Salam set to be named Lebanon prime minister

BEIRUT (AFP) - Mr Tamam Salam of the Western-backed opposition is to be named Lebanon's prime minister on Saturday, two weeks after Mr Najib Mikati resigned and effectively brought down his Hezbollah-dominated government.

Mr Salam, 67, emerged as a consensus candidate after regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia backed his nomination, ending a political crisis.

He won endorsements from across the political spectrum, including the powerful Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, the March 14 opposition grouping and veteran kingmaker Walid Jumblatt.

Consultations initiated by President Michel Sleiman ran into a second day on Saturday among political movements over Mr Salam's appointment. A day earlier, at least 86 MPs of 128 members of parliament backed his candidacy.

The talks are expected to end in Mr Salam's appointment being announced at about 2pm (7pm in Singapore).

Though Lebanon's main political currents have backed Mr Salam, he still faces the challenge of creating a new government in a country deeply divided between those that support and oppose the regime in neighbouring war-torn Syria.

The Damascus regime dominated Lebanon politically and militarily for 30 years until 2005.

Ever since, the eastern Mediterranean country has suffered multiple political conflicts and crises, which have been exacerbated by the civil war that has been raging in Syria for more than two years.

While there is consensus on Mr Salam's candidacy, one key issue remains unresolved. Hezbollah and its allies say he should form a national unity government, but it is unclear whether March 14 would accept.

Hanging over the process is the question of whether elections will go ahead as scheduled in June, amid broad opposition to the electoral law currently on the books.

Mr Salam, a Sunni Muslim as tradition dictates for Lebanon's prime ministers, is the son of Mr Saib Salam, who served six terms as premier between 1952 and 1973.

He was first elected a Beirut MP in 1996, and re-elected in 2009. A graduate of economics and management in England and married with three children, he was culture minister between 2008 and 2009.