Bkirki Calls for Syrian withdrawal
LCCC (Daily Star) : Maronite bishops demanded on Wednesday the withdrawal of the Syrian Army and denounced claims that Damascus’ role was needed to avoid another civil war, sparking a new political storm over one of the country’s most divisive issues. In a fiery statement, the Council of Maronite Bishops even accused Syria of contributing to Lebanon’s economic crisis, taking to new heights Bkirki’s traditional dispute with Damascus.  
The bishop’s statement culminated a day-long meeting chaired by Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, the Maronite patriarch.
“After Israel’s withdrawal, isn’t it time for the Syrian Army to redeploy here in preparation for its final withdrawal, in accordance with the Taif Accord and UN Security Council Resolution 520?” the bishops said. The Taif Accord, which ended the war in 1990, included a call for a Syrian military redeployment in the Bekaa by 1992. Resolution 520, reached at Lebanon’s suggestion in 1982, calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country. “Is it necessary that this army remain deployed near the Presidential Palace, the symbol of national dignity, as well as the Defense Ministry and other sensitive places?” the clerics added. The Syrian Army’s presence in such positions “embarrasses the Lebanese, to say nothing about demeaning their sovereignty and national dignity,” said the statement.  “There have been some claims that if the Syrian Army withdrew from Lebanon, there would be strife in the country, or that the army’s presence has become part and parcel of Lebanon’s peace, or that the army will withdraw if the Lebanese government asks it to do so,” the bishops said.
“It’s well known that these are weak excuses that do not stand against proper logic: There will be no strife in Lebanon unless someone ignites it, and the Lebanese never fought unless there was someone who sowed sedition among them,” they said.
“Because we care for having the best relations of brotherhood between Lebanon and Syria, with the onset of Syria’s new presidential administration which we hope will prosper, we believe it is time for reviewing dealings between the two countries,” the statement said.
It argued that the Syrian Army’s withdrawal “is the only means for protecting Lebanon against disintegration and disappearance. If Lebanon is healthy, it will back Syria, but if it is ill, it will remain a burden on it.” On the political level, the bishops said: “Lebanon suffers from improper policies that have been imposed on it for 25 years. It tried to overcome these policies, but ended up with more disability, weakness and misery.  “We all made mistakes against our country due to our selfishness, ignorance and shortsightedness. Each one of us has had his share of oppression, humiliation and loss. It’s time we all reflect on our deeds.”   The bishops called for seeking solutions “that save the country from the speedy disintegration that it suffers from. All the Lebanese should work together to prevent this end.” They said that “some developments that bring uncertainty to the country are no longer tolerable. Lebanon has lost its sovereignty, while its institutions, administrations and facilities have been paralyzed.
“That’s why the administration became unstable, responsibility is lost, the judiciary has been confused and people live in an atmosphere of fear, humiliation and hypocrisy,” the bishops said. “Those who dare express what they feel are tracked down by intelligence services,” they added, pointing out that “many people have been locked up in Israeli and Syrian prisons for a long time and have been given numbers instead of their names.” The statement said that economic conditions “have never been as bad as they are now, not even during the war. Serious statistics show that half the Lebanese are living below the poverty line.”
It spoke of “factories that shut down” and of “private schools that lose their students when parents cannot afford tuition fees and are forced to lay off their teachers.” Arguing that Lebanon’s products “face competition from Syrian products in all sectors and in all seasons,” the bishops said: “Syria’s system of subsidies lowers the prices of Syrian products” while “the (Lebanese) government does not protect Lebanon’s products.”
They also criticized “foreign workers, especially those coming  from Syria to Lebanon where they enjoy sponsorship and accept low wages … thus competing with Lebanese labor.” The statement blamed economic difficulties on “the political situation that led to this painful situation.” It attacked the election law, “whose producers were the first to criticize it” for “creating large electoral districts with the majority of voters from one group and the minority from the other … therefore leading to the victory of MPs who do not represent those they were supposed to represent.” The bishops also denounced the law for creating large districts in some areas and small ones in others, “allowing some MPs to win with more than 200,000 votes and others with less than 20,000.” They criticized “the purchase of votes, the instigation of sectarian strife, the denial of media exposure to some candidates and the formation of candidate lists under pressure, creating alliances between people who have nothing in common.” It also said that “Lebanese and Syrian security agencies summoned mukhtars and mayors in some areas to pressure them to encourage people to vote for some candidates. This way, the results were already known before the elections were over.”

