March 30, 2006

Lebanon president clashes with anti-Syria ministers

By Alaa Shahine

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's political crisis deepened on
Thursday when anti-Syrian ministers stormed out of a cabinet
session after a heated row with President Emile Lahoud, a close
ally of Damascus.

Verbal exchanges erupted when Lahoud tried to silence the
ministers as they protested in front of reporters against
Lahoud's criticism of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a member of
the anti-Syrian coalition that dominates parliament and

Siniora had clashed with Lahoud at this week's Arab summit
over the phrasing of part of the summit communique supporting
Lebanon's resistance, a reference to the anti-Israeli Hizbollah
guerrilla group that is under United Nations pressure to

During and after the summit, Lahoud said Siniora had spoken
out of turn on the issue, without consulting him or the foreign

A visibly angry Lahoud told reporters after the session
ended abruptly: "This fictitious majority wants the head of the
resistance (Hizbollah) ... it wants all of Lebanon, but they
won't go anywhere with us."

Television footage showed Lahoud yelling at one minister:
"You have no right to speak in front of cameramen. You are
destroying the country. Are you here to shoot a movie?"

The anti-Syrian coalition has been pushing to oust Lahoud,
whom they see as the last symbol of Syrian tutelage in the
country. The president has vowed to serve his full term to

Lebanon's leaders have been holding "national dialogue"
talks to end the country's worst political crisis in 16 years
but they have so far failed to agree on the fate of Lahoud and
the disarming of Hizbollah.

The group, which was vital in ending Israel's occupation of
south Lebanon, has vowed to keep its arms even if Israel
withdraws from the occupied Shebaa Farms, a border area the
U.N. says is Syrian unless Beirut and Damascus amend their

Hizbollah says the territory is Lebanese.

Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fattfat accused Lahoud of
threatening him and reported the incident to the U.N.
commission investigating last year's killing of ex-Prime
Minister Rafik al-Hariri, said Future television, owned by the
Hariri family.

Lahoud told reporters Fattfat had insulted him.

Many in Lebanon believe the extension of Lahoud's term in
2004 under pressure from Syria sparked a head-on collision
between Damascus and Hariri that led to the ex-premier's death.
His killing triggered mass protests in Beirut that forced Syria
to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 29 years.

The ongoing U.N. inquiry has already implicated senior
Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies, including four
generals loyal to Lahoud, in the murder. They all deny any

Anti-Syrian ministers also expressed their solidarity with
Siniora after rare public criticism on Thursday by Parliament
Speaker Nabih Berri, also a close ally of Damascus, for his
statements in Khartoum.

Siniora toned down the ministers' position. "We all must
act in a wise way for the country's sake," he said.