Dialogue Parties Tackle Electoral Law, Appointments as Activists Throw Balls across Barrier

Lebanon's rival leaders met on Tuesday for the third round of national dialogue amid heavy reinforcements made by security forces to stop protesters from reaching the parliament building in downtown Beirut's Nejmeh Square.

A terse statement said the conferees focused on the issue of the presidential vacuum and that the next rounds of national dialogue will be held on October 6, 7 and 8.

Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh told reporters that the meeting was “more than positive.”

For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat said “the debate is continuous and serious,” declining to reveal more details.

He however said that the dialogue parties will not agree on a new president “unless they take us to the Seychelles islands.”

Meanwhile, Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun “gave up his demand on electing a president by a popular vote and spoke of a proportional representation (electoral) law based on 15 electorates,” LBCI television said.

After the dialogue session ended, a two-hour, closed-door meeting was held at Speaker Nabih Berri's office in the presence of Premier Tammam Salam, al-Mustaqbal bloc chief ex-PM Fouad Saniora, Jumblat, Aoun and Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad.

Media reports said the meeting tackled the controversial issue of the promotion of army officers.

“A settlement over military appointments failed after Saniora rejected it,” MTV said.

Police had put concrete blocks as part of exceptional security measures they took near the square and the roads leading to it, a security official said.

The official told al-Joumhouria newspaper that police would confront any attempt to breach the erected barrier.

Despite the police measures, activists gathered in the area wearing sportswear with printed slogans demanding to topple the regime.

They began throwing footballs from across the barrier after writing slogans on them.

“We are playing here the same way they (the officials) are playing,” said one of them.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters pushed through a security cordon as they marched toward parliament. It was the latest in a series of demonstrations that began with a trash crisis following the closure of the Naameh landfill but has since expanded to target the country's political class.

After more than an hour of standoff and some scuffles, protesters broke through the cordon. Police let them into the street leading to the square and the parliament, but set up a new cordon closer to the parliament building.

The official also told al-Joumhouria that security forces took extra measures near the Justice Palace in Beirut after a previously unknown group naming itself the “Nation's Cry” held a sit-in in the area to call for distancing the judiciary from corruption.

The all-party talks chaired by Berri began last month after the eruption of the anti-government protests.

The movement is growing to include different groups with varied grievances about government dysfunction. There has been recurrent friction between police and protesters.

Last week, MP Michel Aoun did not attend the talks. He delegated his son-in-law Free Patriotic Movement chief Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil instead.

Bassil told An Nahar that the FPM's "stance is clear."

"The people are the source of all powers,” said Bassil, who recently took over the FPM leadership from Aoun.

The movement has been calling for direct presidential elections to resolve Lebanon's political crisis which erupted when Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May last year.

Baabda Palace has been vacant since then.

The presidential deadlock tops the agenda of the all-party talks, which are expected to tackle the resumption of the work of parliament and the cabinet, a new electoral draft-law, legislation allowing Lebanese expats to obtain the nationality, administrative decentralization and ways to support the army and the Internal Security Forces.


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