Page last updated at 02:05 GMT, Saturday, 29 March 2008

Lebanese leader condemns Syrians

Fouad Siniora gives a televised address in Beirut, 28 March 2008
Siniora made his speech in front of almost a dozen Lebanese flags

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora says his country is not attending an Arab summit in Syria because it was behind Lebanon's long political crisis.

In a televised message addressed to Arab leaders, Mr Siniora said Lebanon had been in a "presidential void" for months due to Syria's interference.

On Friday, two more Arab states - Jordan and Yemen - said their leaders would not attend the annual event.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also sending low-level delegations to Damascus.

They accuse Syria of interfering in Lebanese politics.


"Before and during that period Syria played a leading role to exacerbate the crisis... interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs and blocking the election of the consensus candidate to the presidency," Mr Siniora said in his address.

Mr Siniora called on Arab leaders to help mend relations between Syria and Lebanon, stressing his country's "desire to establish healthy, brotherly relations" with its neighbour.

Lebanon has been without a president since November because of disputes between the pro-Western government, supported by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the opposition, which is supported by Syria and Iran.

Correspondents say Syria's detractors have used the issue of Lebanon to voice their unhappiness with Damascus as it hosts the Arab League summit.

Each side blames the other for blocking a final deal on a compromise candidate for the Lebanese presidency.

Pro-Syrian groups insist that the US and its Arab allies are the ones blocking progress.

The Syrian government says that by refusing to turn up, Lebanon has lost a golden opportunity to discuss the crisis, and perhaps find a solution.

Syria was a dominant player in Lebanon for decades before it was made to withdraw its troops in 2005 in the aftermath of the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - an act which Damascus says it had nothing to do with.

The BBC's Katya Adler in Damascus says that across the Arab world people are sick of the infighting as leaders remain divided over who is to blame for the region's multiple crises.

But it seems unlikely Arab countries will resolve those differences this weekend, she says.

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