PM Siniora faces tough talks with parliament

Lebanon's newly re-appointed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is to begin consultations with a factional parliament on Friday, as part of efforts to form a national unity cabinet that includes members of the Hezbollah-led opposition.


Lebanon's newly appointed premier Fuad Siniora prepared for consultations Thursday with various parliamentary blocs on forming a 30-member cabinet, which will include the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Siniora, 64, was appointed by the new Lebanese President Michel Sleiman on Wednesday to a government of national unity.

"Based on his consultations with members of parliament ... the president has asked Fuad Siniora to form a new government," the presidency said.

The opposition made it clear it was not satisfied with the choice of Siniora, saying he did not reflect the spirit of national unity called for in last week's Arab-brokered accord reached in Doha.

"His nomination is a recipe for conflict rather than reconciliation," Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun warned.

"It seems the ruling bloc, rather than battling for a new Lebanon, is seeking to unleash a new conflict."

He added, however, that his camp would not stand in the way of forming a new government.

A Sunni Muslim and close ally of slain former premier Rafiq Hariri, Siniora has been prime minister since 2005 and headed a caretaker government since Sleiman's election by parliament on Sunday.

That earlier, US-backed administration was crippled by a long-running opposition protest campaign.

Siniora will be working to form a coalition government in which the Hezbollah-led opposition will have veto power over key decisions.

But he said he would seek to bridge the gaps among all the rival parties as he embarks on a new term and seeks to form a government of national unity.

"I extend my hand for cooperation and solidarity so that our country can achieve the breakthroughs it deserves," he said.

He said he hoped all parties would draw the lessons from past events that must not be repeated.

"I call on all of you to heal the wounds and to overcome the divisions we have experienced and not to resort to violence to solve our problems," he said.

Of the 127 members in parliament, 68 MPs gave Siniora their backing on Wednesday.

The formation of a unity government is a key plank of a deal hammered out by rival factions last week to end an 18-month political crisis that boiled over into deadly fighting and threatened to plunge the nation into a new civil war.

Under the deal, the ruling bloc will hold 16 seats in the new cabinet and the opposition 11, with the president appointing three ministers.

Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri said his bloc had decided to nominate Siniora again as he was the best man for the job.

"We didn't name Siniora as a challenge (to the opposition) but as a move toward real reconciliation and to turn over a new page," he told reporters.

Much of Siniora's previous term was dominated by the standoff with the opposition, which withdrew its ministers from his government in late 2006 in a bid to force him to resign.

Analysts said the parliamentary majority decided to keep Siniora in his post to allow Hariri, the son of Rafiq Hariri, to prepare for legislative elections next year.

Sleiman, Lebanon's army chief for the past 10 years, formally appointed Siniora after wrapping up consultations on Wednesday and the new government is expected to be formed within a week.

Sleiman's election on Sunday followed the deal brokered in the Qatari capital that also gives veto power to the opposition and calls for a new electoral law.

The accord was reached after sectarian battles earlier this month left at least 65 people dead and saw Hezbollah stage a spectacular takeover of Sunni sectors of west Beirut.

The violence, sparked by government measures against Hezbollah that were eventually rescinded, was the worst sectarian unrest since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

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