Arab envoy gets rival Lebanese leaders to meet

A007699514.jpgBEIRUT  – Arab League chief Amr Moussa brought feuding Lebanese parties together on Friday to try to agree on a new government and end a protracted political crisis.

But a breakthrough seemed remote amid growing distrust between the ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition, fuelled by the killing of seven protesters allied to the opposition at a demonstration against power cuts last month.

Moussa brokered Friday’s meeting between pro-Western governing coalition leader Saad al-Hariri and Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, in the first talks between the rival factions since mid-January.

The crisis, the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war, has deepened divisions between followers of rival sectarian leaders, leading to street violence and a paralyzed government, while leaving Lebanon without a president.

Moussa’s earlier attempts to produce a breakthrough have failed.

While the rival factions have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as president, he has not been confirmed as head of state because of a dispute over the shape of the new government. A vote on the new president scheduled for Monday is unlikely to take place because of the continued wrangling.

The opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, wants an equal, three-way division of seats in the new cabinet — between themselves, the ruling coalition and ministers chosen by the president — or veto power for the opposition.

But both demands are rejected by the ruling coalition, which is backed by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.

Aoun told the pro-Syrian al-Akhbar newspaper:

“The numbers game is a bluffing game whose aim is to erase the opposition’s rights … We will not accept any ambiguous formula.

“I am worried that Moussa’s mission is to end the initiative and he wants a way out that would allow him to say that one party has blocked the initiative, and he wants to pin the blame on the opposition,” Aoun said.

Hariri on Thursday said Lebanon was in direct confrontation with Syria and Iran, whose “local tools” were seeking to “impose a terror, security and political siege”.

At an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo in late January, Moussa said the anti-Syrian majority had shown more flexibility in accepting his initial proposal on the cabinet’s make-up, which gave the coalition members three more seats than the opposition.

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