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Arab World

Lebanon appoints new prime minister

Lebanon’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted for Sunni Muslim politician Tammam Salam as the new prime minister. Salam is expected to form a national unity government, as the country prepares for elections in June.

The Lebanese president formally asked Salam to form a government on Saturday, after he received the endorsement of 124 of the 128 representatives in parliament.

His selection comes two weeks after the resignation of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who had lost the backing of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, which dominated the previous government.

Salam - culture minister from 2008 to 2009 - is close to the March 14 movement, which is backed by Western nations and Saudi Arabia. But he also received the votes of the March 8 bloc, which includes Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite ally of Hezbollah, said that 68-year-old Salam's nomination was a “chance to reestablish peace among the Lebanese people.”

“All the parties in Lebanon want to tamp down tensions…and wait until the situation in Syria is clearer,” Hilal Khachane, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut, told the news agency AFP.

Syrian shadow

Lebanon has been gripped by rising sectarian tensions over neighboring Syria's two-year-long civil war. Armed clashes have broken out in the country's north between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Syrian government has reportedly also bombed targets near the Lebanese border, pursuing rebel forces.

Salam said in his first speech on Saturday that Lebanon needed political unity to weather the war in Syria.

“There is a need to bring Lebanon out of its state of division and political fragmentation, as reflected on the security situation, and to ward off the risks brought by the tragic situation in the neighboring (country) and by regional tensions,” he said.

Lebanon - with a population of just over four million - is hosting some 406,3011 Syrian refugees, according to the UN's refugee agency.  Syria occupied Lebanon for nearly 20 years, withdrawing in 2005 after a popular uprising.

slk/pfd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)