Lebanon PM announces new government
Beirut, June 13, 2011
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced on Monday a long-delayed new government dominated by allies of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is likely to cause alarm among Western powers.
Mikati was appointed to form a government after Hezbollah and its allies toppled Western-backed former premier Saad Al-Hariri's coalition in January over a dispute involving the UN-backed tribunal investigating the assassination of statesman Rafik Al-Hariri, Saad's father.
"Let us go to work immediately according to the principles and basis that we have affirmed our commitment to several times, namely ... defending Lebanon's sovereignty and its independence and liberating land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy," Mikati said at the Baabda Presidential Palace.
Political wrangling had held up the formation of the cabinet, including disagreements over sensitive posts.
Mohammed Safadi, the former economy minister, was named finance minister and will try to improve Lebanon's growth outlook which stands at about 2.5 percent this year, driven down by the political stalemate.
Fayez Ghusn was named defence minister and Marwan Charbel as the interior minister. Nicolas Sehnawi was given the telecommunications portfolio, a post ridden with controversy due to disagreements over privatising the sector.
Hariri, who is supported by the West and Saudi Arabia, has refused to join Mikati's government.
A main aim of the government will be to agree on a unified stand to face indictments by the tribunal expected to implicate members of Hezbollah in the 2005 killing of Hariri. The group denies any link to the attack.
Mikati, who says he is politically neutral, said the Lebanese government would seek to maintain positive ties with all Arab countries.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who has been fighting a popular revolt against his 11-year rule, telephoned Mikati to congratulate him, Lebanese media said. Syria is a strong ally of Hezbollah, the main player in the political coalition which helped bring Mikati to power in January.
"This government is committed to maintaining strong, brotherly ties which bind Lebanon to all Arab countries without exception," Mikati said. - Reuters