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French Version

Karami returns with a 'rescue' government (Daily Star)

Opposition denounces reappointment of former premier

Ousted Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami agreed to return and head a new government in a move promptly denounced by the country's opposition as a "second murdering of former Premier Rafik Hariri."

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Just 10 days after being forced from office by street demonstrations Karami agreed to form what he called "a government of national unity" following a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and President Emile Lahoud.

His reappointment will be seen as an attempt by Syria to continue its dominance of Lebanese politics in the wake of Tuesday's huge Hizbullah rally, which thanked Damascus for its role in Lebanon.

Karami rejected suggestions his reappointment had been orchestrated by Syria insisting his supporters had the majority in the Parliament.

In his acceptance statement, Karami said he would hold opposition parties responsible for any "destructive consequences if they refuse to meet our call to join the government."

But the opposition gathering Qornet Shehwan rejected Karami's appointment and his call for unity. In a statement it said: "From his previous premiership Karami carries responsibility in the crime of assassinating Hariri by the act of instigation and accusation of treason and by misleading the investigation."

Speaking from Moscow, leading opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, slammed the return of Karami. He said: "Reinstating Karami is an extension of the crisis and an insult to the people's feelings."

He added: "Karami has no power over the state's affairs. Lahoud, supported by the Syrian secret intelligence, is the head of the state and the security apparatus."

Jumblatt also discarded Karami's call for dialogue. He said: "The dialogue must be based on meeting our list of demands which call for sacking the heads of security organization, completing the Syrian troop withdrawal and allowing an international committee to investigate Hariri's murder."

In Washington, State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said: "The immediate challenge for the new government of Lebanon, and what I think the international community will be looking for, is that it responds to the aspirations of the Lebanese people for freedom and for sovereignty, untrammeled by foreign forces."

After three weeks of retreating, pro-Syrian groupings see in Karami's nomination an occasion to restore their political dominance in the wake of Tuesday's massive pro-Syrian rally in Downtown Beirut.

Karami said: "I belong to the Ain al-Tineh group that protested on Tuesday and it was a mass protest that proved our legitimacy through our popularity on the streets."

Karami said: "With my designation today, I repeat that we cannot confront the challenges except with a government of national unity, a rescue government."

He added that he wanted the new government to implement the "entire content" of the Taif Accord. He also suggested he might not proceed if he fails in bringing to bring all fact-ions together.

He said: "If there is no national unity government and if I am the obstacle then I am ready to bow out."

But he warned that parliamentary elections, scheduled for April and May, would have to be postponed if there was no government in place. Karami's also insisted Hariri's murder would be fully investigated.

But speaking from Paris, exiled former Lebanese Army commander General Michel Aoun was dismissive of Karami's claims to carry out a thorough probe into Hariri's death.

He said: "The outgoing government is itself suspected of having neglected its duties regarding the killing. You can't just talk about national salvation and turn the page. There's some business to be settled."

In the parliamentary consultations with President Emile Lahoud on Wednesday, 71 loyalist MPs chose Karami; at the same time, Lahoud refused to receive the memo containing the list of the opposition's demands.

Karami's previous Cabinet, which governed from late October until he resigned in Parliament on February 28, was among the most pro-Syrian governments Lebanon has seen since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. U.S. officials had described Karami's Cabinet as "Made in Syria."

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Beirut 11-03-2005
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star

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