Lebanese opposition group warns against Syria

AP News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2011 1:13 PM
Lebanese opposition group warns against Syria

Members of Lebanon's Western-backed coalition, newly in the opposition, said Tuesday the country's new government is a tool for Syria and the militant Hezbollah and represents a "coup against the democratic system."

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a new Cabinet on Monday dominated by Hezbollah and its allies, five months after a walkout by the militant group dissolved the government.

Monday's announcement caps Hezbollah's steady rise over decades from resistance group against Israel to Lebanon's most powerful military and political force.

Some of the harshest comments came from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future bloc, the largest in parliament. Hariri, who is traveling outside Lebanon, had described his ouster by Hezbollah and their allies as a coup.

"Prime Minister Mikati ... did not take the opportunity to form a Cabinet of neutral (politicians) and experts but chose to serve the party of weapons," the bloc said referring to Hezbollah, the only group that was allowed to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war ended, to fight Israel that was occupying parts of southern Lebanon.

The Future bloc added after a meeting headed by former Prime Minister Fuad Saniora that such a "politically one-sided government comes as young Arabs are going to the streets to stand against oppression in order to increase democratic participation." They were referring to Arab uprisings that have so far toppled long-serving leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Hezbollah forced the collapse of Lebanon's previous, pro-Western government in January over fears it would be indicted by a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the killing of Hariri, a billionaire businessman and political leader who had been trying to limit Syria's domination of Lebanon in the months before his death.

Syria denied any involvement in his killing and called the tribunal a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel.

Hariri's son, Saad, who was prime minister in January, refused to denounce the tribunal or cut off Lebanon's 49 percent share of the funding for it.

Hezbollah and its allies then walked out of the government, forcing its collapse, and secured enough support in parliament to name Mikati as the new prime minister. But Mikati has struggled to form a Cabinet, insisting he won't do the bidding of any one side.

Mikati tried to convince the Western-backed coalition to join his Cabinet but they refused, accusing Hezbollah of staging a coup against them.

"The government was formed from several parties but Hezbollah dominates it," said Issam Arraji, a legislator with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement. "Najib Mikati's government has clear Syrian finger prints."

Former President Amin Gemayel said the Cabinet was formed following Syria's intervention. He added that Lebanon does not want to interfere in Syria's affairs and it would "have had been better had it not intervened in ours."

The ascendancy of Hezbollah is a setback for the United States, which has provided Lebanon with $720 million in military aid since 2006 and has tried in vain to move the country firmly into a Western sphere and end Iranian and Syrian influence. It also underscores Iran's growing influence in the region at a time when Washington's is falling.

"This government does not reflect the results of parliamentary elections. It forms a coup on the democratic system," said Christian legislator Michel Faroun.