Lebanon govt wins confidence vote

AFP , Thursday 7 Jul 2011

Hezbollah's government won the Lebanese parliament's vote of confidence, vows to cooperate with Hariri tribunal

Lebanese lawmakers
Lebanese lawmakers congratulate Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, right, after the new government won a vote of confidence in the Lebanese parliament, in downtown Beirut (Photo: AP)

Lebanon's government won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Thursday, as the prime minister vowed that his cabinet would cooperate with a UN-backed court charging Hezbollah members in the 2005 murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Moments after the country's pro-Western opposition walked out, Prime Minister Najib Mikati's Hezbollah-dominated government secured 68 out of a possible 128 votes in parliament, where the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies hold a slight majority.

Thursday's vote capped three days of parliamentary talks on the government's political programme, which had triggered a heated debate between the majority and the opposition, led by Hariri's son and political heir Saad Hariri.

Hariri did not attend Thursday's session.

Mikati's programme includes an ambiguously worded clause stipulating that Lebanon will "respect" international resolutions as long as they do not threaten peace and stability.

But the opposition had demanded he state his government was "committed" to the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which last week ordered the arrest of four Hezbollah members over the Rafiq Hariri assassination.

In his speech to parliament Thursday, Mikati stated in no uncertain terms that his government would "continue to cooperate" with the Netherlands-based court, which for years has been at the centre of an intractable political feud in Lebanon.

"The government confirms it will continue the path of the tribunal ... and continue to cooperate in this regard as per the UN Security Council Resolution which set up the tribunal to see justice served," Mikati said ahead of the vote.

"I am following my conscience, my ethics, my loyalty to (late) prime minister Rafiq Hariri," Mikati said when interrupted by a member of the opposition, prompting a round of applause from the audience.

Najib Mikati, a Forbes-listed billionaire, was appointed prime minister on January 25 with the blessing of Hezbollah.

After five months of wrangling, the Sunni Muslim businessman announced the formation of a 30-seat government in which Hezbollah and its allies control 18 seats, including the key justice and telecommunications ministries.

The Hezbollah-led alliance on January 12 pulled its ministers from Saad Hariri's unity government when he refused to end all cooperation with the STL, forcing its collapse.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Syrian- and Iranian-backed militant group, has slammed the STL as a US-Israeli conspiracy and last week said he doubted the four Hezbollah members wanted by the court would ever be found.

Among the four is Mustafa Badreddine, brother-in-law of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in a 2008 explosion in Damascus.

He is suspected of having masterminded the February 14, 2005 Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others.

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