Hezbollah Quits Lebanese Cabinet

Associated Press
Sunday, November 12, 2006

BEIRUT, Nov. 11 -- Cabinet ministers from Hezbollah and an allied party resigned Saturday, a decision that could cost the Western-backed government crucial support from Lebanon's Shiite Muslims.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he would not accept the resignations. He has the authority to order the five cabinet ministers to stay on, but it was unclear if his weak government could enforce the demand.

The resignations are not enough to bring down Siniora's government -- eight cabinet ministers must resign for the government to collapse -- but they could cost him support among Shiites, the majority sect in Lebanon, and make it difficult for him to govern.

The ministers of Hezbollah and the allied Amal party resigned because talks on forming a national unity government collapsed hours earlier, Hezbollah said in a statement broadcast by its al-Manar television station. Hezbollah accused the government of insisting on "imposing terms and premature results for negotiations," the TV station said.

Hezbollah, a Shiite militia that is by far the strongest political and military force in Lebanon, has been demanding at least one-third of the seats in the 24-member cabinet for itself and its allies. That would give them veto power over key decisions and the power to bring down the government if they disagreed with a decision.

The governing majority, which succeeded in forcing Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon last year, is not willing to relinquish full control.

Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon after international pressure and mass protests that followed the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in Beirut. A U.N. investigation implicated top Syrian officials in the killing, but Syria has denied any role.

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