Berri, who also leads the Shia party Amal, part of the Hezbollah-led opposition against the ruling anti-Syrian March 14 bloc, accused the MPs of trying to sabotage dialogue between the rival camps.

 

"But we will remain ready for dialogue, with an open hand in order to save Lebanon," Berri said.

 

Differences

 

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said the latest developement had "dampened" prospects for a solutuion amenable to both the majority bloc and the Hezbollah-led opposition.

 

"Parliament was in recess and its ordinary sessions are supposed to begin mid-March", she said.

 

"Parliament will not convene as long as the government is amputated"

Nabih Berri, parliamentary speaker

"[The protesting politicians] accused the speaker of violating the constitution, so the speaker held a press conference and said he had not violated the constitution and that there is nothing in the constitution to say a meeting has to be held today," she said.

 

Berri, who recently met Saad al-Hariri, leader of the March 14 bloc and son of the assassinated former prime minister, said the two opposing camps had agreed on all issues except the opposition's main demand for veto power within the cabinet.

 

The opposition's demand for a government of national unity, with attendant veto power in the cabinet, led to the resignation of Shia politicians from the cabinet in November 2006. 

 

Referring to the current composition of the cabinet, Berri said "parliament will not convene as long as the government is amputated".

 

Syrian-Iranian influence

  

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist party (PSP) and a key figure within the ruling March 14 coalition, said that Syria and Iran, which back Hezbollah, were "dictating" to Berri not to convene parliament.

 

The March 14 bloc has accused the opposition of blocking the creation of the tribunal under pressure from Damascus.

 

Syria has been widely blamed for the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005.

 

The convention for the tribunal was passed by the government in November, but still needs to be ratified by parliament.

 

The Hezbollah-led opposition argues that the government's adoption of the convention was null and void as the body had become illegitimate since the resignation of all its Shia members from the cabinet of Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's current prime minister.