Government forms in Lebanon after 10-month deadlock ends

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:26am

Lebanon yesterday announced the formation of a new compromise government, breaking a 10-month political deadlock during which violence from neighbouring Syria worsened internal instability.

A caretaker government has run the country since former prime minister Najib Mikati resigned in March as parties aligned with the Shiite Hezbollah movement and a Sunni-led rival bloc pursued a power struggle exacerbated by their support for opposing sides in Syria's civil war.

"A government in the national interest was formed in a spirit of inclusivity," new Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared on live television.

He said he hoped the new government would allow the staging of presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman's mandate expires in May and the holding of parliamentary polls that were postponed last year due to the impasse.

"I extend my hand to all the leaders and I am relying on their wisdom to reach these goals and I call on all of them together to make concessions in the interest of our national project," he said.

The new line-up groups the Shiite Hezbollah movement and its allies with the Sunni-led bloc of former premier Saad Hariri.

Parliament designated Salam, a Sunni lawmaker, as prime minister in April 2013, but he was unable to form a cabinet for months due to rivalries between the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 bloc and the March 14 alliance, led by the Sunni Future Party.

In the new government, former energy minister Gebran Bassil, from the March 8 bloc, becomes foreign minister. Former health minister Ali Hassan Khalil, also from March 8, takes the finance portfolio. Nouhad Machnouk, a March 14 legislator, was named interior minister.

Salam said his "national interest government" had a mandate to fight mounting security problems, which he linked to Syria.

"We must also deal with our complicated economic and social issues, the most important of which is the growing number of refugees from our Syrian brothers and the burdens this has placed on Lebanon," he said.

Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is a Shiite offshoot. The Future party supports the anti-Assad uprising, led largely by the Syria's Sunni majority.

Sectarian violence has erupted sporadically in the past year across Lebanon, particularly in the north, and car bombings targeting both security and political targets have increased, with Hezbollah-dominated areas being the most frequent target.

Salam had earlier made a deal with political parties that required all cabinet roles to be rotated among different religious groups in each new government, so that no sect can indefinitely dominate a particular ministry.

"We want this new government to open the doors for a complete settlement and to get the country back on the train to stability," Finance Minister Khalil said.