BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s pro-Syrian forces went on the counter-attack against the opposition with a demand that could delay elections due in May, as the country was shaken by another bomb attack.
Prime minister-designate Omar Karameh, at a meeting late Friday with his pro-Syrian allies, decided to stay on, despite having failed over the past three weeks to form a new government to ease Lebanon’s political crisis.
Karameh, who said Tuesday he would resign, was tasked with forming a cabinet “to save the country”, following the opposition’s refusal to join a national unity government, said parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
He said the new government would draw up an electoral law based on larger constituencies and proportional representation, changes favouring the pro-Syrian camp.
“We will not agree to anything else,” Berri, a key figure in the pro-Syrian camp, told reporters.
The opposition accuses the pro-Syrian camp of foot-dragging ever since the February 14 assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri to retain its control of parliament and not face the electorate’s anger over the murder.
The killing of Hariri, blamed by the opposition on the Lebanese authorities and their backers in Damascus, sparked a wave of huge popular protests which led to Karameh stepping down on February 28.
President Emile Lahoud asked Karameh to return 10 days later, while the Syrian army has since March 5 been withdrawing its troops from Lebanon, a process Damascus pledged will be completed ahead of polls.
Washington and Paris, which sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 1559, have been pressing for the elections — which Lebanon carries out in phases — to go ahead as scheduled by the end of May.
The resolution calls for Syria to end its military presence in Lebanon dating back 29 years to when its soldiers were deployed as a buffer force during the early stages of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Opposition MP Nassib Lahoud said his camp would cooperate with Karameh in forming a government if it was composed of “acceptable personalities” and stressed that the priority was for elections to go ahead on time.
But the demand for a new electoral law at such a late stage was only “a means to delay the elections”, the MP charged.
France on Saturday condemned the latest bombing in a Lebanese area on the outskirts of Beirut.
“This series of attacks aiming to destabilise Lebanon is intolerable,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Cecile Pozzo di Borgo, urging Lebanese authorities to take steps to restore stability.
Nine people were wounded in the latest night-time bombing, against the backdrop of the political crisis, police said.
The attack late Friday, the fourth in two weeks, rocked a shopping and residential centre in Brumana, a popular Metn mountain resort some 20 kilometres (13 miles) east of Beirut.
A suitcase with between 20 and 25 kilos (45 and 55 pounds) of TNT was placed at the entrance to the underground parking of the multi-storey centre, police said.
The opposition swiftly blamed the Lebanese intelligence services, which it says take their instructions from Damascus, for the latest bombing to hit a stronghold of the anti-Syrian camp.
“The same criminal hand has struck in Brumana” as the previous three attacks since March 19, charged MP Lahoud.
Carlos Eddeh, also in the opposition, said the aim was “to provoke chaos and spread fear among civilians to dissuade them from claiming their independence and freedom”, referring to the wave of anti-Syrian protests.
The bombings have now killed three people, including at least two Indians, and wounded 26 others. The other attacks targeted commercial and industrial areas of Beirut’s northern suburbs.