Lahoud Suggests Second Armenian Seat in Cabinet

LEBANON–Lebanese President Emile Lahoud reportedly said in Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting that the issue of Armenian representation in the Cabinet had to be resolved soon. Lahoud was quoted as saying that a solution had to be found regarding the Armenian community’s demand to have more than one minister. The president said this was important especially since Armenia’s were given one seat in former 14-minister Cabinets. Therefore–he said–Armenia’s should get two seats when the government consists of 30 ministers.

Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet session–Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said Lahoud told him that discussions on the matter had progressed.

Aridi said these discussions were taking place on the grounds that "the Armenian community has a right which must be granted to it."This is an earned and legitimate right. We all hope this issue will be solved in the near future–as President Lahoud stated," Aridi said. He was responding to questions about whether the ministers discussed the continuing absence of Sports and Youth Minister Sebouh Hovnanian. "We respect and value the position of the Armenian community," Aridi said. "To confirm this–we are still discussing this matter–with all those concerned in this community."

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri reportedly agreed with Lahoud’s commen’s on the issue during the Cabinet session. Asked if the prospects of increasing the number of Cabinet ministers would also include a minister from the Alawite sect–Aridi said that if another Armenian minister were appointed–a minister would also be appointed from another sect–but did not elaborate further.

Armenian Sports and Youth Minister Sebouh Hovnanian stated that he had received "positive signals" that the representation of Armenia’s in the Cabinet would improve. Hovnanian–who made the commen’s after meeting with President Emile Lahoud at Baabda Palace–refused to reveal details of the meeting but expressed optimism that the Armenian community would be better represented. Hovnanian has boycotted Cabinet sessions since it was formed last month because Armenia’s want at least two ministers in the government.

Hovnanians statement came after Zahle MP George Kassardji warned that Armenia’s would resort to "negative measures" if there were no indications that another Armenian minister would be brought on board. Kassardji said the plan of action would kick off with a two-hour strike by the Armenian community–which has a population of about 100,000–and end with Hovnanians resignation. Hovnanian said there was a plan to protest the make-up of the Cabinet–but that he would not resign. "We aren’t considering any escalation now because we sensed positive signals," he said.

Meanwhile on Monday–the Armenian Orthodox community celebrated Independence Day–which took place last week–at a rally at UNESCO attended by a number of government officials. Armenian Orthodox bishop Kegham Khatcherian called on Lahoud to implement the Armenia’s demand for better representation in the Cabinet. "Were sure that sooner or later God will inspire him to make the right decision regarding present issues," Khatcherian said. "I cant help but remind the president–despite the many social and political issues that require quick solutions–that he is everyone’s father."

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