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Key Lebanese leaders meet for first time in first step to end political crisis

Key Lebanese leaders meet for first time in first step to end political crisis

An overnight meeting between the leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority and the opposition parliament speaker _ the first such face-to-face in four months _ was welcomed on Friday as the first tangible step toward ending a political crisis that has divided the government and paralyzed the country.
It even prompted some politicians to say they expected a solution by the end of the month, possibly even before the Arab League summit scheduled for March 28-29 in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
In Beirut, no statements were issued after the three-hour meeting late Thursday between Saad Hariri, leader of the largest bloc in Parliament, and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. But earlier, Hariri, who had returned from Saudi Arabia and met with religious and political allies, announced that he was seeking a solution for a crisis "that has gone for long."
"We should get out of it in a way that there is no victor and no vanquished," he said, adding that neither the majority nor the opposition can run the country on its own.
The two leaders' conference came after months of disputes in which politicians from both sides exchanged insults in public and supporters clashing on the streets, threatening to slide the country into civil war.
"This meeting, in my opinion, is part of efforts that could be continued in the coming hours and days until we reach breakthroughs that people are waiting for," Ammar Houri, a member of Hariri's bloc, told Voice of Lebanon radio on Friday.
Trad Hamadeh, a Hezbollah labor minister who resigned in December, told the station that "there must be a Lebanese solution" before the Arab summit. "I expect that, because regional accord will have positive effects on Lebanon," he said.
The leading independent newspaper An-Nahar said the meeting in effect "relaunches dialogue between the majority and the opposition."
Meanwhile, the As-Safir newspaper which tilts to the opposition called the meeting "the beginning of an end to the crisis," while the pro-opposition Al-Akhbar daily said it "opened a major hole in the wall of the crisis."
Thursday night's talks capped weeks of Saudi Arabia's mediation among Lebanese politicians and a summit between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on March 3. Saudi Arabia strongly backs the government while Iran supports the opposition in Lebanon.
A reconciliation between the two sides in Lebanon could also ease sectarian tensions that have spun out of the crisis _ Hariri is Sunni Muslim and his community backs Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's pro-Western government. Berri, a Shiite Muslim, is a close ally of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group leading the opposition and a group considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
Lebanese leaders have been feuding since November, the last time Berri and Hariri met.
The Hezbollah-led opposition has been campaigning with protests and sit-ins since Dec. 1 in downtown Beirut _ just outside the prime minister's office _ to try to force him to resign or share power in a national unity Cabinet that would give the opposition veto power. The establishment of scores of tents in the downtown commercial district and frequent protests in the last few months have effectively paralyzed the heart of the Lebanese capital.
The parliamentary majority has rejected that and Saniora continued to govern, although all five Shiite ministers and a Christian ally bolted out of the Cabinet in November and President Emile Lahoud sided with the opposition, declaring the government was no longer constitutional.
The confrontation turned violent in January and took on a sectarian tone, with eight people killed in clashes between the two sides. One demonstrator also was killed in December.
In addition to the opposition's demands for a share in the Cabinet of one-third plus one _ to be able to veto key decisions _ Hariri and his supporters have been demanding the opposition endorse an agreement with the United Nations to create an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
The government has accused the opposition, most of whose factions have close ties to Syria, of seeking to undermine the approval of the tribunal.
Thursday's meeting could also pave the way for an agreement whereby Parliament could convene to approve the international tribunal's agreement.
Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri's father, was assassinated in a massive suicide truck bombing in Beirut in February 2005. His supporters blamed Syria, whose army controlled Lebanon then, but Syria denied that. Street protests and international pressure forced Damascus to withdraw its army from its neighbor that year, paving the way for parliamentary elections that produced a legislature and a government with an anti-Syrian majority.
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Updated : 2021-10-21 06:21 GMT+08:00