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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 15:09 GMT
Lebanon PM 'pessimistic' on unity
Omar Karami
Omar Karami said a caretaker government might last a long time
Lebanon's newly reappointed pro-Syrian premier has warned that forming a new government will be hard - but has promised to talk to the opposition.

Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami, who resigned amid anti-Syrian protests, said leading a caretaker government was like holding "a ball of fire".

The opposition has demanded a neutral government and full Syrian withdrawal.

Meanwhile Lebanon's defence minister said half the 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon have now been redeployed.

Elections postponed?

Shortly after his reappointment, 10 days after he stepped down, Mr Karami called on all parties to join a government of national unity.

A majority of MPs had backed him to form a new cabinet, but the opposition complained their demands were ignored.

Military intervention begins in 1976
30,000 troops in Lebanon during 1980s, currently 14,000
Syrian forces help end Lebanese civil war in 1990 and maintain peace
Calls for Syrian withdrawal increase in 2000 after Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon
UN resolution calling for foreign forces' withdrawal in Sept 2004

"I will keep trying to start a dialogue with the opposition, without preconditions," Mr Karami told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

"I am now heading a caretaker government... and I might stay that way for a long time."

He warned May's parliamentary elections might have to be postponed if the situation in Lebanon continued to deteriorate.

He added he would welcome an international monitoring delegation headed by former US President Jimmy Carter.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Mrad said between 6,000 and 7,000 Syrian soldiers had pulled back from around Beirut and northern Lebanon.

He said some troops had relocated to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, while others had returned to Syrian territory.

Close eye

The date for the withdrawal of forces remaining in the Bekaa area would be decided later, Mr Mrad said.

Syrian soldiers on a truck heading towards the Bekaa Valley
Syrian troops are being redeployed to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

The announcement comes ahead of a visit to the Syrian capital, Damascus, by Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN special envoy to the Middle East.

He is expected to press for a timetable for a complete Syrian withdrawal in line with a UN Security Council resolution.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after talks with Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, said Russia was keeping a close eye on Syrian troop movements and that Syria's intelligence services should also pull out.

Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon since 1976. They were instrumental in stabilising the country following the 15-year civil war.

Pressure on Syria to withdraw intensified after the 14 February car bomb death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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