01 December 2007BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir urged the opposition to end its boycott of the presidential election and elect a successor to former President Emile Lahoud. He warned the vote must be held "before it’s too late.""The present situation is dangerous and we wonder if any of those in charge, and those who avoid going to Parliament when an electoral session is called, appreciate the seriousness of the situation," Sfeir said in a statement issued Friday.

Sfeir said those who have closed Parliament "bear a huge responsibility," in clear reference to Speaker Nabih Berri, pointing to Parliament as "the natural place for MPs to gather to discuss national issues and take the necessary decisions." Sfeir further chided the opposition’s resigned Cabinet ministers who boycott Cabinet sessions while continuing to run their respective ministries."The Lebanese people are sick of these acts that contradict reason and law, and they wait for their representatives whom they elected to focus on people’s daily concerns, provide jobs for people so they can take care of their families and provide them a secure and dignified life," Sfeir said.

Sfeir said politicians’ commitment to one foreign power or another has made them all prisoners of their fixed positions and has paralyzed their capabilities. Quoting the late former US President John F. Kennedy, Sfeir said "do not ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

"No one can ask of their country security, stability and peace as long as they do not give their country what it asks of them, absolute loyalty and sacrifice. What is required now is electing a president before it’s too late," Sfeir said, adding that all MPs are responsible to ensure such an election takes place.

Sfeir, pressured into drafting a list of suitable candidates for the presidency, expressed frustration that political opponents could not agree on a candidate from his list which he reluctantly produced following pressure from France. Lebanese Armed Forces head General Michel Suleiman’s name has emerged as a suitable presidential candidate, a name that was not on the patriarch’s list.

Suleiman said Friday the Lebanese people have proved "the best people," as the presidential election deadline passed and "nothing happened and no one did anything, so why frighten people? Everyone wants security and stability."

Suleiman made his comments following his visit to the Druze sheikh aql, Naim Hassan, Friday morning where he discussed the security situation. The visit comes as part of a series of visits by Suleiman to Lebanon’s spiritual leaders. The army commander also telephoned Sfeir on Friday.

US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said Friday that Lebanese MPs should have the freedom to look into amending the Constitution to allow the election of Suleiman to the presidency. Feltman hailed Suleiman’s leadership, adding that the army chief is "fully aware" of the UN position concerning international resolutions and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Feltman, speaking to reporters after meeting Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad on Friday, said the US does not expect "the new president to disarm Hizbullah tomorrow." He said a constitutional amendment today differs from that imposed on the Lebanese by Syria in 2004, which extended then-President Emile Lahoud’s term in office.

Feltman said the US will back a president elected by the majority of MPs without foreign pressure, adding that Syria should respect Lebanon’s democracy and stop its "destructive" behavior.

Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt has communicated to Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah his rejection of electing a president by a simple majority, as well as his unwillingness to risk infighting to elect a president and that his desire for consensus is serious and honest, the Central News Agency (CNA) reported Friday.

Jumblatt stressed his desire to maintain civil peace and national unity in the country and highlighted the need for dialogue between the Lebanese to continue to resolve all outstanding issues. A political source told the CNA that Jumblatt sent a message to this effect to Hizbullah after speaking to Berri over the phone.

Jumblatt called on the Lebanese to transcend the matter of the constitutional amendment for the sake of the country’s stability by electing someone he said "had a big role to play in unifying the army and protecting the Lebanese and their institutions," in clear reference to Suleiman.

"This choice was purely Lebanese and did not come via any foreign intimation," he said. "The army commander has a clean record in protecting the resistance and preserving democracy and our institutions."

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora received a call from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Friday in which Mubarak assured Siniora of his "support for the Lebanese to transcend this period safely."

Siniora later chaired a consultative ministerial meeting which discussed the presidential election and kept ministers updated on his latest meetings.  – Additional reporting by Maher Zeinedddine