02/28/2006, 00.00
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Lahoud under pressure to step down as inter-Lebanese meeting is set

by Youssef Hourany

Patriarch Sfeir has said he is for any initiative which encouraged dialogue and expressed hope for a new, more equal electoral law. He has also made a proposal for a "Lent of solidarity".

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Lebanese parliamentary majority is piling more pressure on the President of the Republic, Emile Lahoud, to step down. Meanwhile, preparations are afoot for a meeting which is set to start on 2 March and will probably last for a week. On the agenda of the meeting is discussion of the constitutional foundation, at the request of the "14 February" movement to the head of state. All group leaders will take part in the meeting, which will be held in parliament under the chairmanship of the speaker of the assembly, Nabih Berri. The initiative was welcomed by the Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, who is for all efforts which, in his words, "may help Lebanon emerge from its current state".

The Maronite Patriarch, who is now "representative of the Christians", as the former minister, Fares Boueiz, confirmed to AsiaNews, has expressed support for all political initiatives – regional and international – which encourage inter-Lebanese dialogue. He is for them because "all efforts which aim to correct the deviations of the country's institutions, and to fill the void in Lebanon's political dynamics, are a noble duty". Cardinal Sfeir has even criticized those people who abuse "the platform of the patriarchate to launch criticisms and to give opinions", saying they "do not reflect the position of Bkerke, but express personal choices that cannot involve the patriarch and the Patriarchate".

And on the eve of the expiry of a mandate of a Commission charged with drawing up a new electoral law seven months ago, the patriarch, in a statement to AsiaNews, expressed hope that agreement would be reached for a more representative law, capable of encouraging conservation of the country's identity, described by John Paul II as "the message". The Commission, chaired by the former minister, Fouad Boutros, was given its task by President Lahoud, because of criticisms leveled against the 2000 electoral law, held to be "unjust and the work of the former Syrian Minister of the Interior, Ghazi Kanaan".

Today, Patriarch Sfeir presided over "Ash Monday", which according to the Maronite rite marks the start of the season of Lent. In his homily, he called on all believers to take the route of the "narrow path" that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, and he explained the meaning of fasting as an "exercise in piety which feeds the soul and fortifies the faith". The cardinal drew the attention of all to the need of showing solidarity in this difficult time, when the poor are dying of hunger. He launched an initiative to allocate the income of one day during Lent to a needy family, expressing his gratitude to all those who transform their fasting into "a fasting of solidarity and participation".

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