Rice makes surprise visit to Beirut

US secretary of state says her visit is aimed at supporting Lebanese democracy.

    Rice is to meet with leaders of Lebanon's
    Western-backed government [AFP]

    She said her visit was also aimed at discussing "how the United States can support the institutions of a free Lebanon including the work that we do to support the armed forces, to support the Lebanese economy and the Lebanese civil society".
    Political paralysis
    Lebanon is in the midst of forming a national unity government, headed by Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, and Michel Sleiman, the president.
    A deal brokered in Qatar last month, after deadly street clashes broke out in Beirut between pro-Hezbollah fighters and government supporters, brought an end to 18 months of political paralysis.
    The deal, reached with the help of Arab mediators, allowed Lebanon's parliament to elect a new president.
    It also gave Hezbollah veto power over the Beirut government in the compromise deal, strengthening the movement politically.
    The US, which considers Hezbollah a "terrorist" organisation, would have preferred the movement not gain greater power, but sees the deal as a necessary step for stability in Lebanon.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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