January 20, 2011 / 8:05 AM / 9 years ago

Turkey says Lebanese must tackle crisis themselves

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Qatar and Turkey suspended talks on Thursday over Lebanon’s political crisis, saying it was time for Lebanese themselves to tackle a dispute over an indictment into the 2005 killing of Sunni statesman Rafik al-Hariri.

A picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (R) is pasted on a street vendor's carriage at the port city of Sidon, southern Lebanon, January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking after two days of talks in Beirut with Lebanon’s political leaders, said he and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had failed to win agreement for their proposals.

He spoke a day after Saudi Arabia, which backs caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri — son of the slain leader — said it was abandoning mediation efforts with rival Syria, deepening uncertainty in a country where solutions are usually hammered out between regional powers.

“We presented a draft to all sides that included their demands and was based on the Syrian-Saudi Arabian initiative,” Davutoglu said, referring to earlier efforts by Damascus and Riyadh to contain tensions in Lebanon over the indictment.

“The final decision lies with Lebanese groups... This morning we saw from the reactions and responses made to us that there were still some reservations,” he told reporters in Istanbul after leaving Beirut shortly before dawn.

“However, 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.”

Hezbollah and its allies brought down the government last week, five days before a prosecutor in U.N.-backed tribunal issued a confidential draft indictment which is expected to accuse members of Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

The group denies any role in the assassination and says the tribunal is serving U.S. and Israeli interests.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, and its ministerial allies resigned from the cabinet after Hariri, who has Western and Saudi support, refused their demands to cut Lebanon’s links with the tribunal.

Despite the Qatari and Turkish efforts, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the most influential regional players in Lebanon and no breakthrough could take place without their consent.

COST OF CRISIS

The political confrontation in Lebanon, which suffered 15 years of civil war from 1975-1990, revived fears of more recent violence in May 2008, when gunmen took over parts of Beirut in response to government moves against Hezbollah.

Caretaker Finance Minister Raya Hassan warned this week that prolonged political tension would hurt the economy, and the cost of insuring Lebanon’s debt against restructuring or default rose 5 basis points to an 18-month high of 350 points, Markit said.

The Blom index of Lebanese stocks fell 0.7 percent to 1,465 points, nearly six percent down on an intra-day high of January 11, the day before Hariri’s government collapsed. But it was still above levels in October and November last year.

Consultations to form a new government were postponed for a week on Monday to give regional powers a chance to bring the two sides closer together. But Michel Aoun, a Christian leader allied to Hezbollah, reiterated opposition to Hariri being nominated to lead a new government.

Pictures of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (R) and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri are seen on key rings at a gift shop in the port city of Sidon, southern Lebanon, January 19, 2011. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

“We have said Hariri should not come back, and yes he should not come back,” Aoun said. In Lebanon’s power sharing political system, the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim, the president Maronite Christian, and the parliamentary speaker a Shi’ite.

Lebanese officials had held out little hope that this week’s 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 Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Carolyn Cohn in London; Editing by Jon Boyle

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