Hariri asked to be caretaker PM


Lebanese president’s request follows collapse of Hariri’s government, caused by withdrawal of opposition ministers
Gebran Bassil, centre, a Lebanese minister, announced the withdrawal of 11 cabinet ministers on Wednesday Reuters]

Michel Sleiman, Lebanon’s president, has asked Saad al-Hariri to remain as a caretaker prime minister until the country’s political crisis is resolved, according to Lebanon’s national news agency.
Sleiman’s announcement on Thursday comes as Hariri prepares to return to Lebanon to confront a government that has effectively collapsed following the withdrawal of the Hezbollah-led opposition bloc from his cabinet.
In response to the crisis, Hariri cut short a visit to Washington DC, during which he met with US president Barack Obama. He is set to meet with French president Nicholas Sarkozy on Thursday night before returning to Lebanon on Friday.
Lebanon’s opposition, the so-called March 8 coalition between Hezbollah and other parties, including the predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, resigned from the cabinet over disagreements stemming from a UN investigation into the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and Saad al-Hariri’s father.
There has been growing political tension in Lebanon amid signs that Hezbollah members could be indicted by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

Ten ministers tendered their resignations on Wednesday after reports that Hariri had refused their call to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss controversial issues including the investigation.

An eleventh member, Adnan Sayyed Hussein, later stood down from the 30-member cabinet, automatically bringing down Hariri’s government.

The request to convene a cabinet meeting came on Tuesday after Syria and Saudi Arabia, who have for months been attempting to act as mediators in Lebanon’s political crisis, announced their efforts had failed.

The standoff between Hariri’s camp and Hezbollah over the UN tribunal has paralysed the government for months and sparked concerns of sectarian violence similar to the one that brought the country close to civil war in May 2008.

US criticises move

The resignations were announced by Gibran Bassil, the energy and water minister, who called on Sleiman to form a new government.

The White House later accused Hezbollah of acting out of “fear” and commended Hariri “for his steadfast leadership and efforts to reach peace, stability, and consensus in Lebanon under difficult circumstances”.

Hezbollah, which has denied any role in the assassination, has denounced the tribunal into the 2005 killing as an “Israeli project” and urged al-Hariri to reject any findings by the court, which has not yet announced its decision on the indictments.

“What the ministers are saying is that they resigned to protest Saad Hariri’s stand not to find a settlement on how to deal with the ramifications of the tribunal,” Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin in Beirut said.

“Hezbollah are saying that this tribunal has been politicised and used by the US and Israel to discredit Hezbollah, that they have nothing to do with the death of Rafiq Hariri and they want Saad Hariri to come out and delegitimise its findings and end Lebanon’s co-operation with the tribunal.”

Hariri has refused to break co-operation with the tribunal.

“Saad Hariri was on the brink of making a major concession as concerns the tribunal but occult forces prevented him from doing so,” Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, told the AFP news agency.

Hariri’s associates said that he would not succumb to pressure and will call for a cabinet meeting when he finds it appropriate. The prime minister himself has yet to comment on the fall of his government.

‘Undermining stability’

Reacting to the Hezbollah withdrawal, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the tribunal must continue with its work so that justice can be served.

“We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon, as well as interests outside Lebanon, to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon’s stability and progress,” Clinton said in Doha, Qatar, where she was attending a meeting of regional leaders.

“This is a matter that should be allowed to proceed as previously agreed to. This is not only about the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, but many other people died and were injured as well.”

A spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said in a statement that Ban “is monitoring closely developments in Lebanon, where the situation is fast evolving. He emphasises the importance that calm be preserved.

“The secretary-general further calls for continuing dialogue among all parties and respect for the constitution and the laws of Lebanon.

“He reiterates his full support for the independent work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.”

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