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Karami looks set for comeback after ouster from office Lebanese mps back former premier (Daily Star)

Lebanon's former Premier Omar Karami looked set for a remarkable political comeback after a majority of the country's MPs backed him to become prime minister just 10 days after he was ousted by massive public demonstrations.

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And in what some observers see as a sign of increasing confidence within the pro-Syrian government following Tuesday's huge demonstration organized by Hizbullah, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud also refused to accept a list of demands from the country's political opposition.

Renominating Karami as prime minister is sure to enrage the opposition, who led weeks of protests against Syria which forced Karami out of office.

But in what could prove to be a significant development, Lahoud was forced to postpone announcing Karamai's appointment after the still caretaker prime minister insisted that he wanted to hold talks with opposition MPs.

Sources close to Karami told The Daily Star that talks with the opposition were "ongoing" in a bid to create a "genuine government of national unity."

The sources added if Karami was unable to gain enough support from opposition MPs he would not accept the post.

Karami, who resigned on Feb. 28 under massive anti-Syrian public pressure in the wake of former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination, secured the support of 71 MPs, more than half the votes in the 128-member legislature.

MPs who supported Karami included members from both Hizbullah and the Amal Movement's parliamentary bloc.

The opposition threatened to once more oust Karami if he forms a pro-Syrian Cabinet similar to the one he selected four months ago.

Commenting earlier this week, Chouf MP Marwan Hamade said: "If Karami's government is not neutral, we will topple it again."

Opposition MPs sent two representatives to meet with Lahoud, Jbeil MP Fares Soueid and Beirut MP Ghinwa Jalloul, and they refused to put forward a prime ministerial candidate.

Instead, they insisted on reiterating their demands for the new government, which include the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence officials from Lebanon, the resignation of Lebanese security officials they deem as negligent and a thorough investigation into Hariri's murder.

But Lahoud refused to accept the demands, insisting the consultations are limited to nominating a premier. Lahoud told the opposition representatives to submit their demands to the new government once it was formed.

He added the investigation into Hariri's assassination was already a government priority.

Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions between the government and opposition, as well as the international pressure on Damascus that Syria conduct a full withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon, it remained unclear which names would be put forward to form the next Cabinet.

Several politicians have already expressed their reservations about joining the next government, including outgoing Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh and outgoing Deputy Premier Issam Fares, both of whom have been part of every government since the mid-1990s. The sources close to Karami said late Wednesday that the resigned premier would not announce his decision until he is officially named by Lahoud.

The sources added that talks are ongoing with the opposition in hopes of forming a "national consensus Cabinet."

Following Hariri's resignation in November 2004, the opposition had accused then newly appointed Premier Karami of forming a pro-Syrian Cabinet.

Opposition members have also described the mandatory consultations of MPs with Lahoud as another intervention of Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services.

Qornet Shehwan member Simon Karam said: "This is the direct intervention of Lebanese-Syrian intelligence. Karami will return because they asked MPs to name him."

Leading opposition figure and Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt, currently part of a delegation on a European tour to discuss the Syrian presence in Lebanon, said: "Karami will not be able to do any better than what he failed to do after former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination."

He had previously warned Wednesday that the reassignment of Karami "will extend the crisis in Lebanon indefinitely, much to our chagrin."

However, Speaker Nabih Berri said that Karami is capable of handling the country's sensitive situation.

The majority of MPs who attended the mandatory consultations in Baabda said the country needs a united and competent government: one ready to monitor the parliamentary elections but also able to deal with the country's political and economic crisis.

Berri reiterated Tuesday's calls of both Lahoud and Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for national unity.

He said: "We named Karami to form the new Cabinet, which we want to be one of national unity and of national salvation, compromising both loyalists and opposition members."

Commenting on whether the opposition's refusal to participate in the new Cabinet, Berri said: "It is up to them."

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Beirut 10-03-2005
Nada Raad
The Daily Star



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