Lebanon gets Hezbollah-led cabinet after 5-month lag
By Laila Bassam and Yara Bayoumy
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced Monday a long-delayed government dominated by Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, which is likely to cause alarm among Western powers at a time of regional turmoil.
Formed after five months of political stalemate, the new Lebanese leadership was welcomed by President Bashar al-Assad of neighbouring Syria, another Hezbollah sponsor now beset by international censure of its crackdowns of anti-regime protests.
"This government is committed to maintaining strong, brotherly ties which bind Lebanon to all Arab countries, without exception," Mikati said at the Baabda Presidential Palace.
"Let us go to work immediately according to the principles ... (of) defending Lebanon's sovereignty and its independence and liberating land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy."
Mikati was appointed after Hezbollah and its allies toppled U.S.-aligned former premier Saad al-Hariri in January over a dispute involving the U.N.-backed probe into the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik al-Hariri, Saad's father.
Shi'ite Hezbollah and its Christian and Druze allies secured 18 posts in the new government, up from 11 under Hariri's coalition, enabling them to pass or block decisions more easily.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has thrown his weight behind Assad, saying that should the Syrian government fall it would serve American and Israeli interests. Lebanese media said Assad had telephoned Mikati to congratulate him.
Mohammed Safadi, Lebanon's former economy minister, was named finance minister and will try to improve growth expected at around 2.5 percent this year, dampened by delays in key cabinet appointments and a rash of violent incidents. Continued...