Lebanese leaders fail again to agree on Lahoud’s fate

news4_23_3.jpgBEIRUT (Reuters) — Rival Lebanese leaders failed to agree on the fate of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud on Wednesday, highlighting the wide gaps among Syria’s allies and foes trying to end Lebanon’s worst political crisis in 16 years.

Political sources close to the “national dialogue” meeting in Beirut had said the talks’ third round were not likely to yield breakthroughs on Lahoud’s fate and disarming the anti-Israeli Hizbollah fighters.

“We all know that there is a crisis in the country and we are all determined to end it,” anti-Syrian parliament majority leader Saad Hariri told reporters. “I am optimistic about the issue of the presidency and God willing we will find a new president for our beloved country Lebanon.” Wednesday’s session did not tackle Hizbollah’s arms.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the talks will resume on March 27, a day before an Arab summit in Sudan where politicians say Lebanon is expected to feature prominently through efforts by heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt to ease tensions between Beirut and Damascus.

Syria, the dominant force in Lebanon until the withdrawal of its troops last year, still wields considerable influence in its smaller neighbour and backs both Lahoud and Hizbollah.

The consent of Damascus, therefore, is seen essential for the removal of Lahoud, who many Lebanese see as the last vestige of Syrian tutelage over their country. He has vowed not to quit.

Frank discussion

Berri said discussions “were more frank than at any other time before … We found that the issue needs more discussion and consultations.”

“All of our decisions must end in consensus, no one can force his opinion on the others,” he said.

One senior politician told Reuters before the session that gaps among the participants were widening. “There are no quick fixes and the dialogue looks set to linger on without results.” Lebanese politicians, Muslim and Christian, pro- and anti-Syrian, first met at the “national dialogue” talks in early March to find a way out of the country’s worst crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

The talks resumed a day after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he would begin talks with Beirut on creating a special court to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hariri’s death sparked mass protests in Beirut that forced Syria to end its 29-military presence in Lebanon and ushered an anti-Syrian majority into parliament.

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