Talks on naming a new prime minister in crisis-hit Lebanon were postponed yesterday, as the prosecutor of a UN court probing the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was set to submit indictments in the case.
“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 the president’s office.
Talks with parliamentary groups to name a new prime minister had been scheduled after the powerful militant group Hezbollah forced the collapse of the Western-backed government of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader last Wednesday because of a dispute over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), set up to investigate Rafiq Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor of the Netherlands-based tribunal, which Hezbollah accuses of being part of a US-Israeli plot, is set to submit his findings in the case to a pre-trial judge yesterday, Lebanese officials said.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said he believes the indictments would implicate members of his party, a scenario he has repeatedly rejected.
In a televised speech late on Sunday, Nasrallah vowed his group would defend itself against the likely charges, without giving details.
“We will not allow our reputation and our dignity to be tarnished nor will we allow anyone to conspire against us or to unjustly drench us in [Rafiq] Hariri’s blood,” Nasrallah said.
“We will act to defend our dignity, our existence and our reputation,” he said.
Nasrallah also said his party and its allies would not nominate Saad Hariri for prime minister and accused the US of scuttling an initiative by regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a compromise on the standoff over the tribunal.
He also accused Western states of pulling out all the stops to ensure the Sunni leader was reappointed.
“As soon as the opposition raised the possibility of naming a candidate other than [Saad] Hariri, every single Western capital mobilized” to promote the acting prime minister, Nasrallah said.
Under the proposed Syrian-Saudi pact, he added, the Lebanese government would pull its judges from the court, cut off its share of funding and relinquish its memorandum of understanding with the STL. That essentially would mean that Lebanese authorities would cease all cooperation with the court.
Nasrallah accused Saad Hariri of backing out of the deal under US pressure.
The Lebanon’s government collapse has sparked a flurry of international diplomatic efforts to contain the political storm that many fear could degenerate into sectarian violence. France has proposed an international “contact group”, similar to that of Bosnia in the 1990s, that would include Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and the US in an effort to defuse tensions.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed he would participate in the contact group. He was scheduled to travel to Damascus yesterday to meet with Syrian and Qatari leaders on the Lebanon crisis.