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Lebanese Political Crisis Deepens as Shiite Ministers Quit
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Lebanon's political crisis deepened following the resignation of five Lebanon's Shiite cabinet members over demands for a Hezbollah veto power in the executive authority, which were vehemently rejected by the ruling majority.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said on Sunday that the government led by Prime Minister Fouad Seniora was not legitimate anymore after five Shiite ministers resigned on Saturday, the official NNA news agency reported.

Seniora's government "is not legitimate anymore, and is opposite to the constitution's principles ... since all the ministers representing some faction had resigned," Lahoud was quoted by NNA as saying.

The five Shiite ministers were Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Labor Minister Tarrad Hamadeh, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh, Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneich and Agriculture Minister Talal Sahili.

Their resignations came Saturday just followed the country's top leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a "national unity" government in which Hezbollah and its allies would have a third-plus-one veto power.

Hezbollah is calling for the formation of a national unity government to "face up to the challenges with which Lebanon is confronted." It wants the inclusion of other political groups, particularly that of its Christian ally, former General Michel Aoun.

The Shiite group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned to take to the streets if round-table talks failed to meet his demands.

Nasrallah has said he wants his Shiite party, which has two ministers in the cabinet dominated by the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, and allies to comprise one-third of the cabinet. That effectively means that Hezbollah and its allies could veto key decisions.

A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government.

"To pave the way for the majority to practice what it wants freely and so that we don't cover what we are not convinced of ...we announce the resignation of our representatives in the current cabinet," Hezbollah and Amal said in a joint statement.

Prime Minister Fouad Seniora immediately issued a statement saying that he would not accept the resignations. He "rejects the resignation of Hezbollah and Amal ministers... and called on them to commit their responsibilities," said the statement.

"This government respects the constitution and principles based on dialogue and consensus, and it insists on cooperating with all parties in order to find solutions which preserve the interests of Lebanon," it added.

The resignations also came after Seniora called for an extraordinary cabinet meeting Monday to endorse the UN draft text of the international tribunal to try former Premier Rafik Hariri's killers.

The president opposed the meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft. However, Lebanon's local An-Nahar newspaper reported Sunday that despite Lahoud's boycott, the anti-Syrian majority in the cabinet will meet to "take the right stance."

Last year, the Shiite ministers boycotted cabinet meetings for several months in a dispute with the majority.

"But it appeared that Saturday's move by Hezbollah and Amal was not final and aimed instead at shaking the political stalemate to force the majority to accept Shiite demands," said the paper.

(Xinhua News Agency November 13, 2006)

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