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Berri threatens solo sit-in to protest cabinet delay.

Byline: Elias Sakr

Summary: Speaker Nabih Berri reportedly threatened to stage an open-ended sit-in at Parliament, in an effort to resolve the cabinet deadlock as negotiations slowed Thursday.AaBerri's visitors quoted him saying that he would take one of several steps toward resolving the impasse, while Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea accused Hizbullah of hampering.

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri reportedly threatened to stage an open-ended sit-in at Parliament, in an effort to resolve the cabinet deadlock as negotiations slowed Thursday.AaBerri's visitors quoted him saying that he would take one of several steps toward resolving the impasse, while Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea accused Hizbullah of hampering the formation process to serve strategic regional considerations.Aa

MPs quoted Berri as laying out three possible scenarios. The first would involve re-initiating the formal process of National Dialogue sessions to discuss the cabinet crisis, after earlier sessions tackled national issues such as a defense strategy, and Palestinian weapons outside refugee camps.Aa

The MPs said Berri's second option would be to convene Parliament to deliberate the cabinet issue, while the third would see him conduct a presumably one-man sit-in at Nijmeh Square to express his displeasure with the impasse, until a solution is reached.Aa

The deadlock has centered on the offer by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to FPM leader MP Michel Aoun to retain the Telecommunications and Energy Ministries as part of his Reform and Change bloc's share. Hariri would also drop his opposition to naming ministers who were unsuccessful candidates in June's parliamentary elections. This would allow caretaker Telecommunications Minister Gibran Bassil, Aoun's son-in-law, to retain a portfolio in the next government. Bassil lost the elections in his hometown of Batroun to March 14 MPs.Aa

However, Hariri's proposal was rejected by the FPM, which is demanding the Economy portfolio or a ministry of equal weight in exchange for the Social Affairs Ministry, which it now holds.Aa

Metn MP Salim Salhab said Thursday that "there is no problem with Hariri's proposal to Aoun, except for the issue of excluding the Social Affairs Ministry from the Reform and Change bloc's share."Aa

"However, Aoun does not reject exchanging the [Social Affairs Ministry] for a a ministry of equal importance, such as the Economy," Salhab said.Aa

Salhab added that Hariri's rejection of Aoun's demand led to a "reduction" in deliberations between the two sides, but not a total rupture, adding that Aoun was evaluating several proposals suggested by Hariri.Aa

Meanwhile, Geagea said on Thursday that regional and strategic calculations by opposition parties were hampering the cabinet formation, accusing Aoun of being no more than a cover for his allies' demands.Aa

Following a meeting with the Maronite patriarch in Bkirki, Geagea said he doubted that a government would be formed anytime soon, given the moves by the opposition camp.

Geagea argued that President Michel Sleiman and Hariri had made far more compromises than necessary, but had failed to form a cabinet given political and strategic considerations obstructing the formation process.Aa

"No one believes that the obstacle lies in a certain portfolio since the March 8 coalition hides behind 'poor' General Aoun and blames the complications on him, even though the problem goes further than Aoun," Geagea said.Aa

Geagea said that the cabinet deliberations had resulted in an agreement on the re-appointment of Bassil in the new cabinet, provided that the majority obtain the Telecommunications portfolio, which was rejected by the opposition.Aa

Geagea added that following the failure of the first proposal, the majority accepted the nomination of Bassil as minister, as well as granting the Change and Reform bloc the Telecommunications portfolio: a proposal that was also rejected.Aa

"The problem is that Aoun feels the need to represent the [whole] country, as if looking to be Lebanon's Napoleon, in order to form the cabinet in the way he deems appropriate," Geagea said.Aa

Tyre MP Nawaf Musawi, a Hizbullah official, said no foreign obstacles were hindering the cabinet formation. The Lebanese were responsible for the delay, he said, adding that the Taif Accord established the principle of consensus-based government.Aa

Bint Jbeil MP Ali Bazzi, a member of Berri's parliamentary bloc, said on Thursday that the delay in the formation process would lead to a crisis of the political regime if the matter was not resolved within the next couple of days.Aa

Marjayoun-Hasbaya MP Qassem Hashem said that the failure to form a cabinet by the end of this week would mean Lebanon was facing a political and regime crisis that necessitated a solution.Aa

Separately, Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced hope Thursday for the formation of a national unity cabinet soon, saying Syria supported Lebanon's unity, sovereignty and independence.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 6, 2009
Words:804
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