Monday, November 13, 2006

Lebanon's crisis deepens as another minister quits

Lebanon's crisis deepens as another minister quits
By Nadim Ladki, REUTERS

Lebanon's political crisis deepened on Monday as the last pro-Syrian minister quit the cabinet shortly before it was to meet to discuss the framework of a special court to try killers of a former prime minister. Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf, a loyal supporter of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, resigned after five Shi'ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, quit over the failure of talks on their demands for effective veto power in the government. The anti-Syrian majority coalition has accused Hezbollah of implementing a Syrian-Iranian plan to overthrow the Western-backed government and foil efforts to set up the court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. "As I can't find myself part of any constitutional authority that lacks representation from a whole religious sect... I herewith tender my resignation from the government," Sarraf, a Christian, said in his letter to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Siniora rejected the resignations but a senior source close to the ministers said they would stand by their decision. Lahoud opposed holding a cabinet session on Monday, saying any government meeting after the resignations would be unconstitutional. Siniora dismissed Lahoud's objections and said the meeting would go ahead as planned. "The hidden plot has been revealed. It's a Syrian-Iranian plot to launch a coup against the legitimacy, stop the establishment of an international tribunal and foil (U.N.) resolution 1701," the anti-Syrian majority said in a statement. Resolution 1701 ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in mid-August.

The United States has already accused Iran, Syria and Hezbollah of plotting to topple the Lebanese government, which Washington has held up as an example of emerging democracy in the Middle East. Hezbollah has denied that it was trying to put hurdles in the way of establishing the Hariri tribunal, saying it had already agreed to it but wanted to discuss the details. Hezbollah said on Sunday it would stage peaceful street protests as part of a campaign to press its demands for better representation in government. Anti-Syrian leaders have pledged counter-demonstrations should Hezbollah take the political crisis to the streets, raising fears of confrontations and violence at a time of rising tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's killing. Damascus denies involvement. The 2005 killing of Hariri led to mass protests against Syria. Under international pressure, Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections. A U.N. commission investigating the murder has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials.

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