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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid