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Berri’s office denies approving Libya’s invitation to economic summit

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

BEIRUT – Tensions flared Friday surrounding Syria’s and Libya’s invitations to the Arab Economic and Social Development summit, as Speaker Nabih Berri’s office countered claims that he had been notified of the status of the countries’ attendance.

In a statement Friday morning, the AESD’s media office said that both the head of the higher committee in charge of organizing the summit and the head of the summit’s executive committee had briefed Berri, as well as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, on the summit’s preparations and the list of invited countries.

The summit is scheduled to be held in Beirut Jan. 19-20.

“Regarding Libya’s invitation to attend the summit, Speaker Berri had informed both members of the higher committee of his acceptance to invite Libya through diplomatic channels. And it was done through Libya’s representative at the Arab League,” the statement said.

The statement also pointed out that Libya had previously participated in the 2002 Arab League summit, which was held in Beirut.

A day before, NBN, a Berri-affiliated TV channel, had issued a statement saying it would boycott the summit because Libya was invited, while “brotherly Syria” was not.

Berri and his Amal Movement are opposed to Lebanon having ties with Libya because of the 1978 disappearance of the movement’s founder, Imam Musa Sadr, and two of his companions during an official visit to the country. LBCI reported Thursday that Amal supporters have voiced their readiness to block the Libyan delegation from leaving the airport upon arrival in Beirut.

Later Friday, Berri’s office released a statement rejecting the summit’s claims.

“Speaker Nabih Berri’s Media Office stresses that the information is made up and absolutely not true,” the statement said.

In fact, the statement claimed, Berri’s top aide, caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, had visited President Michel Aoun on Berri’s request to protest inviting Libya to the summit.

“The office expresses its surprise that the level of fabrications reaches this level,” the statement from Berri’s office added.

Berri is not the only official to have expressed reservations about Libya’s attendance of the summit. The Higher Shiite Council held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the country’s invitation.

Following the meeting, a council representative read a statement condemning and rejecting Libya’s attendance, saying it would be “offending to the case of Imam Musa Sadr and his two companions.” It also warned about the potential public reaction to a Libyan delegation.

As for Syria’s invitation, the summit’s statement said both officials have clarified to Berri that the decision is “not Lebanese,” but must be taken up by foreign ministers at the Arab League.

This was a position shared by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, who told Al Joumhouria that the decision to invite Syria is up to the Arab League.

“The decision in this regard goes to what is known as the Arab League, which decides if it wants Syria back in the league and therefore invite it to the summit. Lebanon cannot but be a part of this decision,” Joumblatt said in an interview published Friday.

The Daily Star

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