New govt delayed as Lebanon talks drag on

AFP , Thursday 17 Feb 2011

Government formation in Lebanon reaches deadlock as political forces haggle over the distribution of ministries

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati

The formation of a new government in Lebanon has been delayed as politicians haggle over the distribution of ministries, an official said on Thursday.

"The government will not see the light of day this week," the official working with prime minister-designate Najib Mikati told AFP.

"There are no real obstructions but some parties have high demands and talks are still going on to find a formula that will satisfy everyone," he added, without elaborating.

The official said Mikati, appointed as premier on January 25 with the backing of the powerful Hezbollah movement, was still hoping to include an alliance led by outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri in his team.

Hariri's 30-seat unity government collapsed on January 12 in a feud over a UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, reportedly set to implicate Iran-backed Hezbollah in the 2005 murder of his father, former premier Rafiq Hariri.

Christian leader Michel Aoun, a key ally of Hezbollah, on Wednesday said Mikati had agreed not to "return to the problems that led to the collapse of the previous government," referring to the Netherlands-based court.

According to Lebanese media, Aoun is seeking the lion's share in the new government and has locked horns with President Michel Sleiman over key portfolios including the interior ministry.

On the anniversary of his father's death on Monday, Hariri said his Western-backed alliance would form the country's new opposition.

Mikati's appointment with the support of a Hezbollah-led parliamentary bloc has prompted allies and supporters of the Saudi-backed Hariri to accuse the Shiite militant group of a coup.

The Shiite group had been pressuring Hariri for months to disavow the tribunal before it forced the collapse of his government and charges the tribunal on his father's murder is a US-Israeli conspiracy.

Mikati has refused publicly to make any promises on the tribunal.

The Lebanese constitution does not set any deadline for a prime minister -- appointed by the president based on consultations with MPs -- to form his cabinet and new governments have in the past taken months to be finalised.

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