01/05/2007, 00.00
LEBANON
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Government approves plan for donors despite controversy

by Paul Dakiki
The upcoming Paris conference has prompted the executive to draw up a reform project that could be used to exert pressure on the opposition. Meditation by the Arab League could resume before 10 January.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A five-year plan for economic and social reform has been approved by the Lebanese government in view of the upcoming meeting of “donor countries” – above all western and Arab – that will meet on 25 January to decide about what economic support to offer for the renewal of the Country of the Cedars. The executive has also decided to go ahead with a privatization programme – starting with telephone systems – and to give an extra month's salary to members of the security forces as a bonus for their additional efforts over the past month.

 

The government decision to draw up a plan to submit to the so-called Paris III conference – taken despite the refusal of the President of the Republic, Emile Lahoud, to accept the legitimacy of the executive – was motivated by the urgent need to prepare for that meeting. Already next week, the economic ministers and the governor of the Bank of Lebanon will go to Paris for a preparatory meeting. Yesterday, meanwhile, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and French President Jacques Chirac spoke about the matter over the phone, and a rumour floated from Washington that the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, may be present at the discussions.

 

But in Lebanon’s critical political scenario, Paris III – seen by the opposition as support from western and pro-western Arab countries for the Siniora government – is largely considered to be a means to put pressure on the opposition. The Information Minister, Ghazi Aridi, called on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, “to join us in making Lebanon's interest the first priority.” In the same vein, Siniora, who described Paris III as a “unique opportunity for Lebanon”, claimed that “no one will help Lebanon if we do not help ourselves”.

 

The government asked Nasrallah to accept a “balanced and simultaneous” political agreement on the basis of the “neither victorious nor defeated” principle that guided the mediation attempt of the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, which was suspended before the festive season. Last night, Siniora talked to Moussa whose meditation bid should, according to government sources, resume by 10 January, always if “positive signals” are forthcoming from the opposition.

 

On another front, President Lahoud has slammed the decisions taken by the government as “non-existent” and reiterated his decision not to sign decrees issued by the cabinet after the resignation of the six ministers – five Shiites and one who refers to Lahoud himself – on 11 November.

 

In Lebanon there are high expectations of the third Paris conference. In 2001, the first meeting of “donors” held in the French capital collected 500 million euros. The second, held in 2002, gathered 2.6 billion dollars. The next one will look into projects to repair 3.6 billion dollars worth of damage left by last summer’s conflict with Israel and 41 billion dollars of debts incurred by the country after the 1975 – 1990 civil war.

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