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Page last updated at 04:47 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 05:47 UK

Lebanese factions at Qatar talks

Fouad Siniora (r) and Amr Moussa (c) at the talks in Qatar (17 May 2008)
The leaders are expected to stay in Qatar for as long as it takes

Lebanon's rival political leaders are continuing talks in Qatar aimed at ending the sectarian feud which left at least 65 people dead in recent days.

The talks became heated when members of the pro-Western government raised the issue of arms held by the opposition Hezbollah movement, reports say.

The two sides are also set to discuss power-sharing in a proposed national unity cabinet and electoral reforms.

The talks follow a deal, mediated by the Arab League, to end the fighting.

It came after the government withdrew two key measures to curb Hezbollah.

In return, the opposition agreed to end its sit-in protests in Beirut, remove street blockades and allow the capital's international airport to re-open fully.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had described the decision to dismantle its private telecommunications network and sack the airport's security chief with alleged links to the group as a "declaration of war" by the government.

Thorny problems

The Doha talks are aimed at ending the political dispute which has seen the worst sectarian violence since the civil war

The impression, thank God, from the session, shows the desire among all the factions to reach an understanding... that will bring us to the beginning of a solution to this crisis
Fouad Siniora
Lebanese Prime Minister

At the first session, delegates said they had agreed to form a four-member committee to decide on a framework for reform of the parliamentary election law.

They said that - once that was achieved - they would move onto the exact composition and balance of power within a proposed national unity government.

"The impression, thank God, from the session, shows the desire among all the factions to reach an understanding... that will bring us to the beginning of a solution to this crisis," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told the Voice of Lebanon.

"We have to have faith and trust that we will do the impossible until we find solutions to this difficult stage that Lebanon has faced the past two weeks."

The discussion later became "heated" when members of the government coalition raised the issue of Hezbollah's weapons, according to Lebanese media reports.

Hezbollah rejected the demand, saying its arsenal would not be touched, reports say. However, Qatari mediators later persuaded delegates to defer further talks on the matter.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the issues are extremely thorny problems, which have defied many previous attempts at mediation.

But this time the leaders are expected to stay in Qatar for as long as it takes to reach agreement, our correspondent says.

Assuming they do, they will return to Beirut and elect the consensus candidate for president, army commander Gen Michel Suleiman.

Lebanon has also not had a president since November, when Emile Lahoud stepped down despite parliament failing to elect a successor.

Hezbollah would also then dismantle the tented encampment with which it has been besieging the government building in central Beirut for the past 18 months, and political life would return to some semblance of normality, our correspondent adds.


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