Lebanese Government Collapses

Turkish (L) and Lebanese security men stand at attention in front of a poster of Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. (REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir/Files)

Lebanese Government Collapses

Government falls after Hezbollah and allies withdraw from coalition in row over UN probe into murder of Rafiq al-Hariri.

Lebanon's unity government has collapsed after the Hezbollah movement
and its political allies resigned from the cabinet over arguments
stemming from a UN probe into the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the
former Lebanese prime minister, in 2005.

There has been growing political tension in Lebanon amid signs that Hezbollah members could be indicted by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

Ten ministers tendered their resignations on Wednesday after reports
that al-Hariri's son Saad, the prime minister, had refused their call
to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss controversial issues including
the investigation by the STL.

An eleventh member, Adnan Sayyed Hussein, later stood down from the
30-member cabinet, automatically bringing down al-Hariri's government.

The request to convene a cabinet meeting came on Tuesday after Syria
and Saudi Arabia, who have for months been attempting to act as
mediators in Lebanon's political crisis, announced their efforts had failed.

Visit cut short
The resignations, which were
announced by Jubran Bassil, the energy minister, came as al-Hariri was
in Washington meeting Barack Obama, the US president.

Bassil called on Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese president, to form a new government.

Immediately after his government was brought down, al-Hariri cut short his visit to the US to fly home.

was driven to Dulles international airport after talks with Obama at
the White House and will meet Suleiman on his return. He will be
stopping in Paris on his way back to meet Nicolas Sarkozy, the French

In a statement, a spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary
general, said: "The secretary general is monitoring closely developments
in Lebanon, where the situation is fast evolving. He emphasises the
importance that calm be preserved. "The secretary-general
further calls for continuing dialogue among all parties and respect for
the constitution and the laws of Lebanon.

"He reiterates his full support for the independent work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon."

Hezbollah, which has denied any role in the assassination, has denounced the tribunal as an "Israeli project'' and urged al-Hariri to reject any findings by the court, which has not yet announced its decisions.

But al-Hariri has refused to break co-operation with the tribunal.

Hariri was on the brink of making a major concession as concerns the
tribunal but occult forces prevented him from doing so," Walid Jumblatt,
the Druze leader, told the AFP news agency without elaborating.

Tribunal 'politicised'

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, in Beirut, said that the opposition ministers
said that they resigned because the prime minister will not engage them
and respond to efforts to reach an understanding on a number of issues.

"What the ministers are saying is that they resigned to protest Saad
Hariri's stand not to find a settlement on how to deal with the
ramifications of the tribunal.

"Hezbollah are saying that this tribunal has been politicised and used by the US and Isreal to descredit Hezbollah,
that they have nothing to do with the death of Rafiq Hariri and they
want Saad Hariri to come out and delegitimise its findings and end
Lebanon's co-operation with the tribunal."

Saad Hariri's associates have said that he would not succumb to
pressure and will call for a cabinet meeting when he finds it

Reacting to the Hezbollah withdrawal, Hillary Clinton, the US
secretary of state, said the tribunal must continue with its work so
that justice can be served.

"We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces
inside Lebanon, as well as interests outside Lebanon, to subvert justice
and undermine Lebanon's stability and progress," Clinton told a news
conference in Doha, Qatar, where she was attending a meeting of regional

"This is a matter that should be allowed to proceed as previously
agreed to. This is not only about the tragic assassination of former
Prime Minister Hariri, but many other people died and were injured as
well," Clinton said.

The standoff between al-Hariri's camp and Hezbollah over the UN
tribunal has paralysed the government for months and sparked concerns of
sectarian violence similar to the one that brought the country close to
civil war in May 2008.

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