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Hariri party to strongly oppose replacement Lebanese cabinet

Saad Hariri denounces 'stolen positions' in new Hizbollah-dominated government and tells supporters: 'Those who are in the leadership position now used their weapons to get there.'

Saad Hariri, second from right, greets his supporters in Beirut yesterday.
Saad Hariri, second from right, greets his supporters in Beirut yesterday.

BEIRUT // The former Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, announced yesterday that his political party would stand in strong opposition to the cabinet that would replace the government he led until it was toppled on January 25.

"Those who are in the leadership position now used their weapons to get there," said Mr Hariri, referring to the Hizbollah-led political alliance that now dominates Lebanese politics. "So good for them. Congratulations on the stolen position."

He spoke to an estimated 6,000 people at a rally organised in Beirut to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the assassination of his father, the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

"I won't pray for [Rafiq Hariri] to come back," said Aya Halabi, 19, "because he won't, but I hope that we have some leaders soon that have 50 per cent of what he had."

Since rumours and leaks surfaced months ago suggesting that members of Hizbollah would be indicted by the international tribunal investigating the Hariri murder, the Shiite militia has been adamant to discredit the tribunal. When Saad Hariri refused to bend to Hizbollah's demands, the party and its allies pulled their members from the cabinet, causing the government to collapse.

"We have always been moderate but there is no moderation between murder and justice and between truth and lies," Mr Hariri said at the rally. "Today we come into the position of opposition where we ask for commitment to the constitution, commitment to the tribunal, commitment to freedom of expression, without the use of weapons to threaten."

Analysts say a Hizbollah-led government will isolate Lebanon on the international stage but western countries are so far adopting a wait-and-see attitude. France, a key Saad Hariri ally, has delayed a supply of rockets to Lebanon until the new government is firmly established, said a report on Thursday in Al Hayat, a pan-Arab daily. Meanwhile, the United States, which has provided Lebanon with millions of dollars in military aid since 2006, is seeing increased domestic opposition to its aid policy towards Lebanon.

"Even now, when the Lebanese government has been overthrown, the United States has still failed to indicate to cut off assistance to a proxy government for Iran, Syria and Hizbollah," Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House foreign affairs committee, said last week.

The prime minister-designate, Najib Miqati, has made rebuilding a government where all major political parties are represented a priority. But Mr Hariri and his coalition said they would oppose the new government unless Mr Miqati issued a written commitment backing the work of the tribunal.

With the chances of Mr Hariri and his coalition participation in the new government unlikely, Mr Miqkati must proceed with his other option: to form a 24-member cabinet composed of members of the March 8 alliance, together with independents and technocrats. But this may be no easy task.

"This road we are taking now is similar to the road the Egyptians took toward freedom and democracy," said Mr Hariri at the end of his speech, calling on his followers to stage a popular uprising against the new government next month on the sixth anniversary of the Cedar Revolution, the demonstrations triggered by the Hariri assassination that eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country and a government more independent of Syrian influence.

"Freedom is going to make us gather again on March 14, 2011 and again we say no - no to defrauding the will of the electorate, no to armed internal patronage, no to fear, no to stealing, no to murder and no to oppression."