Middle East
Hariri asked to be caretaker PM
Lebanese president's request follows collapse of Hariri's government, caused by withdrawal of opposition ministers.
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2011 22:03 GMT
Obama met al-Hariri amid a coalition crisis in Beirut that threatened security in the region [Reuters]

Michel Sleiman, Lebanon's president, has asked Saad al-Hariri to remain as a caretaker prime minister until the country's political crisis is resolved, according to Lebanon's national news agency.

The announcement on Thursday comes as Hariri prepares to return to Lebanon to confront a government that has effectively collapsed following the withdrawal of the Hezbollah-led opposition bloc from his cabinet.

In response to the crisis, Hariri cut short a visit to Washington DC, during which he met with US president Barack Obama. He was set to meet with Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, on Thursday night before heading to Turkey and then home to Lebanon on Friday.

Hariri is yet to comment publicly on the fall of his government.

Nabih Berri, the Lebanese parliament speaker, said that Sleiman will launch formal talks on Monday to create a new government.

Officials have declined to say whether Hariri, whose coalition won a 2009 parliamentary election, will be asked to form a new government, or if someone else would be nominated.

Tribunal disagreements

Lebanon's opposition, the so-called March 8 coalition between Hezbollah and other parties, including the predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, resigned from the cabinet over disagreements stemming from a UN investigation into the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and Saad al-Hariri's father.

In depth

 Profile: Rafiq al-Hariri
 Timeline: Al-Hariri investigation
 Focus: Lebanon simmers as Hezbollah braces itself
 Focus: Split remains over Hariri tribunal
 Inside Story: Hezbollah talks tough

There had been growing political tension in Lebanon amid signs that Hezbollah members could be indicted by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

Hezbollah, which has denied any role in Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination, has denounced the tribunal into the 2005 killing as an "Israeli project'' and urged al-Hariri to reject any findings by the court.

Ten ministers tendered their resignations on Wednesday after reports that Hariri had refused their call to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss controversial issues including the investigation.

An eleventh member, Adnan Sayyed Hussein, later stood down from the 30-member cabinet, automatically bringing down Hariri's government.

Edward Bell, an analyst for the Middle East and North Africa at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Al Jazeera that Lebanon is likely to enter a stage of several months without any government while negotiations on its formation are held.

"The external player with the best chance at diffusing the situation is Syria as it maintains contact with all parties, both inside and outside of Lebanon, and can apply pressure on Hezbollah to reach a consensus with other Lebanese parties," Bell said.

Mohammed Raad, a Hezbollah MP, said that the party would nominate for the premiership a leader with "a history of resistance" when Sleiman attempts to start buiolding a new government, but he stopped short of giving names.

Hariri's bloc is expected to rule out the nomination of anyone other than the outgoing prime minister.

"I do not see a government in the country without Saad al-Hariri," Boutros Harb, a parliamentarian close to Hariri, said.

The standoff between Hariri's camp and Hezbollah over the UN tribunal has already paralysed the government for months and sparked concerns of sectarian violence similar to the one that brought the country close to civil war in May 2008.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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