Hizbullah candidate Mikati to form new Lebanese gov't

Nasrallah: New gov't not controlled by Hizbullah; Billionaire encourages unity, urges flying the flag of Lebanon; Sunnis take to the streets in protest.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 25, 2011 14:34
3 minute read.
Najib Mikati

Najib Mikati. (photo credit: AP)

 
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BEIRUT —Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah supported Lebanese President Michel Suleiman's formal appointment of the Hizbullah-backed candidate Najib Mikati to prime minister-designate.

Nasrallah commented on Mikati in a speech Tuesday saying "We saw in Najib Mitaki's apointment to the governing authority an opportunity for Lebanon to get out of the crisis in which it has been entrenched. Mikati is not the Hizbullah candidate. Anyone who says this is distorting reality and fooling the public."

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"The resulting new government is not, in any way, a Hizbullah-government. I wish it was. Anyone who says so aids in the incitement against Hizbullah coming primarily from the United States and Israel," Nasrallah added.

Earlier Tuesday Mikati won support from lawmakers 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 Shi'ite group's rising power.

The billionaire businessman 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 new government could be controlled by Hizbullah and its allies and give the group an unprecedented level of political power in Lebanon.

In a victory speech Mikati vowed to continue to be deteremined "in favor of national interest."

He said "I urge everyone to fly the flag of Lebanon over all other flags."



Mikati also responded to the violence in the streets, "I call on supporters to keep quiet," and added "I hope there will be no more violence."

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 Hizbullah pushes its power too far.

Hizbullah'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.



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turmoil in Lebanon

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 Na'ameh, 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 Shi'ite-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."

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

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

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.

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