Mon, Nov 13, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Lebanese Cabinet under threat after Hezbollah quits

DISUNITY Five ministers resigned after the failure on Saturday of a week of talks on forming a unity government and months of parliamentary disputes

AGENCIES , BEIRUT

All five Shiite ministers from Hezbollah and ally Amal have quit the Lebanese government, including the foreign minister who was to miss an Arab League meeting yesterday, but the prime minister has said they must stay on.

"We have resigned because the majority insists on exercising power on its own," the head of the group's parliamentary bloc Mohammed Raad said on Saturday, referring to the anti-Syrian majority that has baulked at forming a unity government without first having guarantees that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will step down.

"We don't want ministers who blindly follow the majority," Raad said. "This is about giving a warning to the majority."

Hezbollah's deputy leader said yesterday that the organization would hold street demonstrations to make its case known.

"This was a first step. There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually," Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Kassem told reporters.

"This campaign will be there to salvage the country from this mentality," Kassem said.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora issued a statement on Saturday saying he would not accept the resignations, which he said he heard about from Lebanese media.

"Mr Siniora rejects the resignation of Hezbollah and Amal ministers, even if they officially hand in their resignation and insists that they take part in government," the statement said.

"This government respects the constitution and principles based on dialogue and consensus, and it insists on cooperating with all parties in order to find solutions which preserve the interests of Lebanon," it added.

The resignations came after the failure on Saturday of a week of talks on forming a unity government and months of political stalemate because of disputes between pro and anti-Syrian elements in parliament.

The powerful Hezbollah movement, supported by Syria and Iran and flush from its claimed "divine victory" in the summer war with Israel, had two portfolios in the 24-minister cabinet which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

Two ministers from Shiite ally Amal also resigned, along with Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh who is considered close to Hezbollah. Sallukh had been due to attend a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo yesterday to examine Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

A government source said Sallukh would not be going, even though the meeting had been called for by Lebanon.

Hezbollah wants to bring in opposition allies, represented by Christian ally Michel Aoun's parliamentary group -- with 21 of parliament's 128 deputies.

It also wants a number of Cabinet posts that would ensure it had a "blocking minority," a move opposed by the anti-Syrian majority that sees this as a Syrian attempt to return strongly to Lebanese politics.

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