Lahud set to appoint new PM

President Emile Lahud is set to appoint Umar Karami as Lebanon's new prime minister, giving him the job of forming a cabinet that faces tough economic and diplomatic challenges.

    President Lahud (L) maintains a close relationship with Syria

    Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri resigned on

    Wednesday and declined to head the new government after sharp

    political differences with Syrian-backed Lahud.

    Karami, a close ally of Syria, emerged as clear favourite

    after many MPs named him as their choice in

    consultations with Lahud.

    The parliamentary consultations are

    compulsory for the president to name the new premier.

    Presidential palace sources said the prime minister would be

    named later on Thursday.

    About 22 opposition MPs said they would boycott the

    consultations, saying the names of the new prime minister and

    his cabinet had already been decided.

    Veteran politician

    Al-Hariri's bloc in the

    128-member parliament refused to name a candidate.

    Karami, a 70-year-old member of parliament from the northern

    city of Tripoli, had been prime minister between December 1990

    and May 1992.

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

    He resigned after angry demonstrations in Beirut

    protesting the collapse of the Lebanese pound at the time.

    Karami entered the political scene

    after his brother Rashid Karami was assassinated while serving as prime

    minister in 1987.

    Once named prime minister, he would hold parliamentary

    consultations over the make-up of his cabinet before

    declaring the new government, a process that should be completed

    in a few days.

    The government change comes as the United Nations and

    Washington heap pressure on Syria to relinquish its grip on Lebanon.

    Pro-Syrian president

    Lahud's term was extended last month under pressure from

    Damascus, drawing a UN Security Council resolution condemning

    foreign interference in Lebanon and demanding the withdrawal of

    foreign troops.

    The US said it was concerned Syria would try to

    impose its will on the formation of a new government.

    Syria recently redeployed some
    of its 16,000 troops in Lebanon

    Damascus has had the last word politically in its smaller

    neighbour since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, when it

    flooded Lebanon with troops.

    Lebanese officials have said Syria told them it would not

    intervene in the formation of the new cabinet - a move some

    commentators said gave the upper hand to Lahud in his rift with al-

    Hariri.

    The extension of Lahud's term and international pressure

    over Syria's long shadow in Lebanon had paralysed the

    government, grappling with a debt of nearly $33 billion.

    The new cabinet is to last only until May parliamentary

    elections in which al-Hariri could hope for a showing that ensures

    a strong role in the government or opposition.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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