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    Qatar sets Lebanon opposition Wednesday deadline

    20.05.2008 - 17:07 | Son Güncelleme:

    Qatari-led mediators gave Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition a Wednesday deadline to respond to proposals aimed at resolving a political crisis which brought the country to the brink of civil war.

    Qatar's minister of state for foreign affairs Ahmad Abdullah al-Mahmood said the mediators had put forward two proposals to break the deadlock between the U.S.-supported ruling coalition and the opposition. "One of the sides asked for one extra day to respond to these proposals ... and the committee agreed to give a one day deadline till tomorrow," Mahmood told reporters on Tuesday.

    The negotiations in Doha, which aim to prevent Lebanon sliding back into sectarian strife, follow the Arab League's intervention last week to end the country's worst domestic fighting since the 1975-1990 civil war.

    Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah used its military muscle to thwart a government attempt to limit its power, briefly seizing parts of Beirut in fighting that killed 81 people.

    Delegates in Qatar said the governing coalition accepted both proposals to overcome disagreements on sharing power in a national unity government and changes to an election law. "We are not the party that asked for the postponement," government minister Ahmed Fatfat told Al Jazeera television.

    Agreement on the election law and power sharing in cabinet -- where the opposition has demanded a veto -- would pave the way for parliament to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as president, a post that has been vacant since November. 

    The rivals were at a deadlock on Monday over the electoral division of Beirut -- the bedrock of support for Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim leader of the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and close ally of Saudi Arabia.

    The boundaries of electoral constituencies will help shape the outcome of parliamentary polls in 2009.

    Delegates said the new proposals called for the immediate election of a president, a cabinet in which the opposition had veto powers, a pledge to avoid violence, and two alternative solutions to the election law impasse. They said they expected the talks to be suspended if no deal was reached by Wednesday.

    Analysts said the Qatari-led Arab mediators still held out hopes of success, but that their 24-hour deadline might simply be postponing failure. "It seems the Arab committee sees itself halfway between both," political columnist Abdel Wahab Badrakhan said. "For the first time in the conference the opposition finds itself cornered and having to respond clearly."

    Lebanese politics, built around sectarian power-sharing, have been crippled since November 2006 when the ruling coalition's refusal to yield to the opposition demands for a veto power triggered the resignation of all Shi'ite ministers.

    Hezbollah's defeat of Sunni and Druze pro-government gunmen earlier this month raised sectarian tension and brought the country to the brink of war.

    The United States blames Syria and Iran, both of which back Hezbollah, for the group's offensive this month.

    The ruling coalition has demanded clear guarantees that Hezbollah would not turn its guns on Lebanese rivals again and that the fate of those weapons would be debated in Lebanon soon.

    But the issue of Hezbollah's guns is not on the official agenda at Doha and the group has refused to discuss it.

    Photo: Reuters

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