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Lebanese leader steps down

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced his resignation at the government palace, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2013.

Hussein Malla/AP Photo

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced his resignation at the government palace, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2013.

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s prime minister resigned Friday due to an impasse over a new election law and the Cabinet’s refusal to extend the tenure of the country’s police chief.

Najib Mikati’s resignation comes at a time of rising tensions and sporadic violence in Lebanon largely linked to the civil war next door in Syria. Lebanon and Syria share a complex network of political and sectarian ties that are often enflamed, and many fear that the war in Syria will bring violence to Lebanon.

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These tensions have roiled Lebanon’s fragile political scene as well.

Mikati said he hoped his departure would be ‘‘an impetus for leaders to shoulder their responsibilities.’’

‘‘There is no way to be loyal to Lebanon and protect it other than through dialogue that opens the way to the formation of a salvation government that represents all Lebanese political powers and takes responsibility for saving the nation,’’ he said late Friday in a speech aired live on TV.

Gunmen who support and oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad clashed Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, leaving six people dead and more than 20 wounded, according to state-run National News Agency. Clashes between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh, which supports Syria’s rebels, and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports Assad, have broken out repeatedly in recent months.

Also in Tripoli, the Lebanese army said a soldier was killed and several others wounded during an army raid to capture several gunmen.

After months of wrangling, the Lebanese parliament has been unable to agree on a law to govern elections slated for later this year.

The Hezbollah-dominated Cabinet has also refused to extend the tenure of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, Lebanon’s police chief, considered a foe by the Islamic militant group.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman must accept Mikati’s resignation for it to be official.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was ‘‘watching the situation in Lebanon very, very carefully.’’

‘‘Our basic view of this is that we believe the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and one that will strengthen Lebanon’s stability, its sovereignty and its independence,’’ she told reporters. ‘‘And we have grave concerns about the role that Hezbollah plays.’’

Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed reporting from Washington.
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