|Former premier Rafik Hariri was assassinated in February 2005, in an explosion that killed 21 others [EPA]|
Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s prime minister, says he has transferred its share of funding to a UN-backed court investigating the murder of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri, an issue that threatened to spark the collapse of his government.
He said the decision was in Lebanon’s interest and would protect the country from the upheavals shaking the region.
“This morning, I transferred Lebanon’s share of funding to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL),” Mikati said in a surprise announcement on Wednesday.
“I vow to put the stability and safety of Lebanon above any other interest.:
It was unclear whether Mikati’s decision to transfer the funds had the blessing of his cabinet.
“This does not constitute a victory for one party over another,” he said. “This represents a gain for the Lebanese state and institutions.
“I don’t want to be head of a government that fails to honour its international obligations and pulls the country out of the Arab and international community.”
In July 2011, the STL indicted four members of Hezbollah over the 2005 bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 21 other people on the Beirut seafront. The predominantly Shia organisation strongly denies any role in the killing.
Cabinet meeting postponed
Mikati last week threatened to resign should his government refuse to fund the STL, and the issue was to be discussed on Wednesday at a cabinet meeting that was postponed.
He has always said his government would honour Lebanon’s international commitments. The STIL has asked Lebanon to pay more than $30m this year, or 49 per cent of its 2011 budget.
Hezbollah opposes funding the STL, which it describes as an Israeli tool aimed at targeting it. Hezbollah 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 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.”
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.