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French Version

Cabinet crisis shows no sign of ending

Lebanon's polarized political class sank further into uncertainty Thursday, with both the March 8 and March 14 camps entrenched in opposing views on how to resolve continuing political deadlock.

Resigned Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said Thursday that he refused to accept accusations that resigned Shiite ministers were hampering the creation of an international tribunal into the assassination of late former Premier Rafik Hariri.

"If we had received the UN draft even 24 hours before the Cabinet session was held, then they would have been able to say whether we intend to impede the tribunal," Khalifeh told the Voice of Lebanon radio station on Thursday.

Stressing the need to address the "governmental crisis," he urged his political opponents to be "rational" and resolve the problems plaguing the country.

Premier Fouad Siniora's Cabinet approved a draft to form the controversial tribunal Monday, despite the resignation of all five Hizbullah and Amal ministers and Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf, an ally of President Emile Lahoud.

Also speaking to Voice of Lebanon on Thursday, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel urged Lebanon's political elite to resume roundtable talks.

"The main problem was the conditional call to hold consultation meetings ... as if we were called by force to only discuss two items on the agenda, otherwise demonstrations would be held," Gemayel said.

The minister was referring to Speaker Nabih Berri's call earlier this month for rival politicians to hold "consultation meetings" on the formation of a national unity government and a new electoral law.

"One cannot say the problem lies in the government. In fact, it is in the rule of the country, starting with the presidency," he said. "The presidential post is the main issue to be discussed."

MP Nabil Nicholas slammed the government's "monopoly of authority," vowing a "surprising reaction" if the government did not change its mind.

"As [MP Michel] Aoun said, Siniora will not even have the time to pack his stuff and leave," Nicholas said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The Free Patriotic Movement leader made the comment during a speech earlier this year that focused on the overthrow of Siniora's government.

Nicholas, a prominent member of Aoun's Reform and Change parliamentary bloc, said vows made by the March 14 Forces to meet opposition demonstrations with demonstrations of their own was a "dangerous" development.

"It means that the life of any member of the opposition who wishes to express his opinion is being threatened," he said.

According to Nicholas, by convening a session after the exodus of Shiite ministers the government had "violated the preamble to the Lebanese Constitution, which stipulates that any authority loses legitimacy when it contradicts the National Pact of coexistence."

Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah called Thursday for the formation of a new Cabinet, "with a head who does not monopolize power, violate the Constitution or threaten coexistence."

"Siniora has lost his title as premier," Fadlallah said in a statement. "He no longer represents all of the Lebanese, but a certain political party."

Fadlallah told all Hizbullah supporters to prepare for "peaceful" demonstrations.

"There will be no mayhem and no civil war," he said.

"If [the March 14 Forces] consider themselves to be a majority, then why are they afraid of us demonstrating?"

Beirut 17-11-2006
Mira Borji
The Daily Star

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