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Lebanon’s Premier to Again Step Down

From Times Wire Services

Lebanon’s pro-Syria prime minister said Tuesday that he would resign again because he was unable to form a government, and the head of military intelligence took a leave from his job.

Prime Minister Omar Karami’s decision comes amid a deadlock over the makeup of the Cabinet, which must be completed before parliamentary elections can be held. Elections are scheduled for April and May, and the opposition, which is expected to win, is eager to see them held on time.

Syria’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Damascus would withdraw all its forces from Lebanon before the elections.

Farouk Shareh made the pledge in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

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It was unclear whether Karami’s resignation, expected to be formally announced in the next two days, would end Lebanon’s political standoff. It could delay the ballot because it means the process of finding a leader must begin from scratch.

But it could also be a signal that the pro-Syria leadership is ready to bend to opposition demands, which would clear the way for the quick formation of a new Cabinet.

Lebanon has been in political crisis since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. His death in a bomb blast -- which the opposition blamed on Syria and its Lebanese allies -- prompted massive street protests that forced Karami’s government to resign Feb. 28.

Syria and the Lebanese government have denied any role in the killing, and Damascus has been struggling to maintain its hold over its smaller neighbor.

President Emile Lahoud brought Karami back as a caretaker prime minister March 10 to form a new government.

In a sign of possible flexibility from the leadership, Maj. Gen. Raymond Azar, head of military intelligence, stepped aside Tuesday, taking a one-month administrative leave, a senior military official said.


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