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Lebanon faces threat of chaos if Cabinet not formed

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam in Beirut, Monday, June 24, 2013. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanon faces the threat of sliding into further chaos and instability if a Cabinet is not formed quickly, a government source warned Monday. “Lebanon needs an extraordinary government because it is going through extraordinary circumstances. Either a new government is formed swiftly, or else the country is headed toward more chaos and trouble,” the source told The Daily Star.

He said all the rival political factions were waiting for the results of caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour’s talks with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia.

Abu Faour left for Riyadh Monday at the request of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt to discuss with Hariri how to break the 10-week Cabinet deadlock as fears grew of strife following two days of bloody clashes between the Lebanese Army and gunmen of radical Salafist preacher Ahmad Assir in the southern city of Sidon that left at least 17 soldiers dead and 65 others wounded.

Jumblatt called Sunday for a swift Cabinet formation to ward off the threat of strife facing the fragile country as a result of the split among the Lebanese over the conflict in Syria.

Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri that serious efforts were underway to form a new Cabinet, stressing that the country cannot be left without a functioning government when the threat of strife moved from one area to another.

He said the role of the executive authority – a Cabinet – was needed to sponsor security institutions which are “the guarantee to ward off strife and disasters in Lebanon.”

“Yes, there is a serious endeavor on the Cabinet formation issue. As long as there is seriousness, I will give priority to the formation issue,” Salam told reporters after the one-hour meeting with Berri at the latter’s residence in Ain al-Tineh during which obstacles facing the Cabinet formation were discussed.

Salam, who was appointed to form a new Cabinet on April 6 following the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government on March 22, warned that the unstable security situation could no longer allow a further delay in the Cabinet formation.

“The country cannot live in a [power] vacuum. The legitimate authority cannot function in a state of chaos or disorder based on a weakness in one of institutions of this state,” he said.

Asked if the birth of a new Cabinet was imminent, Salam said: “As I have said, efforts are being exerted and since they are serious, they should bear fruit. A delay in [the Cabinet formation] in these circumstances is not helpful, especially in light of what the country is witnessing.”

Asked if he had discussed with Berri any specific Cabinet lineup, Salam said: “Discussions are going on with all the parties and all political forces. Governments must take into account all political developments, and therefore are formed in an atmosphere that leads to what I have been calling for a government of national interest.”

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly renewed her country’s call for a government that reflects the aspirations of the Lebanese people. She spoke after meeting Salam with whom she discussed bilateral relations and the political and security situation in Lebanon.

“Ambassador Connelly reiterated the United States position that government formation is a Lebanese process and that the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and that strengthens Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty, and independence while fulfilling its international obligations,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the Cabinet formation had become very urgent following the Sidon clashes. Accompanied by his wife MP Strida Geagea, he met President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace Sunday to discuss the Sidon clashes and the Cabinet crisis.

“The Cabinet formation has become very pressing for security reasons and for the country’s stability in the first place,” Geagea said in a statement. He added that a government different from the previous one should be formed in order to overcome the crisis.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 25, 2013, on page 2.

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