By Hussein Dakroub
Friday, January 21, 2011
BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Thursday he would seek a new term as prime minister at next week’s parliamentary consultations, defying pressure by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies to oust him.
Hariri’s position came hours after Turkey and Qatar abandoned efforts to mediate a solution for Lebanon’s deepening political crisis, in a development reflecting profound divisions between the feuding parties and heightening fears of sectarian violence over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The STL, which is probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has for months been at the root of tension between the March 8 and March 14 camps.
In an address to the Lebanese, his second in less than a week since his national unity Cabinet was brought down with the resignations of ministers of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies last week, the 40-year-old Hariri said: “They [Hezbollah and its allies] came back at dawn [Thursday] to the Qatari and Turkish mediators with one demand: Saad Hariri’s return to the premiership is unacceptable.”
“They have put aside all provisions of the solution and did not make any observations or comment. They only demanded that Saad Hariri be ousted from the premiership,” he said.
Rejecting attempts to remove him from his post, Hariri said: “We will go to the parliamentary consultations to be held by the president next Monday, God willing. We will give our opinion while I remain committed to my nomination to the premiership by the Future MPs’ bloc and other allies.” His words drew loud cheers and a standing ovation from members of his caretaker Cabinet, Future bloc MPs and supporters.
“A constitutional process is under way. We will accept its results despite the climate of intimidation on the street and elsewhere,” Hariri said, speaking at his residence in downtown Beirut in front of a huge poster of his father. He was apparently referring to Hezbollah’s unarmed show of force in Beirut Tuesday which caused panic among the citizens and forced schools to shut down. Hezbollah’s action was viewed by the March 14 coalition as a “rehearsal” to what might happen if the group were accused of involvement in Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
Hariri warned against taking the crisis to the streets. “The game of streets and the threat to use streets is a game that has nothing to do with our national upbringing,” he said. “We will not resort to the streets because from the beginning we have chosen state institutions.”
He appealed for calm, saying, “Any drop of Lebanese blood is more precious to me than all positions in power.”
In line with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz’s “directives,” Hariri said
that he decided to accept all articles of a settlement reached by the Qatari and Turkish mediators to maintain coexistence.
Consultations on forming a new government are scheduled to begin Monday after they were postponed this week to give a chance to Qatari and Turkish mediators to find a solution for the crisis over the STL’s indictment.
Shortly after the address, March 14 leaders held a meeting at Hariri’s residence, re-nominating him as their candidate for the premiership and warning against March 8’s “ongoing attempts to seize political power through pressures.”
On Monday, the STL’s Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submitted a sealed indictment to the tribunal’s pre-trial Judge Daniel Fransen. The indictment had been widely assumed to implicate some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s killing, raising fears of sectarian violence.
After two days of intensive talks with Lebanese leaders and rival factions, including Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu left Beirut at dawn Thursday, saying they were suspending the mediation attempts.
The Turkish-Qatari decision came a day after Saudi Arabia also said it abandoned efforts to mediate in the Lebanese crisis and warned of a “dangerous” situation in Lebanon that could lead to the partitioning of the country.
In a terse statement issued by the Qatari and Turkish mediators before leaving Beirut, they cited what they called “reservations” over a draft agreement they had submitted to the March 8 and March 14 parties as the reason for halting their efforts.
“[Our] efforts resulted in drafting a paper that takes into account the political and legal demands to resolve the current crisis in Lebanon based on the Syrian-Saudi initiative,” they said in a statement. “But because of some reservations, they decided to suspend their efforts in Lebanon for the time being and to leave Beirut for consultation with their leadership.” Among other things, the Syrian-Saudi initiative reportedly calls for Lebanon to disavow the STL.
Earlier Thursday, Davutoglu said he did not believe Lebanese parties were close to an agreement on solving the political crisis. He said in Istanbul after returning from the Lebanese capital that his country was ready to help if there was a new approach from the parties.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Istanbul, Davutoglu urged the various Lebanese parties to show “wisdom” in order to prevent Lebanon’s slide toward “new unrest.”
Meanwhile, the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani held talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad on the Lebanese crisis. The two leaders stressed the “importance of [maintaining] Lebanon’s stability.”
“They agreed on [maintaining] security and preventing any escalation in Lebanon,” the official Syrian news agency SANA reported.
Speaker Nabih Berri’s political aide, MP Ali Hassan Khalil, and Nasrallah’s political aide, Hussein Khalil, travelled to Damascus Thursday for talks with Syrian officials on the Lebanese crisis, political sources said.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States stood ready to help Lebanon out of its ongoing political impasse, but it was ultimately up to Beirut to resolve the crisis.
Asked at a press conference about international mediation efforts following the collapse of Hariri’s government, Clinton said: “We stand ready, as do many others in the region and beyond, to be of assistance,” Clinton said. “Any decision will have to be made by the Lebanese people.”
“Any mediation effort engaged in by anyone outside of Lebanon itself should be aimed at supporting the people of Lebanon and making decisions that lead to stability and security, justice and a commitment to bringing those who committed the murders of prime minister Hariri and 22 others to account,” Clinton said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit said that “those who want to undermine Lebanon’s stability will face many enemies.” In an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai to be published Friday, Abu al-Gheit said that Lebanon will not turn the page on the assassinations of political figures without achieving justice.
In Beirut U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams discussed the Lebanese crisis with Hariri and called on rival factions to stay calm.
“We discussed the various international initiatives, most recently that by Turkey and Qatar, and the prospect for achieving a new government and political stability in Lebanon. I believe that that is possible, provided that there is a good will and cooperation of all political parties in working for justice as well as stability,” he said.
“We also discussed the general situation and I underlined the need for calm and order in the current period despite the political divisions that are obvious,” he said.
Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun told a news conference that Hariri must not return to power. “Saad Hariri must not return to power. This is not because we are angry with him or with the Sunnis who have some of the most honorable men. They cannot impose a man like this on us. We cannot work in the framework of a state with a constitution and laws which we do not respect,” Aoun said.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who holds the decisive vote in Parliament, is expected to declare his position on Hariri’s nomination at a news conference Friday noon.