Under-siege Lebanese PM Due in Moscow

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa (L) talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in Beirut 12 December 2006.

Russia was to host under-siege Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora on Thursday, days before a visit to Moscow by his arch rival, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, offering the Kremlin a chance to flex its diplomatic muscles.

The Lebanese prime minister was to fly to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin, Siniora's office confirmed, following weeks of mass opposition protests that have kept him holed up in his Beirut office.

Supporters of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its Christian allies took to the streets earlier this month in an attempt to bring down his Western-backed majority government.

Siniora's anti-Syrian government accuses Syria of supporting Hezbollah in a bid to stage a "coup d'etat."

This has raised the possibility that Moscow may use its influence to engineer a compromise between Siniora and Syria's Assad, who arrives in Russia on Monday for a three-day visit.

Russia's Kommersant daily on Thursday cited an unnamed diplomatic source as saying that Siniora is ready to promise an end to accusations against Syria by his government if Damascus agrees to give up attempts to bring down his government.

As Syria's main arms supplier, Russia has leverage to push Assad to agree to such a deal, the newspaper said.

However, the newspaper also noted that recent comments by Russian officials suggested Moscow's sympathies ultimately lie with Syria, its traditional ally in the Middle East.

Lebanon's ambassador to Russia would only say that the aim of Siniora's visit was to provide Russia with "trustworthy" information about the situation in Lebanon, Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Siniora's visit comes after the UN Security Council reiterated its full backing for the "legitimate and democratically elected" Lebanese government and condemned all attempts to destabilize the country.

The Lebanese opposition accuses the rump cabinet left by the departure of six pro-Syrian ministers last month of riding roughshod over the power-sharing arrangements in force since the 1975-90 civil war and has threatened to escalate its protests.

Source: AFP

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