New leader pledges to keep old ways

Lebanon's assassinated prime minister, Rashid Karami, was buried June 3 amid scenes of grief at his hometown of Tripoli and a nationwide shutdown in condemnation of his murder. But despite the general shock at his death, and despite his stature as the country's most experienced Sunni Muslim politician, the signs so far are that Karami's abrupt departure may leave the deadlocked Lebanese crisis largely unchanged.

The prime minister's death triggered recriminations and heightened political tensions between some of the country's leaders, but there were no immediate outbreaks of violence, nor was a general flareup of hostilities expected.

Karami was generally seen as a staunch ally of Syria, and the general assumption has been that his still-unidentified assassins were aiming to strike a blow at Syrian influence and interests in Lebanon. But while Damascus was swift to express concern about and condemnation of the killing, some analysts doubt that Syrian interests in Lebanon will be seriously damaged, since any new Sunni prime minister would be likely to represent the Sunnis' pro-Syrian stance.

The constitutional vacuum left by Karami's assassination was swiftly filled when President Amin Gemayel appointed Education Minister Salim Hoss, also a Sunni Muslim, acting prime minister.

Dr. Hoss, himself a former prime minister, as well as an economist, later said that he would pursue the same policy lines as Karami. The murdered prime minister had led a year-and-a-half old Muslim boycott of Christian President Gemayal after Gemayal rejected a Syrian-sponsored settlement plan for Lebanon. The boycott rendered the ``national unity'' government virtually ineffective.

``There will be no end to the boycott until political reforms have been achieved,'' Hoss said.

Four weeks before being killed, Karami resigned his post, in what was seen as an attempt to stimulate renewed efforts to break the political stalemate. Gemeyal had not yet accepted the resignation, however.

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