Lebanon leaders agree unity government

The formation will end weeks of wrangling over portfolios between the U.S.-backed majority coalition and Hezbollah.

Lebanon leaders agree unity government

Lebanese leaders agreed on a unity government on Friday that gave veto power for the Hezbollah-led opposition as agreed under a deal that ended a paralysing political conflict in the country.

Political sources from both sides said Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora will announce the new cabinet after meeting President Michel Suleiman later in the day.

The formation will end weeks of wrangling over portfolios between the U.S.-backed majority coalition and Hezbollah and its allies.

Lebanon formed a unity government on Friday in which Hezbollah and its allies hold effective veto power, as agreed under a deal that ended a paralysing political conflict in the country.

The birth of the government, the first under newly elected President Michel Suleiman, should close a long political crisis that had threatened to plunge Lebanon into a new civil war.

But it also marks the start of a challenging new era in which leaders must contain rising sectarian tensions, prepare for a parliamentary election next year and start talks on the fate of Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah's military wing.

A presidential decree announced the cabinet after Suleiman, a Maronite Christian, met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni Muslim and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi'ite Muslim.

"This government has two main tasks: regaining confidence in the Lebanese political system... and securing the holding of a transparent parliamentary election," Siniora told reporters.

The new team has one Hezbollah minister in addition to 10 ministers from its Shi'ite, Druze and Christian allies.

The opposition was guaranteed 11 of the cabinet's 30 seats under a May deal to defuse a conflict that had sparked some of the worst fighting since the 1975-90 civil war. All major decisions require a two-thirds majority or 20 cabinet votes.

The Qatari-brokered May 21 agreement opened the way for Suleiman's election four days later, but factional squabbling over portfolios had held up the formation of a government.

The majority coalition chose 16 ministers. Suleiman picked the remaining three, including Interior Minister Ziad Baroud.

Siniora's close adviser Mohammad Chatah takes the finance portfolio. Hezbollah's Mohammad Fneish becomes labour minister and Fawzi Salloukh, of the Shi'ite Amal group, foreign minister.

The cabinet's main task will be to ease sectarian and political tensions to avert further violence, adopt an election law already agreed in the Qatar talks, and supervise next year's election.

With the government in place, Suleiman is expected to call rival leaders for round-table talks on divisive issues.

Reuters

Last Mod: 12 Temmuz 2008, 08:33
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