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Lebanon's Hariri set to announce unity government
Sat Nov 7, 2009 8:44am EST
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By Laila Bassam
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri will announce a new national unity government in the next two days after clinching a deal with the opposition on its make-up, politicians from both sides said on Saturday.
Lebanon has been without a functioning government since Hariri led his coalition, backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, to victory in a June parliamentary election against Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies.
A government acceptable to all main parties is seen as key to maintaining stability in a country facing sectarian and political tensions, as well as a huge debt burden.
"The government is as good as formed," member of parliament Okab Sakr, who is close to Hariri, told New TV station. "It's all about the final touches now and its formation will be completed this weekend."
Other MPs from both camps made similar remarks.
Leaders of the opposition, including Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, agreed to join the proposed government during a meeting on Friday night.
"Participants at the talks have agreed to forge ahead with the formation of the national unity government in accordance with the regulations that were agreed upon during the negotiations that had been conducted," Hezbollah said in a statement after the meeting, held at a secret location.
Political sources said the opposition would officially inform Hariri of its decision and hand him over the names of their proposed ministers.
Hariri has spent more than four months trying to broker a deal with the opposition to join a unity cabinet. A warming of ties between the two sides' main backers Syria and Saudi Arabia in recent weeks helped ease the rift in Beirut and led eventually to the breakthrough.
The rival factions had agreed in July on the broad division of seats in the new cabinet. But Hariri, son of assassinated billionaire statesman Rafik al-Hariri, had struggled to reach agreement with opposition politicians on the details.
At the heart of the dispute were the demands of Christian leader Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah. Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement holds more seats in parliament than any other Christian party.
The new 30-minister cabinet is set to include 15 ministers from Hariri's coalition, 10 from the opposition including two Hezbollah ministers, and five, including the key interior and defense portfolios, will be nominated by President Michel Suleiman.
Incumbents Ziad Baroud and Elias al-Murr, loyal to the president, are set to keep their interior and defense portfolios, while new foreign and finance ministers are expected to be named.
Hariri had named Raya Hassan for finance minister, responsible for managing Lebanon's public debt burden, in an earlier proposal that was rejected by the opposition. Continued...
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