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Middle East
Sarkozy meets Lebanese leaders
French president visits Lebanon to support power sharing deal.
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2008 11:45 GMT
Sarozy, left, met Lebanon's new president
Michel Sleiman as part of his visit [AFP]
Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, has arrived in Lebanon as part of efforts to support national unity in the country.
 
The visit on Saturday comes two weeks after Lebanese leaders sealed a power-sharing deal and elected Michel Sleiman as the country's president, ending an 18-month political standoff which had erupted into deadly clashes.
Sarkozy was greeted at Beirut airport by Sleiman, Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, and Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker.

"President Sleiman has a great responsibility to drive this national reconciliation forward," the French president said after arriving in the Lebanese capital.
"It is essential that all Lebanese political forces display their commitment to dialogue."
 
Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said: "Sarkozy's visit is really a show if support for Lebanon, the Lebanese people and the newly elected president."
 
The French president was unlikely to unveil any strategy to help Lebanese leaders form a new cabinet, she said.
 
"Sarkozy is not really expected to take any practical measures to help Lebanon's leaders form a national unity government but he is here to give his blessing to the agreeement reached in [the Qatari capital] Doha which ended the political crisis."
 
Dialogue sought

The French delegation is set to meet leaders of 14 Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.

The international community, Europe and France will remain committed to Lebanon's interests on all fronts"

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president
Along with Francois Fillon, France's prime minister, the delegation includes Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister, and Herve Morin, the defence minister.

Sarkozy said that Lebanon had seen "too much suffering" and that it was "time to turn to the future. A future where through dialogue each Lebanese will find their place".

"It is also time is to enable the Siniora government to act to redress the country's economy ... The international community, Europe and France will remain committed to Lebanon's interests on all fronts."

Sarkozy's visit is the first by a world leader since Lebanon's feuding leaders agreed to form a national unity cabinet giving the opposition veto powers.

Political deal

The majority bloc in the Lebanese parliament agreed a deal with the Hezbollah-led opposition on May 21 in the Gulf state of Qatar after clashes between rival supporters left at least 65 people dead.

The fierce fighting was the worst internal violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

But despite the power sharing deal, the Hezbollah-led opposition and the ruling coalition continue to squabble over the formation of a government of national unity.

Siniora's recent reappointment as Lebanon's prime minister was met with dissatisfaction by members of the opposition.

Meanwhile, a planned visit by the French delegation to the French contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was cancelled to keep the visit "a purely political" one, according to the Elysee.

Instead, Morin will visit the French contingent of 1,800 soldiers, which is the second largest contingent in the south Lebanon-based peacekeeping force.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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