Lebanese President Michel Sleiman has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who handed in his notice citing divisions on several domestic issues, and called for a national unity government.
The head of the government in which the Shia movement Hezbollah holds powerful sway, formally submitted its resignation on Saturday to the President, who asked that it continue in a caretaker capacity.
"I announce the resignation of the government, hoping that this will open the way for the major political blocs to take responsibility and come together to bring Lebanon out of the unknown," Mikati said.
He called for the "formation of a national salvation government in which all Lebanese political forces are represented in order to save the nation and deal with regional developments with a collective spirit of responsibility".
Mikati became prime minister in 2011, positioning himself as a moderate. He headed a government dominated by the so-called March 8 coalition, made up of Hezbollah and its allies, and drew fire from Sunnis who accused him of betraying his community and siding with the group.
Mikati's government was constantly criticised by the March 14 movement led by former premier Saad Hariri, an opponent of President Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria, and his Christian partners from the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea.
Mikati's decision to step down came after disagreements on two domestic issues - an elections supervisory commission and extending a security chief's mandate.
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The 57-year-old was involved in a contentious bid to extend the term of the Sunni head of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, General Ashraf Rifi, which was opposed by a majority of the government.
"In a few days a major security institution risks falling into the void when its director general retires. I felt that during this sensitive period that he should stay in office... but I found that the council of ministers does not share my opinion on this," he said in announcing his resignation.
Although the government had officially adopted a policy of "disassociation" from the Syrian conflict, analysts say that Syria is likely a contributing factor to its falling. Until 2005, Lebanon was dominated politically and militarily by Damascus.
Rifi, a Sunni and opponent of Syria, was a thorn in Hezbollah's side.
His officers were involved in the investigation that led to the indictment by the International Criminal Court of four Hezbollah members for their alleged role in the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri in 2005.
Two pro-Syrian newspapers, Al-Akhbar and As-Safir , reported on Saturday that Mikati had sent a message to Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, warning that he would resign if his movement did not accept Rifi staying on.
Another bone of contention was Mikati's insistence on holding an election in June but before a move by Christian parties to change an electoral law that they feel is detrimental to their community.