Friday, September 21, 2007

Syrian "democratic process"

From The Australian, September 21, 2007, by Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent:

A MASSIVE bomb that killed anti-Syrian politician Antoine Ghanem yesterday has left Lebanon's shaky Government clinging to power through four besieged MPs, days before a parliamentary sitting to elect a new president.

The explosion, which killed seven others and injured 56 in a Christian neighbourhood of East Beirut, was the fourth assassination of a government MP since late 2004, and poses the most serious risk to Lebanon's stability since the slaying of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.

Lebanon's governing parliamentary bloc blamed Syria for the blast and insisted it was an attempt to deliver the fragile nation back to Syrian interests, which were forced to leave Lebanon amid public protests after the Hariri killing.

....Eight anti-Syrian figures have been slain since late 2004, and a ninth, government MP, Marwan Hamadi, narrowly survived a bomb attack.

Hours after yesterday's blast, government MPs insisted the September 25 sitting of parliament to elect a replacement for President Emile Lahoud - the first session since last November - would go ahead.

Former president Amin Gemayel, head of the Christian Phalange Party, said Lebanon's democratic gains had been set back by the latest assassination. "It's not any more a question of presidential elections. It's a question of the survival of this country and democracy in the country that's at stake for the time being," he said. Mr Gemayel's son, Pierre, was assassinated by gunmen last November.

"I have never seen a more cowardly regime than that of (Syrian President) Bashar Assad's," said the head of the anti-Syrian Government bloc Saad Hariri. He blamed Mr Assad's regime for the death of Mr Ghanem, 64, and the killing of his father.....

....World leaders, including US President George W.Bush, quickly denounced the latest assassination but stopped short of directly accusing Syria. When pressed for a likely culprit, Mr Bush and other US officials pointed to "a tragic pattern" of attacks against champions of "an independent and democratic Lebanon".

The post of president in Lebanon is critical to the balance of the region. Lebanon's constitution stipulates that its president must be a Maronite Christian. Though largely a figurehead, the president also has a veto role. The post has traditionally been anointed by Syria, which served for 30 years as an overlord and maintains a sovereignty claim over the deeply divided nation.
Pro-Syrian Mr Lahoud is due to step down on November 23, and government MPs have seen his departure as an attempt to install one of their own - an appointment that would weaken the opposition's power-sharing bid and reorientate the presidency towards the West.

After refusing to convene parliament since last November, Pro-opposition Speaker Nabil Berri has recently promoted the nomination of a compromise candidate. However, the Hezbollah-led opposition has pledged to boycott a vote for any candidate it does not endorse. Such a move would prevent the necessary two-thirds quorum and derail indefinitely the appointment of Mr Lahoud's replacement.

Mr Lahoud has threatened to set up an alternative government if the Government presses its bid to install its own candidate, a move that could reignite sectarian conflict for the first time since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1991. If parliament is convened on schedule, the political horse-trading to follow will come under intense scrutiny across the Middle East. The US and Israel fear the re-establishment of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon, particularly set against a backdrop of rising tensions with Damascus's strong backer, Iran. Washington has supported the Siniora Government with aid and weapons to fight an al-Qa'ida insurgency.

Lebanon's government MPs, including Saad Hariri, have largely spent the northern summer outside of Lebanon, fearing for their safety. Mr Ghanem had returned to Beirut in recent days, in time for the sitting. After his death, the Government bloc holds 65 of the parliament's 128 seats, with backers outside the party holding another four, and the opposition 59.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bush setting America up for war with Iran

From The telegraph (UK), 17/09/2007, by Philip Sherwell in New York and Tim Shipman in Washington:

Senior American intelligence and defence officials believe that President George W Bush and his inner circle are taking steps to place America on the path to war with Iran...

Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran, amid growing fears among serving officers that diplomatic efforts to slow Iran's nuclear weapons programme are doomed to fail.

Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.

Now it has emerged that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution, is prepared to settle her differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and sanction military action.

....Senior officials believe Mr Bush's inner circle has decided he does not want to leave office without first ensuring that Iran is not capable of developing a nuclear weapon.....