Lebanon holds a special place in the Pope's heart, says Siniora
by Youssef Hourany
The prime minister highlights the "Holy See's special interest in Lebanon and its unique role in the Middle East region". Vatican slams the blasphemous cartoons. Patriarch Sfeir demands that an agreement be reached over President Lahoud's successor before his removal.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Speaking on his return to Beirut last night after meeting Benedict XVI, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said the Vatican is closely monitoring events in Lebanon, a country that "holds a special place in the Pope's heart". Siniora also said that he and the Pontiff discussed the Muhammad cartoons as well as Lebanon's internal situation.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Cardinal Sfeir also spoke about that the country's situation expressing reservations about demands made by majority parties in the National Assembly that current President Émile Lahoud resign. For the cardinal, a consensus on his replacement must be found before Lahoud's mandate comes to an end.

According to Prime Minister Siniora his visit with the Pope "was very successful". "The Holy Father is very interested in Lebanon as a unique example amongst the countries of the region," Siniora said in a press conference.

"Lebanon is in his [the Pope's] prayers and he closely follows developments in the country," the prime minister added. "We saw the Holy See's special interest in Lebanon and its unique role in the Middle East region".

In response to a question about the Holy See's position on the publication of the blasphemous Muhammad cartoons, Siniora said that in his meetings with the Pope and the Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano, he found an overall rejection of anything that might fuel religious fundamentalism.  

The Holy See repeated its "standing position" in defence of freedom of conscience, which it considers a fundamental human right.

Siniora added that he told the Pope the truth about what happened on the February 6, 'Black Sunday', and reiterated his government's vow to protect places of worship and bring to justice all those responsible for the acts of violence that have tarnished Lebanon's image.

The Lebanese Prime Minister added that "during our talks with the Pope and Cardinal Sodano we reviewed some issues that concern the region, especially Israel's occupation of some parts of Lebanon, its occupation of Arab lands and its refusal to accept any initiative that favours a stable peace in the region.

Siniora said that the proposals made at the 2000 Beirut Arab summit by then Crown Prince, now Saudi King Abdallah, offer a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Arab world.

He ended his press conference promising positive results "which will become clear in coming days."

For his part, Patriarch Sfeir told accredited journalists in Bkerke that he has doubts about the plans by the February 14 movement to remove President Lahoud before the end of his mandate.  

The cardinal restated his "refusal to countenance any act that seeks to depose the president by force and insisted on his demand that a consensus on a new head of state be reached before the current one is removed".

Patriarch Sfeir criticised "those people who use extralegal means against the presidency to achieve their private ends".

He did however expressed his support for new parliamentary elections based on a new electoral law, "one that is more just that the current one".

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