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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
New Lebanese cabinet unveiled
President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
Hariri (r) and President Lahoud met for talks on Thursday
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has named a new 30-member cabinet - a day after parliament voted to retain him in the post.

Mr Hariri had resigned on Tuesday, heralding a long anticipated government reshuffle.

The new cabinet has 11 new faces, with major change at the top being the nomination of Jean Obeid as foreign minister.

However, contrary to expectations, Mr Hariri did not give a post to key Christian politicians opposed to Syria's grip on Lebanon, where thousands of its troops are stationed.

Observers see the changes as strengthening the influence of Damascus, and some consider it the most pro-Syrian cabinet since 1989.

The change of cabinet - which has been plagued by political bickering over key economic reforms and domestic politics - had been reportedly put off due to the crisis in Iraq.

Damascus under pressure

Analysts believed the move was influenced by neighbouring Syria, and its desire to strengthen its position in the region in the face of growing tension with the US.

In the wake of the war, US officials have accused Syria of providing a haven for senior Iraqis wanted by the US and of developing chemical weapons.

"The Syrians do not want to manage problems in Lebanon when they have a problem on their eastern frontier," Lebanese political commentator Michael Young was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"While the Syrians are watching Iraq, this is a government that is going to protect them from the back."

Continuity

No substantial policy shifts in political or economic affairs are anticipated as a result of the changes, which have to be endorsed by parliament before they take effect.

This is the fifth government to be headed by Rafik Hariri, a dynamic 58-year-old billionaire businessman who has been prime minister for nine of the last 11 years.

Mr Hariri, who made his fortune in Saudi Arabia, is credited with launching a multi-billion dollar programme to rebuild Lebanon's shattered infrastructure following the long civil war.


SEE ALSO:
Lebanese PM resigns
15 Apr 03  |  Middle East
Lebanese banks bail out government
11 Dec 02  |  Business
Doubts on Lebanon $4bn loan deal
25 Nov 02  |  Business
Lebanon asks to borrow $5bn
16 Oct 02  |  Business
Lawyers strike over TV closure
06 Sep 02  |  Middle East
Lebanon outlines stringent budget
26 Aug 02  |  Business


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