Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 14:02 UK

Lebanese talks given one more day

 Lebanese woman holds a banner during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon
Many Lebanese fear their leaders could reignite civil war after 17 years

Arab mediators trying to end Lebanon's political crisis have extended a deadline for agreement on two Qatari proposals, say officials in Doha.

"One of the two parties asked for more time to respond," said Qatar's junior foreign minister at a news conference, setting the deadline for Wednesday.

The minister, Ahmad Abdullah Mahmoud did not give any details of the proposals or the party involved.

The crisis erupted into inter-faction violence in Lebanon earlier in May.

"The committee believes the two proposals represent the best solution to end the current Lebanese crisis if either of them is accepted," Mr Mahmoud said.

The brief announcement came on the fifth day of talks involving Arab mediators and members of the Western-backed Lebanese government and the Hezbollah-led opposition - which is supported by Iran and Syria.

Sectarian system

The two sides have been considering proposals on issues such as the election of a president, a government of national unity, and a new electoral law.

The mediation committee is chaired by Qatar's influential Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani.

Political deadlock in Lebanon's parliament has left the country without a president since November.

The country is deeply divided on political lines, which have taken on dangerous sectarian overtones echoing Lebanon's long civil war which ended in 1991.

It has been governed for decades on a formula that placed most power in the position of a Maronite Christian president and a Sunni Muslim prime minister.

In recent years, however, the mainly Shia Muslim movement Hezbollah has shown itself as a formidable political and military force.

Clashes broke out earlier in May after a general strike.

When the government said it wanted to shut down a private phone system operated by Hezbollah and moved the head of security at Beirut international airport for an alleged Hezbollah bias.

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