Telecoms tycoon Najib Mikati, who is backed by a Hezbollah-led coalition, looked set to be asked to form a new government after the first of two days of consultations among Lebanese politicians.
Caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, whose government collapsed earlier this month, said he and his group would not serve in a government dominated by Hezbollah, and Hariri supporters in north Lebanon called for a “day of anger”.
“As for the coup that Hezbollah is carrying out, it is an attempt to put the office of prime minister under the control of Wilayat al Fakih (Iran’s clerical authority)”, Hariri loyalist Mustafa Alloush said in the northern city of Tripoli.
Lebanon’s power-sharing political system calls for the post of prime minister to be held by a Sunni, and Hariri supporters said any figure who accepted the nomination from Hezbollah to form a new government would be considered a traitor.
Hariri supporters protested in several cities on Monday, blocking streets in Tripoli, burning tyres to cut the main north-south highway outside the southern town of Sidon, and demonstrating in Beirut before they were dispersed by security forces. The road to Syria through the Bekaa Valley was also cut.
Hezbollah and its allies walked out of Hariri’s unity government on Jan. 12 in a dispute over still confidential indictments by the UN-backed tribunal which is investigating the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik al-Hariri, the premier’s father.
The political deadlock has deepened sectarian divisions in Lebanon and the prospect of a government formed by Hezbollah will alarm Israel, which fought a month-long war with the militant group in 2006.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said at the weekend there was a danger that an “Iranian government” would be established in Lebanon. He said Hezbollah “would no longer be merely a terrorist group operating with Iran’s backing, but a terrorist group in control of the country”.
Hariri has stayed on after his government collapsed and hoped to form a new coalition. But support from Jumblatt and the six members of his parliamentary bloc, added to the 57 members of Hezbollah and their allies, plus Mikati himself, will give Mikati 65 votes in the 128-member parliament.
There was no sign that Mikati, a wealthy businessman and former prime minister who sought to portray himself as a consensus figure, might bow to the show of street protest from fellow Sunni Muslims and withdraw his candidacy.
Mikati was briefly caretaker prime minister between April and July 2005, after Rafik al-Hariri’s death forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
After meeting President Michel Suleiman on Monday, Mikati said that he would reach out to all parties in Lebanon if he were chosen. “I tell Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, we are all one hand for the sake of Lebanon,” he told reporters.
But Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who has support from the United States and Saudi Arabia, said his supporters would not serve under a premier chosen by the Iranian-backed Shia group.
“The Future Movement ... rejects taking part in any government headed by a March 8 candidate,” his office said in a statement on Monday. The March 8 bloc includes Shia movements Hezbollah and Amal, along with Christian leader Michel Aoun.
Hariri said last week he would accept the outcome of the consultations for a new prime minister and would not resort to street protests.
The tension has pushed up the cost of insuring Lebanon’s debt against restructuring or default to an 18-month high of 367 points. But Lebanese stocks rallied on Monday, rising 2.0 percent, led by gains in real estate firm Solidere which has led the reconstruction of Beirut since Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.
The indictments at the heart of the latest dispute between Hezbollah and Hariri were filed secretly this month at a UN-backed court in The Hague. They are expected to accuse members of Hezbollah, which denies any role in the killing and says the tribunal is serving U.S. and Israeli interests.
Politicians allied to Hezbollah have said the first priority of a government they form would be to cut links with the court.
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