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Lebanon parliament re-elects pro-syrian speaker nabih berri

by Mark dameli Wednesday, Jun. 29, 2005 at 8:02 PM

Lebanon's parliament on Tuesday re-elected pro-syrian Berri as the speaker of parliament - a post he has held since 1992 - even after anti-Syrian groups won a clear majority in the house for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Lebanon's newly elected parliament voted in Nabih Berri for an all-time record as Speaker Tuesday, setting in motion the process of forming a new government under Fouad Seniora's premiership with President Lahoud surprisingly swearing to veto a cabinet dictated on him within a victor-and-vanquished context.

Jurist Edmond Naim, 87, in his capacity as President Pro Tempore, gaveled the first Lebanese legislature elected after Syria's departure into session at 10:38 a.m. Beirut time, eight minutes behind schedule.

Before calling the 128 parliament members to cast their ballots for a Speaker, Naim said the legislature is called upon to hold a 'very early' legislative session to vote a parole bill to set Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea free from 11 years and three months in jail at the Defense Ministry prison without any condition.

Naim also urged parliament to pass a bill that would reopen Beirut's MTV network, whose indefinite closure by a court of law influenced by President Lahoud's regime in 2002 was "too severe."

Berri won by a comfortable majority of 90 votes against one for Bassem Al Sabaa, who did not stand, and 37 white ballots from Qornet Shahwan, Geagea's LF, Gen. Aoun's bloc as well as the Democratic Left Movement and the Democratic Renewal Movement.

"I pledge to work tirelessly for the accomplishment of the people's aspirations and for the consolidation of the citizens in their state, not in the regime," Berri said in a speech upon his reelection, vowing to shield Hizbullah as a anti-occupation resistance movement against international pressure to disarm it by force.

Berri also vowed an unflinching war against corruption, pledging to 'open all files for accountability.' He also pledged to work for a pan-Arab human rights charter.

Outside the parliament, fireworks and gunfire reverberated across Beirut. Berri supporters drove around the city in cars plastered with his picture.

One man was admitted to hospital wounded by a bullet fired in celebration, Lebanon's official news agency reported. Another man was slightly wounded by a similar stray bullet in the southern town of Nabatiyeh.

Hariri's 38-member bloc, the biggest in the new parliament, voted for Berri on the grounds of a pledge he made to Hariri to work for political, economic and financial reforms and arrange for a parole bill to release Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea from Jail before the end of July at most.

Walid Jumblat's 14-member bloc also voted for Berri along with Hizbullah's 13-strong grouping and Berri's own 15-member supporters as well as more than 10 non-partisans. But Saad's Christian allies of Qornet Shahwan and the LF abstained from voting for Berri, casting instead a total of 14 white ballots. So did Gen. Aoun's 21-member bloc and three other non-partisan legislators.

Berri's new 4-year term makes him the longest serving speaker in Lebanon since the 1943 independence from France's mandate, a total of 17 straight years stretching from 1992 until June 28, 2009.

Berri drove after his reelection to the Baabda Palace and met with President Lahoud and they agreed on a timetable for the beginning of the mandatory consultations to designate a new prime minister on Thursday. An Nahar says Berri is keen to have the new government installed in power within two weeks as of Tuesday.

Saad Hariri held a midnight meeting at the Koreitem mansion with Seniora, Rafik Hariri's favorite finance minister, and they agreed that the new government should be made of 24 cabinet ministers capable of working together as a team on programmed reforms in all fields, An Nahar reported.

Gen. Aoun has agreed in principle to allow his Free Patriotic Movement take part in the new government if it is a national union cabinet. Aoun's decision was conveyed to a Saad Hariri envoy, Dr. Ghattas Khoury, who met the General at his Rabieh mansion late night Monday and then returned to Koreitem to report "the very good outcome of the talks."

Meanwhile, the Presidential palace has leaked to pro-Lahoud newspapers that he would be willing to cooperate with Seniora within the frameworks outlined by the constitution, but would not submit to a cabinet line-up imposed on him with the victor-and-vanquished mentality.

The leakage was a response to reports that the alliance of Hariri, Jumblat, LF and Qornet Shawahan alliance, which controls 72 majority votes in the new parliament backed also by Berri's 15-man bloc, would not allow the president to get a one third portion of the cabinet ministers that would enable him to sabotage major government decisions.

Lahoud's main supportive newspaper Al Bayrak indicated Tuesday that he would not sign the decree of the new government if he deems so. The constitution says the decree has to be signed by the president and the prime minister together so the government can take office.

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