Hezbollah, allies to topple Lebanon govt

Ministers from Hezbollah and its allies will resign and bring down the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Saad al Hariri on Wednesday ahead of indictments against the Shi’ite group over the killing of Hariri’s father.

“The resignation statement has been written and will be announced at 4.30 p.m. (1430 GMT),” said a senior political source, who asked not to be named. Eleven ministers would quit, enough to automatically bring down the government, he said.

The move comes a day after Lebanese politicians said Saudi Arabia and Syria had failed to reach a deal to contain tensions over a UN-backed tribunal which is expected to indict Hezbollah members over the 2005 assassination of Rafik al Hariri.

The militant Shi’ite group has denied any role in the killing. Its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has attacked the tribunal as an “Israeli project” and urged  to renounce it.

The Sunni Muslim premier has resisted Hezbollah’s demand.

The stalemate has crippled Hariri’s 14-month-old “unity” government. The cabinet has met, briefly, just once in the last two months and the government failed to get parliamentary approval for the 2010 budget.

A US official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had talked to officials in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and France, seeking a global consensus in backing Lebanon and the tribunal.

“She’s already been talking to the Egyptians, the Saudis, the French and others about having an international consensus about supporting Lebanon and … the tribunal,” a senior US goverment official told reporters on Clinton’s plane as it landed in Doha, Qatar.

The official said Clinton planned to raise the Lebanon issue “urgently” with Gulf Arab leaders meeting in Qatar.

Tensions over the tribunal, which is expected to issue draft indictments this month, have exacerbated existing rifts between Hariri, who is supported by Western powers and Saudi Arabia, and Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria.

Analysts said the resignations could set the stage for protracted political turmoil in Lebanon, which has endured a series of crises since Rafik al Hariri’s killing, including car bombings and sectarian street fighting in Beirut in 2008.

“You definitely have increased rhetoric, but whether that is matched by a slip towards a bad security situation is not pre-determined,” said Karim Makdisi, a teacher of international relations at the American University of Beirut.

Hariri was due to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington around the time of the planned resignation announcement.

Gebran Bassil, a Christian government minister allied to Hezbollah, said Hariri had rejected demands for an urgent session of cabinet to discuss Hezbollah’s insistence that Lebanon withdraw all cooperation with the special tribunal.

“The grace period has ended, and the waiting stage that we lived through without any result has ended,” he told Reuters.

Hezbollah minister Mohammad Fneish on Tuesday blamed the United States for obstructing attempts by Riyadh and Damascus to find a solution. “There were Arab efforts that gave us the chance to work positively… These efforts have not worked because of American intervention,” he said.

Political scientist Hilal Khashan said Washington had “vetoed” the Saudi-Syrian initiative and there was little prospect of a new government being formed quickly.

He said Hezbollah was unlikely to repeat the events of May 2008, when gunmen took over Beirut in protest over government steps against the Shi’ite militant movement, but he did not rule out demonstrations.

“The phenomenon of food riots is spreading in the Arab world, so the opposition may shield itself behind popular demands for combating inflation,” he said.

Beirut’s bourse fell 3.22 per cent in response to the political turmoil, with shares in market heavyweight Solidere, which has led the reconstruction of Beirut since the 1975-1990 civil war, dropping as much as 8.0 per cent.

“(Because) the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Syria was blocked, we have seen a sell-off,” said Louis Karam, senior investment adviser  at Arab Finance Corporation.

Hezbollah, allies to topple Lebanon govt – sources – Emirates24|7.

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