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Berri denies pushing for Parliament extension

File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a session at the Parliament in Beirut, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The presidential vacuum, now in its third month, has taken its toll on the military establishment, prompting the Army Command to cancel this year’s celebrations marking Army Day Friday.

Speaker Nabih Berri, meanwhile, refuted reports that he and MP Walid Jumblatt were pushing for the extension of Parliament’s term. He said he had agreed with Jumblatt to launch joint moves to break the presidential deadlock.

“There will be no military parade or celebrations in Fayyadieh to mark Army Day due to the absence of the president,” a senior military official told The Daily Star Thursday.

Similarly, the annual graduation of a new batch of officer cadets has been postponed until a president is elected, the official said.

Under the Constitution, the president is the overall commander of the Lebanese Army Forces. On Army Day which falls on Aug. 1, the president usually distributes swords to graduating officers at a ceremony at the Military Academy in Fayyadieh, east of Beirut, attended by the Parliament speaker, the prime minister, Cabinet members, MPs, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, senior military and security officials and Arab and foreign ambassadors.

Yet soldiers and officers will mark Army Day in their barracks and positions across the country by distributing the Order of the Day to be issued by Kahwagi Friday, the official said.

This year’s Army Day comes as the military faces tough challenges threatening the country’s security and stability due to the spillover from the war in neighboring Syria and the turmoil in Iraq and sectarian tensions linked to the conflict next door.

The Army has in the past months uncovered several terror networks affiliated with Al-Qaeda which were blamed for the wave of car bombings and suicide attacks that targeted military positions and areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley where Hezbollah enjoys big support. The Army, General Security and the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch have also foiled a number of terror attacks, arresting several suspected would-be suicide bombers.The Army has struggled over the past three years to defuse tensions and prevent the country’s slide into sectarian violence similar to what is happening in Syria and Iraq. Troops deployed in the northern city of Tripoli in April as part of a government security plan to end years of violent fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, as the presidential election stalemate drags on with no solution in sight, the stage is being set for a possible new extension of Parliament’s mandate, which expires in November. Parliament has failed for the 10th time since April over lack of quorum to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.

Berri reiterated his call for giving priority to the election of a president, denying reports that he and Jumblatt supported the extension of Parliament’s term. “No one has discussed with me and I will not allow anyone to discuss with me the extension of Parliament’s term. The first, second, third and 10th priority for me is the presidency,” he was quoted by his visitors as saying.

He said he did not discuss the extension issue during his meeting with Jumblatt Tuesday, nor did the Progressive Socialist Party leader bring it up.

“Rumors that they [Berri and Jumblatt] supported the extension of Parliament’s term have ulterior motives. Those spreading them are the ones who want Parliament’s term to be extended and they are accusing us of it,” Berri was quoted as saying.

Declaring that there was nothing new in the presidential election crisis, he said: “Parliamentary elections should take place with the presence of a president.” He added that internal pressures should be exerted in order to elect a president. “I have reached an understanding with Jumblatt on joint moves which I will not reveal linked to the presidential election.”

Berri Thursday received a cable of greetings from U.S. President Barack Obama for Eid al-Fitr.

Zahle MP Nicolas Fattoush said he would present at the right time a draft proposal for the extension of Parliament’s term.

“I did not discuss this matter with Speaker Nabih Berri or others because I work according to my conviction,” Fattoush told The Daily Star.

Fattoush, a former Cabinet minister who made the draft proposal that extended Parliament’s term for 17 months in May last year, stressed that the legal basis he would use in the extension proposal is beyond doubt.

Citing security concerns facing the country as a result of the negative fallout of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, he rejected charges that there was “a deal” behind attempts to extend Parliament’s term. “[Parliamentary] elections require that candidates communicate with the people. How can this happen in the circumstances through which the country is passing?” Fattoush said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 01, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

The presidential vacuum, now in its third month, has taken its toll on the military establishment, prompting the Army Command to cancel this year's celebrations marking Army Day Friday.

Speaker Nabih Berri, meanwhile, refuted reports that he and MP Walid Jumblatt were pushing for the extension of Parliament's term.

On Army Day which falls on Aug. 1, the president usually distributes swords to graduating officers at a ceremony at the Military Academy in Fayyadieh, east of Beirut, attended by the Parliament speaker, the prime minister, Cabinet members, MPs, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, senior military and security officials and Arab and foreign ambassadors.

Yet soldiers and officers will mark Army Day in their barracks and positions across the country by distributing the Order of the Day to be issued by Kahwagi Friday, the official said.

Berri reiterated his call for giving priority to the election of a president, denying reports that he and Jumblatt supported the extension of Parliament's term.


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