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Mikati seeks funds abroad to cover Army plan
Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads a meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads a meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Wednesday that he asked foreign officials he met in New York to help Lebanon secure funding for a $1.6 billion plan that will provide the Lebanese Army with weapons and equipment.

“I stressed again that Lebanon looks forward to direct international patronage to secure funding for a plan approved by the Cabinet to provide the Army with weapons,” Information Minister Walid Daouk quoted Mikati as saying during a Cabinet session.

Mikati, who led the session, briefed ministers on the outcome of his meetings with international officials in New York, where he headed Lebanon’s delegation for the meeting of the General Assembly last week.

He said he came away from those meetings with a sense that the officials appreciate the Army’s role in preserving stability in Lebanon and support the country’s dissociation policy.

Mikati regretted that despite even international support for the Army, some media outlets chose to attack it.

The prime minister’s remarks came a day after Al-Arabiya television reported that Army personnel ordered the assassination of anti-Bashar Assad Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed on Syrian orders. Abdel-Wahed was killed on May 20 at an Army checkpoint in Akkar.

Mikati said that the judiciary was investigating Abdel-Wahed’s death and reiterated the Army would abide by the judiciary’s decision.

The ministers tackled other topics during the meeting, including the approval of a ministerial committee under Mikati to discuss a mechanism to intercept phone calls while protecting civil liberties.

Ministers also approved the formation of a committee to be headed by Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi to study the establishment of an independent national committee for the missing and forcibly disappeared Lebanese. President Michel Sleiman will host a Cabinet session at Baabda Palace Monday.

Separately, a source familiar with the salary scale talks told The Daily Star that the draft law would only be referred to Parliament when sources of revenue to finance it were secured.

The source said the salary scale is a “thorny issue; its approval was wrong and continues to be wrong and all groups should be responsible.”

Last month, Cabinet approved a new salary scale for the public sector, enabling state employees and teachers at private and public schools to benefit from a pay raise passed in January.

Teachers and state employees are striking on Oct. 10 to protest the delay in referring the law to Parliament. Earlier in the day, Mikati chaired a ministerial meeting which discussed developing a plan to deal with around 80,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon since March 2011. “It was proposed that the Health, Education, Social Affairs and Interior ministries as well as the Higher Relief Committee take several steps,” said Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who attended the meeting.

Abu Faour added that another meeting would be held Monday to make a final decision on the proposals that were made, describing Wednesday’s meeting as a first step toward a clear plan for the state to deal with refugees.

For his part, Education Minister Hassan Diab said that public schools in Lebanon had so far received around 10,000 Syrian students. “Private schools are also receiving [Syrian] students ... all those are students following Lebanese curriculum.”

He added that the deadline for Syrian students to register in schools is Oct. 10.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 04, 2012, on page 1.
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