Lebanese President Sleiman elected vice president of the Francophone Organization

Sleiman says keen on Lebanon’s stability and application of resolution 1701

Berri discusses with French President Sarkozy, senior officials developments in Lebanon

French FM says it is impossible to impress STL

Women’s demonstration attack STL investigators in Beirut’s Southern Suburb

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman called for instituting a Third Republic in which more and more of the Taif Accord is implemented, “with no fear or hesitation.”

Before leaving Switzerland Sunday following the conclusion of the Francophone Summit, Sleiman delivered a speech at a reception in Lausanne organized by the Lebanese Embassy.

The president advocated dialogue as a means of soundly reviewing the Taif Accord, two decades after it became part of the Constitution, in order to amend certain items and carry through with the implementation of others, such as creating a senate, carrying out administrative decentralization and undertaking electoral reform.

Sleiman said Lebanon had been managing its affairs by itself since the 2008 Doha Accord, after Syria had pursued “a thankful supervision” of the implementation of the Taif Accord following 1990.

“We are today building Lebanon, building the Third Republic on a proper basis. We are facing a great challenge as Lebanese to prove that as diverse sects we take part in a political democratic system which we are capable of letting succeed, and developing the country,” said Sleiman.

He said the remaining clauses of the Taif Accord should be implemented, including achieving administrative decentralization, reforming the electoral law and establishing a senate.

“We have to reform laws, especially those dating back 60 years … and reform the electoral law through adopting proportional representation and expanding electoral districts to get out of narrow sectarianism,” said Sleiman.

The president said it was “shameful” not to adopt 18 as the legal age to vote, as well as to engage “in thinking in a sectarian way if the numbers of one sect exceeded those of another.”

Sleiman also highlighted the importance of allowing foreigners of Lebanese origin to reclaim their Lebanese nationality.

“I do not propose this issue to improve the sectarian situation [of a certain sect] because the proportions will be the same as here in Lebanon; Instead, we aim to [make use] of Lebanon’s outside potential.”

Sleiman acknowledged that a number of constitutional problems related to the Taif had arisen in the 20 years after its adoption, and called for a “calm” resolution of the situation.

“No one aims at taking some prerogatives from a certain authority and giving them to another, but the issue deals with the answer to: How do we distribute responsibilities, rather than take away prerogatives?”

“If the authority belongs to the president, then let it be as such, and if it belongs to others, then let it also be as such. What is important is to find solutions for the different problems Lebanon is experiencing and this requires consensus,” he said.

He denied that the president was seeking to boost his prerogatives, but rather to “take on all the responsibility he shoulders.”

Sleiman added that Lebanon’s democratic structure by nature rejected sectarianism and terrorism, and said the Lebanese model of consociational democracy was a success, despite the views of experts that it often leads to instability.

He said the Lebanese needed to commit to dialogue in order to reach an understanding over disputed issues, in line with the Taif’s article that says any political authority that contradicts the principle of national coexistence was illegitimate. “Thus, we should assume the responsibility of guaranteeing the participation of all factions in power,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he has conveyed to French President Nicholas Sarkozy concerns about a lack of consensus among the Lebanese with regard to investigations by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), following talks with the French leader in Paris Thursday.

Berri told reporters he had discussed with Sarkozy a comprehensive solution to the political deadlock and both agreed to keep channels open between the two countries to coordinate future steps.

Asked whether France was still supportive of the STL, Berri said “no one is against justice but [there are debates] over the way to reach justice.”

Berri’s visit to France comes in the wake of rising tension over the STL, as the March 14 coalition continues to reiterate support for the UN-backed tribunal, a position endorsed by France and the US, while Hezbollah, an ally of Berri, condemns the court as a politicized entity.

Berri, who reportedly conveyed to French officials concerns from the March 8 coalition over the STL, said “the situation was stabilizing” with regard to Sarkozy’s position.

“The situation is becoming less tense and I believe President Sarkozy has intentions to visit Lebanon soon,” Berri said.

When asked whether Sarkozy agreed to suggestions he carried to Paris, Berri replied: “This question should be directed to him [Sarkozy] but I said that there is consensus in opinion and an agreement to keep contacts open.”

A statement carried by the National News Agency said Berri praised French support for stability and calm in Lebanon amid the critical circumstances the country is witnessing.

