Birzeit University Statement on the Visit of French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and a high ranking French delegation visited Birzeit University today and addressed an audience of Birzeit University staff, students and Palestinian officials in the Institute of Law at Birzeit University.

Jospin was accompanied by Hubeer Vedreen, the French Foreign Minister, Jeane Claude Gussoir, Minister of Transportation and Housing and Christian Soutier, Minister of Finance. Dr. Nabil Shaath, Palestinian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and Leila Shaheed the Palestinian Ambassador in Paris represented President Arafat.

In his lecture, Prime Minister Jospin emphasized the importance of the rule of law and the building of civil society and development under a future Palestinian state. He stated that the establishment of Birzeit University's Institute of Law was an important basis for studying laws that could then be referred to the Palestinian Authority. He said that the rule of law should advance the peace process and that both law and democracy were guarantees for peace and coexistence.

Dr. Hanna Nasir welcomed the French Prime Minister and the French delegation, stating that the work of the Institute of Law has special significance for the Palestinian people. He added that the Palestinian nation longs for its freedom and independence and looks to France to continue its support of the Palestinians. He said that Birzeit University is a national institution built on the spirit of liberal thinking and independence of thought and serves as a base for strengthening the principle of openness. He stressed the fact that the visit of the French delegation symbolized the building of a closer relationship between the two nations and was an important step in drawing together east and west.

A discussion took place during the meeting including university employees, faculty, and students in which Jospin was asked about crucial issues currently facing the Palestinian people. The discussion ranged from the opinions of the French government and its support for the peace process to the issues of law, democracy, and civil society. Dr. Hanna Nasir presented the French delegation with a plaque on behalf of the university and a reception was held in honor of the French Prime Minister and the visiting delegation.

The visit of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to Birzeit University was disrupted following the meeting after stones were thrown as he left the university. During the lecture, he was confronted with many questions concerning his recent comments about the current situation in Lebanon.

Birzeit University condemns this attack and the use by some individuals of methods in contradiction to the spirit and tradition of the university as a stronghold of freedom of thought and the free expression of opinions. The office of the President of Birzeit University issued the following statement immediately after the incident:

"The President of Birzeit University and all the staff members, employees and students in Birzeit University express their strongest condemnation of the violent incidents which marred the aftermath of the otherwise successful French Prime Minister's visit to our institution, on 26 February 2000.

These incidents are totally contradictory to the spirit of tolerance, democracy, and dialogue which characterizes our university. The University will conduct a thorough inquiry into the circumstances of their occurrence and shall take all the necessary measures against the perpetrators.

The University wishes to convey at once it an unambiguous apology and sorrow to the friendly French government, to the French Prime Minister Mr. Lionel Jospin personally and to the distinguished delegation accompanying him, as well as to the French people for these tragic incidents.

University President Hanna Nasir immediately dispatched telegrams to Prime Minister Jospin, to President Jaques Chirac and to President Yasser Arafat expressing deep sorrow and regret for the incident."

The Birzeit University Council decided to close the university for three days until Tuesday morning while an investigative committee was assigned to find those responsible for throwing stones inside the campus and to take appropriate action against them.