Lebanese PM quits amid political crisis

Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri has resigned, bringing to a head a political crisis that has paralysed Lebanon for weeks.

    Al-Hariri had been PM for most of the last 12 years

    "I have ... submitted the resignation of the government, and I

    have declared that I will not be a candidate to head the [next]

    government," he said in a statement on Wednesday, blaming internal political

    differences for his decision.

    Al-Hariri, 59, a Sunni Muslim who has been prime minister for most

    of the past 12 years, had first announced early last month that he

    planned to resign amid a political crisis over

    Syria's influence in Lebanese affairs.

    The departure of the business tycoon, long regarded as a canny

    political player with close ties to Western leaders and financial

    creditors, also cast a cloud over the economic health of the country

    which is $32 billion in debt.

    A presidential statement said Hariri submitted his resignation

    to President Emile Lahud, his main political rival who is favoured

    by Lebanon's political masters in Damascus.

    Pro-Syrian president

    "Al-Hariri submitted his resignation which was accepted by

    President Lahud who asked the current government to stay on as

    caretaker cabinet," it said.

    President Emile Lahud is
    al-Hariri's main political rival

    Lahud, whose term in office was controversially extended by

    three years under a Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment, will on

    Thursday start parliamentary consultations which are compulsory to

    name a new prime minister, officials said.

    Observers fear a threatened boycott of the consultations

    will give Lahud a free hand to appoint a pro-Syrian

    figure as prime minister.

    Al-Hariri's move comes amid a deadlock between Syrian President

    Bashar al-Asad's government in Damascus and the United Nations.

    On Tuesday, the UN repeated a call for Syria to pull its troops out of

    Lebanon - a demand that Damascus swiftly rejected.

    Colourful tycoon

    Al-Hariri's statement said internal political differences were

    behind his decision, although it is too early to say whether his

    resignation means the end of the tycoon's colourful political

    career.

    "Facing the challenges, any challenges, can only be done through

    a unified domestic front that meets the goals of the Lebanese

    people ... but these objectives have been confronted by known

    political realities," saial-Hariri.

    "Facing the challenges, any challenges, can only be done through

    a unified domestic front that meets the goals of the Lebanese

    people ... but these objectives have been confronted by known

    political realities"

    Statement by Rafial-Hariri

    Rafiq al-Hariri was first named prime minister at the relatively young

    age of 48 in 1992 when Lebanon was desperately seeking a saviour to

    help the country emerge from the massive destruction inflicted by

    the 1975-1990 civil war.

    Since then, the man credited by his admirers as the architect of

    the country's post-civil war reconstruction and by his detractors as a

    spendthrift, has headed five governments.

    The fate of al-Hariri, who built his empire in Saudi Arabia and has

    business interests extending from construction to the media, had

    been uncertain for weeks, with no clear indication if he would

    resign to form a new government or leave office altogether.

    Government resignations

    Most of the 29 MPs who voted in the 128-member parliament

    against the 3 September amendment that extended Lahud's term have

    previously declared they would not participate in consultations

    to choose a new government.

    They include the blocs of prominent Druze leader Walid Jumblatt

    and the Christian gathering of Qornet Shehwan which have been

    calling for an end to Syrian interference.

    Syria's 16,000 troops are at the
    centre of a diplomatic dispute

    The crisis was further aggravated with the resignation of four

    government members, including a close Jumblatt aide who was injured

    in a failed assassination bid on 1 October, over the extension of

    Lahud's term.

    Syria is believed to have about 16,000 troops in

    Lebanon, what is left of a much larger force sent in during Lebanon's

    civil strife.

    Both Beirut and Damascus insist the troops are

    there by mutual agreement.

    SOURCE: AFP


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