Monday, July 30, 2007

Aoun and Gemayel supporters clash as Cardinal Sfeir calls for dialogue

Christians clashed last night in Beirut despite calls from the Maronite patriarch, Card Nasrallah Sfeir, for dialogue and accord.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner left the Lebanese capital for Egypt empty handed as his Spanish colleague Miguel Angel Moratinos was arriving.

Supporters of former President Amin Gemayel clashed with former General Michel Aoun's followers in the streets northeast of Beirut, using sticks, fists and feet.

The fight ended quickly after Lebanese army troops stepped in and dispersed the feuding parties.

Friction between the two camps had heated up when Aoun announced that he and his allies would jointly contest the Metn seat that was left vacant by the November 21 murder of Gemayel's son, Pierre.

Only a few hours earlier, Cardinal Sfeir urged the contenders to help reduce tensions by adhering to traditions and uniting in times of crises. In saying so the patriarch seemed to be suggesting that Aoun ought to leave the by-election uncontested since it became vacant as a result of murder.

Sfeir said that elections, “in times of peace and prosperity, are a healthy and democratic practice, while in times of crisis, legitimate rights can be ignored.”

“The Lebanese are used to letting emotions prevail over legitimate rights in situations like this; particularly tragic situations,” Sfeir explained.

He expressed hope that “kindness and harmony make their way into the hearts and minds” of the rival parties, “especially since parliamentary seats being disputed belonged to people who have been assassinated by merciless criminals.”

But in his statement he focused above all on internal divisions, especially among Christians, noting that when a family is divided it courts disaster.

The fate of any force, party, community or group that splits is destruction, dismemberment and annihilation.

This is something that must be understood so as to put an end to the divisions that can only get worse if they continue.

In Cairo where he met his Egyptian counterpart Ahmad Abul Gheit and Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, French Foreign Minister Kouchner said that the “Lebanese crisis is difficult and complicated, and with external influences, it has become one of the most difficult problems in the world.”

He stressed that “pressure is needed . . . meaning that Syria and Iran must not exercise influence that could lead to war.”

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