New Lebanese President Lahoud Announces New, Trimmed-Down Cabinet and Wide-Ranging Reforms

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New Lebanese President Lahoud Announces New, Trimmed-Down Cabinet and Wide-Ranging Reforms

Lebanon's former army commander, Gen. Emile Lahoud, was sworn in Nov. 24 as the country's new president, replacing Elias Hrawi. It was the first time in more than 25 years that such a transfer of power had taken place in a peaceful environment.

General Lahoud is the 11th president to be elected in Lebanon since the country's 1943 independence from France, but only the 10th actually to assume power. Bashir Gemayel was assassinated in 1982 after his election but before taking the oath of office.

Lahoud, who arrived at parliament in a white Cadillac without any escort of armed guards, but amidst tight security measures around the parliament building in the heart of the old city center, received a standing ovation from the members of parliament upon his arrival.

He took the oath of office from Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri before his family, members of parliament, Syrian House speaker Abdel Kader Kaddora, diplomats, local dignitaries and parliamentarians of Lebanese descent from Cyprus, Chile, Brazil and Canada, along with U.S. Congressmen Nick Rahall and Ray LaHood, a distant cousin of the president.

The former army commander was unanimously elected by parliament on Oct. 15. Describing that as unprecedented in the history of Lebanon, Berri also praised Lahoud for rebuilding the Lebanese army after the civil war and for his support of Lebanese resistance against Israeli occupation.

Noting that parliament has been working in compliance with the constitution and will continue to do so, Berri said it will also do its best to achieve political and administrative reform, highlight the transparency of the state, and insist that lawbreakers be exposed. Declaring that he did not have a magic wand to change everything at once, Lahoud promised governmental reform.

It is the right of the people, he said, to know how their country's funds are spent. The Lebanese are looking for a state from which they secure services with taxes and not with bribes, for a solution to the social crisis, and for supervision of reconstruction project tenders. Lahoud added that the young want to see more interest in educational, social, health and environmental issues.

In his speech to deputies, Lahoud praised the role of Syria and singled out Israel as "the enemy" of Lebanon. "Lebanon and Syria can only be strong together" the president said.

He promised that Lebanon will not sign a separate peace treaty with Israel without Syria. Lebanon, Lahoud said, has a supreme national interest in pursuing peace talks simultaneously with Syria for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

Lahoud criticized some politicians for exploiting ties with Syria for individual interests and not for the benefit of the nation. He also thanked the people of southern Lebanon for standing up to Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory in the south. Lahoud said his main goal was a "clean judiciary and an administration subject to strict supervision free of political and confessional" interference. No one is allowed to be above the law, including himself, Lahoud declared.

A day earlier, on the occasion of Independence Day, General Lahoud had addressed soldiers for the last time as army commander and reaffirmed that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) would not interfere in politics and that politics should be kept distant from the army. He added that the armed forces will remain committed to the orders and instructions of the political authorities as constitutionally represented by the Council of Ministers. The army's primary mission, General Lahoud stressed, remains the resistance to Israel's occupation of Lebanese territories.

General Lahoud is credited with reuniting the army after it was splintered along sectarian lines during the 15 years of war which ended in 1990. All army brigades and units were merged in a way which promoted a united national spirit, eliminating political, confessional and regional affiliations inside the armed forces. …

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