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Lebanon's Hariri moves into opposition ranks

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri decides to shift to opposition rank, after the collapse of his unity government month ago

AFP , Monday 14 Feb 2011
Rafik al-Hariri
Workers adjust a giant billboard of Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri at Sidon (Photo: Reuters)
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Six years after the murder of his father, Lebanon's outgoing premier Saad Hariri was Monday to announce a shift into opposition ranks after Hezbollah forced the collapse of his frail government.

"Saad Hariri will ... clearly announce his move into Lebanon's opposition" at a political conference on Monday, said Fares Soueid, secretary general of Hariri's "March 14" alliance.

"The next stage will be defined by our insistence on protecting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and our refusal of all illegitimate arms, including those of Hezbollah, through civil, pacific, democratic resistance against Hezbollah's bid to impose itself on state institutions," Soueid said.

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon is reportedly readying to implicate members of Shiite militant group Hezbollah in the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri.

Monday marks the sixth anniversary of the killing of Hariri and 22 others in a massive Beirut bombing, an event that sent shockwaves through the nation and eventually led to the pullout of Syrian troops after 29 years of domination over Lebanon.

Hariri's son and political heir Saad Hariri shed tears as he prayed over his father's grave in central Beirut at 12:50 pm (10:50 GMT), the moment Rafiq Hariri was killed six years ago, while church bells rang and a muezzin called for prayer.

Saad Hariri went on to win two legislative elections after his father's murder and rose to the premiership in 2009.

But his hard-won unity government was short lived: on January 12, Hezbollah and its allies toppled the cabinet in a long-running feud over the tribunal.

Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati was then appointed to form a new government, which Hariri's alliance has refused to join and has labeled "Hezbollah's government".

The commemoration of Rafiq Hariri's murder comes amid a deep political rift between Saudi-backed Hariri and Iranian-backed Hezbollah as the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal readies to issue its indictments.

Hariri has refused to join Mikati's government unless he guarantees his cabinet will see the tribunal through.

Hezbollah meanwhile is demanding Lebanon end all cooperation with the court, which it says is a US-Israeli conspiracy.

Mikati, who was appointed prime minister on January 25 and has not yet formed his government, has thus far sidestepped making any public commitments.

"So far the discussions with prime minister designate Mikati, through Saad Hariri's allies, have not resulted in any meeting of the minds," a source close to the outgoing premier told AFP Monday.

"The issue is more fundamental than Mikati's positions -- it is an opposition to the powers that exist in the country, that have established rules of governance and a political balance that seems to transcend election results."

While Hariri and his allies won Lebanon's last election in 2009, shifting alliances today have positioned the Hezbollah-led team as the majority after Druze chief Walid Jumblatt moved closer to the Shiite militant movement.

Hariri's unity government, which collapsed 14 months after its formation, had been virtually paralyzed since its inception over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

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