- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister named a temporary Cabinet yesterday, ending almost two months of political instability and giving elections scheduled for the end of May a legitimate chance of happening on time.

The appointment of Najib Mikati on Friday and his immediate success in putting together a Cabinet is developing into a last-minute miracle for proponents of timely elections. The vote now could be held as scheduled or only with a slight delay after being declared almost dead as Lebanon languished politically.

The government of Omar Karami resigned seven weeks ago amid massive street protests in the wake of the Feb. 14 assassination of popular former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Pro-Syria President Emile Lahoud nominated Mr. Karami again as prime minister, but he had to step down after failing to form a government.

The opposition supported Mr. Mikati despite his ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad because of his willingness to hold immediate elections and force the dismissal of top security officials blamed for the Hariri assassination. Yesterday, he named opposition supporters to ministries in charge of security and repeated his promise to dismiss the security officials.

“I demanded the resignation of the security chiefs when I was [just] Najib Mikati. Now I’m prime minister and I will relay my point of view to the Cabinet … and I promise that it will agree with me,” Mr. Mikati told reporters.

“This is a government that harbors no grudge against anyone, and it marks the beginning of building the future,” Mr. Mikati said after talks with Mr. Lahoud and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace.

Mr. Mikati also repeated his desire to leave politics immediately after the vote and has structured his Cabinet as a temporary caretaker government. He is a wealthy businessman and wants to return to the private sector.

The Cabinet and parliament now must agree on a law that sets the terms for the elections, including districts and ratios of lawmakers built around Lebanon’s 18 recognized religious and ethnic groups.

Opposition figures have said that a small delay is acceptable if the elections are monitored by the United Nations and if Syrian intelligence and troops end their 30-year-old occupation.

Wire service reports citing witnesses said that at least 100 Syrian military trucks crossed the border into Syria overnight Monday, leaving fewer than 1,500 troops in Lebanon. Syrian military police also left the border area.

“We are leaving Lebanon, but that does not mean we will stop supporting Lebanon,” Rustum Ghazale, Syria’s intelligence chief in Lebanon, told reporters after farewell visits to top Lebanese officials.

The United Nations, meanwhile, decided to delay the release of a report on the Hariri killing. The world body also plans to send election monitors, and the Lebanese government has accepted the offer.

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