News / Middle East

Lebanon PM Pledges to Shield Country from Syria Dangers

Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam (L) talks with Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, April 6, 2013.
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam (L) talks with Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, April 6, 2013.
Reuters
Lebanese politician Tammam Salam was named prime minister on Saturday after he won a sweeping parliamentary endorsement, pledging to bridge the country's deep divisions and shield it from the dangers of neighboring Syria's civil war.

Salam was designated after the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose two years in office were dominated by efforts to contain sectarian tensions, violence and economic fallout from the Syrian conflict.

His immediate task, if he is able to form a Cabinet accepted by Lebanon's rival political forces, will be to prepare for a parliamentary election which is due in June but faces delay.

The Syrian bloodshed has exacerbated tensions in Lebanon, which fought a ruinous civil war from 1975 to 1990. Rival Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim and Christian politicians have failed to agree an electoral system under which the vote will take place.

In his first comments after his appointment, Salam said he would seek to "unite opinion and reach speedy agreement on a parliamentary electoral law to achieve fair representation for all citizens and sects."

He also pledged to focus on "ending Lebanon's political divisions and its impact on the security situation, and averting the dangers from the neighboring tragedy [in Syria]."

Salam, born in 1945 into a prominent Sunni political dynasty, is close to the Saudi- and Western-backed March 14 coalition but was chosen as a consensus candidate acceptable to the March 8 bloc, which includes the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its mainly Shi'ite and Christian allies.

March 14 groups mainly Sunni and Christian parties which pushed, with U.S. and European support, for Syria to end nearly three decades of military presence in Lebanon in 2005.

Referring to speculation over whether his government should be a short-term technocratic administration focused only on preparing for elections, or a "national unity" government with longer-term ambition, Salam said: "I will absolutely strive to form a government of national benefit."

Shifting power

In a sign of shifting foreign influence in Lebanon, whose politicians lived in the shadow of Damascus long after President Bashar al-Assad withdrew his army eight years ago, Salam's elevation appear to owe much to Saudi intervention.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose announcement on Thursday that he backed March 14's nomination guaranteed Salam a parliamentary majority, said he reached his decision after talks with Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Despite the overwhelming support for Salam - he was backed by at least 120 of 128 parliamentarians - he may face a lengthy struggle to form a government. His predecessor, Mikati, took five months assemble a ministerial team and a March 8 source said Salam could also take months to put together a Cabinet.

He has to satisfy conflicting demands for portfolios amid a heightened political standoff over the Syrian crisis.

March 14 strongly supports the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels battling to overthrow Assad in a conflict which the United Nations says has killed 70,000 people. Another 400,000 refugees have poured into Lebanon, a country of just 4 million.

March 8 has backed Assad's campaign to crush the uprising, which began with mainly peaceful protests but descended into a civil war which has reduced parts of its main cities to rubble.

Lebanon itself has been shaken by the violence, which has spilled across the border into the Bekaa Valley and inflamed tensions in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni Muslims who actively support the Syrian rebels and members of Assad's minority Alawite community.

Dozens of people have been killed in the northern city of  Tripoli in waves of street fighting since 2011.

Before his resignation, Mikati called for international aid to help Lebanon deal with the impact of the ever-growing number of refugees. President Michel Suleiman called this week for refugee camps to be set up inside Syria itself, under United Nations auspices, to ease the burden on Syria's neighbors.

Salam, a Cabinet minister from 2008 to 2009, is the son of former prime minister Saeb Salam. His grandfather served under the Ottoman Empire and the French colonial mandate.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid