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Lebanon - World Report 2009

66 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 10,400 sq. km.
-  Population: 4,700,000
-  Language: Arabic
-  Head of state: Michel Sleiman, since May 2008 Doha conference

Since the murder of former prime minister Rafic Hariri on 14 February 2005 and the withdrawal of Syrian forces in March 2005, divisions have deepened within Lebanese society. Political life has polarised around supporters of the 8 March movement (Hezbollah) and supporters of General Aoun on one side and the 14 March movement (ant-Syrian) on the other.

The end of the presidential mandate of Emile Lahoud on 23 November 2007 plunged the country into a serious political crisis. The designation of General Michel Sleiman as head of state at an inter-Lebanese Dialogue conference in Doha (Qatar) on 25 May 2008 allowed the country to regain a degree of stability after six months of drift. But in the run-up to legislative elections on 7 June 2009 old tensions appeared to resurface.

The country’s deep political polarisation is mirrored by Lebanon’s different media; there are few news media independent of the political movements. Although the Lebanese press continues to enjoy freedom of expression virtually unrivalled in the region, it has been undermined by political tensions. There has been a further racking up of pressure as the June 2009 poll approaches.

The level of threat against the press backing the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority grew in 2008. Aziz El Metni, editor of the weekly al Anbaa, official organ of the Progressive Socialist Party had his car torched overnight on 19-20 January after he published an article on 8 January in which he strongly criticised the opposition headed by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement. Four media owned by the family of Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Movement, had to stop appearing for five days in May 2008 after being threatened by Hezbollah militia. French freelance journalist David Hury was held by Hezbollah supporters in the party’s fiefdom of Dahiyeh in Beirut’s southern suburbs for more than six hours on 12th August 2008 where they interrogated him about his work and his private life. Journalist Omar Harqus of privately-owned Future News television owned by the Future Movement was physically assaulted on 27 November while covering a demonstration by Syrian Social Nationalist Party militants.

The Lebanese authorities in April 2009 allowed the anti-Syrian television MTV to resume broadcasting seven years after it was taken off air. Elsewhere, the opening on 1st March 2009 of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to try those accused of terror attacks against Lebanese figures could allow light to be shed on the 2005 murders of journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni.

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