BEIRUT, Lebanon - The pro-Syrian former Prime Minister Omar Karami appeared yesterday to have the parliamentary support to keep the post he quit under pressure last week, a reappointment that would be a setback for opposition groups.
A majority of the parliament's 128 deputies nominated Karami for prime minister during meetings with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, according to news agencies' reports. An opposition lawmaker said at least 69 deputies offered to back Karami.
Under the Lebanese Constitution, a parliamentary majority for Karami requires Lahoud to name him prime minister. Karami has stayed in a caretaker capacity since quitting Feb. 28 in the face of massive street protests.
Reports that Karami had been nominated anew drew harsh reactions from the opposition, whose calls for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon have won backing from the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and other nations.
"We consider that it is a kind of provocation to come back with the guy who presented his resignation a week ago. It's a joke," said Samir Frangieh, a spokesman for the opposition movement.
Speculation had grown in recent days that Karami, who faced tense protests after the assassination last month of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, would be asked to form a new government before national elections planned for May.
The protests have drawn tens of thousands of people to Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut. The protesters were elated when Karami quit amid public outcry over Hariri's killing and Syria's domination of the country's political and economic life. U.S. officials described the fall of Karami's government as a triumph for the Lebanese people and their bid for new elections.
But analysts and opposition figures said Lebanon's pro-Syrian leadership likely gained courage from a massive demonstration held Tuesday by the militant Shiite group Hezbollah in support of Syria. A U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by the United States and France calls on Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon and quit meddling in its neighbor's political affairs.
The Hezbollah turnout - estimated at 500,000 - was far larger than any of the gatherings assembled by the opposition, which has been led mainly by Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim politicians.
Adnan Iskandar, a political analyst in Beirut, said the move to put Karami back in charge of the government was an act of defiance by the pro-Syrian leadership.
"It is, in a way, another decision in a series of blunders," Iskandar said. "It's really a continuation of the crisis. What's needed now is a way to resolve the crisis."
If Karami accepts the nomination, he would have to assemble a Cabinet and might invite members of the opposition. But they say they would not consider joining a new government unless it meets key demands: allowing an international commission to investigate Hariri's killing, firing top intelligence service officials and getting Syria out.
Opposition deputies attempted to deliver those demands to Lahoud during his meetings with legislators yesterday, but he refused to take them, said Fares Souaid, an opposition legislator.
In Damascus, tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out yesterday in defense of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad. Syria has said it will carry out a phased withdrawal in which it will redeploy troops from northern and central Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley closer to Syria by the end of the month. That redeployment has begun, but Syria has not given a timetable for a full withdrawal of the 14,000 troops.
Syria was to have removed its forces years ago under the terms of the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the Lebanese civil war and allowed Syria to maintain a temporary peacekeeping presence.
Iskandar, the political analyst, said Karami's nomination was evidence of Syria's continued reach into Lebanese politics. He said its sustained presence could influence the May elections for a new parliament, which will choose a president.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.