Lebanon forms national unity Cabinet

July 11, 2008 7:42:01 AM PDT
Lebanon's prime minister formed a national unity Cabinet on Friday after six weeks of wrangling over how to distribute posts among members of the country's Western-backed parliamentary majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition.Plans for the 30-member Cabinet were laid out in an Arab League-brokered deal in May, which also gave Hezbollah and its allies veto power over all government decisions.

It gave 16 Cabinet seats to the parliament majority, 11 to the opposition and three to be distributed by the president.

The Cabinet formation is another step toward healing a political divide that left Lebanon without a president for six months until the May 25 election of former army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman.

"We have decided to manage our disputes through democratic institutions and dialogue, and not through force and intimidation," Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told reporters at the presidential palace in suburban Beirut, minutes after names of the new Cabinet ministers were announced.

In May, Hezbollah militants and allied gunmen fanned out across Lebanon's capital, clashing with government supporters in violence that killed at least 81 people and brought the country to the brink of another civil war.

"The main purpose is to serve all Lebanese citizens in these extremely difficult circumstances," Saniora said. But Lebanon's problems "will not cease to exist overnight," he said.

The new Cabinet would immediately start preparing for transparent parliamentary elections in 2009, Saniora added.