Celebrations have broken out on the streets of Beirut after army General Michel Suleiman was sworn in as Lebanon’s new President. Many people are hoping his appointment will mean an end to the 18 month stand-off between the US-backed coalition government and the Hizbollah-led opposition that has crippled state institutions.
The election is part of a deal brokered last week by the Arab League and a delegation from Qatar to defuse the crisis which pushed lebanon to the brink of civil war, with Hizbollah routing government forces and briefly seizing parts of Beirut.
Coalition deputy Butros Harb welcomed the news: “I think what we have achieved today is a first serious step towards the future, a new era of ending hardships and struggles, starting to rebuilt the state as democratic state and sovereign state”.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was also in Beirut for Suleiman’s swearing-in: “This is truly a new beginning,” he told reporters. “Maybe tomorrow, maybe Tuesday, we will have a government and that is really the aim. It is going in the right direction.”
Suleiman, who relinquishes his post as army chief in order to take up his new duties, set the tone for his six-year term by calling for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Syria.
His first task as President will be to appoint a Prime Minister and consult with him over forming a cabinet.