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Lebanese government and opposition reach deal

Latest update : 2008-05-21

Leaders of Lebanon's government and Hezbollah-led opposition have reached an agreement ending a crisis that brought the country to the brink of civil war, an opposition MP said at negotiations in Doha. (Report: J. Creedon)

DOHA, May 21 (Reuters) - Rival Lebanese leaders reached a
deal on Wednesday to end 18 months of political conflict that
had pushed their country to the brink of a new civil war.
 

Delegates from the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and the
Hezbollah-led opposition told Reuters disputes over a
parliamentary election law and a new cabinet had been settled on
the sixth day of Arab-mediated talks in Qatar.
 

"The deal is done. The text has been written," an opposition
delegate told Reuters. The official announcement was expected at
10.00 a.m. (0700 GMT), he added.
 

A ruling coalition delegate also confirmed the deal, which
will meet the opposition's long-standing demand for veto power
in cabinet.
 

Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran and Syria, increased
pressure on the ruling alliance this month by routing its
followers in a military campaign. The Qatari-led negotiations
built on mediation that ended violence which killed 81.
 

It was Lebanon's worst civil conflict since the 1975-1990
war and exacerbated tensions between Shi'ites loyal to Hezbollah
and Druze and Sunni followers of the ruling coalition.
 

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani joined the
Doha talks shortly before midnight after returning from Saudi
Arabia -- one of the main foreign backers of the ruling
coalition.
 

A deal paves the way for parliament to elect army chief
General Michel Suleiman as president, a post that has been
vacant since November because of the political deadlock. The
vote in parliament could take place as soon as Thursday,
delegates said.
 

The anti-Damascus ruling coalition had long refused to meet
the opposition's demand for cabinet veto power, saying the
opposition was trying to restore Syrian control of Lebanon.
 

Syria, a close ally of Iran, was forced to withdraw troops
from Lebanon in 2005 following the assassination of former Prime
Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
 

The United States has held up the withdrawal as a foreign
policy success story.
 

But Hezbollah's military campaign this month was a major
blow to U.S. policy in Lebanon and forced Prime Minister Fouad
Siniora's government to rescind two measures targeting the
Iranian-backed group.
 

The deal will include a pledge by both sides not to use
violence in political disputes, echoing a paragraph in the
agreement that ended the fighting.

Date created : 2008-05-21

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