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Lebanon's Hezbollah attacks Hariri government move

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri handed the president his proposed line-up for a national unity government on Monday, in a move swiftly rejected by opposition groups including the powerful Hezbollah.

Hariri was designated prime minister in late June but has yet to reach agreement with the opposition on the new unity government, set to include the Syria- and Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies.

He presented President Michel Suleiman with a draft 30-seat cabinet, including 10 portfolios for the Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies. The opposition alliance rejected the unilateral step because the draft had not been agreed with them.

“I do not think that the method employed today takes Lebanon out of the government formation crisis. On the contrary, it further complicates the problem,” said Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose group was allocated two seats in Hariri’s proposed cabinet.

Nasrallah described Hariri’s move as inappropriate and said the prime minister-designate and his allies had not made any concessions in talks aimed at agreeing the new unity government.

It was Hezbollah’s first public attack on Hariri since a June parliamentary election won by the Saudi- and U.S.-backed Sunni politician and his allies.

President Michel Suleiman, who took office last year as a consensus candidate, is not expected to approve any cabinet proposal that does not have unanimous support among factions whose rivalries spilled into armed conflict last year.

“The president informed me that he would study the formation,” Hariri said after meeting Suleiman, who has said he wants the government in place before he travels to the U.N. General Assembly later this month.

The rival factions have agreed on the broad division of seats in the new cabinet. But Hariri, son of assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, has struggled to reach agreement with opposition politicians on the details.

At the heart of the dispute are the demands of Christian leader Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement holds more seats in parliament than any other Christian party.


Hariri has resisted Aoun’s demand for Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law, to keep his post as telecoms minister. Aoun also wants to name the new interior minister.

Hariri’s proposed line-up keeps Ziad Baroud in his current post as interior minister and hands the telecoms ministry to Ghazi Aridi, an associate of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, political sources said.

Hariri is keen to gain the telecoms portfolio for his coalition and oversee a long-stalled plan to privatize the telecoms sector. The sale of two state-owned mobile firms is expected to garner as much as $7 billion.

Aoun said Hariri’s move showed he did not want to form a government. “On the contrary, he wants to play with the cabinet formation according to his mood,” Aoun told Sawt al-Mada radio station, according to a report published on his Tayyar website.

Fouad Siniora, the outgoing prime minister and a member of Hariri’s Future Movement, will lead a caretaker cabinet until Suleiman issues a decree appointing the new government.

Hariri said his proposal respected the broad seat-sharing arrangement agreed with the opposition. It gives Hariri’s “March 14” alliance 15 of 30 seats in the new cabinet and the opposition “March 8” alliance 10 seats.

President Suleiman is allowed to name the remaining five ministers, giving him a decisive say over cabinet decisions.

Hariri proposed Raya Hassan for finance minister, responsible for managing Lebanon’s massive public debt burden, and Nada Mfarrij for the post of energy minister, the political sources said. They are two of four women in the proposed line-up. Both are close to Hariri. A political source had earlier named Mfarrij as the proposed economy minister.

Hassan has an MBA from The George Washington University in the United States. She is currently manager of a United Nations Development Program project aimed at supporting decision-making at the office of the prime minister.

The sources said that Elias al-Murr would keep his job as defense minister while the foreign ministry would go to Yassin Jaber, who is close to parliament speaker and leading opposition figure Nabih Berri.

Reporting by Beirut bureau