BEIRUT: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi marked Army Day Friday with a pledge to shield Lebanon against Israeli threats and terrorism linked to regional turmoil as top leaders called for a swift election of a new president.
Parliament’s repeated failures to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25, prompted the Army Command to cancel this year’s Army Day celebrations.
Addressing troops on the 69th anniversary of the Lebanese Army’s founding, Kahwagi said in his Order of the Day: “In a country that is facing terrorism and Israeli threats along with various internal and external wars, the military institution stood firm against all attempts aimed at tampering with its coexistence. On Aug. 1, we feel deeply proud that the Army is the symbol of this experience, for Lebanon’s salvation rests solely on its shoulders.”
Kahwagi pointed out that the “difficult circumstances” through which the country was passing and the vacancy in the presidential post prompted the Army Command to cancel the Army Day celebrations in the absence of a president to sponsor the ceremony to distribute swords to graduating officers.
Despite the lack of ceremony, Kahwagi said the military remained committed to defending Lebanon against internal and external threats.
“The Army Day will survive and we congratulate the Lebanese on their Army Day. We assure them that we will keep the pledge to defend Lebanon against internal and external dangers threatening it,” he said.
Kahwagi vowed to keep the “Army as a symbol of national unity, diversity and coexistence which constitute the most important values of Lebanese civilization.”
Kahwagi received congratulations on Army Day from rival political leaders who, in addition to praising the military’s role in maintaining the country’s stability, called for a quick election of a president.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, during a phone call with Kahwagi, underscored the need to “quickly put an end to the vacancy in the presidency post.”
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, called after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai for the election of a strong president who can find common ground among the feuding parties.
Heading a delegation of Future MPs to Bkirki, Siniora said he told Rai that the failure to elect a president had resulted in “a deadly vacuum.”
“Nothing could fill the vacuum, and there is no priority at all above the election of a president,” he said.
Separately, lingering differences among lawmakers over the means to finance the public sector’s wage hike bill were blocking its approval.
“It is obvious there are still differences over the salary scale discussion,” Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil told reporters after meeting with a delegation from the Union Coordination Committee.
UCC head Hanna Gharib vowed that teachers would uphold their boycott correcting official exams until the wage hike was approved.