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New Lebanese prime minister tapped amid regional strife

April 06, 2013|By Ned Parker and Lava Selo
  • After being named Lebanon's prime minister, Tammam Salam vowed 'to take responsibility and work for the sake of the country and cooperate with all political forces.'
After being named Lebanon's prime minister, Tammam Salam vowed 'to… (Hassan Ammar / Associated…)

BEIRUT -- Lebanon’s political blocs united behind a compromise choice for prime minister Saturday, two weeks after his predecessor quit office under the cloud of the civil war in neighboring Syria. 

Tammam Salam, endorsed nearly unanimously by the parliament, vowed in a televised speech to maintain a stable Lebanon and to shield the country from the troubles next door. He was tasked with forming a Cabinet by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and approved by 124 of the 128 parliament members. Despite the support, Salam is likely to find it difficult to assemble a Cabinet given the gulf between his own Sunni Muslim community, which opposes Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and Lebanon's strong Shiite Muslim political bloc, dominated by Hezbollah, which supports Damascus.

It took more than five months to form the last government and the political situation has become even more volatile with the escalation of Syria’s two-year war. Still, the consensus around Salam, a Sunni independent with close ties to the main Sunni political bloc, the March 14th movement, marked a major step toward repairing rifts after the departure of Lebanon’s previous prime minister, Najib Mikati, who was appointed as part of an alliance with Hezbollah

Mikati, a Sunni, had vowed to maintain Lebanon’s independence despite the tensions in Syria. But after two years, he could no longer balance the pressures of meeting the needs of his Shiite allies and his Sunni community and stepped down following a string of domestic setbacks. Lebanese fear Syria’s communal breakdown could reignite the civil war that consumed the country from 1975 to 1990.

In his speech, Salam vowed “to take responsibility and work for the sake of the country and cooperate with all political forces.”  He recognized “the sensitivity of this stage” and spoke of “the need to get Lebanon out of this state of political division."

Salam, who served as culture minister in 2008 and is the son of a former prime minister, is expected to serve through parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for June but likely to be delayed amid deadlock among Lebanon’s Sunni, Shiite and Christian blocs over a new election law.

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