Supporters of Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, have called for a day of anger in protest against Hezbollah’s nomination of a candidate for the post of prime minister, a move that brings the group one step closer to controlling the government.
Protests had earlier erupted in Sunni Muslim regions across Lebanon against the nomination of Najid Mikati, a billionaire businessman, as Hezbollah’s favoured candidate to be the next prime minister on Monday.
Hezbollah, which draws its support mainly from Lebanon’s Shia Muslim community, has a powerful military wing as well as a parliamentary faction.
The decision by Hezbollah comes at the beginning of consultations headed by Michel Suleiman, the president, with parliamentary groups on appointing a new prime minister, after the group brought down the unity government earlier this month.
He also said Hezbollah secured a majority number of votes in the 128-member parliament to ensure the election of Mikati as its candidate to head the next government, in what Hariri supporters are calling a “coup”.
The 55-year-old Mikati, who served briefly as prime minister in 2005 and is close to Syria, said after meeting with Suleiman that if he is appointed, he would act as a consensual candidate representing all parties.
“I extend my hand to everyone,” he said. “If I am appointed, my actions will speak for themselves.”
Day of Rage
Hezbollah’s decision to appoint Mikati has prompted Sunni politicans to call for a “day of rage” throughout Lebanon.
|Protests erupted quickly in areas populated by Sunnis to express their rejection of what they called “Persian tutelage” over Lebanon – a reference to Hezbollah’s Iranian patrons.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said that protests were quick to break out after the announcement.
“People have come on to the streets, especially in strongholds of Saad Hariri, demonstrating against the selection of Mikati,” she said.
She said that several districts of northern Lebanon, as well as the port city of Tripoli, have seen protests by supporters of the March 14 coalition, led by Hariri.
The US has weighed in on the issue, with PJ Crowley, the state department spokesperson, saying that a possibly larger political role for Hezbollah in Lebanon’s government could complicate ties and impact its ongoing aid to the country.
Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, has pledged to include its political rivals in Lebanon’s next government if its candidate for prime minister won a parliamentary majority in an upcoming vote.
Nasrallah said on Sunday that Hezbollah and its allies want to form a national unity government, rather than seeking to govern alone.
However, Saad Hariri, who is standing for another term, has ruled out joining a government headed by a candidate appointed by Hezbollah, saying there was no such thing as a consensual candidate.
“There is a candidate named Saad Hariri, and then there is another candidate nominated by the opposition,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“Those are the only two choices.”
Hariri’s government collapsed when Hezbollah and its allies pulled out 11 ministers from the cabinet in a dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the 2005 murder of Saad’s father and the country’s former prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri.
Nasrallah, who has accused the Netherlands-based tribunal of being under US-Israeli control, has said he expects it will implicate Hezbollah members and warned of grave repercussions.
Many fear Hezbollah will react violently if its members are indicted, as is widely expected.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies