01/28/2008, 00.00
LEBANON
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National mourning in Beirut as Arab League rejects Syria’s demands

Arab summit refuses Syrian demands for a de facto opposition veto over decisions by the future national unity government. At the end of the meeting the foreign ministers of the 22 member countries renew their call for the election of Suleiman to the Lebanese presidency.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Today is a day of national mourning in Lebanon following the death yesterday of seven people in clashes in South Beirut, a Hizbollah stronghold, between demonstrators protesting against power cuts and the army after the latter responded to fire coming apparently from a group of protesters. A member of the Shia-dominated Amal movement led by Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, Ahmad Hamza, was killed along with four Hizbollah activists, a rescue worker and a civilian. Officials said that about 40 people were wounded.

The government accused the two Shia-dominated movements of having caused the incident. For their part Amal and Hizbollah leaders appealed for calm, telling their members on the streets to go home. In the south protesters closed the highway linking Sidon and Tyre. Others did the same on the road to Baalbek.

Meanwhile the Arab League is putting pressure so that the presidential election can be held on 11 February—on its 13th attempt—and army chief General Michel Suleiman finally take office.

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo at the Arab League voiced their support for the organisation’s initiative which calls for Suleiman’s election, the creation of a new national unity government and a new election law.

However, the composition of the new cabinet remains the main stumbling block because of opposition from Hizbollah and its allies. The latter are demanding ten ministers in the next cabinet or one-third of the seats which would effectively give the Hizbollah-led opposition veto power.

The ruling majority coalition is against conceding one-third of the seats and has instead approved the plan the Arab League put forth.

At the end of the Arab League meeting, Secretary Moussa said that “the Arab countries agreed on the formation of a government of national union in which no party can have an absolute majority of seats. Moreover, the opposition ought not to have a third to block.”

Press sources note that the meeting itself was stormy with Syria insisting that Hizbollah and its allies be given ten cabinet posts and the rest, especially the Egyptians and Saudis, opposing the move.

It also appears that both the Egyptians and the Saudis threatened not to attend the next League meeting slated for Damascus in March, which would make it irrelevant. (PD)

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