Call for reduced Lebanese cabinet

The head of Lebanon's Maronite Christians, an influential figure opposed to Syria's grip on Lebanon, says he wants a small, non-partisan cabinet to lead the country to elections.

    Nasr Allah Sufair: Six to eight people in cabinet can ensure polls

    Nasr Allah Sufair said on Sunday at the patriarchate residence in the hills north of Beirut, that there was no need to have a government of 30 members: six or eight members were enough to organise elections.

    "That is to say that the new government will not be a political one but an administrative one," the 84-year-old patriarch, who is also a Catholic cardinal, said.
       
    Asked if he wanted a neutral cabinet, which has long been demanded by the opposition, Sufair said: "Yes, in my opinion, but there are some men who think otherwise."
       
    Caretaker PM Umar Karami has not said what kind of cabinet he will try to form. The opposition accuse Karami of manoeuvring to delay elections, due by the end of May when parliament's term ends.
      
    Current unrest

    Christian areas have been at the
    receiving of a spate of bombings

    Lebanon is suffering its worst political crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. The current unrest was sparked by the 14 Febuary assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

    The killing prompted mass street protests that brought down Karami's previous government and, along with US-led pressure, forced Syria to start withdrawing its forces from Lebanon.

    Damascus said on Sunday it would complete its withdrawal by 30 April.
     
    But four bombings in about two weeks, all in Christian areas, have added to tension and many Lebanese blame Syria.
       
    "I don't know who is behind that, but this demonstrates that there are some people who don't want peace and tranquillity for Lebanon," Sufair said, adding that he did not believe the bombings would drag the country back into sectarian conflict.

    Divisive issue

    "Nobody can disarm them, but it is up to
    them to disarm when
    the time will come"

    Cardinal Nasr Allah Sufair,
    Christian Maronite patriarch

    The opposition, which includes several civil war foes, say they expect the elections to give them a majority in parliament.

    But some analysts question whether the opposition will hold together if they emerge with a majority, saying they have little in common aside from their desire for Syria's withdrawal and an international inquiry into al-Hariri's death.

    One potentially divisive issue is how to tackle the disarming of Shia Hizb Allah, the only group in Lebanon that still carries arms after the civil war. Some in the opposition want to tackle the issues straight after elections, most say later.
       
    To disarm or not

    Hizb Allah has rejected repeated
    calls for it to lay down arms

    Hizb Allah, a political and military group which helped finish Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon, is backed by Iran and has said it will not disarm until Israel withdraws from the disputed Shibaa Farms area that Lebanon claims.
       

    The UN calls Shibaa Farms Israeli-occupied Syrian land. Hizb Allah also says it will keep arms as long as Israel threatens Lebanon.
       
    Asked if he had held talks with Hizb Allah, Sufair said: "Personally not, but there are some people who are in talks with them from my part ... . Nobody can disarm them, but it is up to them to disarm when the time will come."
       
    Asked if that meant disarmament after the Shibaa Farms dispute was resolved, he said: "Perhaps, yes."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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