(AFP) – Jan 6, 2008
CAIRO (AFP) — Arab League chief Amr Mussa said on Sunday he will head to crisis-wracked Lebanon to discuss a plan adopted by Arab foreign ministers calling for the election of presidential candidate Michel Sleiman.
"There has been an agreement which I will present to the Lebanese parties for discussion during my visit," Mussa told reporters at an early morning news conference, adding that he will go to Beirut "within two days."
Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League held an extraordinary meeting on Saturday at the organisation's Cairo headquarters aimed at resolving Lebanon's worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
"The ministers welcome favourably the consensus around Michel Sleiman as a candidate for the presidency and call for his immediate election in accordance with the constitution," Mussa said, reading from a statement.
Lebanese parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri welcomed the "noble and historic" plan.
"We are eager to open a new page, and rely on the Arab road map for the election of (army chief) General Michel Sleiman as president of the Lebanese republic," he said in a statement.
The Arab ministers agreed on a three-point plan, namely the election of a president, forming a government of national unity and the adoption of a new electoral law, Mussa said.
They called for "an immediate agreement on the formation of a national unity government" in Lebanon, constructed in such a way as to deny either faction the right to impose their policies on the other side, he said.
Under the plan, which aims to satisfy the demands of both the ruling coalition and the opposition, the new president would have the power to approve government decisions, he said.
Lebanon has been without a president since the mandate of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud expired on November 23 amid sharp divisions between the Western-backed ruling majority and the opposition, which is backed by Syria and Iran.
The two camps have been at odds over how to amend the constitution to allow Sleiman, the current head of the army, to be elected president. They also disagree on the make-up of the future government.
A vote in parliament to elect a new head of state has been postponed 11 times, and the legislature is now due to meet again on January 12 in the latest attempt to do so.
Syria, represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and long seen as a divisive influence on its neighbour, backed the plan, Mussa said.
On Friday the ruling coalition in Beirut called on Arab foreign ministers to protect Lebanon from what it said were Syrian attempts to block the long-overdue election of a new president.
The political standoff began after the opposition, spearheaded by the Shiite militant Hezbollah group, pulled its ministers from the cabinet in November 2006 in a bid to to gain more representation in government.
The crisis is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States against its regional foes, Iran and Syria.
The foreign ministers meeting in Cairo are due to discuss on Sunday developments in the Palestinian territories ahead of a visit to the region by US President George W. Bush.
Bush will spend three days in Israel and the Palestinian town of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank from next Wednesday, the first such visit by a US president in nine years.
He will also travel to oil-rich Bahrain and Kuwait as well as regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The regional tour aims to push along recently revived Middle East peace talks with an eye on creating an independent Palestinian state before Bush leaves office in January 2009.
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