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Christian Officials Hold 'Friendly' Meeting in Bkirki but Fail to Agree on Date for Future Talks
(Retrieved from Naharnet on April 19, 2011)

A meeting held between the country's top Christian officials in Bkirki on Tuesday was "friendly," said a statement released after the talks but failed to say when the foes would meet again.
The four leaders "discussed the proposed issues by differentiating between what is agreed on and what is subject to legal political differences in a democratic nation that respects freedoms and distinctions," Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayad said.

The statement stressed the need to preserve the country's unity and basic interests.

The conferees agreed to hold "more meetings as the need arises," Ghayad said without setting a date for the next meeting.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun, the leader of the Phalange party, Amin Gemayel, and Marada movement chief Suleiman Franjieh joined Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi for prayers at 9:00 am before the meeting.

In addition to al-Rahi, several bishops attended the talks which were followed by a lunch banquet thrown by the patriarch in the honor of his guests. Former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir was also present at the luncheon.

The talks were held away from the media spotlight. Journalists and reporters were prevented from entering the patriarchate's premises when the officials arrived in the morning.

The Christian leaders entered the premises of the seat of the Maronite church in their convoys and did not make statements to the reporters standing outside Bkirki's main gate.

However, Geagea had told al-Joumhouria daily on Monday that he wouldn't hesitate to shake hands with his foes Aoun and Franjieh. The LF leader made good on his promises and shook hands with the two men ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

"We shook hands and talked too," Franjieh confirmed to reporters after the meeting.

Journalists were later allowed to go in to take photos of the conferees. Television footage showed them sitting at a rectangular table chaired by al-Rahi. Aoun, Franjieh, and Bishops Boulos Matar and Samir Mazloum set on one side. While Gemayel, Geagea, and Bishops Roland Abou Jaoudeh and Youssef Beshara at the other.

Aoun told reporters that each two persons disagreeing with each other were seating in front of each other.

An Nahar daily said Tuesday that discussions would focus on general issues, and mainly Christian issues such as rejection to naturalize Palestinians, the voting of expatriates, decentralization, the election laws, corruption and the Christian presence in state institutions.

Al-Rahi would also seek to find common ground between the officials, it said.