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Lebanon's Cardinal Again Criticises Foreign Meddling

Beirut (AsiaNews) --- As the Paris Donors Conference approaches and Lebanon's opposition and majority try to weaken or strengthen Fuad Siniora's government; Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has spoken up against foreign meddling in his country's affairs.

In the mass he celebrated yesterday in Bkerke the cardinal compared Lebanon to a family. In it he said that "all those who really belong to this family have a duty to do their utmost to remove cause for division and dissent. When outsiders infiltrate the national family tensions and whirlwind are ever present".

Following the service, Card Sfeir met a delegation from the Christian Democratic Union of Lebanon led by MP Nehmetallah Abi Nasr. The meeting enabled Mr Nasr to stress the importance of the initiative undertaken by Lebanon's bishops to find a common platform for all Maronite political leaders, currently split between government majority and opposition.

For his part, Patriarch Sfeir expressed hope that Lebanon's situation "would improve to benefit those who support the country without ulterior motives", but he did not however venture any comment about the results of the bishops' political initiative. Instead, the patriarch voiced his concern over reports about the rising number of young Lebanese Christians planning to leave the country because of its deteriorating socio-economic situation.

Meanwhile preparations for the January 25 donors' conference in Paris are underway. The meeting is designed to bring together those countries willing to help Lebanon overcome its current economic crisis. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is also expected to be there.

As part of the process leading up to the summit, Lebanon's Premier Siniora began the first leg of a tour of several Arab countries. His first stops are in Oman and Kuwait.

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri is for his part in Paris to meet with French President Jacques Chirac, whose government has pledged support to Lebanon's financial policies.

Among opposition leaders, National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri has criticised the Paris conference, calling it "the conference that wants to impoverish Lebanon." He also renewed his attacks against the policies of the government, which he considers illegitimate since the resignation of Shia ministers.

By Youssef Hourany

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