Opposition rallies behind call for Syrians to quit

Maurice Kaldawy
Daily Star staff

Christian politicians rallied behind Bkirki’s call for an end to Syrian tutelage, while reactions from government officials remained either silent or offered mildly guarded reactions.
The feeling in the government, however, was that Wednesday’s declaration by the Council of Maronite Bishops was ill-timed, and contained unnecessary accusations that the government was not serious about national reconciliation, given President Emile Lahoud’s recent overtures toward the opposition.
Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice-president of the Higher Shiite Council told his congregation in a Friday prayer sermon that the country “cannot withstand further bickering.”
He said internal conflicts had hurt national interests and urged unity and continued cooperation and coordination with Syria.
Qabalan said the Syrian military presence and close coordination between the two countries were a “national necessity in view of the increasing Israeli danger which threatens Lebanon and the region.”
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi declined to take a public stand during a news conference at his office, saying the media was free to reflect various views and political forces also were at liberty to air their stands.
However, he said everyone was required to abide by the country’s “basic agreed-upon principles,” which are quite clear and well-known.
The Free Patriotic Movement of exiled former army commander Michel Aoun, however, zeroed-in on the go-between role undertaken by former Foreign Minister Fouad Butros, who has sought to mend fences between Damascus and Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, the Maronite patriarch.
It said that Butros’ latest trip to Damascus on Thursday resulted in a request for a “grace period” and for defusing any anger that might have resulted from the bishops’ declaration.
“Nothing justifies Butros in playing the same role time and again,” it added, warning against “falling in the trap of maneuvers to undermine the opposition and dissipate national demands.”
Metn MP Albert Mokheiber, known for his anti-Syrian views, reiterated his position saying the government should request a resolution from the Arab League demanding the departure of the Syrian Army. He went on to say that the bishops’ statement, the second in a year, “represents the reality of the regrettable Lebanese situation” and should be “speedily implemented.”
The National Liberal Party expressed “full support” for the bishops’ statement, saying it expressed the “aspirations of all Lebanese who want their country to be a sovereign, free and independent state.”
Kesrouan MP Farid Khazen also announced his support for the statement, saying it reflected the stand of the great majority of the Lebanese public. He urged the authorities to deal with it “positively.”
After calling on Sfeir at his summer residence in Diman, Solange Gemayel, wife of assassinated President-elect Bashir Gemayel, said that she backed the bishops’ statement, describing it as a clear appeal to the authorities “so that they may know how to act wisely before it is too late.”

DS 08/09/01