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LEBANON - Sept 10 - Pick For Lebanese PM Withdraws.

PM-designate Saad Hariri of Lebanon stepped down on Sept 10, expressing frustration with months of failed efforts by the country's divided political factions to form a national unity cabinet after the parliamentary elections in June. Hariri's decision underscored the continuing stalemate between his Western-aligned political bloc and the opposition, led by the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah. Hariri's coalition won a slim parliamentary majority in June, but not enough to govern on its own. The withdrawal is likely to draw more international attention to Lebanon's rudderless government perhaps by design shortly before the UN General Assembly is scheduled to meet in New York. Lebanon, long plagued by war and sectarian divisions, has often been a battleground for other regional powers. Some analysts said the current gridlock could be related to worsening relations between the United States and Syria, which dominated Lebanon militarily for three decades and now supports the opposition. "This move will galvanize Arab and Western attention, and put pressure on Syria by suggesting that it is playing a negative role", said Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. Lebanon appeared to be entering a period of political calm and conciliation after the June elections. But since then, Hariri's majority alliance has been weakened by internal divisions, and it exercises limited influence over Hezbollah, the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. "My attempt to form a national unity government crashed into a wall", Hariri said at a news conference at the presidential palace at Beit Eddin. "I hope my apology will be the occasion to relaunch a dialogue and allow consultations that will lead to the formation of a government that will lead the country onto safe ground". After the announcement, President Michel Suleiman said he would begin consulting with lawmakers on naming a new PM. Hariri, who was thrust into prominence after his father, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005, could well be renominated if the rival camps come closer to an agreement on how to share power. Hariri was designated PM in late June, and later the two political camps and the president agreed on a formula for sharing power: 15 cabinet seats for the majority, 10 for the opposition, and five for the president, who was expected to pick the most independent figures. Efforts to form a cabinet soon broke down in disagreement over top ministry positions. One central point of contention was the opposition's demand that the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party allied with Hezbollah, retain the Telecommunications Ministry. Hariri said no, accusing the opposition of refusing to respect the results of the June elections. The battle was partly over ego and political turf: the Free Patriotic Movement is led by Michel Aoun, a former general who aspired to be president and considers himself the leader of Lebanon's Christians. But Hezbollah also wants its alliance to retain control of telecommunications and surveillance, which its leaders view as a security issue. The negotiations stumbled further in August after the Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, a founding member of Hariri's political alliance, announced that he was withdrawing from the bloc. At the time, Jumblatt, long known as the weather vane of Lebanese politics, also described his meetings with Bush administration officials as a "black spot" on his past, in a hint that his alliances and political forecasts could be shifting. On Sept 8, Hariri unilaterally named a 30-member cabinet list. Opposition leaders quickly denounced the move, saying they must be allowed to name their own ministers. PMs-to-be have withdrawn before in Lebanon, where political consensus has long been elusive. But relations between the two main political camps have been especially volatile in recent years. Three years ago a cabinet walkout by Hezbollah led to an 18-month political crisis that pushed the country to the brink of renewed civil war and ended only after Arab diplomats proposed a power-sharing solution in May 2008.
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Title Annotation:prime minister Saad Hariri
Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Sep 12, 2009
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