Lebanon PM picks his cabinet

Lebanon's new prime minister has started forming a government that can win the approval of both the opposition in parliament and the so-called allies of Damascus.

    Siniora's policies send good signals to investors

    One day after he was appointed, Fouad Siniora consulted the main parliamentary blocs over the shape of the first government to take office.

    While President Emile Lahoud was obliged to respect the will of the 128-member parliament, which nominated Siniora by an overwhelming majority, he has the power to reject the cabinet line-up or demand that more of his own allies get a role.


    For the first time, the Hizb Allah group, which swept the Shia Muslim vote to win 14 parliament seats, has chosen to join the cabinet and asked Siniora for two ministers.


    Christian leader Michel Aoun, who is a long-time critic of Damascus but teamed up with pro-Syrian politicians in the elections, has asked for four or five ministers.


    Siniora has promised to reach out to all Lebanese political factions and implement a comprehensive reform programme.


    "The priorities that I heard from the deputies centred around basic reforms that we must implement and the importance of security," Siniora said after four hours of meetings.


    Security has been the biggest worry for most Lebanese since the 14 February assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri plunged Lebanon into its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

    Hizb Allah has joined the cabinet
    and asked for two ministers

    His killing was followed by a string of assassinations and bomb attacks in and around Beirut.


    Finance minister under al-Hariri for much of the post-war period, Siniora remained a close aide. 


    He was proposed by the Future Bloc led by al-Hariri's son, Saad, which performed well in elections after campaigning on the slain construction tycoon's legacy and leading opposition to Syria's role in Lebanon.

    The anti-Syrian coalition that has a majority in the house reached out once more to political opponents, including Aoun.


    "We stretch our hands out to all," said al-Hariri. "We want commitment to administrative reforms and fighting corruption and building a modern state."


    Highlighting the challenges facing the next government, Israeli occupation troops strafed south Lebanese border villages on Thursday and pounded the area with its warplanes in the second day of the worst border violation Lebanon has seen in six months.


    Israeli warplanes on Thursday
    pounded villages inside Lebanon

    Lebanon's Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud asked the United Nations to extend the mandate of an observer force on Lebanon's southern border with Israel, while the military incursions continued.


    Siniora has said the issues regarding Hizb Allah are an internal Lebanese matter.


    Siniora, a former banker, said the legislators he met also called for a change to the electoral law.

    The appointment of Siniora, credited with controlling spending and introducing taxes, has sent a good signal to investors.


    Tackling Lebanon's $36 billion debt - one of the world's heaviest at some 185% of its GDP - is another priority.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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