Khamis, 13 Januari 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates

Speculation over Irish PM as party meeting put off

Posted: 13 Jan 2011 07:03 AM PST

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail party hastily rescheduled a meeting of its legislators on Thursday, prompting speculation that a motion of no confidence could be proposed against Prime Minister Brian Cowen's leadership.

Cowen has come under pressure this week after opposition parties accused him of failing to disclose meetings he had with Anglo Irish Bank's chairman, including one over a round of golf, months before the scandal-hit bank was nationalised at huge cost.

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen addresses a news conference after an European Union leaders summit in Brussels December 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet/Files)

Fianna Fail was due to hold its weekly parliamentary meeting at 1200 GMT but rescheduled it to 1500 GMT. A spokesman said the postponement was "nothing more than a scheduling issue".

However, the national broadcaster RTE said it had been told by an unnamed senior government minister that a motion of no confidence in Cowen might be put forward at the meeting.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who was in Belfast and due to head to Dublin, said he was not "aware of the intensity of the speculation".

"There's no item on the agenda this afternoon relating to confidence of the leadership so the issue is not formally before the meeting. You tell me there is intensive speculation -- I'm not a party to that speculation," Lenihan told RTE.

While some of Cowen's colleagues, including senior ministers, have said they are keen to succeed him should a vacancy arise, nobody has yet been willing to mount a challenge before a parliamentary election likely to take place in late March.

Polls show Fianna Fail is almost certain to lose power over its handling of a financial crisis that saw Dublin forced to resort to an 85 billion euro IMF/EU bailout.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Talks on new Lebanon government to start Monday

Posted: 13 Jan 2011 07:03 AM PST

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's president will launch formal talks on Monday on creating a new government after the resignation of Hezbollah ministers and their allies brought down Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's cabinet.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is pictured in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, January 12, 2011. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

"The consultations will start on Monday at noon (1000 GMT)," Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told reporters after meeting President Michel Suleiman.

Suleiman asked Hariri to stay on as caretaker prime minister on Thursday after 11 ministers quit in a dispute over an investigation into the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father.

According to the constitution, Lebanon's president nominates a prime minister to form a new government after consultations with members of parliament.

It was not clear how long consultations will take.

Officials have declined to say whether Hariri, whose coalition won a 2009 parliamentary election, will be asked to form a new government, or if someone else would be nominated.

Boutros Harb, a parliamentarian close to Hariri, said: "I do not see a government in the country without Saad al-Hariri."

Hariri was meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington when his fragile, 14-month-old "unity" government -- which took him five months to form in 2009 -- collapsed on Wednesday.

He was due to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris later on Thursday.

The resignations followed the failure of regional powers Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a deal to reduce tension over the U.N.-backed investigation into Rafik al-Hariri's 2005 assassination.

The tribunal prosecutor is expected to send draft indictments to a pre-trial judge this month, and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Nasrallah has said he expects members of his Shi'ite movement to be accused of involvement.

Hezbollah denies any role in the killing and had called on Hariri to withdraw Lebanon's funding for and cooperation with the tribunal -- a demand which he rejected.


Analysts played down the prospect of open armed conflict between Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, and Hariri, who is supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

But street protests, skirmishes or even a return to the bombings and political killings that followed the 2005 attack could not be ruled out, analysts said.

The Saudi-Syrian proposals were never spelt out by either country. According to a politician close to Hariri, they would have included a Hezbollah pledge not to resort to violence if its members were indicted, while Hariri would ensure that any indictment was not exploited to Hezbollah's political detriment.

The United States has pledged to ensure that the work of the tribunal continues.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said that while Hariri's killers should be punished, any immediate move to hand down indictments naming Hezbollah could inflame matters further.

Finance Minister Raya al-Hassan said: "We are stumbling in a difficult political situation now... I hope this phase does not last long... because the economy will go back if it does and in this case we will all be harmed."

Hezbollah, the only armed group not to disband after Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, is now the most powerful military force in Lebanon, stronger even than the army.

Hezbollah portrays itself as spearheading Islamic resistance to Israel, not as a sectarian group. That image would be badly damaged if it were proven to have had a role in the huge truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people.

Hezbollah and its allies accused the United States of foiling attempts by Saudi Arabia and Syria to find a solution.

A stalemate over the tribunal had crippled Hariri's government. The cabinet had met, briefly, just once in the last two months and the government could not secure parliamentary approval for the 2010 budget.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon and Mark Heinrich)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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