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Lebanon to get new government soon: PM

world Updated: Jul 05, 2008 19:58 IST

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Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said on Saturday he was confident that a national unity government for Lebanon would be announced soon, but dismissed reports that it was imminent.

"The clock has started ticking for the formation of a government," Siniora told reporters after talks with Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun.

"The formation of a government continues and I am confident that in the near future we will reach" a line-up, he added.

Asked if the new government would be announced on Saturday, the premier replied: "Not today."

Youth and Sports Minister Ahmed Fatfat earlier told AFP that a government would be announced within hours.

"The announcement of a national unity government will very probably take place today," Fatfat said.

Rival leaders have been locked in political bickering over the past six weeks over the distribution of key portfolios in the new government, despite an agreement reached in Qatar on May 21 after deadly sectarian fighting.

The Doha accord paved the way for the election on May 25 of army chief Michel Sleiman as president, filling a post left vacant since November.

The agreement stipulated that the Western-backed Sunni-led parliamentary majority would get 16 seats in the new government, and the Hezbollah-led opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, 11 seats.

Sleiman, who tasked Siniora with forming a new cabinet, would name three ministers.

But opposition leader Aoun has insisted that Sleiman allocate only one figure rather than two to the key ministries of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs.

Siniora said he agreed with Aoun "on the portfolios and names" of new ministers, but also added that he must continue with his consultations.

The Doha deal was struck after 65 people were killed in May in sectarian fighting that saw Hezbollah stage a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni areas of west Beirut, raising fears of a return to civil war.