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Obscure Group that Claimed Kidnapping of Estonians Asks for Unspecified Ransom

The Movement for Renewal and Reform that had allegedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the seven Estonian tourists is now asking for ransom to set the men free.

The demand was made through an email sent to a local website. It said the tourists were in good condition.

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First Ivory Coast Evacuees Arrive in Beirut from Ghana

The first Middle East Airlines plane carrying Lebanese who have escaped the violence in Ivory Coast arrived at Beirut airport on Wednesday.

The National News Agency said around 136 Abidjan residents flew to Beirut from Ghana. They were transported by French authorities from the Ivory Coast to Mali and then to Ghana, it said.

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Berri: An Active Government is a Must to Help Inmates

Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated on Wednesday during his weekly meetings with lawmakers that discussions are carried out to get rid of all disputes over the government formation.

“There are no more March 8 forces but a national front,” Berri said.

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Najjar and Ofeish Suggest Solutions to Overcrowded Roumieh Prison

Caretaker Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar suggested that one of the solutions to ease overcrowding at Roumieh prison was to expatriate some foreigners who have illegally entered Lebanon or whose work permits have expired.

“Those who have only one more year could serve their remaining sentence at another location,” Najjar told An Nahar daily in remarks published Wednesday.

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Geagea Says Syria Most Likely behind Kidnapping of Estonians

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has said that Syria was most likely behind the abduction of seven Estonian tourists and blamed the failure of Premier-designate Najib Miqati to form a government on divisions among the March 8 forces.

“When we see that four, five days ago the Syrian brothers started telling the Estonian government through mediators that they can help in this, and crossing that with other almost confirmed information that they (Estonian hostages) are now in Syria or at the very least if they were not in Syria then the key to the hand (that is holding them) is in Syria … the issue becomes clear,” Geagea told The Daily Star in an interview published Wednesday.

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Rifi Declares Full Control of Roumieh Prison as Riots Spread to Jeb Jennine Jail

Security forces stormed Lebanon's notorious main prison of Roumieh on Tuesday where three prison guards were being detained by inmates who have been rioting since the weekend demanding an amnesty and better conditions.

"We have gained full control over the Roumieh prison after a joint operation by the army and the Internal Security Forces," said ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi after his arrival at the prison to follow up on the situation.

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Mustaqbal: Various Security Developments in Lebanon Aimed at Harming the State

The Mustaqbal bloc condemned on Tuesday the various security incidents in Lebanon, including the kidnapping of the seven Estonians, saying that they are aimed at unjustly destabilizing the country.

It said after its weekly meeting headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Saniora: "These seemingly separate incidents may be part of a deliberate plan aimed at portraying Lebanon as an unstable state in order to target its institutions and security forces."

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Aoun: We Will Present Draft Laws on Prisons, Water Resources, and Electricity

Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun criticized on Tuesday the failure to approve the 2010 state budget, accusing the caretaker government, the Finance Ministry in particular, for the delay.

He also addressed the issue of prisons in Lebanon after the movement’s weekly meeting.

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STL Appoints Canadian Marten Youssef as Spokesperson

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has appointed Marten Youssef as spokesperson, STL’s press office announced Tuesday.

Marten who was born and raised in Egypt, is a Canadian citizen, the press office noted, adding that he has worked as a journalist in the Middle East and Africa, as well as in Canada.

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Higher Defense Council Calls for Providing Best Means for Evacuating Lebanese in Ivory Coast

The Higher Defense Council held an emergency meeting Tuesday in the Baabda Palace to address the situation of Lebanese expatriates in the Ivory Coast.

The meeting, headed by President Michel Suleiman, stressed the need to place a plan to help the expatriates in the African country and provide the best means to evacuate those seeking to leave through the cooperation of the Lebanese Embassy, United Nations, and Ivory Coast authorities.

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