Hariri joins opposition ranks

February 15, 2011 12:00 am

, BEIRUT, Feb 15 – Saad Hariri announced sixth anniversary of his father\’s murder that he will lead Lebanon\’s new opposition against a government his pro-West camp says will be under Hezbollah command.

"Today, we are in opposition because of… our commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and our belief in the need to protect the Lebanese from weapons," the outgoing premier said at a conference marking six years since the assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

"We do not and will not accept the presence of weapons when they are pointed at the Lebanese … when they become a way to pressure members of parliament to breach the campaign vows they made when they stood for election."

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been the focus of a long-running feud between Hariri and Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which last month forced the collapse of Hariri\’s unity government.

The tribunal, which Hezbollah accuses of being under US-Israeli control, is reportedly readying to implicate members of the Iran-backed group in the Hariri murder.

Sunni Muslim billionaire Najib Mikati, who was appointed with Hezbollah\’s backing, will succeed Hariri in heading the next government.

Lebanon\’s Saudi- and Western-backed camp has accused Hezbollah, the only party that did not turn in its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war, of using its arsenal to intimidate MPs into voting against Saad Hariri\’s re-nomination after the cabinet collapse.

The February 14, 2005 Beirut bombing that killed Rafiq Hariri and 22 others sparked a wave of massive protests that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops under international pressure, after 29 years of domination by Damascus.

Saad Hariri, who wept as he prayed over his father\’s grave in central Beirut on Monday, called on his supporters to rally en masse once again on March 14 as they did six years ago, when an estimated one million people gathered in the capital to demand Syria\’s military withdrawal.

"We began our march to freedom on March 14, 2005 and… we will resume it on March 14, 2011," he told thousands of cheering supporters.

"On March 14 we will once again say no: no to the hijacking of the voters\’ choice… no to armed internal domination."

Hariri won two legislative elections after his father\’s murder and rose to the premiership in 2009 before Hezbollah and its allies quit his hard-won unity cabinet — virtually paralysed since its inception over the tribunal — on January 12.

Shifting alliances have positioned the Hezbollah-led team as the new majority after Druze chief Walid Jumblatt moved away from Hariri and closer to the Shiite militant movement.

Hariri had sought a guarantee that Mikati would see the tribunal through before agreeing to join his government, while Hezbollah has demanded Lebanon end all cooperation with the court.

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

Sources close to Mikati have said his government would probably include representatives of Hezbollah and its allies as well as technocrats and centrists appointed by himself and President Michel Sleiman, who has positioned himself as politically neutral.


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