Saad Hariri tipped to become Lebanon’s new prime minister

May 23rd, 2008 - 9:47 pm ICT by admin  

Beirut, May 23 (DPA) Saad Hariri, head of the anti-Syrian majority in the Lebanese parliament, was tipped Friday to become the next prime minister after the election of army commander Michel Suleiman as president. Former president Amin Gemayel, who has close ties to the pro-Western majority, nominated Hariri to take over from Fouad Seniora.

“Since he is the head of the largest parliamentary bloc it’s only normal that he (Hariri) becomes the prime minister,” Gemayel told DPA.

Sources from the ruling majority cautiously said that Hariri had asked Seniora to stay on, but a close aide of Seniora said that “the premier is tired and wants to rest.”

The daily An Nahar said the opposition Hezbollah and the Amal movement of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri were inclined towards nominating Hariri in a bid to defuse the sectarian tensions that almost brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Saad Hariri is the son of the late premier Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 in bomb blast in Beirut. His aides declined to comment on the reports.

An Arab-mediated deal reached Wednesday in Qatar to end Lebanon’s 18-month political crisis calls for the election of a president, formation of a unity government and a new electoral law.

Analysts say Hariri’s nomination depends on relations with Syria, which has been accused by the late premier’s son of being behind his father’s death - a charge Damascus denies.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for Sunday’s election of Suleiman. The presidency has been vacant since November 2007 when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud ended his term. Parliament failed 19 times to elect a successor due to differences between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the ruling majority.

After the president is elected, the government will stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new premier is chosen, following consultations between the new president and legislators.

The presidential election will be attended by foreign dignitaries, among them Qatari leaders and the foreign ministers of Spain, France and Italy.

Suleiman, who will become the 12th president since Lebanon gained its independence from France 1943, said he was optimistic about Lebanon’s future.

Suleiman was quoted by the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal as saying that he would work to preserve democracy and Lebanon’s government insitutions.

The Lebanese political crisis erupted in November 2006 when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the Seniora cabinet, which has the support of Washington and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Opposition protests at the move degenerated into street battles in early May, with fighters from Hezbollah and its allies temporarily seizing control of large parts of west Beirut from their Sunni rivals. A total of 82 people died in the clashes.

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