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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Lebanese leader quits over Syria's role

THE Lebanese Prime Minister resigned and dismantled his Government yesterday, vowing not to return as his country faces intense international scrutiny.

“I deemed it appropriate to present the Government’s resignation, together with declining to nominate myself to the premiership” of the next government, Rafik Hariri said in a statement.

His resignation came after Syria imposed an extension of the mandate of Lebanon’s President Lahoud last month, a move that spurred the United Nations to demand that Damascus stop meddling in the affairs of its smaller neighbour.

Mr Hariri and Mr Lahoud are bitter rivals whose disagreements have paralysed the economy. A spokesman for Mr Hariri said that he “couldn’t see eye to eye with President Lahoud on forming a new government. He’s not coming back.”

A self-made billionaire and a political moderate, Mr Hariri, 60, has served as Lebanon’s Prime Minister for ten of the past twelve years. He was the driving force behind the multibillion-pound reconstruction programme after the country’s civil war in 1975-90.

But the collapse of the Middle East peace process in the mid-1990s and relentless political bickering among Lebanon’s leadership have saddled the country with £17.2 billion debt.

The departure of Mr Hariri, who is well respected internationally, could further isolate Lebanon and its political master, Syria. On Tuesday the UN Security Council released a demand that Syria should abide by a resolution calling on Damascus to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon, dismantle the Hezbollah organisation and respect Lebanon’s independence. The Security Council instructed Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, to report back every six months on Syria’s compliance.