Aoun meets Christian figures, warns of harsher ‘tone’

Opposition leader MP Michel Aoun held a series of meetings on Tuesday with other Christian political figures that focused on the political vacuum days after Parliament failed to elect a new president. Parliament is now scheduled to convene Friday, and the meetings of Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement,  which started on Monday and are expected to continue all week, are designed to find a way out of the crisis.

But little so far indicates that a successor to former President Emile Lahoud is going to be elected amid continued deadlock between the Western-backed ruling coalition and the Hizbullah-led opposition, supported by Syria and Iran.

The government, considered illegitimate by the opposition since the resignation of six Cabinet members – including all fiove Shiites – last year, effectively took charge of running Lebanon on Saturday.

Following his meetings on Tuesday, Aoun warned the ruling coalition that if a deal is not reached soon, the opposition will resort to different means to change the situation.

“Usually people use three tones,” Aoun said. “The first tone is the one we have been using for the last year and half; the second is the one we are using now when we say the situation is wrong and needs to be straightened; and if you don’t understand, there is a third tone.”

On Monday, Aoun said a deal could be reached with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri that would not hinder his own understanding with Hizbullah. He also said a memorandum of understanding could result from his meetings with the Christian political figures that would help end the stalemate.

Among those who visited Aoun on Tuesday were former Minister Fares Boueiz, and delegations from the opposition Tashnak, Tadamon, Waad and Marada parties. He also hosted the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon, Ahmad Bidiawi. 

But several politicians said on Tuesday that a vote was unlikely to take place on Friday, and that the current vacuum Lebanon is facing will probably be prolonged.

“It is unlikely the vote will take place on Friday,” said Information Minister Ghazi Aridi. “There are behind-the scenes meetings between different political leaderships to reach an agreement on the president, but until now, we haven’t reached any result.”

The vacuum also ranked high on the agenda of talks between former President Amin Gemayel and US Ambassador  Jeffrey Feltman.

A “prolonged vacancy in the presidency is unacceptable,” Feltman, who has accused other countries of meddling in Lebanon, said after the meeting. “Unacceptable politically and unacceptable confessionally. The vacancy caused by the refusal of some MPs to exercise their responsibility to vote needs to be filled as quickly as possible.”

Feltman also said that if legislators were left to vote freely, they would elect a president who is committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty, unity and democracy.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and former Interior Minister Michel Murr also held talks. Murr said the visit was aimed at highlighting the dangers of leaving the presidency vacant and urging Siniora to exert all efforts to ensure a presidential election.

“The Christian situation does not tolerate a vacant presidency,” Murr told reporters after his meeting with Siniora.

Meanwhile, European foreign ministers voiced hope that a president would be elected soon. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said that the dialogue initiated by Italy, Spain and France with feuding Lebanese factions has allowed for control over the situation and prevented clashes.

“I think that ultimately, a president will be elected,” he said before joining the Italian delegation to the Annapolis conference on Middle East peace.

“Lebanon is not in a state of chaos today. I do hope that a new president will be elected very soon,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

“France is committed to assisting Lebanon to respect the Constitution and preserve security and stability,” he told the French weekly Le Figaro. “The international community is more and more ready to support the goodwill of the Lebanese people.”

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