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Lebanon PM-designate gives Hezbollah bloc deadline to join cabinet

Source: Reuters - Fri, 24 Jan 2014 13:43 GMT
Author: Reuters
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BEIRUT, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Lebanon's prime minister-designate threatened to form a new government without Hezbollah soon unless the powerful group's allies agree to his proposed cabinet, a senior political source said on Friday.

Lebanon has been without a government since March 2013. Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned after intense political squabbles, exacerbated by sectarian divisions over the civil war in neighbouring Syria, made it nearly impossible to legislate.

Mikati has been running a caretaker cabinet with minimal powers since then.

Tamim Salam, the prime minister-designate, has seized recent momentum in political negotiations to try to form a government.

"Prime Minister Salam told us he cannot wait for them much longer. Another two or three days and, after that, he said he will form a government without them," said a high-level official present at talks between Salam and the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 political bloc.

The official said the main stumbling block has been the insistence of one of Hezbollah's allies, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, on letting former Energy Minister Gebran Bassil retain his post in the future government.

Keeping Bassil on conflicts with an earlier political deal that requires cabinet roles be rotated among different sects in each new government, so none comes to dominate any ministry.

Lebanon, still struggling to recover from its own 1975-1990 civil war, has faced sporadic violence and political disputes due to the conflict in Syria, whose sectarian divisions mirror Lebanon's own.

Hezbollah, a militant and political Shi'ite Muslim movement, is one of the most powerful groups in Lebanon. It has sent its fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

The Sunni Muslim Future party, which dominates the rival March 14 political bloc, supports the largely Sunni opposition struggling to topple Assad.

The two blocs had been at odds over the distribution of posts in a new government, but recently both sides appeared to soften their positions and talks on forming a new cabinet were revived in December. (Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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