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      Controversial Power Deal Saves Mikati Government

      A controversial power bill that threatened to topple the Hizbullah-backed government in Beirut has been approved.
      By Gabe Kahn.
      First Publish: 9/7/2011, 7:59 PM

      The Hizbullah-backed Mikati government in Beirut approved a controversial electricity bill proposed by Energy Minister Jibran Bassil, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi told reporters Wednesday.

      “The Cabinet approved the electricity bill which will be funded in four installments, one per year, starting 2011,” Safadi said.

      Passing the bill ends a protracted cabinet crisis in that threatened the future of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government and clears the way to improving Lebanon's insufficient electrical infrastructure.

      A ministerial source had told reporters earlier Wednesday a compromise had been secured over the controversial electricity bill proposed by Bassil ahead of a planned meeting to discuss the draft law.

      “The Cabinet is expected to endorse the disputed bill after a compromise was reached between members of various elements in the government,” the source said.

      The breakthrough came after intensive talks to resolve the lengthy dispute, in particular a meeting held between Mikati, Bassil and Hizbullah MP Mohammad Fneish, the source added.

      The primary point of contention was Bassil's insistence the bill be approved as is despite the lack of regulatory and fiscal oversight therein, which led to intense criticism - especially in light of the fact that Bassil's son runs Lebanon's electric authority.

      March 14 opposition leaders were particularly vocal that a regulatory body be put in place creating a rare point of commonality with Mikati amid their bitter ongoing row with the Hizbullah-backed government over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

      It is unknown if Mikati capitulated to Bassil's demands or succeeded in reaching an agreement on the creation of a regulatory body to oversee the expansion project.