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French Version

Press coalition honors 'pioneer' of free speech

Speaker of Parliament and Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri said Monday that his last visit to Syria two weeks ago had "opened the doors to Damascus" to Lebanese officials. Berri's words came during the honoring of Zuheir Osseiran, one of Lebanon's prominent journalists and the former head of the Lebanese Press Federation.

Osseiran, 92, was honored in a massive celebration organized by Amal at the UNESCO Palace on Monday.

The event was attended by a number of prominent officials, MPs, ministers, ambassadors and religious leaders. As Berri awarded Osseiran the Cedars' Officer Medal, the crowd gave the journalist a standing ovation.

Berri called on the Lebanese not to "suffocate Syria ... because, in the end, Lebanon and Syria will both lose."

Speaking of the Palestinian issue on the day of the Nakba commemoration, Berri said: "Palestine is currently passing through a dangerous phase which is more dangerous than the Nakba of 1948."

Berri said: "The Palestinians are split. Hamas has to aid Fatah in its losing days and Fatah has to aid Hamas in its winning ones. We all have to help both sides to get out of the Israeli prison."

The press federation's current head, Mohammed Baalbaki, said Osseiran was a patriot and a bright journalist who had "fought the French mandate over Lebanon through his pen" for his country and the "freedom of the word."

"It is noticeable today that, for the first time, and thanks to the Amal Movement, that a pioneer from Lebanon is honored while he is living. This comes as a break in the ongoing tradition here where our pioneers are honored after their death," said Baalbaki.

Born in 1914, Osseiran became the head of the press federation in 1965. He thanked his " personal friend Berri for the honoring," and said that the word should always be free.

In his remarks Berri attacked sectarianism, calling it "a disease which is the media's duty to fight. The media is capable of enlightening generations and educating them about the concepts and practices of dialogue and partnership."

Beirut,05 15 2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star
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