President Amin Gemayel named an interim military government led by a Christian after sectarian forces deadlocked over electing his successor. Moslem leaders branded his move a virtual coup.
The Maronite Catholic leader announced the caretaker Cabinet on Thursday night five minutes before his term expired in a move that threatened to rekindle the nation's 13-year-old civil conflict.It came on a day of renewed religious violence. Three leaders of the main Shiite Moslem militia, Amal, were assassinated earlier in the day, and Christians battled Moslems for two hours along Beirut's dividing Green Line. One Christian was reported killed.
Though Gemayel's move was aimed at assuring a measure of unity in the crisis, it initially appeared to have the opposite effect. Three Moslem appointees immediately refused to serve in the Cabinet, which is led by army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Catholic.
"This is a midget coup d'etat. It's not going to lift off the ground," said Druse Moslem chieftain Walid Jumblatt in a statement broadcast by Moslem radio stations in Beirut.
Jumblatt said the "only legal government is that of acting Prime Minister Salim Hoss."
Gemayel's choice of Aoun as prime minister came after leading Moslem politicians refused to take part in an interim Cabinet headed by a civilian Maronite prime minister.
An unwritten national covenant calls for Lebanon's president to be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Moslem and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite Moslem.
Gemayel, 45, named the transition government because Parliament, deeply divided along religious lines, failed to elect a new president Thursday. Christian deputies opposed to presidential candidates backed by Syria, the nation's main power broker, boycotted voting.
Parliament Speaker Hussein Husseni set a new Parliament session today to elect a president. The constitution bars Gemayel from seeking another six-year term.
Aoun, 53, had warned on Wednesday that his 42,000-man army would take control of Lebanon if no new president was elected before Gemayel's term expired.
But after the ceremony to hand over power, Aoun said: "We haven't come to impose martial law in Lebanon. My program is to arrange the speedy election of a new president."