12 January 2011

* March 8 Ministers, Sayyed Hussein Resign from Cabinet, Ask Suleiman to Form New One

Lebanon's hard-won unity government collapsed on Wednesday after the March 8 coalition ministers and State Minister Adnan Sayyed Hussein, who had been named by President Michel Suleiman, announced their resignations.
On behalf of the ten opposition ministers, Energy and Water Minister Jebran Bassil announced resignation from Cabinet, following a brief meeting at Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's headquarters in Rabiyeh.
Bassil expressed "appreciation and gratitude" to Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for their efforts to help Lebanon overcome the political crisis caused by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon "in light of the obstruction of Cabinet caused by the other camp's inability to overcome U.S. pressure despite the openness we have displayed."
The ministers expressed their disappointment that efforts to end the crisis have been missed "even after our final attempt to rectify the situation and the other camp's insistence to maintain its same approach."
The opposition ministers therefore turned to President Suleiman, demanding him to take control of the situation.
Bassil stated: "Prime Minister Saad Hariri should choose between Beirut and Washington and between Beirut and any other capital, we have made our choice of adhering to the institutions."
"Our decision is legal and constitutional and we make room for the new government to perform its duties," he concluded.
Soon after the end of the opposition meeting, State Minister Adnan Sayyed Hussein announced his stepping down, thus providing the minimum necessary number of resignations to topple the cabinet.
Earlier on Wednesday, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife told Al-Manar TV that ministers were planning to resign unless Hariri agreed to their demand to convene an urgent Cabinet meeting over the tribunal crisis.
The opposition lamented on Tuesday that the Saudi-Syrian initiative "has reached a dead end due to U.S. pressures and the other camp's compliance with these pressures, despite the fact that we had positively dealt with that initiative and provided it with chances of success."
The announcement by Bassil came just as Hariri was meeting in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama on the crisis.
Hizbullah and its allies have for months been pressing Hariri to disavow the STL on the grounds that it is part of a U.S.-Israeli plot.
According to unconfirmed press reports, the STL is poised to indict senior Hizbullah members in connection to the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal, who is close to Hariri, told AFP that Hizbullah's decision to quit the government was aimed at paralyzing the state and forcing the premier to reject the tribunal.
"They think that by piling the pressure on him, Hariri will bend but they are mistaken," Rahhal said.
Mustapha Alloush, a senior member of Hariri's Future Movement, said that the opposition had timed the announcement of the government collapse to coincide with the premier's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
"They want Hariri to enter the meeting with the U.S. president as an ex-premier or as head of a caretaker government," Alloush told AFP. "But the real goal is to deal a moral blow to the United States."
"Saad Hariri was on the brink of making a major concession as concerns the tribunal, but occult forces prevented him from doing so," Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat told AFP without elaborating.
The standoff between Hariri's camp and Hizbullah had paralyzed the government for months and sparked concerns of sectarian violence similar to that which brought the country close to civil war in May 2008.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.