“There is great keenness on exchanging opinions on how to protect civil peace and accord among the Lebanese, accord in harmony with the state affairs in the region,” the statement said.

“I believe that the outcome of talks was excellent,” Berri said.

Berri’s spokesman, Ali Hamdan, told The Daily Star the speaker conveyed to the French president the need to support regional and inter-Arab understanding to preserve stability.

Hezbollah has said the STL is set to frame members of its party in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In a bid to ease tensions over the STL, Berri has conducted a series of regional and inter-Lebanese contacts to break the political deadlock in line with Saudi-Syrian rapprochement.

Prior to his visit to France, Berri last week held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

On the other hand, at a furniture store on the outskirts of Dahiyeh, Moussa was drawn to his shop window last week by a crowd of yelling women. They had gathered to verbally and physically assault two Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigators and their interpreter who came to question Dr. Iman Charara.

“The women were yelling ‘you are American, Israeli!’” Moussa said. “They were cursing the investigators and asking them to leave.”

State Prosecutor Said Mirza announced that he launched an investigation into the incident.

March 14 politicians are saying the incident is the latest attack on the tribunal, which was established by the UN to investigate the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“The assault on the international investigators is a dangerous part of March 8’s larger war against the tribunal,” Lebanon First Bloc MP Farid Makari told NOW Lebanon.

One Hezbollah source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NOW Lebanon that the party is not in any way linked to the incident.

The clash occurred around 9 a.m., locals said. It erupted unexpectedly when a crowd of women surrounded the door outside of Charara’s first-floor gynecology clinic. The STL investigators were inside the clinic and intended to question Charara to get information about some of her patients.

Several witnesses of the incident told NOW Lebanon that there were between 25 and 50 women present, and Charara herself told AFP there were around 30.

“There were about 25 women in the beginning, and later more and more people gathered to see what was happening,” said a local pharmacy employee, who preferred not to give his name due to the sensitivity of the incident.

One of the women reportedly snatched one investigator’s briefcase. The question the country now faces is how today’s eruption will affect the ongoing work of the tribunal.

The STL’s Office of the Prosecutor, which is investigating Hariri’s assassination, declined to comment. “The Office of the Prosecutor takes this incident very seriously and we are currently looking into it,” the STL’s media relations unit told NOW Lebanon via email. “We cannot disclose more information at this time.”

Some Hezbollah analysts believe the clash was organized by the Party of God to covertly attack the STL. Reports unconfirmed by The Hague-based Tribunal have surfaced over the past several months suggesting that Hezbollah members will be accused of involvement with Hariri’s murder.

“This is a new, secret (or open secret) arm of Hezbollah where they hide behind the civilian population when Hezbollah does not dare to move forward directly,” said Lokman Slim, an activist who works with the Shia community. “It’s a very clear message of a camouflage strategy that Hezbollah has been using for several years.”

Slim said the organization used similar tactics in 2006, when Hezbollah members and fighters more literally hid behind civilians, leading to the destruction of much of Lebanon’s residential south.

“Civilians are a new military section within the Hezbollah strategy,” he said.

Another analyst and researcher, Mona Fayyad, cited a July 2010 incident involving the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon. “This is very similar to what happened in the South when the ‘people’ moved against UNIFIL,” she said. Groups of South Lebanon residents gathered on two occasions in July to throw stones at French contingent forces. Fayyed suggested this was organized by Hezbollah.

“I think the general situation in the country is creating a lot of tension,” Fayyad said. “Everyone is tense, and it is affecting the performance of the Lebanese in general… We should look into what is causing these groups of people to act, because it is dangerous for them before it is dangerous to anyone else.”

Not everyone saw a direct Hezbollah hand in the incident, but nonetheless view it as a message for the STL.

“In my opinion, this is an indirect statement from the Dahiyeh community against the STL,” Kassem Kassir, a journalist at An-Nahar newspaper who writes frequently on Hezbollah, told NOW Lebanon, echoing a statement by Amal MP Yassine Jaber.

For their part, people who live and work near the clinic noted that following the incident, police did not appear on the scene until well after the attack occurred. “It was like an Arab movie,” Moussa said. “Police officers come at the end of the action.”