BEIRUT (Reuters) - Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Thursday he would try to form a new government next week, defying calls by Hezbollah and its allies for him to stand aside after they brought down his cabinet.
Hariri may still have trouble winning enough support in the parliamentary consultations due to start on Monday, and his challenging speech to supporters on Thursday could stiffen the determination of opponents to block his return to power.
Hezbollah ministers and their allies resigned from Hariri’s cabinet last week, days before a U.N.-backed tribunal issued a confidential draft indictment which is expected to accuse Hezbollah members of involvement in the killing of his father.
The group denies any role in the assassination and says the tribunal is serving U.S. and Israeli interests.
Two days of mediation by Qatari and Turkish ministers ended in failure on Thursday and the political deadlock has raised fears of renewed sectarian conflict in Lebanon.
“They came back to (mediators) with only one demand: It is not acceptable that Saad al Hariri return to (lead) the government,” Hariri told supporters.
“They have put aside all terms of solutions and demanded Saad al Hariri be excluded... We will go to constitutional talks on Monday with me as a candidate,” he said to loud cheers.
Shortly after his announcement, fireworks erupted in Beirut’s Sunni district of Tariq Jadida.
In Lebanon’s power-sharing political system, the prime minister should be a Sunni, the president a Christian Maronite and the speaker a Shi’ite. President Michel Suleiman has called parliamentarians for consultations next Monday.
Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, brought down the fragile unity government after Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who has U.S. and Saudi support, rejected its demand that he repudiate the tribunal.
Hezbollah and its allies have said the act of issuing the indictment on Monday marked a political turning point and no amount of international pressure would force them to accept Hariri for another term.
“We have said Hariri should not come back ... and if all the forces of the universe came, they could not impose a person like that on us,” Michel Aoun, a Christian leader close to Hezbollah, told a news conference earlier on Thursday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani left Beirut shortly before dawn after failing to win backing for their proposals to resolve the political crisis.
Their mission ended a day after Saudi Arabia said it was abandoning mediation efforts with rival Syria, deepening uncertainty in a country where solutions are usually hammered out between regional powers.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are the most influential regional players in Lebanon and no breakthrough could happen without their consent, but Davutoglu said Lebanese politicians must also do more themselves to find a solution.
“...If they take a new approach, we are always ready to show effort for Lebanon’s stability. But rather than a new effort from us, it’s time for the sides to think,” he said.
The political standoff has revived memories of May 2008, when gunmen took over parts of Beirut in response to government moves against Hezbollah, leading to fighting in which dozens of people were killed across the country.
Caretaker Finance Minister Raya Hassan warned that prolonged tension would hurt Lebanon’s fast-growing economy, and the cost of insuring its debt against restructuring or default rose 5 basis points to an 18-month high of 350 points on Thursday.
Lebanese officials had held out little hope that the Qatari-Turkish talks would lead to instant results.
Sheikh Hamad and Davutoglu held separate talks with Lebanese leaders, including a four-hour meeting with Hariri and a late night meeting with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has lived in hiding since 2006 for fear of assassination.
Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Laila Bassam and Dominic Evans in Beirut, Carolyn Cohn in London; editing by Tim Pearce