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Cabinet to convene Monday, Nahhas replaced.

Summary: Prime Minister Najib Mikati has called the Cabinet into session next Monday shortly after retired Judge Salim Jreissati was appointed Friday as the new labor minister.

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati has called the Cabinet into session next Monday shortly after retired Judge Salim Jreissati was appointed Friday as the new labor minister, replacing Charbel Nahhas, government sources said.

Like Nahhas, Jreissati is a pick of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. "The Cabinet will meet in an ordinary session at the Baabda Palace Monday morning with 78 items on its agenda," a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star.

The source said the items on the Cabinet agenda did not include the thorny issue of appointments in the public administration, the root cause of the latest Cabinet deadlock.

Another ordinary Cabinet session will be held under Mikati at the Grand Serail Wednesday, the source said.

The source hoped that Jreissati's appointment would set "a new beginning for the government with the cooperation of all the parties."

Both President Michel Sleiman and Mikati signed the decree appointing Jreissati as the labor minister during a meeting at Baabda Palace Friday morning. They also discussed the agenda of Monday's Cabinet session, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Earlier, Mikati said the Cabinet would resume its work next Monday after a three-week suspension of its sessions following a dispute with ministers from Aoun's parliamentary Change and Reform bloc over civil service appointments. He told As-Safir newspaper that the session's agenda would focus on issues that had accumulated over time, so that the Cabinet could facilitate the work of institutions and alleviate citizen's problems.

Although Mikati suspended the Cabinet sessions Feb. 1 following the rift with ministers from Aoun's bloc over appointments of Christians to key posts in the public administration, he has indicated that Nahhas' signing of a Cabinet decree approving the transportation allowance would lead to resuming the sessions.

But Nahhas, one of 10 ministers from Aoun's bloc, had persistently refused to sign the decree, arguing that it should be ratified by Parliament first. However, he did sign the decree containing the Cabinet's decision to raise the minimum wage. Nahhas opted Tuesday to resign rather than sign the decree.

Sources at Baabda Palace said that Sleiman expressed satisfaction to his visitors with the way the Cabinet crisis was resolved. The Cabinet had the final say when its decree on the wage hike and the transportation allowance was respected, the sources said. Sleiman said Nahhas' resignation had proved the usefulness of the implementation of the country's democratic system, the sources added.

Following his appointment, Jreissati promised to energize the Cabinet work.

"We have to draw lessons from what happened. The main lesson requires a firm position. But this does not mean intensity," Jreissati told reporters after an extraordinary meeting of the Change and Reform bloc chaired by Aoun at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

"The lesson now is to give priority to legislation and implementation. We are advocates of energizing the Cabinet work, while we are against any attempt to impede it," he said.

Speaking with Jreissati standing next to him, Aoun denied any deal was struck behind Nahhas' resignation.

"There was no deal. The dispute that ended with Nahhas' [resignation] has ended and our house is open to him," Aoun said. He said he hoped Jreissati's appointment would give the "best results" for the Cabinet work.

"He [Jreissati] has become the first legislator to be appointed in the Cabinet," Aoun said. "The circumstances that led to Nahhas' resignation and Jreissati's appointment were caused by a wrong decree. We had tried to reform it with a legal measure but negotiation over the entire labor law was out of the question," Aoun said.

Jreissati, who hails from Zahleh, east Lebanon, is a legal expert and has held several leading advisory positions, including as a current adviser to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) team defending the four Hezbollah members implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He also recently served as an adviser in the drafting of the new Syrian constitution, which will be put to a referendum on Feb. 26.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah defended the Mikati government, saying its presence is essential for the country's stability. But he urged the government, beset by splits and differences since it was formed in June, to be more productive and act to address the country's security, economic and political problems.

In a televised speech addressing a Hezbollah rally marking a week after the death of Hezbollah's late Secretary-General Abbas Musawi's father in the Bekaa town of Nabi Sheet, Nasrallah said: "Maintaining this government is vital for stability. But this should not be an excuse for Cabinet members not to be productive." "When government assumes its security, political, and administrative responsibility, it will be productive," he said. -- With additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Feb 25, 2012
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