Lebanon PM threatens to quit over Hariri court funding



BEIRUT, Natacha Yazbeck- 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.



Lebanon PM
Lebanon PM
"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.
The funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is due to be discussed at a crucial cabinet meeting next Wednesday.
Mikati's comments signalled a possible showdown between the Sunni premier and the Shiite Hezbollah, which has steadfastly pushed for Lebanon to cut all ties with the STL, set up in the aftermath of Hariri's 2005 assassination.
His threat to resign also comes amid intense international pressure on Lebanon to uphold its duties towards the Netherlands-based court, which in June charged four operatives of 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," Houry said. "I expect the cabinet to collapse next Wednesday if the funding falls through."
The Western-backed opposition, headed by ex-premier Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader, was meanwhile planning to make a show of force on Sunday at a mass rally in the northern city of Tripoli, Mikati's hometown.
The Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah toppled Hariri's government in January after he refused to cease cooperation with the STL.
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.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the first international court with jurisdiction to try an act of terrorism.
Hezbollah has dismissed the court as a US-Israeli conspiracy and its leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed that no party members wanted by the STL will ever be found.
Rafiq Hariri's death in 2005 led to a series of political crises that brought the country close to civil war in 2008.
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Saturday, November 26th 2011
Natacha Yazbeck
           


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