Talks to name Lebanon PM put off

As regional leaders meet in Damascus to discuss Lebanon's political crises, president delays talks by a week.

    Hezbollah wants Lebanon to end its co-operation with the UN investigation in Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination [AFP]

    Talks scheduled for Monday to name a new Lebanese prime minister have been postponed until next week, the president's office said, days after Saad Hariri's government collapsed.

    Lebanese politicians said that the consultations on a new government could be delayed because of a summit in Damascus later on Monday where the leaders of Syria, Qatar and Turkey were due to discuss Lebanon's political crisis.

    "After assessing the positions of various parties in Lebanon ... President Michel Sleiman has decided to postpone parliamentary consultations until Monday, January 24 and Tuesday, January 25, 2011," read a statement released by Sleiman's office.

    The president had been scheduled to begin two days of consultations with parliamentarians on appointing a new prime minister, following the resignation last week of 11 ministers led by the Hezbollah movement.

    Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Qatari emir, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, are due to meet Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Damascus on Monday to discuss the situation.

    Nasrallah speaks

    Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, said late on Sunday that his party would refuse to back Hariri, Lebanon's caretaker prime minister, in forming a new government.

    Hezbollah, which has a political bloc in parliament as well as a powerful military wing, commands strong support in Lebanon's Shia Muslim community.


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

    Lebanon's crisis is the result of long-simmering tensions over the UN tribunal that is investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister and the father of Saad Hariri.

    The tribunal is widely expected to indict members of Hezbollah, which many fear could rekindle violence in Lebanon.

    "Despite the fact we reject the indictment simply for being politicised, Lebanon is our homeland and we are keen on its safety and stability," Nasrallah said in his speech.

    Hezbollah has several times denounced the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the US and Israel.

    The group demanded that Saad Hariri's government reject the court's findings even before they come out.

    But though he offered some concessions, Saad Hariri has refused to end co-operation with the tribunal, prompting Hezbollah's walkout.

    'US ambassador summoned'

    The US earlier denounced Hezbollah's move as an attempt to evade justice.

    "The tribunal is an independent, international judicial process whose work is not subject to political influence, either from inside Lebanon or from outside," Maura Connelly, the US ambassador to Lebanon, said on Sunday.

    "The efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and independence."

    But on Monday, an official in Lebanon's foreign ministry said the US ambassador had been summoned over accusations that she was interfering with the country's political process, the Associated Press news agency reported.

    The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the foreign minister asked ambassador Connelly to clarify the circumstances behind a visit this weekend with lawmaker Nicolas Fattouch, who is seen as a key "undecided" politician in Lebanon.

    Lebanon's crisis has sparked fears in the region, but Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from the Syrian capital, Damascus, said that a new government might be formed relatively quickly.

    "It could be a very quick process, that's what the opposition want - they want a new government that will do what Mr Hariri was not willing to do, which is to end Lebanon's co-operation with the tribunal," she said.

    "However, they are still not sure if they will have enough members of parliament who would support such a move."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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