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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Q&A: Lebanon political turmoil
Martyrs Square in Beirut
Lebanon is sharply divided since the Hariri assassination
Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami has thrown Lebanon deeper into political turmoil by bowing out of efforts to form a new government. The BBC News website looks at the issues involved.

What needs to happen now to bring stability to Lebanon?

Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud must hold fresh consultations with parliamentary blocs and independent MPs to come up with a name who will attempt to form a cabinet.

A coalition government needs to be in place before 30 April, in order to call a general election and supervise the vote before the current parliament's four-year term ends on 31 May.

However that race is probably already lost, as the new cabinet must also draft a new electoral law and it could take weeks to pass through parliament.

If - as seems likely - parliament decides to postpone the election, it is likely to sharpen the political division with the anti-Syrian opposition and engender harsh criticism from its supporters in Washington and Paris.

Why is it so difficult to form a government?

Lebanon is a highly complex society where the delicate balance of factional and sectarian interests has helped ensure stability since the Civil War ended in 1990.

Reports say the pro-Syrians who dominate parliament and the outgoing government disagree on the allocation of cabinet jobs.

Disagreement over the electoral law - over whether to have smaller or larger constituencies that could favour certain minorities - have also hampered progress.

Critics say the pro-Syrian camp has engineered the collapse of talks because it wants to delay elections for fear of the wave of anger over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hariri's death has divided the country into pro- and anti-Syrian camps, with the latter refusing to participate in a national unity government to protest against what they saw as loyalist complicity (which they deny).

What does it mean for Syria's involvement in Lebanon?

Syria is down to its last few thousand troops and intelligence agents in east Lebanon, the remnants of a much larger force which Damascus found necessary to hastily withdraw in the post-Hariri atmosphere and under heavy international pressure.

If it intends to continue influencing Lebanese affairs, Syria will do so through political and other channels in the guise of politicians such as Mr Lahoud and the security establishment which is dominated by the loyalists.

However, one of the main supporters - Mr Karami, himself - is now out of the picture. He is quitting the so-called Ain el-Tineh gathering of pro-Syrian parties, although he is not joining the opposition, he says.

Additionally - although this will not cut much ice in Washington - Syria may award itself some breathing space before its final, complete withdrawal from Lebanon. This is because it has only pledged to withdraw before elections, which may now be delays.

What are the implications for the Hariri investigation?

The UN has decided that the official Lebanese investigation into Hariri's death was flawed and it is setting up its own probe.

It also declared that Syria was responsible for political tensions ahead of the 14 February bombing that killed him and 13 others as he drove through downtown Beirut.

The leadership in Beirut has denied any shortcomings in its conduct, though it has agreed to work with the commission.

The election delay may therefore not be a problem. Diplomats are quoted as saying it could take several weeks to get police and legal experts and their translators and security in place.




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