Lebanon PM threatens to quit over Hariri court funding

AFP , Friday 25 Nov 2011

Prime Minister Najib Mikati threatens government collapse if the Hezbollah-dominated Cabinet refuses to pay its stipulated share for the UN-backed tribunal charging Hezbollah members for 2005 assassination of PM Rafiq Hariri

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, (Photo: Reuters).

Lebanon faced yet another major political crisis Friday after Prime Minister Najib Mikati threatened to resign should his Hezbollah-dominated cabinet refuse to fund a UN court probing the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

"I cannot imagine being prime minister of a government... that fails to honour its international commitments or isolates itself from the international community," Mikati said late Thursday in an interview with LBC television.

When asked whether he was ready to resign over the issue, Mikati said: "Quite simply, by resigning I will be protecting Lebanon should it fail to pay its share of funding.

"If the cabinet decides it will not pay its dues to the tribunal, Lebanon will be hit with sanctions while I am prime minister," he said, adding that the funds were an "insurance policy" against such an outcome.

His comments came amid intense international pressure on his government to uphold its duties to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was set up in the aftermath of Hariri's 2005 assassination.

The Netherlands-based court in June charged four operatives of the Shiite militant Hezbollah, the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, in connection with the murder.

No arrests have been made.

STL president David Baragwanath travelled to Lebanon this week and met with officials, including Mikati and President Michel Sleiman, to drive home Lebanon's need to fulfil its international obligations.

A government official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said Baragwanath had made clear that it was in the interest of Lebanon to contribute its share to the court or face "being dragged before the UN Security Council."

Lebanon had until the end of October to transfer the now overdue funds.

Opposition MP Ammar Houry told AFP on Friday that it was clear Mikati's government was on its way out and would collapse by the end of the month should Lebanon fail to transfer the funds to the STL.

"The government is currently on life support," he said. "I expect the cabinet to collapse next Wednesday if the funding falls through."

The Western-backed opposition is headed by Sunni ex-premier Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader.

The Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah toppled Hariri's government in January after he refused to cut ties with the STL.

Hariri's camp was planning a mass rally on Sunday in the northern Sunni stronghold of Tripoli, also Mikati's hometown.

Experts said it was clear Mikati was being backed into a corner by the international community over the STL and his threat to resign was his "last gamble."

"It's a precarious situation," said Karim Makdisi, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. "This is Mikati's last gamble.

"The (funding) decision has been postponed time and again and the visit by the STL president is a signal from the West that they're not willing to see a compromise," he added.

Lebanon is responsible for meeting 49 percent of the STL's financing, which amounts to some $35 million (25.2 million euros) this year.

When he took office in June, Mikati vowed to continue cooperating with the court but Hezbollah has staunchly refused.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the first international court with jurisdiction to try an act of terrorism.

Hezbollah has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy and its leader Hassan Nasrallah, showed alleged evidence of its bias against the Lebanese resistance and has vowed that no party members wanted by the STL will ever be found.

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