"We've gone a long way in arriving at announcing the formation of the government," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Tuesday after talks with President Emile Lahoud.

"We hope that we will meet again, hopefully today, to announce the government," Siniora said.

Siniora said Lahoud had asked him for some changes to his proposed cabinet and that he responded by asking for some time to consider the modifications.

He gave no further details but said the cabinet would be made up of 24 ministers.

Political sources said Lahoud wanted a third Christian minister loyal to him in Siniora's cabinet.

The president, a close ally of Syria, was also demanding more portfolios for Maronite Christians not loyal to Siniora, the sources said.

The prime minister had excluded followers of Christian leader Michel Aoun, who leads a bloc of 21 MPs in the 128-seat parliament.

Siniora had turned down demands by Aoun to nominate four ministers. Aoun, a staunch opponent of Syria, has said he will form the backbone of the opposition to the new government.

"We've gone a long way in arriving at announcing the formation of the government"

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora

The government is expected to be dominated by anti-Syrian politicians, most of whom turned against Damascus after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri on 14 February, which led to Syrian troops pulling out of Lebanon in April.

But the cabinet would also include members of pro-Syrian Shia groups, including Hizb Allah.

The challenges

Security is among the major challenges for any new government after a spate of bombings and assassinations and rising tension between pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon's worst crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Siniora, finance minister for most of the period after the 1975-1990 civil war and a senior aide to al-Hariri, also faces the task of controlling a $36-billion public debt that is now almost twice the size of Lebanon's gross domestic product.

He needs to prove to international markets that Lebanon can take care of its internal security without Syrian troops.

Violence

In the latest violence, one man was killed and 12 people were wounded when armed Christians and Shia Muslims exchanged fire across part of the old civil war frontline in Beirut on Monday night.

One man was killed and 12 people
were injured in Beirut on Monday

The army intervened to stop the shooting. 

Monday's violence began when sticks and rocks were used in fighting between members of the Shia Amal movement and Maronite supporters of former militia leader Samir Geagea.

Gunfire was exchanged later, but army units deployed to the area and ended the clashes. Several armed men from both sides were arrested.

Geagea's supporters had been celebrating a parliamentary vote granting him an amnesty after 11 years in jail where he was serving four life sentences, three for the murders of political rivals and one for a failed attempt to kill a minister.