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Lebanon’s new prime minister insists on neutrality in Syrian conflict

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Lebanon’s premier-designate Tammam Salam told AFP on Saturday that he supports the freedom of the Syrian people while insisting his country remain neutral in its neighbour’s civil war.

“My position is that I am on the side of the Syria people; I support the freedom and the sovereignty of the people,” Salam said, hours after being named by President Michel Sleiman to form a new government.

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Salam, the 67-year-old scion of one of Lebanon’s grand political families and whose father was six times premier, met with AFP at his home in Moussaytbeh, in west Beirut.

Echoing remarks he made in a first address to the nation after being chosen to replace outgoing premier Najib Mikati, he said he favoured a “policy of disassociation” from the war in which rebels aim to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But he said this strategy can only be effective if all parties in Lebanon adhere to it.

“We will work… to distance Lebanon from all the negative repercussions” of the war in Syria, he said.

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In his earlier speech, he said “there is a need to bring Lebanon out of its state of division and political fragmentation, as reflected on the security situation, and to ward off the risks” from the Syrian conflict and regional tensions.

Lebanon was dominated politically and militarily by Syria until 2005, and the Assad regime still holds great influence over Beirut through the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and other allies.

The country is sharply divided over the conflict in Syria.

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The Western-backed, primarily Sunni Muslim, opposition from which Salam hails supports the Syrian rebels, while Hezbollah backs the Assad regime.

There have been deadly clashes within Lebanon, mostly in the northern port city of Tripoli, between backers and opponents of Assad.

Armed elements from Lebanon have crossed the border to join the fray on both sides, and Lebanese border villages have occasionally been the target of fire from Syria.

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While the Mikati government also officially took a neutral stance toward the Syrian conflict, some ministers close to Hezbollah openly expressed their support for Assad.

“There is no doubt that the policy of disassociation is a good one for Lebanon,” Salam said, “so long as it is followed to the letter.”

“The different parties should commit themselves to that and not adopt difficult positions.”

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Salam, known for his moderation, took a diplomatic tack when turning to the question of the arsenal held by Hezbollah’s militia, long a subject of discord between the two rival camps.

“I am with the (anti-Israeli) resistance when it is pointed in the right direction and when it is a matter of defending Lebanon,” Salam said.

But “when that arsenal is turned toward the inside of the country for the purpose of influencing the (political) balance, that is straying from the resistance.”

Turning to the difficult task of forming a new cabinet, Salam refused to commit himself whether he would seek a government of national unity, as favoured by Hezbollah.

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He said the priority would be to hold legislative polls, which are scheduled for June but for which a new electoral law has yet to be agreed.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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Trump announces toughest sanctions ‘ever’ on Iran

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President Donald Trump on Friday announced new sanctions on Iran's central bank, calling the measures the toughest ever imposed on another country by the United States.

"We have just sanctioned the Iranian national bank," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

"These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country," he said.

The Trump administration has vowed a response after US officials blamed Iran for weekend blasts on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure, which caused a sharp hike in global crude prices.

The United States already maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran including on its central bank, with anyone who deals with it subject to prosecution.

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Trump uncorks bizarre rant on ‘clean coal’ in Oval Office: ‘When you talk minerals, it’s about digging’

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President Donald Trump on Friday uncorked a strange and nonsensical rant about the virtues of so-called "clean coal" during an Oval Office conversation with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

When asked about the importance of Australia's mineral industry, the president praised the country for doing so much to extract resources in what he described in an environmentally friendly way.

"Coal, as an example, you're the leader of safety in coal digging and we've actually studied it," the president said. "We're doing a lot of coal. You have very little -- you have almost no -- used to have a thing, black lung disease, and in Australia you almost don't have it anymore, you've got all of the dust down."

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The View explodes in confusion after Meghan McCain makes Trump’s Ukraine debacle all about herself

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Meghan McCain managed to place herself at the center of a debate about a whistleblower complaint filed against President Donald Trump.

"The View" grappled with reports that Trump dangled U.S. military aid to Ukraine in exchange for damaging information against Joe Biden, and co-host Abby Huntsman agreed that was an impeachable offense -- but expressed doubts about the accuracy.

"This is a blown-up story and we have no facts, there's no gray area," Huntsman said. "It's black and white, and that would give Trump all the more ammunition if this isn't even true to say, this is what the media does."

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