli said Chirac met with opposition leaders during the seven-hour stop in Beirut.
"Jacques Chirac, president of France, is directly leading the battle in the Lebanese arena," Ferzli said in an interview broadcast by Al-Arabiya.
Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad also slammed Chirac, accusing him of inciting the opposition.
"Unfortunately, France's stance is the most extremist of all attitudes," said Murad in an interview with state-run Lebanon Television. "President Chirac came to Lebanon and completely ignored the government, the president and everyone. Then, he stood to encourage the opposition to step up" its campaign.