Najib Mikati appointed as Lebanon prime minister

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BEIRUT - The candidate for prime minister backed by Iranian-allied Hezbollah won support from lawmakers Tuesday to form Lebanon’s next government, a choice that set off a 'day of rage' by Sunnis who burned tires and a van belonging to Al-Jazeera to protest the Shiite militant group’s rising power.

By (AP)

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Published: Tue 25 Jan 2011, 6:25 PM

Last updated: Fri 19 May 2023, 9:37 AM

Billionaire businessman and former premier Najib Mikati won a majority of parliament support in two days of voting, defeating Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri as the candidate for the next prime minister. The president will now ask Mikati to try to form a new government that could be controlled by Hezbollah and its allies and give the group an unprecedented level of political power in Lebanon.

The vote caps Hezbollah’s steady rise over the past few decades from a resistance group fighting Israel to Lebanon’s most powerful military and political force. The events of the past few days drew warnings from the US that its support for Lebanon could be in jeopardy, demonstrating the risks of international isolation if Hezbollah pushes its power too far.

Hezbollah’s Sunni rivals, who support Hariri, demonstrated for a second day across the country including the capital Beirut and the main highway linking the capital with the southern port city of Sidon. A senior military official said several armed men fired in the air in west Beirut, but the army intervened and dispersed them.

The largest gathering Tuesday was in the northern city of Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni area and a hotbed of fundamentalists where thousands of people converged at a major square. Al-Jazeera said none of its crew was injured when protesters attacked the station’s van.

Soldiers also clashed with demonstrators in the town of Naameh, south of Beirut, and two civilians were wounded, security officials said.

Hariri thanked people for their support but called for restraint.

“I understand your emotions ... but this rage should not lead us to what is against our morals, faith and beliefs,” he said.

Many fear Lebanon’s political crisis could re-ignite sectarian fighting similar to Shiite-Sunni street clashes that killed 81 people in Beirut in 2008. But besides the protest in Tripoli, the gatherings Tuesday were mostly localized and not hugely disruptive.

Mikati urged calm Tuesday and said he wanted to represent all of Lebanon.

“This is a democratic process,” Mikati told reporters. “I want to rescue my country.”

Hezbollah brought down Saad Hariri’s Western-backed government on Jan. 12 when he refused the group’s demand to cease cooperation with a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah, which denies any role in the killing, is widely expected to be indicted.

The group can now either form its own government, leaving Hariri and his allies to become the opposition, or it can try to persuade Hariri to join a national unity government. In a speech Sunday night, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said he favored a unity government.

Hariri said Monday he will not join a government headed by a Hezbollah-backed candidate. Hariri’s Future bloc declared a day of peaceful protests Tuesday — but called it a “day of rage” and played on the sectarian dimension of the conflict.

The United States, which has poured in $720 million in military aid since 2006, has tried to move Lebanon firmly into a Western sphere and end the influence of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley warned Monday that continuing US support for Lebanon would be “problematic” if Hezbollah takes a dominant role in the government, though he declined to say what the US would do if Hezbollah’s candidate becomes prime minister.

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