Wed, Dec 13, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Lebanese parties seek political compromise

`AGREEMENT IN PRINCIPLE' After more than a week of anti-government protests, political factions were starting to agree on the need for a national unity government

AFP , BEIRUT

A young Hezbollah supporter looks through razor wire in a security perimeter erected outside Government House on the 12th day of protests to force the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Lebanon's divided factions on Monday sought a political compromise after mass protests led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah overwhelmed Beirut and raised fears of a return to civil strife.

The protracted deadlock has paralyzed the Western-backed government as opposition Shiite and Christian protesters have clogged the capital in an escalating campaign to force a new national unity administration.

Arab diplomats arrived in the capital to discuss a proposal with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora after securing the "agreement in principle" of Hezbollah, which launched a rally on Sunday the army said was "unprecedented" in size.

Arab League envoy Mustafa Ismail was shuttling between camps to hash out details of the opposition's participation in the government after its six ministers pulled out last month.

Sunday's huge protest in Beirut came on the 10th day of a thousands-strong sit-in on the government's doorstep, and was countered by a pro-government rally in Lebanon's second city of Tripoli.

The opposition has accused the government of being weak and corrupt and is demanding that Siniora's cabinet make way for a government of national unity.

Siniora, whose cabinet was formed after elections last year, has accused the opposition of trying to mount a "coup" and pledged that his government will overcome the crisis, while repeatedly urging a return to talks.

Ismail, whose visit was to be followed by Arab League chief Amr Mussa's arrival yesterday, said he had secured the agreement of the opposition that it did "not want to bring down the government or block its work."

"The government in turn says `I welcome the opposition's participation'... Hence, what we need is additional [discussion of] details of these guarantees."

Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah representative, confirmed that the movement's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had "informed Mustafa Ismail that Hezbollah sees positively any initiative that includes the formation of a government of national unity which secures a blocking minority."

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal said the efforts were "a start, and we are awaiting the response of the government before discussing the details with our allies in the opposition."

Anti-Syria Druze chief Walid Jumblatt said a blocking minority by the opposition could be accepted "after the election of a new president."

The majority says the opposition already possesses two key power positions with pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and parliament speaker Nabih Berri of the Shiite Amal party.

Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces -- a member of the anti-Syrian parliament majority -- said that the "priorities have not been set by the Arab initiative."

Geagea, a Christian, added that the majority's first requirement was to secure the departure of Lahoud, whose mandate was controversially extended by three years under Syrian impetus in 2004.

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