Billionaire lawmaker may be Lebanon's next premier

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah

BEIRUT, Jan 24 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) – A billionaire businessman with close relations to Syria is emerging as a candidate favored by Hezbollah to head Lebanon’s next government.

Lawmaker Nagib Mikati, who served briefly as premier in 2005, says he is seeking the post as a candidate of “moderation and accord.”

Hezbollah brought down the unity government headed by Saad Hariri on Jan. 12 because of differences over a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Mikati made his announcement hours before formal talks between Lebanon’s president and lawmakers were to begin Monday to pick a new prime minister.

A moderate politician, Mikati enjoys good relations with Syria as well as the pro-Western Hariri, who is seeking to keep the post.

Hezbollah ready to form unity government again in Lebanon

Hezbollah and its allies are open to forming a new unity government for Lebanon should their candidate receive parliamentary support as prime minister, the Shi’ite group's leader Hassan Nasrallah (pictured) said Sunday.

Jan 24 ( KATAKAMI.COM / FRANCE 24) – Hezbollah and its allies are willing to be part of a new unity government with their rivals in Lebanon’s Western-backed political bloc if the candidate they are backing is chosen to be prime minister, the Shi’ite militant group’s leader said Sunday.

Talks on a new premier are to begin Monday, and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah appeared to be trying to calm tensions as the rift deepened between his group and a bloc led by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Ministers from Hezbollah and its allies brought down the unity government Hariri had led on Jan. 12 because of differences over a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many fear Hezbollah will react violently if its members are indicted, as is widely expected.

“In case the person we support is chosen to form the Cabinet we will work for this Cabinet to be a government of national unity,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “We do not seek to cancel anyone.”

That is significant because Hezbollah and its allies had appeared to be closing in on enough support in parliament to form a government on their own, if they had chosen to try to do so.

Hezbollah and its allies said they won’t back Hariri to form a new Cabinet during the two days of consultations that begin Monday. They have not publicly said whom they will name instead.

Nasrallah’s speech was seen as important sign of his movement’s mindset at a time when many fear the country’s political tension could descend into civil strife. His demeanor was calm and he emphasized that Hezbollah is working for change through constitutional means.

Nasrallah has said he expects members of his group to be indicted but has accused the Netherlands-based court of bias. The group has fiercely denied any role in the killing, and Nasrallah has said the group “will cut off the hand” of anyone who tries to arrest any of its members.

Also, Sunday Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim religious leaders warned Hezbollah not to ignore their sect’s opinion regarding their support for Hariri.

The clerics, led by Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, the Sunnis’ spiritual leader in Lebanon, said they support Hariri because he represents the majority of Sunnis.

“We warn against ignoring the Sunni majority and the parliament majority,” the leaders said in a statement. “We also warn against the dangers of an imposed government.”

Nasrallah appeared to reject such comments when he said that the prime minister’s post is “not a post of (sect) representation but a sovereign one.”

Nasrallah also thanked Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect, for giving his support to Hezbollah and its allies at this “critical and sensitive moment.” It is not clear how many votes Jumblatt will give Hezbollah.

The support of at least 65 lawmakers is required to form a government in Lebanon’s 128-seat Parliament. Hezbollah and its allies already claim 57 seats. Saad Hariri has 60.

An indictment in the elder Hariri’s killing was filed last week but its contents likely will not be made public for weeks.  (*)

Nasrallah: US and Israel caused Lebanese gov't collapse

Photo File : Sheik Hassan Nasrallah

BEIRUT, Jan 17 (KATAKAMI.COM / JERUSALEM POST) — The leader of Hizbullah defended the decision to bring down Lebanon’s Western-backed government, saying the Shi’ite militant group did so without resorting to violence and will not be intimidated by world reaction.

In his first comments since the government collapse on Wednesday, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah also said Sunday that his bloc will not support Sa’ad Hariri returning to his post as prime minister in talks Monday on forming a new government.

“We carried out a constitutional, legal and democratic step to bring down the government. We did not use weapons,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “We are not scared of speeches, statements or anyone’s threats in this world.”

Eleven ministers allied to Hizbullah resigned from the Cabinet on Wednesday, enough to force the government to fall.

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 court is expected to indict members of Hizbullah, which could re-ignite hostilities between Lebanon’s rival Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims. Rafik Hariri was a Sunni.

Hizbullah is Lebanon’s most powerful military force, with an arsenal that far outweighs that of the national army.

Sa’ad Hariri had refused Hizbullah’s demands to cease cooperation with the court, prompting Wednesday’s walkout.

Nasrallah’s speech was seen as important sign of his movement’s mindset at a time when many fear the country’s political tension could descend into civil strife. His demeanor was calm and he emphasized that Hizbullah will work for change through democratic means.

The US has denounced Hizbullah’s walkout as a transparent effort to subvert justice.

“The tribunal is an independent, international judicial process whose work is not subject to political influence, either from inside Lebanon or from outside,” US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly said Sunday after meeting with Hariri. “The efforts by the Hizbullah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence.”

Since his ouster, Hariri has tried to rally international support in the US, France and Turkey.

The leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Syria will meet in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Monday to discuss the political crisis, Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported.

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

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman will launch formal talks Monday on creating a new government, polling lawmakers on their choice before nominating a prime minister. According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system, 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. (*)

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