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Lebanon announces unity government

  • Story Highlights
  • Power-sharing Cabinet structure gives Hezbollah veto power
  • Government gets 16 seats; Hezbollah, other opponents get 11
  • Pro-Western president can fill three seats by appointment
  • Government crisis pushed Lebanon to brink of civil war in May
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Lebanese government announced Friday it has reached a unity Cabinet aimed at stabilizing the country torn by internal strife.

In keeping with a deal sponsored by the Arab League, the new Cabinet gives 11 seats to Hezbollah and the militant group's allies that oppose the government, 16 to the government and three to the Lebanese president to fill by appointment. The agreement gives Hezbollah veto power.

The Cabinet's first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

Lebanon's Western-backed government and its Hezbollah-led opposition reached a deal in May aimed at ending an 18-month political crisis that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

As part of the deal, the Parliament named Gen. Michel Sleiman president, filling a six-month vacancy created by the November departure of President Emile Lahoud. Sleiman then appointed Western ally Fouad Siniora as prime minister.

The agreement came out of a May meeting at Doha, Qatar, when the Hezbollah opposition agreed to end its sit-in protest that had paralyzed downtown Beirut since late 2006 in exchange for veto power and a redistricting plan ahead of next year's elections.

Earlier in May, armed Hezbollah supporters took to the streets of Beirut after Lebanon's government banned a telecommunications system used by the Shiite militia.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the government's attempts to control the militia "a declaration of open war" and vowed that his supporters would defend themselves.

Minutes after his address, Hezbollah gunmen exchanged fire with pro-government militias in the streets of Beirut. The violence spread across other areas of Lebanon, and soon became the worst outbreak of internal strife to hit the country since the end of its civil war in 1991.

The fighting ended a week later when the Lebanese government gave in to two key Hezbollah demands -- lifting a government ban of Hezbollah's telecommunications system and reinstating the chief of security at Beirut's airport.

This move arguably put Hezbollah in a strong position to negotiate its further demands during the Doha talks to end Lebanon's political crisis.

Haim Malka, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East program, said the Doha agreement helped make Hezbollah "the undisputed power in Lebanon."

Lebanon's government has long been locked in a power struggle with Hezbollah. In public statements and demonstrations in recent years, the militant group threatened to use its power and popularity to oust the Sunni-led government, triggering fears of a new civil war that could further destabilize the volatile region.

Hezbollah has been linked to terrorist attacks against U.S., Israeli and other Western targets, and the United States lists it as a terrorist organization. But many in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East -- particularly Shiites -- view Hezbollah militants as freedom fighters.

All About LebanonCabinet of LebanonHezbollah

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