Lebanese press round-up: April 12, 2012

Press round-up for Thursday, April 12th from the morning edition of Lebanon’s An-Nahar, Al-Akhbar, As-Safir, and Ad-Diyar newspapers.

Note: There is no press round-up on Sundays

  • Opening Titles

Damascus announces commitment to the ceasefire this morning; the West and the opposition question [this commitment] and call for withdrawing [troops].

The Maarab gathering responds to targeting Geagea.

The “data” controversy flares between the [judicial] committee and [security] services.

  • Local News

The Syrian Ministry of Defense announced that the Syrian army will cease fire as of 6 a.m. today in keeping with [joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria] Kofi Annan’s plan, which was approved in writing by the Syrian authorities. Moscow also called on the opposition to act like the government.

The West, however, declared that the ceasefire is not enough and that the Syrian army has to withdraw from cities.

The Syrian opposition questioned the extent of Damascus’ abiding by its commitments. Meanwhile, Ankara is seemingly inclined to establish a buffer zone within the Syrian territory to assimilate the growing number of displaced Syrian nationals.

The gathering of March 14 forces in Maarab was the culmination of their political response to the attempt to assassinate Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. The meeting was attended by about 200 participants and was not limited to expressions of solidarity, as it also tackled activating the opposition and reviving its organizational structure.

An-Nahar has learned that the debates, which lasted for about three hours, included calls on the March 14 coalition to adopt stronger positions, activate their ranks and revive their organization in order to rise up to the new challenges it is starting to face.

The gathering, as such, was regarded as a new start for these forces, as many faces who had “admonished” or “steered away” from such meetings attended it.

The heavy participation was viewed as a prelude to a new start dictated by the extraordinary circumstances.

The statement issued by the gathering expressed a political message, whereby March 14 forces said that “targeting Geagea is tantamount to targeting the March 14 coalition as a whole and [that] this hideous crime is hopelessly trying to restore the country to the bleak era of our national history.”

The participants called for transferring the attempt to assassinate Geagea to the Judicial Council and urged the cabinet “to recant immediately and without any hesitation its decision to ban the delivery of telecommunications data to security services.”

Commenting via An-Nahar on the decision of the independent judicial committee (not to approve of handing over the [telecom] data to the Internal Security Forces), key security sources asked: “Which is more important, people’s security or their privacy?”

The security sources asked: “What lies behind this interest in preserving the privacy of phone conversations knowing that the telecommunications minister was providing security services with the integral data up until 15/1/2012? What about privacy before that date?”

According to sources, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel will submit a report to the Council of Minister, in which he is to request providing the interception control chamber with the equipment needed in order to control mobile and landline communication within the framework of its duties.

No new developments were recorded with regard to the death of Al-Jadeed cameraman Ali Shaaban with the exception of President Michel Sleiman’s discussing the investigations with Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel Karim Ali who visited Baabda.

  • Opening Titles

No salaries to civil servants after May.

  • Local News

While the country is kept busy with the controversy over the mobile telecommunications data, the state is apparently unable to pay civil servants’ salaries and public expenditures as of May 2012, since this expenditure is illegal in the absence of a budget.

Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi sounded the alarm, as he sent a memorandum to expenditure inspectors at the ministry, in which he demanded that they abstain from spending any amounts exceeding the expenditures mentioned in the 2005 budget.

The Constitution allows President Michel Sleiman to issue the draft law via a decree; however, he is so far abstaining from using this prerogative.

Sources close to Minister Safadi reported that he informed President Michel Sleiman that the Council of Ministers refused to agree on a 4.9 trillion LL Treasury loan, arguing the president’s prerogative to issue the 8.9 trillion LL draft law.

The president discussed the issue pertaining to the 8.9 trillion LL draft law with Finance and Budget Commission Chairman MP Ibrahim Kanaan. Baabda sources said that President Sleiman wanted to hear Kanaan’s remarks on the said draft.

MP Kanaan told Al-Akhbar that he noted “the president’s interest in the issue,” and stressed the “importance of regulating public finances under the ceiling of the law.”

Speaker Nabih Berri broke the political deadlock by addressing during a conversation with journalists at his Msaileh residence the issues of oil, the electoral law and appointments. The parliament speaker called for speeding up oil extraction free from the political tug-of-war.

Commenting on the situation in Syria, Speaker Berri asked: “Is Israel not enough as an enemy? Why are we trying to find another enemy on [our] northern border?”

  • Opening Titles

The 8.9 trillion LL law is stuck between the Presidential Palace and parliament.

The “financial void” threatens to stop salaries.

  • Local News

Against a backdrop of rising fuel pricesc, mounting social crises and increasing protests, another greater danger is looming in the horizon, as the salaries of civil servants and projects funded by the Treasury are threatened to be stopped at the end of May 2012.

This warning was expressed by well-informed sources against a backdrop of the enduring void pertaining to public expenditure due to the failure so far to adopt the draft law allowing the cabinet to spend 8.9 trillion LL.

Sources told As-Safir that one of the proposed solutions is for the president to issue the law allowing the spending of 8.9 trillion LL as transferred by the Council of Ministers to parliament (in accordance with the constitution).

President Michel Sleiman is seemingly taking his time before settling his decision pending the completion of the necessary constitutional consultations regarding this matter.

  • Opening Titles

Bkirki intervenes regarding the electoral law: No to the 1960 law.

March 14 forces express solidarity with Geagea: Calls for transferring the issue to the Judicial Council.

The cabinet is expecting heated parliamentary sessions and Mikati is preparing to respond.

  • Local News

Noticeable stances on the electoral law were expressed yesterday, as Speaker Nabih Berri called on the cabinet to take on its responsibilities in this respect and to complete the law as soon as possible.

Speaker Berri asserted that the Amal Movement and Hezbollah are in favor of setting a single electoral constituency in the country based on proportionality, he went on saying that the Amal Movement is open to any serious discussion leading to a law “allowing us, as Lebanese nationals, to preserve Lebanon.”

MP Hassan Fadlallah asserted that Hezbollah has no problem with the electoral law regardless of its wording, even though the party does have its own vision regarding the best electoral law.

According to informed sources, the stance of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on the electoral law and their readiness to discuss any law is a positive message addressed to MP Walid Jumblatt and his concerns about an electoral law, whereby Lebanon would be a single electoral constituency.

General Patriarchal Vicar Bishop Samir Mazloum asserted that Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is the one who steered away from Bkirki, as he has proven time and again. Bishop Mazloum went on saying that Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rai was not the one who took the initiative to severe the relationship.

In an interview with NBN, Bishop Mazloum said that even if everyone displays solidarity with Geagea, this still does not give him the right to talk about Patriarch Rai in this way. Bishop Mazloum said that whoever has a problem with the patriarch must talk to him directly, adding that there are no initiatives to restore the relationship [between Geagea and Bkirki].