Lahoud: Hizbullah resignations make gov't invalid

Lebanon's president took sides Sunday in the country's latest political spat, claiming that the Cabinet was no longer legitimate following the resignation of five pro-Hizbullah ministers. President Emile Lahoud's position is a blow to his political rival, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, but does not carry legal weight because the Lebanese president is not empowered to dissolve the government. Lahoud sent a letter to Saniora's office, saying that the 24-member Cabinet was no longer constitutional after all five Shiite Muslim ministers submitted their resignations Saturday. He based his position on Article Five of the constitution that states "all sects should be justly represented in the Cabinet." There was no comment from Saniora. The president's declaration of his position solidifies the political divide in Lebanon between anti- and pro-Syrian forces, with Lahoud and Hizbullah tilting toward Syria and Saniora and his allies oppose their powerful neighbor's influence over their country. Hizbullah, two of whose ministers resigned, recently threatened to call mass protests Nov. 13 with aim of bringing down the government unless Shiite representation in the Cabinet increased to one-third plus one minister. Such representation would effectively give Shiite political groups veto power, because Cabinet decisions requires approval by two-thirds of ministers.