Lebanon leaders delay cabinet formation
Lebanon's leaders failed to overcome differences over an election bill and the choice of interior minister Monday, delaying the formation of a Cabinet for the country in its sixth week without a government.
The delay threatens the already-tight timetable for installing a government, getting an electoral bill passed by parliament and holding elections before the current legislature's mandate expires May 31.
The anti-Syrian opposition accuses the pro-Syrian Karami and his parliamentary allies of drawing out the political crisis to prevent elections supposed to take place by May 31. The opposition expects to win those elections and end the pro-Syrian domination of parliament.
A new government must be formed before elections can be held, and the opposition says the leadership is stalling in a bid to extend the life of the legislature, whose mandate expires May 31.
Pro-Syrian factions are struggling to retain power as Damascus pulls out the military forces that have been the keystone of its control of Lebanon for decades.
Syria has committed to withdrawing its remaining 8,000 troops and intelligence officers from Lebanon by April 30, a pullout the United States and the U.N. secretary-general have insisted on for the elections to be free and fair.
International pressure on Syria to withdraw mounted after the Feb. 14 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, which sparked Lebanon's political crisis.
A convoy of about 150 Syrian soldiers, with 15 tanks on flatbed trucks, evacuated their position near Khiyara village in the eastern Bekaa Valley on Monday, residents said. They said the convoy headed east toward Syria.
A government official said the delay in forming a Cabinet was because of serious differences over the electoral bill presented to parliament before Hariri's assassination. The bill proposed small electoral districts, which are seen as favoring the pro-opposition Christian community.
Karami has now shifted toward large electoral districts, which favor pro-government candidates.
Karami also wants outgoing Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh to retain the position, in which he supervises elections, the government official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said. But Franjieh has said he does not want the job.