Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Star:

Hariri loyalists protest PM nomination in Lebanon
By Nazih Siddiq

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - Hundreds of angry supporters of caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri burned tyres and blocked roads in Lebanon on Tuesday in protest against Hezbollah's nomination of Najib Mikati to form the next government.

Protesters set fire to a satellite truck used by the Arab television channel Al Jazeera -- seen by Hariri's supporters as favouring Hezbollah -- and burnt posters of Mikati in the northern city of Tripoli, which he represents in parliament.

In Beirut, protesters blocked a road with burning tyres and overturned garbage containers. A security source said shots were fired in the air and the army intervened, but no one was hurt.

The protests were part of a "day of anger" called by loyalists of Hariri, backed by Saudi Arabia and Washington, to protest against Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The Shi'ite group and its allies toppled Hariri's government in a dispute over the investigation of his father's killing and won support on Monday for Mikati to replace him.

Mikati secured the crucial backing of Walid Jumblatt and six of the infliential local leader's supporters on Monday, giving him a majority of support among parliament's 128 members.

President Michel Suleiman was due to ask Mikati formally to form a government later on Tuesday.

"Sunni blood is boiling" chanted some protesters, calling on Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, to withdraw his nomination and waving blue flags of Hariri's Future Movement which says it will not serve in any government dominated by the militant Shi'ite group.

Mikati called on all Lebanese to show restraint.

Lebanon's power-sharing political system calls for the post of prime minister to be held by a Sunni, and Hariri supporters said any figure who accepted the nomination from the Shi'ite group to form a new government would be considered a traitor.

Hezbollah and its allies walked out of Hariri's unity government on Jan. 12 in a dispute over still confidential indictments by a U.N.-backed tribunal which is investigating the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik al-Hariri, the premier's father.

The political deadlock has deepened sectarian divisions in Lebanon, and Hariri supporters had already staged protests in several cities on Monday.

Politicians allied to Hezbollah have said the first priority of their new government would be to cut links with the tribunal, which is expected to accuse Hezbollah members of involvement in the 2005 killing. Hezbollah denies any role.

Hariri supporter Mustafa Alloush told the crowd in Tripoli on Tuesday that the overthrow of the government two weeks ago was part of an Iranian takeover. "It's an attempt to bring Lebanon into the Persian sphere. We will not accept that, and we will be on alert for them," he said.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has defended the movement's decision to bring down Hariri's government after he rejected demands to cut Lebanon's links to the tribunal, saying Hezbollah ministers and their allies acted peacefully and within the constitution.

The demonstrators in Tripoli called for Mikati, a telecoms tycoon who comes from the northern port city, to withdraw his nomination and said the investigation in Rafik al-Hariri's killing could not be blocked.

One poster read: "Tripoli will not accept the overthrow of the international tribunal."

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