Politicians trade more blows in wiretapping row.
Summary: Lebanese politicians continued to wrangle on Wednesday over the highly divisive issue of wiretapping, in what some are seeing as political maneuvering ahead of the June legislative elections. In a statement distributed on Wednesday, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the wiretapping controversy.
BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians continued to wrangle on Wednesday over the highly divisive issue of wiretapping, in what some are seeing as political maneuvering ahead of the June legislative elections. In a statement distributed on Wednesday, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the wiretapping controversy was one of a number of "issues connected to the next elections," having already been a point of contention among politicians for a number of years.
"The real problem lies in the lack of trust among those who deal with wiretapping," Mikati said, "whether it is those who are supposed to allow intelligence to trace calls, those who analyze the information, or those who are supposed to provide political cover for security bodies."
Following a meeting with President Michel Sleiman, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari on Wednesday told reporters that wiretapping was "sometimes essential for security purposes," but that Parliament would nevertheless remain vigilant on the issue.
"Political bickering has increased since Lebanon entered the electoral phase," Makari said, echoing Mikati's suggestion that the wiretapping controversy was being manipulated for political ends.
The Lebanese Cabinet on Monday announced Law 140, effective from Tuesday, which would ensure people's privacy when using the country's official telecommunications network.Aa The law will also permit the Interior and Defense ministries to intercept calls connected to political and terrorist criminal activity, and allow the state prosecutor's office to track calls linked to ordinary criminal activity. But the law has attracted mixed reactions from politicians.
MP Ghazi Youssef hailed the Cabinet decision, telling Voice of Lebanon Radio it "would put things back on the right track." Speaking on Wednesday, Youssef said Telecommunications Minister Gebran Bassil had no choice but to implement Law 140 as it "was not created by him but rather existed before him." Youssef poured scorn on Bassil's Free Patriotic Movement, saying it waged battles "just to say it won."
Youssef's criticism was reiterated by MP Ahmad Fatfat, who told the radio station that Bassil had attempted to prevent the Internal Security Forces from obtaining necessary information for its investigations.Aa
Tourism Minister Elie Marouni meanwhile expressed disappointment with the how the wiretapping issue had been resolved, saying it had been "swept under the carpet." In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday, Marouni linked wiretapping with a number of political assassinations, including that of his brother Nasri. According to Marouni, phone calls recorded between Nasri's Zahle rival Agriculture Minister Elias Skaff and "criminals" had helped uncover information on his murder. Nasri Marouni was shot dead last April along with Salim Assi in front of the Phalange party offices in Zahle, east Lebanon.
In a press conference at his Maarab residence on Wednesday, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea urged an end to illegal wiretapping used to facilitate political assassinations. "MP Antoine Ghanem arrived in Lebanon two days before his assassination, just like Gibran Tueni had," said Geagea. "During his phone call with Samir Shebli, [Ghanem] decided to change plans ... an hour later his car exploded," a result Geagea said could only be explained by wiretapping. Ghanem and An-Nahar publisher Tueni were killed in massive car bombs in 2007 and 2005, respectively.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Ziyad Barroud announced that a wiretapping center would be up and running by April 2009.
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