Tensions break out between Lebanese gov't factions

Parliament speaker says he will not convene the parliament before opposition demands for a national unity government are met.

lebanon parliament 88 (photo credit: )
lebanon parliament 88
(photo credit: )
Pro-government lawmakers and their Hizbullah rivals on Tuesday dampened hopes that recent negotiations between the two camps in Lebanon would lead to an end to the country's four month long political crisis. Several rounds of talks this month between Saad Hariri, head of the pro-government parliament majority, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri from opposition ranks aligned with Hizbullah, defused some of the tension permeating Lebanon and revived hopes of a reconciliation. But tensions escalated anew Tuesday, after a group of pro-government legislators gathered in parliament to protest against Berri's refusal to convene a session on the crisis. Berri has said he would not convene the parliament before opposition demands for a national unity government are met. He has also said that even though the constitution stipulates the parliament convene for the spring session on the first Tuesday after March 15, this was not mandatory. Walid Jumblatt, a Druse lawmaker and key government supporter, accused Berri of "hijacking" the parliament upon orders from Iran and Syria - the main Hizbullah backers. Dialogue, said Jumblatt, can only be beneficial in parliament. Christian pro-government legislator George Adwan accused Berri of failing to live up to his constitutional duties. "We came here today because it is our constitutional duty," he told reporters during the protest in parliament. Hariri is Sunni Muslim and his community backs Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's pro-Western government. Berri is a Shi'ite Muslim, and his party Amal and its Hizbullah ally draw their support from the country's Shi'ite community. The Hizbullah-led opposition has been staging protests and an open ended sit in downtown Beirut since December 1 in a bid to topple Saniora's government. The opposition demands the government give it a veto-wielding share of the Cabinet. Saniora has refused this, and is supported by the majority in parliament. The confrontation has stirred political and sectarian tensions that have threaten to tear the country apart. Nine people were killed in street clashes since December between pro- and anti-government supporters. The opposition and Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud consider Saniora's government to be illegal after five Shi'ite ministers and a pro-Hizbullah Christian minister resigned in November. The pro-government, anti-Syrian camp wants parliament to convene so that it can give the go-ahead for the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the Feb. 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Hizbullah-led front has demanded modifications to the proposal for the international court. But at the protest Tuesday, Jumblatt said the parliament is "where the fate of the international tribunal and other laws is decided" and demanded the assembly convene the assembly. Meanwhile, Hizbullah lawmaker Ali Ammar, on the way to his office in the parliament building, said it was the pro-government camp which was "disrupting all initiatives, settlements and ongoing dialogue in the country." Ammar did not elaborate.