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Lebanon's Hariri set for crunch talks on the country's future

Lebanon's prime minister has made a string of international visits following his government's collapse. Following his return, he now has to prepare for talks in Beirut on forming a new government.

Saad Hariri

Hariri faces crucial talks on forming a new government

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has returned to his crisis-hit country following a whirlwind tour of Western capitals to garner support for his camp as Lebanese political leaders prepare for talks about forming a new government this week.

During Hariri's latest meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan last Friday, the two leaders discussed how to restore political stability in Lebanon.

The trip followed a similar meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday, the day Hariri's government collapsed, and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Thursday. France, Lebanon's former colonial power, has reportedly proposed setting up an international "contact group" to negotiate a way out of the crisis. According to an unnamed European diplomat, the group would include Syria, Saudi Arabia, France, the US, Qatar and Turkey.

The government collapse came after the resignation of 11 ministers belonging to or supporting the Shiite group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah rally

Hezbollah has called for the rejection of the UN tribunal

The move was in reaction to the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which may seek to indict Hezbollah leaders for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri's father.

Hezbollah denies any involvement and has called on Hariri to reject the tribunal.

Divided population

While Hariri is to stay on as caretaker prime minister, President Michel Sleiman has the difficult task of bringing Lebanon's various political factions together to form a government.

Hezbollah said they would nominate a figure "with a history of national resistance" against Israel and its allies to head the new government.

Lebanon's religiously divided population has made forming a government difficult in the past. The position of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in the Lebanese constitution, while the president must be a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite.

An 18-month political crisis that began in 2006 culminated in sectarian violence in May 2008, bringing the country close to civil war.

Threat of regional instability

The threat of a repeat of the last crisis has led regional and international leaders to call for stability and compromise.

"Lebanon's stability is very important for the region's stability," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters on Thursday. "We see all Lebanese as Turkey's friends."

Soldier stands in front of burned car

Sectarian violence has brought Lebanon to the verge of civil war

Davutoglu spoke alongside European Union foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton in Istanbul as the two prepared for nuclear talks with Iran later this month.

Ashton said she called on "all political actors to work constructively to seek a negotiated solution to the current situation."

The United States, a large donor of military aid to Lebanon, said it would keep a close eye on the political situation.

"We do know that political tension, unrest and especially any violence that might follow are threats to regional stability and security," said Pentagon spokesman David Lapan.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called on Lebanon to pull together its national unity government to avoid sectarian conflict, saying: "Only national agreement can save Lebanon from the peril of civil war."

Author: Andrew Bowen, Rob Mudge (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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