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Four Lebanese Ministers Resign from Government  - 2004-09-07

Four ministers resigned from the Lebanese government late Monday to protest the Syria-backed extension of President Emile Lahoud's term. The resignations have caused speculation that a new government will be formed soon.

Three of the four ministers that resigned - Economy Minister Marwan Hamadeh, Culture Minister Ghazi Aridi, and Minister of Refugee Affairs Abdullah Farhat - belonged to the Druze Progressive Socialist Party of Walid Jumblatt. The fourth was an independent, Minister of the Environment Faris Boueiz.

Following the resignations Prime Minister Rafik Hariri met with President Lahoud. Mr. Hariri told reporters afterward that a cabinet reorganization might take place when he returned to Lebanon on September 17, after a series of visits to foreign countries.

American University in Beirut Political Science Professor Samy Baroudi says talk of a cabinet reorganization is not a surprise.

"People were expecting a new cabinet, whether under [current prime minister] Hariri or not that is a different question," he said. "But I think the four resignations accelerated the process and maybe caught the president and the Syrians a little bit off balance, because they were expecting the current cabinet to live on a little more at least, until the new term of Lahoud starts."

A constitutional amendment was passed by the Lebanese Parliament last Friday, allowing President Lahoud three more years in office. The extension of his term was favored by Syria, which has had a military presence in Lebanon since 1975 and has the final say in most political developments there.

In an attempt to stop the amendment process, the United States and France backed a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon and for no interference in the country's presidential elections.

A new Lebanese government is likely to be more pro-Syrian, notes Mr. Baroudi, because many of those who opposed the Syrian-backed amendment will now decline to join. He says international pressure on Syria may have lead Damascus to want even tighter control over Lebanese politics.

"That is how the Syrians are reacting to the growing pressure on them, by basically wanting not only a president who is loyal, but also a government that does not include any dissenting voices," he said.

Syria has been the main powerbroker in Lebanon since flooding the country with troops early in the civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990.