Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Street protests in Lebanon as 8 March candidate Miqati is set to become next prime minister

Najib Miqati

Followers of caretaker prime  minister Saad Hariri staged protests  in Lebanon on Monday and Tuesday after telecom tycoon and billionaire Najib Miqati,  emerged as prime minister designate. Miqati is the choice of the 8 March coalition (Hezbollah and its allies) and his chances of becoming prime minister soared after Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt backed him with seven of his 11 MPs, which gave him a parliamentary majority to attempt to form a new government.

Supporters of  Hariri of the Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, who also leads the the 14 Match bloc, took to the streets in the northern city of Tripoli, the Beqaa region in the east, the southern city of Sidon and some Beirut neighborhoods.  MP Mohammed Kabbara of Hariri’s Future bloc called for 'a day of rage' in Lebanon on Tuesday to condemn what he called Hezbollah’s 'intervention in the affairs of the Sunnis'.

 Protest in Tripoli on Tuesday (Photo AFP)

The protests erupted as President Michel Sleiman was convening with members of parliament to poll them on their choices for a prime minister. The outcome of the first day of consultations showed that 58 lawmakers backed Miqati for prime minister against 49 for Hariri.
Miqati (55), who has been prime minister once during a short period in 2005,  is the 8 March candidate against Hariri who has said that he would seek a new term. He belongs to a four-member independent parliamentary bloc for the northern city of Tripoli. With the addition of his own vote, he has sufficient numbers to ensure him the parliamentary majority of 65 votes. 

Hariri’s national unity Cabinet was brought down on 12 January after  ministers from Hezbollah and its allies  resigned over the dispute over the UN backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the 2005 killing of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah had been pressing Hariri for months to withdraw from the STL. A Syrian -Saudi attempt at mediation failed after the Saudi king withdrew from it under US pressure. When Hariri, during a visit to Washington appeared to stand by the STL, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah withdrew 12 ministers among the 8 March allies from the cabinet, thereby bringing it down. 

Miqati said that he would act as a consensual candidate. He offered to cooperate with all parties, including Hariri, to save Lebanon from its current political crisis. However, Hariri said he would not participate in any government headed by a Hezbollah-backed candidate, raising the stakes in a deepening political crisis.

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