/ 13 January 2011

Lebanon president asks ex-govt to act as caretakers

Lebanon’s president on Thursday called on the Cabinet, which collapsed with the resignation of 11 ministers led by Hezbollah, to continue in a caretaker capacity pending the formation of a new government.

“In line with clause one of article 69 in the Lebanese constitution on the circumstances under which the government is considered to have resigned … and as the government has lost more than one third of its members … His Excellency … has requested the Cabinet act as a caretaker government until the formation of a new government,” read a statement released by President Michel Sleiman’s office.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s 14-month-old government collapsed on Wednesday evening after Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite party Hezbollah and its allies pulled their 10 ministers from the Cabinet.

An 11th minister close to President Sleiman also quit the 30-member Cabinet, providing the minimum number of resignations required to topple the government.

The move was linked to a dispute over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) which is investigating the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former premier Rafiq Hariri.

For months, Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has been pressing the Western-backed Hariri to disavow the tribunal, which it says is a US-Israeli ploy.

Press leaks have said the STL is poised to indict senior Hezbollah members in connection with the assassination.

The militant group has warned any such accusation would have grave repercussions in Lebanon.

The government collapse has thrown Lebanon into its worst political crisis since 2008 and came as Hariri was in Washington for talks with US President Barack Obama.

Sleiman must now hold consultations with Members of Parliament on appointing a new prime minister, which in line with tradition, must be a Sunni Muslim.

Hariri is the country’s most popular Sunni leader but it is unclear whether he would be reappointed to the post given the animosity between his camp and Hezbollah. — Sapa-AFP