Lebanon News

Berri defends Mansour, slams U.S.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri speaks during a rally to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the disappearance of Imam Musa Sadr in the southern Town o Nabatieh, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri defended in comments Thursday Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour from critics who accuse the official of overstepping his bounds by calling for an urgent meeting of the Arab League earlier this week.

“The foreign minister ... hasn’t monopolized any decisions. Mansour hadn’t reached the decision-making stage, all he did was consult with the Arab League Chief Nabil Al Arabi over a certain idea,” Berri told As-Safir newspaper in an interview.

According to a Lebanese Foreign Ministry statement Sunday, Mansour contacted Al-Arabi and urged him to make the necessary contacts to hold an emergency meeting at the League’s headquarters in Cairo to discuss a film that mocks the Prophet Mohammad and portrays Muslims as violent.

Berri acknowledged that Mansour had acted without first consulting President Michel Sleiman but denied that Sleiman scolded the foreign minister in a “high-pitched” voice as some reports in the media.

The speaker said Sleiman had “kindly” asked Mansour for an explanation on the matter.

“The president told Mansour he supports the content of his call. However, [Sleiman] wished he had notified him about it beforehand,” said Berri.

Mansour’s announcement came a few minutes after Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called for anti-Islam film protests throughout Lebanon.

Voicing disappointment at the failure of Arab officials to take any action over “Innocence of Muslims,” which has sparked sometimes violent protests in the region, Berri hailed Mansour for his initiative.

“He did the right thing,” Berri said, “knowing that I knew about his initiative through the media, just like others. He hadn’t informed me personally about it.”

Representing Lebanon, Mansour took over the chairmanship of the Arab League Foreign Affairs meetings earlier this month. Lebanon holds this post for a period of six months.

Berri also criticized the administration of President Barack Obama, describing its actions as “stupid” for not dealing with the controversial subject in a “different way.”

He said the White House should have taken swift measures to contain the impact the film has on the Muslim community in order to preserve its own interests.

Asked about Nasrallah’s call for protests across Lebanon following the spread of the anti-Islam film on the Internet, Berri described the rally in Beirut's southern suburb Monday as “civilized.”

“No security incidents were recorded throughout the rally, even though the [protesters] passed by a lot of American restaurants,” Berri said.

Last week, U.S. food chains were targeted in north Lebanon by protesters railing against the low-budget film.

Turning to the elections law, Berri reiterated his support for an electoral system based on proportional representation as approved by the Cabinet in August.

“Saving Lebanon from its crisis can be reached through the electoral reform that includes the right parliamentary representation and eases sectarian tension,” Berri said.

The March 8-dominated Cabinet approved last month an electoral law based on proportional representation which divides the country into 13 districts for the 2013 polls, cutting the number of districts to almost half of what the current electoral law stipulates.

The districts would be divided as follows: Two for Beirut, two for south Lebanon, three for the Bekaa, three for north Lebanon and three for Mount Lebanon.

The joint parliamentary committees suspended its session Wednesday over a lack of quorum when opposition MPs withdrew from the meeting during discussions on the draft law.





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