Lebanon in bid to avert government collapse

PM threatens to resign if cabinet does not approve funding of UN-backed court investigating Rafik al-Hariri’s murder.

Mikati has threatened to resign as prime minister if his cabinet refuses to fund the Hariri tribunal [EPA]

Lebanese government and party officials have held talks to avert the collapse of Najib Mikati’s government after he threatened to quit unless Lebanon helped pay for a UN-backed court investigating the killing of Rafik al-Hariri.

Hezbollah, one bloc in the cabinet, has said it opposes funding the tribunal which it describes as an Israeli tool aimed at targeting the resistance movement. It has enough votes with its ministerial allies to block any decision by the cabinet.

Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the single largest bloc in cabinet, has called the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

Addressing his party members on Tuesday, Aoun said: “Everybody knows the STL is unlawful and we will leave this issue up for cabinet to resolve.”

The cabinet is expected to put the funding of the tribunal to a vote on Wednesday. Mikati, the prime minister, said last week he would resign if his government failed to endorse the funding, and claimed that 12 of the 30 ministers supported him.

“Intensive meetings are taking place today and tomorrow. We are trying to find a compromise over the court funding that does not annoy Hezbollah and allows the government to stay,” a Lebanese official who is taking parts in the talks told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear what kind of compromise would save the government and satisfy the group but the Lebanese official said “situation is positive and a solution might be reached soon”. He declined to elaborate.

Hezbollah’s position

Speaking after meeting Mohammad Fneish, a Hezbollah member of his cabinet, Mikati said on Tuesday that “work is under way to find a solution for the tribunal funding. Doors are still open, but nothing is final”.

Fneish said Hezbollah wanted the government to stay but “does not approve the funding”.

Mikati came to power in January after the government of Hariri’s son, Saad, collapsed in a dispute over the STL. The opposition at the time, known as the March 8 coalition, wanted Lebanon to cut all links with it, while the government at the time, known as the March 14 coaltion, refused.

In July 2011, the STL indicted four Hezbollah members over the 2005 bombing that killed Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people on the Beirut seafront. Hezbollah strongly denied any role in the killing.

Mikati has always said his government would honour Lebanon’s international commitments. The court has asked Lebanon to pay more than $30m this year, or 49 per cent of its 2011 budget.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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