BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s outgoing premier Saad al-Hariri, toppled last month by Hezbollah and its allies, said on Monday his “March 14” coalition would go into opposition, marking an end to efforts to form a broad-based government.
Hariri’s unity government collapsed when the Shi’ite group and its political allies pulled out of his cabinet in a bitter dispute over a U.N.-backed tribunal, which is expected to indict Hezbollah members for his father’s 2005 killing.
Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati, who had hoped to bring all parties into his government, held talks with some March 14 politicians despite Hariri’s insistence that he would not serve under a Hezbollah-backed figure.
“Today we are in opposition,” Hariri said in a speech to a March 14 rally marking the sixth anniversary of the Beirut bombing which killed his father, Sunni Muslim tycoon and former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. The movement was named after a huge demonstration held one month after his death.
The principles of the new opposition bloc would include a “commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and ... protecting public and private life in Lebanon from the supremacy of arms.”
The militant Shi’ite group Hezbollah was the only faction allowed to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war, arguing that they were needed to defend Lebanon from Israeli attack.
Hezbollah, which denies any role in the killing of Hariri’s father, says the Hague-based tribunal is a U.S. and Israeli project seeking to damage the group. It had urged Hariri to cut Lebanon’s funding for the court and withdraw Lebanese judges.
It pulled out of his cabinet over Hariri’s refusal to sever ties with the tribunal, and after the failure of regional powers Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a compromise.
The toppling of Hariri, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and the West, triggered angry protests by his Sunni Muslim supporters and shifted the balance of power in the country toward Hezbollah’s allies Syria and Iran.
Hariri said the tribunal was “not American, French, or Israeli — it does not target any sect or party.”
Saudi Arabia and Syria had proposed a national reconciliation conference for Lebanon in Riyadh, attended by political parties and regional leaders, Hariri said.
He said agreement on reconciliation could have paved the way for dealing with the divisive question of the tribunal and its indictments on a “national and Arab” level, but Hezbollah and its allies had not been interested.
The indictments at the heart of the dispute between Hezbollah and Hariri were filed secretly at the tribunal last month. If approved by a pre-trial judge, they could be announced in the next few weeks.
Hezbollah has said the priority of Mikati’s government will be cutting Lebanon’s ties with the tribunal. Mikati himself has said he will seek consensus on dealing with the court, though that seems a distant goal given the deep divisions it has created.
Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Editing by Myra MacDonald