Hariri: There is no alternative to dialogue

PM in first public statement: "Between power and the dignity of my people and country, I choose the dignity of Lebanon and the Lebanese."

January 14, 2011 19:56
3 minute read.
Lebanese Saad Hariri in Washington

Lebanese Saad Hariri in Washington 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

BEIRUT — Lebanon's caretaker prime minister returned to Beirut on Friday, saying dialogue is the only way out of the country's political crisis after a Hizbullah-led coalition toppled his Western-backed government.

Sa'ad Hariri has been trying to rally support in the US, France and Turkey since ministers allied to the Shiite militant group resigned on Wednesday, bringing down his government while he was in Washington meeting with President Barack Obama.

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"There is no alternative to dialogue," Hariri told reporters Friday after meeting with President Michel Suleiman.

"Between power and the dignity of my people and country, I choose the dignity of Lebanon and the Lebanese," he said, reading from a brief statement. He did not take questions.

The crisis is the climax of long-simmering tensions over the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The tribunal is widely expected to indict members of Hizbullah soon, which many fear could rekindle violence in the tiny nation plagued for decades by war and civil strife. Hizbullah denounces the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the US and Israel and demanded Hariri reject the court's findings even before they come out. But Hariri has refused to break cooperation with the tribunal.

In an effort to ease tensions that some fear could ignite sectarian violence, the US Embassy in Beirut urged all political factions to "remain calm and exercise restraint at this critical time."

On his way back to Lebanon from Washington, Hariri stopped in France and Turkey as part of an effort to rally international support. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday after meeting with Hariri that he would consult authorities in Iran, Syria and Qatar on Friday to try to find a solution to the crisis, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Lengthy negotiations lie ahead between Lebanon's Western-backed blocs and the Hizbullah led-alliance known as March 8. If those fail, Lebanon could see a resurgence of the street protests and violence that have bedeviled the country in the past.

Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, is Lebanon's most potent military force.

Suleiman, the Lebanese president, will launch formal talks Monday on creating a new government, polling lawmakers on their choice before nominating a prime minister. According to Lebanon's constitution, the president must be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite.

Each faith makes up about a third of Lebanon's population of 4 million.

Hariri will stay on in a caretaker role while a new government is formed.

Oussama Saad, a Sunni politician who is a Hizbullah ally and potential candidate, called for a new prime minister who would "defend the resistance."

"We cannot accept Hariri's return to the post of prime minister," he said Friday. "We call for a new prime minister who does not draw strength from the outside against the people of his country, and one who doesn't conspire against the resistance."

Besides finding a Sunni candidate, Hizbullah would need the backing of Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect who broke with his former allies in Hariri's camp in 2009. Jumblatt has been a shrewd politician, known for shifting loyalties.

He met with Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday night, but did not comment on the talks.

In the Netherlands, the tribunal was holding a public hearing Friday to discuss a former Lebanese security chief's demand to see the evidence that led to his being jailed as a suspect for nearly four years.

Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, Lebanon's former chief of general security, and three other pro-Syrian officers were freed from a Lebanese jail in April 2009 for lack of evidence. Sayyed said the tribunal's refusal to let him see "false witness" testimony he claims framed him is undermining the court's credibility.

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