Lebanon PM-designate eyes end to govt vacuum

Salam is set to present a proposed cabinet line-up after 10-month in not forming a government

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Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Tammam Salam was set to present a proposed cabinet line-up to the president Friday as he looks to end a 10-month vacuum, an aide told AFP.

Beirut has been without a government since Salam’s nomination in April last year amid deep divisions between the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Sunni-led bloc of ex-premier Saad Hariri over the conflict in neighboring Syria.

But in a sharp U-turn, Hariri announced on Jan. 21 that his bloc was prepared to join a government of national unity with Hezbollah and its allies, despite its strong opposition to the militant group’s military intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Michel Sleiman’s office confirmed that a meeting was scheduled with the premier-designate during the morning, but did not give details on what would be discussed.

The Salam aide said it was not yet clear whether the proposed line-up would be formally announced after the meeting, saying only that “most of the obstacles have been overcome.”

The new government will include both Hezbollah and Hariri bloc representatives, the first time in three years they have sat together in cabinet, both sides say.

The final line-up has been held up by bickering not only over the key foreign and interior ministries but also over the contract-awarding energy and public works portfolios.

The prolonged government vacuum has been marred by repeated deadly bomb attacks on Hezbollah strongholds claimed by hardline Sunni groups which support the Syrian rebels.

Friday’s development comes nine years to the day after Hariri’s father Rafiq, also a former premier, was assassinated in a massive car bombing on the Beirut seafront.

The trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members accused of murdering Hariri opened near The Hague last month.

The February 14, 2005 blast killed billionaire Hariri and 22 others, provoking a political crisis that led to the withdrawal from Lebanon of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence.

His son was due to give a televised address in the afternoon to mark the anniversary.