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French Version

Lebanese PM hopes to get polls back on track (Daily Star)

Six weeks of deadlock near an end

Lebanon's Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati said he hoped to form a neutral, compact government as soon as possible that would meet the approval of all parties and would be able to oversee Lebanon's parliamentary elections on schedule.

Mikati, who has support from both opposition members and loyalists, is expected to break six weeks of political impasse by forming a Cabinet capable of gaining a vote of confidence from Parliament.

Ever since former Premier Omar Karami resigned on February 28, Lebanon has been operating under an outgoing government.

The opposition, have showed leniency toward Mikati's appointment in an effort to end the deadlock and open the way for elections.

Opposition MP Ghinwa Jalloul said Saturday the opposition was optimistic about Mikati's moves.

She added: "The opposition will continue to help facilitate Mikati's goal of ensuring the elections as soon as possible."

However, another opposition MP, Butros Harb, said Sunday that despite reports of the opposition's embrace of Mikati, he himself had not been informed of this development.

Harb said Mikati has always been "friends with the Syrians," whom the opposition accuses of having a hand in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Mikati, 49, who still maintains business ties with Syria, and enjoys a personal relationship with Syrian President Bashar Assad, has gained the acceptance of the anti-Syrian opposition, making the holding of crucial elections on time in May a realistic possibility.

Harb said: "The importance of having elections on time, forces us to accept and work with any appointed premier."

However, Mikati's current job is not an easy one as he must form a Cabinet which can gain a vote of confidence from Parliament and then establish the new electoral draft law, all in less than two weeks in order to be able to hold the parliamentary elections on time.

Former army commander General Michel Aoun said Saturday that he has no problem joining Mikati's government.

Aoun, who is currently exiled to France, met with key opposition leader, Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt in Paris on Friday.

After his appointment, Mikati began consultations to appoint his ministers, seeking the experience of former prime ministers to help him decide.

He also met with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, on Sunday and received a call from French Ambassador to Lebanon Bernard Emie, but has so far not commented on either meeting.

Mikati had met separately with four surviving ex-premiers on Saturday including Salim Hoss in Beirut and Omar Karami in Tripoli.

His meeting with Karami was depicted by many as an ice breaker between the two men.
Both Mikati and Karami are known to be political rivals in their northern hometown of Tripoli.

However, according to Mikati, the 15 minutes meeting was "merely a customary visit that the new designate premier pays to former premiers."

He added that he also wanted this visit to be a "message of peace and conciliation in Tripoli and throughout Lebanon."

Karami on the other hand preferred not to comment.

Also on Saturday, President Emile Lahoud expressed his relief over the democratic parliamentary consultations which resulted in the appointment of Mikati as the new Lebanese prime minister.

Lahoud's statement was made during a meeting with a European delegation, which included Dutch Ambassador to Lebanon Girard Van Epen, British Ambassador James Watt, and the EU's Ambassador to Lebanon Patrick Renauld, to discuss the recent developments here.

Beirut 18-04-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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