January 17, 2011 / 9:26 AM / 9 years ago

Lebanon postpones talks on new government by a week

By Dominic Evans BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon postponed talks on forming a new government on Monday, leaving regional leaders meeting in Syria to tackle the political crisis triggered by imminent indictments over the killing of Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri.

Lebanon's former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (L-R), Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Member of Parliament Bahia al-Hariri and Member of Parliament Samir al-Jiser attend their majority parliamentary bloc meeting in Beirut January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout

A statement from President Michel Suleiman’s office said the consultations in Beirut had been put back by a week “after evaluating the different positions of the Lebanese parties.”

Last week Shi’ite Hezbollah, along with its allies, brought down the government of Saad al-Hariri, the slain man’s son. It said on Sunday it would not back Hariri for another term.

A U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination is expected to issue indictments this week and to accuse members of Hezbollah of involvement.

The militant group, which denies any role in the bombing, had asked Hariri to renounce the tribunal, withdraw the Lebanese judges and freeze Lebanon’s funding of it.

Hariri’s rejection of the demands triggered the resignation of 11 ministers from Hezbollah and its allies last week.

Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran while Hariri enjoys Western and Saudi support, meaning that the deep divisions among Lebanese parties are reflected in tensions between their powerful regional backers.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, speaking before talks on Monday with leaders of Syria and Qatar in Damascus, said instability in Lebanon was a concern for the whole Middle East.

“Our region could not cope with Lebanon entering a new atmosphere of uncertainty,” Erdogan said at Istanbul airport.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

The political turmoil has stoked sectarian tensions and ratings agency Moody’s said it could jeopardize Lebanon’s projected 5 percent economic growth in 2011, hitting profits of the country’s banking industry.

A spokesman for the tribunal denied reports in Lebanon that the prosecutor had submitted draft indictments on Monday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he fully supported the tribunal and urged the country to form a new government as soon as possible.

“It is important not to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation, and no one should politicize the work of the tribunal,” he told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.

The three leaders meeting in Damascus “affirmed their care to find a solution to this crisis based on the ... Syrian-Saudi efforts to achieve harmony between the Lebanese,” an official Syrian statement said after Monday’s talks, referring to earlier failed efforts by Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a deal.

Erdogan also said Iran’s foreign minister would visit Turkey on Monday after the Turkish prime minister discussed the issue at the weekend with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday his movement would fight efforts to tarnish its image. “We will not allow our reputation and our honor to be touched,” he said.

Nasrallah said leaders from several countries had intervened to demand Hariri be picked again to form the next government, but defended the decision to bring down the last one.

A Sunni Muslim Sheikh walks past banners depicting Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and his late father, assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, along a street in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, January 17, 2011. Lebanon postponed talks on a new government on Monday, shortly before regional leaders were due to meet in Syria to discuss the political crisis triggered by imminent indictments over the 2005 killing of Rafik al-Hariri. The front banner reads, "The Sunnis are all calling Sheikh Saad leader of my country". REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

“It was a must to topple the incapable government because bringing it down might — and I say, might — open the door for Lebanon to form a loyal government that could carry the burden ... and be responsible,” he said.

Lebanon’s caretaker Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami summoned U.S. ambassador Maura Connelly over a meeting she held with a Christian Lebanese parliamentarian, who had been a Hariri supporter but later split with him. Shami said the meeting amounted to “interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs.”

An embassy spokesman said the United States “does not interfere in Lebanon’s internal political matters.”

Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Humeyra Pamuk in Abu Dhabi, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Damascus; editing by Mark Trevelyan

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