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Lebanese prime minister quits


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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri resigned Tuesday, opening the way for the formation of a new government, officials said.

Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud will start consulting with members of the National Assembly Wednesday on recommendations for Hariri's successor.

There was no immediate explanation given for his resignation, but sources said it had been expected and was even postponed during the war in Iraq.

Sources also said the resignation was not connected to regional tension involving Syria and the increasing pressure Washington has put on Damascus.

But Western diplomats in Lebanon told CNN the tension is indeed a factor, saying Hariri has ties to the Syrian government that conflicted with Lahoud's policies.

If a majority of the deputies favor the renomination of Hariri, government sources said he would agree to continue only as interim leader until a replacement can be agreed upon.

Hariri, 58, who was elected prime minister in 2000, had made inroads in Lebanon's $30 billion debt, raising about $3 billion in a financial conference earlier this year in Paris.

Government sources said Hariri submitted his resignation and that of his Cabinet to Lahoud during a Tuesday meeting. The new prime minister will choose his or her own Cabinet, according to Lebanon's constitution.

There had been disputes between Hariri and Lahoud over a variety of issues. One issue was Hariri's alleged awarding of infrastructure contracts to friends and supporters, Western diplomatic sources told CNN.

Hariri, a billionaire who made his money in media, real estate and banking, helped negotiate the 1989 Taef Accord, which ended Lebanon's civil war, according to his official Web site.

Hariri was elected to parliament in 1992 in the first elections after the civil war. He is a citizen of both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, where he lived before returning to Lebanon after the war.

He owns Future Television Network, a Lebanon network launched in 1993.

-- CNN's Brent Sadler, Caroline Faraj and Nada el-Husseini contributed to this report.

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