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LEBANON - Oct 20 - Rafik Hariri Resigns.

PM Rafik Hariri, resigns after weeks of speculation about the fate of his government, amid a political crisis triggered by intense international pressure on Syria over its influence in Lebanon's political affairs. Four ministers had already resigned last month in protest against the controversial extension of Pres Emile Lahoud's mandate for three years, which was voted in by parliament last month. The extension was seen as the result of blatant Syrian political interference. Hariri's resignation was accepted by Lahoud during a brief meeting at the presidential palace. "After the talks I held with the president of the republic and the parliament speaker, I found it suitable to present the government's resignation. And I apologise for not nominating myself to head the (next) government", he said. The departure of Hariri, who has headed five governments, casts a cloud over the economic health of the country. A billionaire Sunni Muslim, he has been the driving force behind Lebanon's reconstruction since the civil war ended in 1991. He is credited with helping to put the country back on the map by rebuilding the Beirut central district and giving the country a state-of-the-art airport, as well a modern road infrastructure. Although his record is mixed he is blamed for saddling the country with a public debt of $32 bn (26bn, [pounds sterling]18bn) because of his borrow-and-build scheme his presence attracts investors and reassures creditors. His resignation comes at time when his extensive contacts in the world of politics and business he is close to the Saudi royal family and French president Jacques Chirac could have helped Lebanon weather the storm caused by the extension of Lahoud's term. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in September urging Syria to end its political meddling in Lebanon's affairs and withdraw 15,000 troops stationed there. The council reiterated that message on Oct 19 in a statement which was adopted unanimously by the council. Syria and Lebanon have strongly rejected the UN resolution and statement as interference in their internal affairs. Lahoud has asked the government to stay on as a caretaker cabinet. He will start consultations on Oct 21 with MPs to select a new PM. Those MPs who voted against the extension of his term have threatened not take part in the consultations, however, which would leave him a relatively free hand to select a premier of his choice. The government has been paralysed by the stand-off between the president's Syrian political backers and opponents of Syria's domination of Lebanon. Hariri had threatened to resign in August if the president, a political rival, stayed in power. But after talks in Damascus with the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, he gave his seal of approval to the extension Lahoud's mandate. It now appears the two men have failed to find a way to work together and agree on a new cabinet. In 1998, after six years in power, Hariri also resigned because of a clash with Lahoud. He returned to power in 2000 after a landslide parliamentary election victory. Lebanon is to hold parliamentary elections in May.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Oct 23, 2004
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