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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Lebanon appoints prime minister
President Emile Lahoud (left) with possible PM candidate Omar Karameh
Pro-Syrian Karameh (right) is the frontrunner to be new PM
Lebanon's president Emile Lahoud has named Omar Karameh as the country's new prime minister after the shock departure of Rafiq Hariri on Wednesday.

Mr Karameh will have to tackle some tough diplomatic and economic issues facing the country.

But about one-fifth of MPs boycotted talks with Mr Lahoud to pick the new PM in protest at a controversial move to extend the president's mandate.

Syria's political domination of Lebanon is at the centre of the controversy.

Lebanon has been in political deadlock since parliament approved a controversial constitutional amendment to extend President Lahoud's period in office for three years as a direct result of Syrian pressure.

The political crisis coincides with a stand-off with the United Nations, which has called for foreign - namely Syrian - forces to withdraw from Lebanon and an end to foreign interference in Lebanese elections.

Syrian supporter

Mr Karameh, a 70-year-old lawyer from the northern city of Tripoli, is known as a loyal supporter of Syria.

Rafiq Hariri in parliament

He was prime minister between 1990-92, before Mr Hariri's first term in office.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt - a recent recruit to the anti-Syria camp - called the consultation process a "masquerade" and said his 14-member bloc would boycott it.

A five-member Christian opposition group in the 128-strong parliament also boycotted the talks, as did pro-Hariri MPs.

Mr Hariri had initially opposed the extension to Mr Lahoud's term, but eventually came into line after Syria put pressure on him, correspondents say.

His resignation had been expected, but the announcement he would not try to form a new government surprised many pundits.

Four cabinet ministers from Mr Jumblatt's bloc quit the government in September over the constitutional change.

Driving force

In a newspaper interview on Thursday, Mr Hariri did not give away his future plans, but indicated he would stay in the political arena.

He has been the driving force behind the reconstruction of Lebanon after the civil war which raged there until 1990.

Damascus and Beirut have so far resisted pressure - chiefly from UN Security Council members France and the United States - for a Syrian military withdrawal and the disarming of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

Lebanon maintains that the approximately 14,000 Syrian troops in the country are an invited force which guarantees stability at the government's request.


SEE ALSO:
Lebanese PM and cabinet resign
20 Oct 04  |  Middle East
Hariri: A hard act to follow
20 Oct 04  |  Middle East
Government in Lebanon 'to quit'
09 Sep 04  |  Middle East
UN urges Syria to leave Lebanon
19 Oct 04  |  Middle East
Lebanon 'split' over Assad tirade
11 Oct 04  |  Middle East
Syria 'refusing to leave Lebanon'
01 Oct 04  |  Middle East


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