View Full Version : Lebanese Government Breaking Apart

11-12-2006, 12:12 PM
Lebanese Government Breaking Apart
Prime Minister Rejects Resignations From Hezbollah Cabinet Members



(AP)^Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora on Saturday rejected the resignation of Hezbollah and Amal Cabinet ministers from his government, hours after the five Shiite Muslim members broke away in protest.

Saniora "rejects the resignation of the colleagues representing Hezbollah even if he receives the formal written resignations," said a statement issued by his office.

The premier's rejection meant the five ministers were still legally part of the Lebanese government late Saturday, and the Cabinet of Western-backed Saniora remained in office.

But the resignations threw the country's political landscape into chaos hours after rival politicians failed to agree on Hezbollah's demand to form a national unity government.

They removed considerable political backing from Shiite Muslims, the country's main sect, and make it difficult for Saniora to govern. More than eight Cabinet ministers would need to resign before Saniora's government would be dissolved.

Hezbollah and Amal said their ministers resigned because all-party talks on forming a national unity government among rival political factions fell through and government was trying to impose conditions on the negotiations, according to the guerrilla group's Al-Manar television.

Al-Manar, quoting a statement from Hezbollah and Amal, said the ministers quit because they refuse "to cover up what we are not convinced of and what might damage the supreme national interests." Their resignations also resulted from authorities "insisting on imposing terms and premature results for negotiations," Hezbollah's TV station said.

Saniora's statement indicated however that he was open for dialogue to bring the Cabinet ministers back into the fold. Saniora "strongly insists on their continued active participation in the government," the statement said.

The Cabinet will continue to govern based on the constitution "in words and spirit" and will stick to it "on the basis of consultation, dialogue and consensus," Saniora said.

Hezbollah, Amal and other political allies have been demanding a national unity Cabinet with at least a one-third representation, which would effectively give them veto power over key decisions and bring down the government if they don't agree with a decision.

The parliamentary majority has refused their demand and the two sides have been holding talks for several days over the issue.

It was not immediately clear whether Hezbollah would stick to the ultimatum it gave political leaders to reach a deal on the national unity government or face mass street protests beginning Monday.

Hezbollah's fierce resistance to Israel during their 34-day war last summer has gained the group increasing political clout in a country deeply split along religious and political lines.

The highly organized group, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has also shown it can draw tens of thousands of supporters to rallies.

Saturday's breakdown of the talks and Cabinet resignations came a day after the government received a draft document setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, another potential land mine in the escalating tensions between Saniora's government and its opponents.

Michel Aoun, the leader of a Christian faction allied with Hezbollah, accused the government's anti-Syrian majority after Saturday's talks collapsed of "working outside the norms of a democratic system."

But Samir Geagea, another Christian politician, suggested that the document to set up the Hariri international tribunal was partly responsible for the failure of the talks. "Unfortunately, there are some who are trying undermine the international tribunal," he said without elaborating.

Saniora received the draft document on Friday, setting in motion the process of creating a "tribunal with an international character" as authorized by the U.N. Security Council to try suspects in the Hariri bombing.

The U.N. investigation into Hariri's killing has implicated top Syrian officials, but Syria has denied any role. Hariri's killing sparked large anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and international pressure leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon that ended a 29-year military presence. Elections afterward brought an anti-Syrian majority to the Parliament and Cabinet.

Saniora on Saturday called for a Cabinet meeting to be held Monday to vote on the U.N. draft document. But in a sign of escalating tensions, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud rejected the request.