Thu, May 22, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Lebanese leaders reach agreement

AFP , DOHA

Rival Lebanese leaders clinched a deal yesterday to end an 18-month political feud that exploded into deadly sectarian fighting this month and nearly drove the country to a new civil war.

“An agreement has been reached” between the Western-backed ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition, MP Ali Hasan Khalil told reporters after days of crisis talks in the Qatari capital Doha.

“We expect a vote to elect a president on Thursday or Friday.”

The two sides have been negotiating since Friday in an Arab-mediated bid to end a political standoff that erupted into deadly street battles earlier this month, the worst sectarian unrest in Lebanon since the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

Full details of the agreement, reached after the Qatari hosts announced a deadline of yesterday to receive responses to two initiatives aimed at ending the crisis, are set to be unveiled shortly.

Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper, which is close to the opposition, said the deal covers the election of army chief Michel Sleiman as president and the formation of a national unity government.

The rival factions had agreed last year on electing Sleiman as a successor to Damascus protege Emile Lahoud, who stepped down at the end of his term in November, leaving the deeply divided nation without a head of state.

But the Sunni-led government and the mainly Shiite Muslim opposition have long differed over powersharing in a proposed unity government and a new electoral law.

Under yesterday’s deal, the ruling majority would have 16 cabinet seats and be able to choose the prime minister, As-Safir said.

The opposition would have 11 ministerial posts.

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