Lebanon: Hezbollah dominates new cabinet of PM Mikati

Najib Mikati at the presidential palace of Baabda, 13 June Najib Mikati was appointed as Lebanon's new prime minister on 25 January

Lebanon has announced a new cabinet led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, nearly five months after he was nominated.

The country has been without a functioning government since January, when Hezbollah and its allies toppled the coalition of then-PM Saad Hariri.

The new cabinet gives the powerful Shia group and its allies 16 of 30 seats, up from 10 previously, reports say.

Mr Hariri's pro-Western bloc has dismissed the new cabinet as a "Hezbollah government".

But Mr Mikati says his cabinet will represent all Lebanese. "Do not judge intentions and people, but rather actions," the prime minister told a news conference.

There was much wrangling over key portfolios, with Hezbollah's main Christian ally, the maverick former army general, Michel Aoun, fighting hard to maximise his influence, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

Hezbollah itself has only two ministers in the 30-member cabinet. But most of the others are from allied factions across the sectarian spectrum, though there are some neutral figures, mainly loyal to President Michel Suleiman, our correspondent says.

Early trouble

The Hezbollah alliance pulled their ministers from the national unity government in January, bringing down the government of the US- and Saudi-backed Saad Hariri.

Key incoming ministers

  • Finance: Mohammed Safadi, former economy minister
  • Defence: Fayez Ghosn of Hezbollah's Christian allies
  • Interior: Marwan Charbel, retired army general considered close to the president
  • Telecommunications: Nicholas Sehnawi
  • Foreign: Adnan Mansour, former ambassador to Iran

At issue was a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the father of Saad Hariri.

Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate if its members are indicted, as is widely expected. The group denies any links to the killing of the Sunni Muslim prime minister and calls the court a conspiracy by the US and Israel.

The Shia Muslim movement has built itself, with the help of Iran and Syria, into the most powerful military formation in Lebanon, as well as a highly successful political and social organisation.

Correspondents say events in Lebanon matter because it is an important theatre in the face-off between the US and its allies, especially Saudi Arabia - and Iran, Syria and their allies.

The 30-member cabinet must still be formally presented before parliament to win a vote of confidence.

In an early sign of tension, Talal Arslan, named to the post of state minister without portfolio, resigned in protest hours after the new government was announced.

He said Mr Mikati should have given the representative of the Druze community a higher-profile post.

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