URGENT Christian Leader Dissolves Parliament in Lebanon
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Christian leader Michel Aoun dissolved Parliament on Saturday, charging it had violated the Constitution by approving an Arab peace plan for war-plagued Lebanon without his consent.
The 54-year-old general summoned reporters to his bunker command post in suburban Baabda, east of Beirut, before dawn and read a decree from his interim military government, dissolving the legislature.
His move appeared aimed at preventing Parliament from holding a scheduled meeting later Saturday to ratify the peace accord and elect a new House speaker and a president for Lebanon.
The issue of Aoun’s authority to dissolve Parliament is as uncertain as any political question in a nation with two governments, two armies and countless armed factions that has suffered 14 years of sectarian civil war.
″We do not recognize him (Aoun) as a legitimate head of government. So any decree he issues is illegitimate,″ leftist Christian deputy Najah Wakim told reporters in Beirut after the announcement. ″He will not be able to prevent us from electing a president.″
Aoun’s decree called for a three-stage general elections for a new Parliament in Beirut Jan. 7, in North Lebanon on Jan. 14, and in East and South Lebanon on Jan. 21.
But there is little likelihood that new elections would be held in response to Aoun’s decree, with Syrian troops controlling more than 70 percent of Lebanon’s territory.
On Friday, bombs exploded at the homes of three Christian legislators Friday, and police reported one woman wounded in in the bombings.
The rival army commands - Christians led by Aoun and Moslems by Brig. Gen. Sami Khatib - placed their troops on alert, canceling all leave, military sources reported.
Arab League envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi and Hussein Husseini, a Shiite Moslem serving as parliament speaker, conferred with politicians about the session scheduled for Saturday to ratify the accord reached at Taif, Saudi Arabia.
Villa Mansour, the parliament building in the no-man’s land between Beirut’s Moslem and Christian sectors, ″is no longer a suitable venue for tomorrow’s session,″ Ibrahimi said.
He did not elaborate, but Villa Mansour is within range of Aoun’s artillery in the Christian heartland east of the capital.
The woman was wounded by the first bomb, at the home of deputy Elias Khazen in Jounieh, north of Beirut, police said. They said bombs outside the homes of deputies Auguste Bakhos and Salem Abdel Nour in Christian east Beirut caused minor damage.
All three men are in Paris, along with 25 other Christian deputies. They refused to return home from Taif after Aoun called them ″traitors″ for endorsing the agreement last month.
No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, which occurred after a 90- minute news conference by Aoun in his bunker below the shattered presidential palace in Baabda, a Christian suburb.
″I ask the legislators not to commit the final and major mistake,″ Aoun had said before announcing his decision to dissolve Parliament. ″I ask them not to take part in the parliamentary session. Let them take their time. Let them come here and let’s discuss the document.
″Parliament will be dissolved before the meeting gets under way if they tried to pass the document without discussing what they have done with me.″
Sixty-three legislators of Parliament’s 73 surviving members approved the peace document after 23 days of discussion in Taif. Parliament originally had 99 members, but no elections have been held since 1972 because of the war.
One of Aoun’s main objections to the peace agreement is its lack of a timetable for withdrawal of the 40,000 Syrian soldiers stationed in Lebanon, with whom his forces fought a fierce artillery war for six months until a cease-fire in September.
He calls the Syrians, who are in Lebanon under a 1976 peacekeeping mandate from the Arab League, an occupation army and declared a ″war of liberation″ to drive them out.
When asked Friday whether he has the constitutional power to dismiss the lawmakers, Aoun said: ″I am the guardian of the constitution. I received my powers by a decree signed by a president under oath. I plan to safeguard the constitution.″
Only a president can dissolve Parliament under the Lebanese constitution and political experts have said Aoun, as head of a caretaker Cabinet, has no such power.
Former President Amin Gemayel appointed him to head an interim Cabinet minutes before Gemayel’s term expired on Sept. 22, 1988, with no successor chosen by Parliament.
Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem who was prime minister under Gemayel, leads a rival Moslem government.
Aoun said Friday the peace accord ″gives away our homeland to the Syrians.″
″The Taif document increases the authority of the prime minister, who is based in a Syrian-controlled area,″ he said. ″I do not object to the projected increase in the prime minister’s powers, but this should be done after a Syrian pullout.″
The proposed reforms transfer some power from the president, traditionally a Christian, to the prime minister and Parliament speaker, both Moslems.
Christians were the majority when Lebanon became independent of France in 1943 and have controlled the government, army and judiciary. Moslems account for about 55 percent of the population and the Taif agreement is an attempt to satisfy their demands for more authority.