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Sleiman urges politicians to stop meddling in Arab states’ affairs

  • Lebanese President Michel Sleiman speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Thursday, April 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BAABDA, Lebanon: President Michel Sleiman issued a call to all politicians to abide by the principles of the Baabda Declaration and avoid meddling in the affairs of other Arab countries during Wednesday’s Cabinet session.

Sleiman told ministers that Lebanon would remain committed to having the best relations with other Arab states.

In reference to remarks made by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun about increasing support to the Bahraini opposition, Sleiman said statements made by politicians about events taking place in a number of Arab states do not reflect the official stance of Lebanon.

“The opinions of Lebanese politicians do not reflect those of the [Lebanese] Cabinet,” Sleiman said in remarks at the start of a Cabinet session at Baabda Palace.

Sleiman’s comments came after a number of politicians described Aoun’s remarks as direct interference in other countries’ affairs.

In an interview last week with an Iranian television station, Aoun blasted the international community and the Arab League for its lack of support for Bahraini protesters, calling their predicament an “injustice.”

During the Cabinet session, Sleiman also denounced a caricature of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz that was hung off a pedestrian bridge over the Jal al-Dib highway Tuesday and depicted the Saudi king with a sword soaked in blood.

Sleiman tasked Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi with following up on the case and uncovering the perpetrators responsible for the act. “Insulting the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Shortly after the Cabinet meeting in Baabda, Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri visited Sleiman and thanked him for supporting the Saudi king.

Asiri also thanked the judicial authorities for launching an investigation into the caricature incident and said that Saudi Arabia is committed to maintaining good relations with Lebanon.

“What happened will not affect the strong relationship between the kingdom and Lebanon,” said Asiri.

Progressive Socialist Party head MP Walid Jumblatt also described the caricature as “unacceptable.”

“The pictures that spread in some areas insulting King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz overlook the great support that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states offered Lebanon during the darkest hours of its Civil War, starting with the Taif Accord which ended the long Lebanese crisis and paved the way for a new phase of political stability,” he said.

Jumblatt, who recently visited Saudi Arabia for a weekend, also highlighted Saudi support to the Lebanese currency and its contribution to the country’s reconstruction following the 2006 July war with Israel.

The Cabinet also agreed to leave it up to Prime Minister Najib Mikati to decide whether to approve written requests made by the defense and interior ministers to accesstelecoms data until the end of May.

After a heated debate between March 8 ministers and Mikati over the issue of granting Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch the country’s telecoms data, the Cabinet informally voted in favor of letting Mikati decide.

“The Cabinet asked Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to submit written requests to the prime minister concerning access to telecoms data and then it will be the prime minister’s decision to approve or deny the requests,” Information Minister Walid Daouk told reporters in Baabda.

“The Cabinet also called on the telecoms minister to take necessary measures immediately to grant the security agencies of the Internal Security Forces and the military access to the requested telecoms data.”

The debate around granting access to telecoms data, described by security officials as “all data,” has been marred with discord among ministers within Mikati’s Cabinet due to the Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui’s objection to the issue.

While Sehnaoui has repeatedly argued that granting “all data” to the ISF would infringe on people’s privacy, security officials have insisted that the information is crucial to uncovering dangerous security plots in the country and the identity of those behind political assassinations.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet is in a standoff with public sector employees and teachers who are currently in an open-ended strike. Ministers did not discuss the protesters’ demands during Wednesday’s session.

The Cabinet also approved an agreement between the Lebanese Energy Ministry and the Russian Energy Ministry to coordinate oil sector projects.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 21, 2013, on page 3.
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