Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Siniora vows to keep Cabinet afloat despite Hizbullah pressure

Siniora vows to keep Cabinet afloat despite Hizbullah pressure
Premier says he will resist 'tyranny of the minority'

Compiled by Daily Star staff

Lebanon's rival political camps dug in their heels Tuesday, with Hizbullah's leader insisting the government will fall and the premier vowing to keep his Cabinet afloat. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Tuesday he would resist demands by Hizbullah and its allies that would amount to "tyranny of the minority." Siniora was responding to Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's statements on Monday when he said that "this [Siniora's] government will go, and we have nothing to do with it after the resignations. A new government will come." Nasrallah was quoted as saying in As-Safir newspaper that the "credibility of the current government is zero." Nasrallah's remarks came a day after the government, defying the objections of the president and the resignations of six of its ministers, approved a UN plan for an international tribunal to try the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The vote dealt a blow to Hizbullah and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement. The two parties withdrew their five representatives from the government Saturday after the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority refused to meet their demand for a "national unity" Cabinet that would effectively give Hizbullah and its allies veto power over key decisions. The sixth minister, Yaacoub Sarraf, a Christian allied with the president, resigned Monday, citing similar objections. Siniora told Reuters the majority was ready to expand the Cabinet, but not yield a third of Cabinet seats to the opposition. "They will become able to paralyze the meetings of the Cabinet of ministers ... and have the ability to topple the government," he said. "In a democracy, this is not possible." Siniora, a Sunni who became premier 15 months ago after elections swept an anti-Syrian coalition to power, said he would pursue dialogue to resolve the political crisis. But he said Hizbullah's threats to take to the streets in peaceful protest could spark counterdemonstrations and jeopardize Lebanon's chances of tapping foreign aid for reconstruction after the July-August war with Israel.

Nasrallah, who has threatened to stage street protests if Hizbullah's demand for a national unity government was ignored, assured the Lebanese that there would be no new civil war as a result of mounting political tensions among the country's rival factions. The Hizbullah leader was addressing about 6,000 people whose homes were destroyed in Beirut's southern suburbs by Israeli air strikes during the Jewish state's 34-day war on Lebanon. Nasrallah has lashed out at Siniora's government, which is dominated by anti-Syrians, saying it was unable to rebuild the country after the massive devastation caused by the Israeli attacks in Beirut's southern suburbs and in eastern and Southern Lebanon. "A clean-handed government will come and rebuild. We will not leave the people. As we have said on the first day of victory, we are committed to rebuild your houses and institutions with clean money. "Hopefully, the reconstruction of the Dahiyeh will begin in three months," pro-Hizbullah As-Safir quoted Nasrallah as saying. He said Hizbullah, which began paying compensation to the victims of the war a day after a UN-brokered cease-fire ended the fighting on August 14, has so far paid $300 million to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the Israeli bombing find new places to live. Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc leader, Mohammad Raad, said Tuesday that the group and its allies would surprise the majority with their actions. "Just like the minority surprised everyone with the resignation, they will surprise everyone with their coming actions," he said in a statement.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt lashed out at Hizbullah Tuesday, ruling out giving Hizbullah and the pro-Syrian camp a decisive say in government. "They have the president, who is totally favoring them, they have their alliance with the Iranians and Syrians, at the expense of Lebanese independence," he told Reuters. "They have weaponry; nobody is speaking about their weaponry," he added. Jumblatt and other anti-Syrian leaders say the Cabinet resignations were an attempt to block the creation of a special tribunal to try Hariri's suspected killers. UN investigators have implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials. Siniora said he would hold talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally who also leads the Shiite Amal movement. Berri was due to return from Iran later in the day. In Tehran Berri met with Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei and discussed the Israeli attack on Lebanon. If those consultations fail to calm the atmosphere, Hizbullah may stage the street demonstrations it has promised. Hariri's son, who heads the parliamentary majority, said there are certain parties threatening to destabilize the country if their demands are not met. "We are not the ones making problems, other parties are threatening to create a crisis if they don't get what they want. We don't want to escalate, or take to the streets and we are not challenging anyone," MP Saad Hariri said during an interview with Al-Arabiyya on Tuesday. He dismissed rumors that the anti-Syrian coalition was planning to deploy UNIFIL to protect themselves from Hizbullah. "The UNIFIL are here to stop Israeli violations on Lebanon," Hariri said. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the Shiite ministers resigned in attempt to halt the approval of the UN draft law that outlines the framework of the international court to try Hariri's killers. "Certain people tried to portray the situation a dispute over Cabinet seats, this is not true ... the problem is specifically the international court," Geagea said. - Agencies, with additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine

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