Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has set July 9 as a deadline to conclude the formation of a new government in the country, well informed sources were quoted by Xinhua news agency. The president is due to leave for Paris on July 12 to participate in the international conference on Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, the report added, hinting that a new government should be formed before the president leaves. Over five weeks have passed since designated-Prime Minister Fouad Seniora was assigned by the president to form a national unity government, but all efforts were fruitless as Lebanese leaders were unable to reach an agreement on the cabinet line-up.

Sources close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is in the opposition camp, told a local daily Star that "Prime Minister Seniora’ s performance with respect to forming the cabinet lacks transparency." Meanwhile, the ruling majority is accusing Christian opposition Leader MP Michel Aoun of being responsible for the cabinet deadlock because of his demands to get certain key portfolios. The Doha agreement reached on May 21 resulted in the election of a new president after six months of vacancy in the seat.
 The second phase of the agreement called for the formation of a national unity government, a step that is not implemented yet.

BEIRUT: Polished, yet distinctly partial. The National Christian Gathering (NCG), a Lebanese Christian political front, was launched at the Le Royal Hotel in Dbayyeh on Friday, during a convention with a clear bent toward the opposition Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Marada Movement factions.

In the lead-up to the conference, with the soft tones of Fairuz serenading those assembled early enough to bear witness, ushers and security personnel directed around 150 Christian Lebanese political, economic and social figures to their seats and at times discreetly jested with individuals wearing ties of the "wrong" colors.

Reserved for NCG bigwigs, the front two rows were clearly populated by opposition stalwarts such as FPM chief MP Michel Aoun, Marada leader and former Minister Suleiman Franjieh, Popular Bloc chief MP Elie Skaff and politically realigned former Phalange boss Karim Pakradouni. While obviously lacking representatives from March 14 Christian factions like the Phalange Party and Lebanese Forces, the NCG event displayed no apparent hostility to the absent segment of the Lebanese Christian political establishment.

Preliminary speakers outlined the motive of the NCG – preserving an effective Christian presence in Lebanon and the Middle East. Then, Aoun – the former Lebanese Armed Forces commander and current opposition Christian lynchpin – took the podium to outline the vision by which such preservation could be achieved.

"We must draw new political lines in order to allow [the state of] Lebanon to play its natural role in the Middle East region," Aoun said.

He added that the NCG seeks to buffer Christians in the Middle East from the negative effects of demographic displacement brought on by "American policy in Iraq and Palestine, which has disproportionately affected Christians there," and placed this against a backdrop of "American hegemony in the international system and to the treatment of smaller peoples like chess pieces in a great game since the collapse of the Soviet Union [reduced balance in the international system]."

Still, the FPM leader stressed that "disagreement with the US administration does not mean enmity with the American people, whose [values] we share." Aoun added that Lebanon is a "small and fragile" country that remains hostage "to its location at the crossroads and fault lines of East and West," but went on to say that "Christians in Lebanon are of the East – and their role [in the country] is vital."

Following Aoun, former Bar Association chairman Shakib Qortbawi outlined the political platform of the nascent NCG, which all speakers described as a Christian political front aimed at promoting dialogue within the community and with Lebanese Muslims. The platform stressed the "internal dangers" of "Palestinian resettlement in Lebanon, a development that would overturn the demographic equation in the country and exacerbate a crisis in a country lacking sufficient natural resources; the purchasing of land by non-Lebanese citizens in an illegal fashion; and the marginalization of the Christian community in government, the public administration, boards, institutions and the security services."

Qortbawi added that "a historic settlement should be concluded with Syria leading to the demarcation of borders, the establishment of diplomatic ties and the creation of neighborly relations between two independent peoples."

Finally, the platform concluded that despite an emphasis on Christians in Lebanon, the NCG is attempting to "create relations between strong Lebanese Muslim and strong Lebanese Christian communities, so as to restore balance in a country that has not known life without it.

Beirut- Lebanon could witness the birth of a new government within 24 hours, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Friday. Speaking after a meeting with President Michel Suleiman at the Baabda Palace, east of Beirut, he said the atmosphere was positive and he was hopeful of a breakthrough.

He attributed the delay in the government formation of Premier Fouad Seniora to the demands of the change and reform bloc which is headed by Christian opposition leader General Michel Aoun.

Geagea said there was a possibility of a meeting with Aoun under the auspices of the president.

Geagea proposed a national dialogue among rival Lebanese leaders prior to the issuance of a government statement.

"I suggested to president Suleiman that they hold a national dialogue after the establishment of the government and before drafting the government’s plan of action, so that political factions can agree over the new government’s basic principles," he said.

Dialogue was needed in the light of "major political differences", among the various factions, Geagea said.

Geagea said he also discussed with Suleiman the security situation and the regaining of state authority.

Earlier in the day, Geagea was quoted by the Future newspaper as saying Free Patriotic Movement leader Aoun was "trying to achieve electoral political gains by blackmail."

Geagea told the newspaper, which is owned by the head of the ruling majority, Saad Hariri, that "the two parties blocking the formation of the cabinet are Syria and Hezbollah, and they are not concerned about the delay as long as they are not held responsible.

"Aoun is being used as a front while they are benefiting from the delay…(but) the government will eventually be formed because neither Syria nor Hezbollah can topple the Doha Accord."

Under the deal struck in the Qatari capital Doha on May 21, the opposition, which is backed by Syria and Iran, will get 11 seats in the new government, the majority will get 16 seats and the president will appoint three ministers.

Negotiations between the various parties have stumbled over who should head the key defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs ministries.

Aoun is insisting that Suleiman choose a candidate for only one, rather than two, of these so-called sovereign portfolios. This is rejected by the majority.

He has also suggested that the prime minister’s scope of authority be revised, prompting criticism from within his own camp.

The Doha accord also ended six-days of street fighting between followers of the opposition and the ruling majority that killed at least 82 people.