Beirut, New York, September 20, 2000, staff. Lebanon Bulletin. www.wlo-usa-org In a statement issued in response to the call by the Council of Maronite Bishops, which called on the Syrian Army to redeploy out of Lebanon, the Executive Council of the World Maronite Union (WMU) issued the following communique:  "The WMU endorses the appeal of the Maronite Church, particularly the call for the redeployment of the Syrian Army as a first step for its complete withdrawal from Lebanon. The Union totally supports this call and asks all Maronites around the world to come to the support of this historic move. The WMU, as it requests the pull out of the   Syrian occupation based on UN Resolution 520 and on the Taif Agreement , reasserts the resolutions of the three world maronite congresses held in Mexico (1979), New York (1980) and Montreal (1985) as well as the international Maronite  seminars held in Limassol (1988), Lausanne (1989) and Rome (2000), all of which clearly called on the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon.  The WMU call on its branches worldwide, as well as on all Maronite Leagues in the Diaspora to mobilize and pressure their respective governments in view of implementing that withdrawal.
The WMU also warns some of the Maronite politicians and feudal leaders from siding with the Syrian occupation and against the Maronite Church and people, as a way to protect their privileges and financial and political interests with the Syrians. The WMU will not be silent in response to those alleged Maronite voices, manipulated by the intelligence services against the Maronite Patriarchate and the Lebanese Christians. No voice will be louder then the voice of Bkerke (Maronite Church) and its people.
The World Maronite Union also warned the Muslim spiritual leaders who have responded to the Maronite Council of Bishops and endorsed Syria's role, that such an attitude will drag them in a campaign against Lebanon's freedom and sovereignty and against the Maronites and the Christians, in defense of Syria and its interests. "Those spiritual leadership must stand by Bkerke against the foreigners (Syrians), not with the foreigners against a large segment of the Lebanese people." The WMU was signed by the President ot the Union, Sheikh Sami el-Khoury and its secretary general, Dr Walid Fares.
The Social-Christian Democratic Party issued a press-release in Beirut calling on the Christian People of Lebanon to express its support to the Patriarch and to the call of the Maronite Council of Bishops by marching on to Bkerke and expressing their support directly. The SDCP said this call os historic and must rally all Lebanese, particularly the Christians around their spiritual leadership to start working on the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation from Lebanon.
It is to note that at the end of its Tuesday meeting, the Council of Maronite Bishops chaired by the Patriarch issued a call asking the Syrians to start re-deploying in Lebanon as a first step to withdraw from the country. The release, issued in the afternoon criticized the oppression of the Lebanese people by the Syrian-controlled intelligence services and the ongoing presence of Syrian military forces in the country. Reacting to the declaration, the spiritual leaders of the Sunni and Shiites issued a joint release responding to the Maronite Council.

Beirut press calls for dialogue after attack on Syrian presence
AFP - Beirut newspapers called Thursday for an "open dialogue" to counter fears that erupted after a fiery call by Christian bishops for a Syrian pullout from Lebanon provoked an angry Muslim reaction. "The (bishops') statement, whose language is new but whose content is old, should not raise the fears of state officials," said a front-page editorial by Gibran Tueini, director of the leading An Nahar newspaper. "With its frankness and calm, the statement should rather help promote a serious and effective dialogue, paving the way for the formation of a new government that will be directly responsible for creating solutions to such problems," he said. On Wednesday, Christian Maronite bishops issued a statement calling for Syria's troop withdrawal, but two leading Muslim clerics were quick to respond, saying the Syrian presence was legal and temporary. The Muslim clerics said it was up to the country's authorities to take a position on the Syrian presence in the best interests of the Lebanese people. "In the long-term, the blunt move may encourage a more open internal dialogue free from all taboos," said the English-language Daily Star newspaper. Though most dailies considered the controversy an opportunity to open dialogue, the media's mixed reactions showed the existing rift over the Syrian presence in Lebanon. An editorial by the pro-Syrian As Safir newspaper attacked the bishops' statement, saying it "raises fears and alarm because it stirs sectarian reactions." "It is not accurate to say that the Syrian presence undermines Lebanon's sovereignty," said the pro-Syrian Asharq daily.
The Ad Diyar newspaper rallied to the defense of the Maronite bishops, saying in a bold headline: "Wait a minute: even the patriarch is accused of plotting against Lebanon?" The paper, criticizing the "hasty response" to the statement, said "what is wanted is a calm, serious dialogue in cool nerves to move forward positively." An Nahar noted that "undoubtedly, what came in the statement is what the vast majority of the Lebanese say." The paper's editorial also criticized the arrests of Christians after a mass turned into a demonstration last week. "Why do they call masses commemorating martyrs ... rallies bringing back the ghosts of the war, when for example armed rallies by (the Shiite Muslim radical) Hezbollah are permitted with their sectarian slogans," it said. "There are also rallies in the (eastern) Bekaa held by wanted people," said the paper's chief, refering to Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili who is accused of attempts against state security. "Why this biased treatment?" said Tueini.