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    Lebanon : General Security chief mediating in Aoun-Berri feud

    The chief of General Security is seeking to find a solution to the dispute between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over a decree promoting a number of Lebanese Army officers to prevent the escalating row taking a sectarian turn, parliamentary sources said Wednesday. “Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim is mediating in the dispute between President Aoun and Speaker Berri in a bid to find a satisfactory solution over the promotion of Army officers who served under Aoun,” a parliamentary source told The Daily Star. The source said that Ibrahim’s mediation was also aimed at averting any sectarian repercussions from the dispute.
    Ibrahim declined to confirm the mediation efforts after meeting Berri Tuesday. The General Security chief had previously mediated in inter-Lebanese political disputes and helped in securing the release of several Lebanese hostages held by militant groups.
    The Aoun-Berri rift was believed to have figured high in talks between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and MP Walid Jumblatt at the latter’s residence in Beirut’s Clemenceau neighborhood Wednesday night.
    The meeting, which was also attended by former Minister Wael Abou Faour and Jumblatt’s son, Taymour, discussed “latest political developments in Lebanon and the region,” a terse statement issued by the Progressive Socialist Party’s media office said.
    Ibrahim’s mediation attempt came as a rift escalated between Aoun and Berri over the signing of the controversial decree promoting a number of Army officers who served under Aoun in the late 1980s when he was Army commander. It also came as Berri Wednesday sought Aoun’s help in resolving the decree dispute.
    “Despite the utmost importance of the issue of the officers’ decree, he [Berri] does not want to add any word about it and is leaving it to the president to tackle the issue,” a number of lawmakers quoted Berri as saying during his weekly meeting with MPs.
    After the meeting, MP Ali Bazzi from Berri’s parliamentary bloc told reporters the speaker stood firm on his rejection of the decree which was signed by both Aoun and Hariri despite opposition from the speaker and his key political aide Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.
    Sources at Baabda Palace welcomed Berri’s “positive” approach toward the decree issue, but ruled out the possibility of Aoun revoking his signature of the decree.
    “Berri’s decision to leave it to the president to tackle the [decree] issue is a positive element that could help find a solution to the dispute,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.
    Asked whether Aoun was ready to revoke the decree to help promote a solution, the source said: “The president has signed the decree because he considers it legal and constitutional. Therefore, revoking the decree is ruled out.”
    Hariri was reported to have asked Fouad Fleifel, the Cabinet’s secretary-general, to hold up the publication of the decree in the Official Gazette until a solution is found to the dispute.
    Although it was not listed on the agenda of Cabinet’s Tuesday meeting, the body endorsed the decree anyway – promoting the officers who graduated from the military academy in 1994 and advancing their seniority and rank by one year.
    Tensions between Aoun and Berri have ramped up over the decree, which promotes around 200 Army officers – all Christians aside for 15 Muslims – who served with Aoun in the late 1980s when he was Army commander.
    Berri was reported to have been enraged because the decree overlooked the finance minister’s signature and also it upset the sectarian balance given the fact that a large number of Christian officers stood to benefit from the promotion in return for a few Muslim officers. Meanwhile, preparations for parliamentary polls, set for May 6, 2018, were discussed Wednesday during a meeting of a ministerial committee tasked with the implementation of a new electoral law based on proportional representation.
    Speaking after the meeting chaired by Hariri at the Grand Serail , Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said the participants looked into the issues of voters pre-registration and the setting up of mega centers along the coast.
    It had been proposed that voters could cast their ballots in their areas of residence as opposed to in their ancestral villages. The mega centers would be intended to be used for this purpose.
    A statement released by Hariri’s media office said Machnouk had told reporters that he would check with the ministry’s relevant administrations regarding whether these measures could be implemented. But local media quoted Machnouk as saying that there would be no time to produce magnetic ID cards, or to arrange mega centers and the pre-registration of voters, because these measures would require amendments to the electoral law.
    Machnouk also said the meeting discussed the possibility of modernizing the Directorate General of Personal Status. “Most likely there is a possibility for that to happen, especially since there is an agreement between the political blocs to modernize the administration [but] this project requires years to be achieved,” he said. As for the request of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to extend the registration period for Lebanese expatriates until mid-February, Machnouk said this would require a draft law.
    Hariri also chaired a meeting of a ministerial committee on energy aimed at increasing electricity production. “The meeting was a continuation of the previous one. We discussed all the available options and reforming the electricity production sector,” Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said after the meeting. “Some issues will be worked out with ministers, the committee’s members, before the next meeting that will be held after the holidays, and we hope it will be the last meeting for the committee.”
    Separately, the U.N. Security Council has welcomed Hariri’s return to Lebanon and his decision to withdraw his resignation after the Cabinet agreed on Dec. 5 on a fresh dissociation policy toward regional conflicts and noninterference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
    In a statement issued Tuesday night, the UNSC called upon “all Lebanese parties to implement a tangible policy of [dissociation] from any external conflicts,” and recalled the need “to protect Lebanon from the crises that are destabilizing the Middle East.”
    The statement also commended the Dec. 8 meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris, voicing support for the resumption of Cabinet’s duties following Hariri’s return to Lebanon on Nov. 21 after announcing his resignation while in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4.
    The UNSC said that it supports parliamentary elections and called on the Lebanese government to “further accelerate its program of reforms in order to ensure political and economic stability built on a functional, transparent and democratic state, with full participation of both women and men

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