Lebanese president reappoints prime minister

Lebanon's new president on Wednesday asked outgoing Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to form a new Cabinet despite reservations by the Hezbollah-led opposition, the AP reported.

President Michel Suleiman's appointment of Saniora had been practically ensured following a decision late Tuesday by the parliamentary majority to back him.

In his first comments following his appointment, Saniora called on Lebanese to "heal the wounds" of the past and pledged to try and form a government for all of Lebanon.

"I extend my hand to everyone, so that we can achieve for our country the prosperity we deserve," he said.

The Western-leaning parliamentary majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition agreed to form a national unity government under a deal that resolved a prolonged political crisis which pushed Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war.

The Arab League-brokered agreement gave the opposition veto power over all government decisions. However, the parliamentary majority was able to push through its candidate for prime minister over the opposition's objections.

The opposition - composed of the militant Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's bloc and the group of Christian leader Michel Aoun - quickly signaled its displeasure with the majority's decision.

The opposition considers Saniora a provocative figure who has rejected power-sharing in the past and they have often accused him of serving U.S. interests in Lebanon.

Aoun said after talks with the president that Saniora was not acceptable as premier, claiming he would stand in the way of reconciliation.

Mohammed Raad, leader of Hezbollah's 14-member bloc in parliament, said Saniora failed to meet the "necessary requirements" to head a national unity government. He indicated Hezbollah wanted another candidate who would reassure the group it could hold on to its weapons.

But the opposition controls 58 seats in the 128-member legislature and cannot outvote the majority's candidate, which practically ensured that Saniora would get the post.

Suleiman reappointed Saniora after 68 of the living 127 members of parliament he polled Wednesday said they supported him for the post.

Under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, the post of prime minister goes to a Sunni Muslim. The majority is headed by Sunnis while the opposition is led by Shiites.

Only one other candidate had been tipped for the job - majority leader Saad Hariri, the son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

While Hezbollah's and Berri's blocs didn't propose any candidates, Aoun nominated three other former ministers as compromise candidates to head the government, including a Sunni woman.

Hariri sought to allay opposition fears of Saniora's nomination, saying it wasn't meant to challenge anyone but was "an opportunity for the Lebanese to meet together, heal the wounds and start again."

Suleiman, formerly the army chief, was elected by parliament as a consensus president and sworn in on Sunday. His election was the first tangible step after the Arab-brokered deal to end Lebanon's 18-month political crisis.

The crisis earlier this month boiled over into street fighting, Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war. The clashes between Hezbollah's Shiite supporters and pro-government Sunni loyalists in Beirut and other areas left 81 people dead and more than 200 wounded.

After Hezbollah seized control of large parts of west Beirut in the fighting, it emerged politically strengthened and won the powers it wanted in government.

As president, Suleiman now faces the monumental task of uniting a wounded nation and reconciling its rival political factions.

The deal reached in Doha, Qatar on May 21 calls for a 30-member national unity Cabinet in which Hezbollah and its opposition allies have veto power over government decisions.

The agreement also allots the parliamentary majority 16 Cabinet seats and the opposition 11 seats, while three seats are to be distributed by the president.

Saniora has served as prime minister since July 2005, shortly after Hariri's assassination in a massive truck bombing in central Beirut. He had said he wanted to rest after three years in office. But on Tuesday, he changed his mind and said he would think before deciding, should the majority want him for the post.

Despite the new political arrangements, Lebanon remains uneasy. A Lebanese soldier was killed Tuesday during a gunfight between Hezbollah supporters and pro-government loyalists. And on Monday, nine people were wounded, two seriously, in a similar gunfight in Beirut between the two camps.

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