Lebanon in turmoil as caretaker govt steps in


BEIRUT – Lebanon was plunged into political turmoil on Thursday as a caretaker government stepped in after Hezbollah ministers and their allies quit over a probe into the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. The hard-won unity government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri — son of the slain leader — collapsed on Wednesday after months of wrangling between the premier and the militant group Hezbollah over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The move thrust the country into its worst political crisis since 2008 and sparked fears of sectarian Shiite-Sunni unrest.
President Michel Sleiman called on the government to continue in a caretaker capacity as he prepares to launch consultations with parliamentary groups on appointing a new Sunni premier. Analysts said Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who holds 11 seats in the 128-seat parliament could play a key role in the formation of the new government depending on which camp he sides with. Hariri’s pro-Western coalition has 60 seats in parliament and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies have 57 seats. Jumblatt was formerly allied with Hariri but has moved closer to the Shiite Hezbollah in the past year. “It is too early to say what I will do,” Jumblatt told AFP on Thursday. “When the consultations on naming a new premier begin, we’ll see.”
According to the Arabic-language daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, the militant party has made it clear to the president that it was “out of the question” for Hariri to be reappointed. But Ammar Houry, an member of Hariri’s parliamentary bloc, ruled out the nomination of any other candidate. “Logically, there are no other candidates than Hariri and we expect him to be reappointed with a large majority of votes,” Houry told AFP. Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the government formed in November 2009 at the exact moment Hariri was in Washington holding talks with US President Barack Obama on the crisis.