Lebanon forms govt after 10 months

February 16, 2014 - 6:22:36 am

The newly elected government at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, yesterday.

BEIRUT: Lebanon announced a new government yesterday, breaking a 10-month political deadlock during which spillover violence from neighbouring Syria worsened internal instability.

A caretaker government has run the country since former Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March as parties aligned with the Shia Hezbollah movement and a Sunni-led rival bloc pursued a power struggle exacerbated by their support for opposing sides in Syria’s almost three-year-old civil war.

“A government in the national interest was formed in a spirit of inclusivity,” new Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared on live television. He said he hoped the new government would allow Lebanon to hold presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman’s mandate expires in May and finally conduct parliamentary polls that were postponed last year due to the political impasse.

“I extend my hand to all the leaders and I am relying on their wisdom to reach these goals and I call on all of them together to make concessions in the interest of our national project,” he said.

Parliament designated the Sunni lawmaker as prime minister in April 2013, but he had been unable to form a cabinet for months due to rivalries between the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 bloc and the March 14 alliance, led by the Sunni Future Party.

Former Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, from the March 8 bloc, becomes foreign minister. Former Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, also from March 8, takes the finance portfolio. Nouhad Machnouk, a March 14 legislator, was named interior minister. Salam said his “national interest government” had a mandate to fight mounting security problems, which he linked to Syria.

“We must also deal with our complicated economic and social issues, the most important of which is the growing number of refugees from our Syrian brothers and the burdens this has placed on Lebanon,” he said.

Sectarian violence has erupted sporadically in the past year, particularly in the north, and car bombings targeting both security and political targets have increased dramatically, with Hezbollah-dominated areas being the most frequent target.

“We want this new government to open the doors for a complete settlement and to get the country back on the train to stability,” Finance Minister Khalil told Reuters by telephone.

Salam had tried again to form a government last month, but was thwarted by a row over who would hold the energy portfolio, a ministry given extra weight by the discovery of potential gas and oil reserves off Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. 

REUTERS

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