June 30, 2005

Lebanon’s Lahoud expected to name anti-Syrian PM

By Lucy Fielder

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's president, a long-time Syrianally, was expected to appoint an anti-Syrian former financeminister on Thursday to head Lebanon's first government sinceDamascus withdrew its troops in April.

Fouad Siniora, who was a senior aide to assassinated formerprime minister Rafik al-Hariri, was backed by parliament'sbiggest group, the Future Bloc headed by Hariri's son Saad. Hisrelationship with Lahoud is said to be frosty, as was Hariri's.

Elections that ended on June 19 returned an anti-Syrianmajority to parliament for the first time since Lebanon's1975-1990 civil war. Syria pulled out in April under Lebaneseand international pressure after Rafik al-Hariri's death.

Lahoud met bloc representatives and independent lawmakersand each will name a candidate for prime minister, a postreserved for a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon's sectarian politicalsystem. He is obliged to accept the choice of the majority.

Agreeing on a government will be a tougher task, becausepro-Syrian Lahoud can oppose the prime minister's chosenline-up, expected to be staffed with many anti-Syrians and fewof Lahoud's allies.

Parliament re-elected pro-Syrian Nabih Berri as speaker onTuesday in a compromise highlighting how hard it will be foranti-Syrian lawmakers to erase Damascus's influence.

The Future Bloc said on Wednesday it had nominated Siniorato "put a stop to the security regime and establish ademocratic system which will establish stability and confidencein the country ... and face the challenges of the public debt."

Tackling tiny Lebanon's debt burden -- one of the world'sheaviest at about $36 billion, or about 185 percent of its GDP-- must be a priority for the next government.

Siniora was finance minister for most of Lebanon'spost-civil war period under the late Hariri, and remains anadviser to the Hariri family. He is credited with tightlycontrolling spending and introducing post-war taxes.

Hariri's killing on Feb. 14 threw Lebanon into the worstpolitical crisis since the civil war.