Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hezbollah and allies resign, toppling Lebanon government

Hezbollah and allies resign, toppling Lebanon government
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Ministers from Hezbollah and its Lebanese allies resigned on Wednesday, toppling the government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri before expected indictments against the Shi'ite group over the killing of Hariri's father.

Lebanese politicians had said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and Syria failed to reach a deal to contain tensions over the U.N.-backed tribunal, which is expected to issue draft indictments soon over the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.

The ministers resigned as Saad al-Hariri was meeting U.S. President Barack Obama, and the White House later released a statement criticizing Hezbollah's moves and warning against any "threats or action" that could destabilize Lebanon.

Hariri's office said he left Washington after the talks, heading for Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday.

Analysts said the resignations could set the stage for protracted political turmoil in Lebanon.

They played down prospects of a repeat of the violence of May 2008, when gunmen took over Beirut after government moves against Hezbollah. But Sunni power Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri, warned the resignations "will cause clashes once again."

The Shi'ite Hezbollah has denied any role in the 2005 killing. Its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has attacked the tribunal as an "Israeli project" and urged Hariri to renounce it. The Sunni Muslim premier has resisted Hezbollah's demand.

Announcing the resignations, Christian government minister Gebran Bassil blamed Washington for obstructing the Saudi-Syrian efforts and called on Lebanon's president to "take the required steps for forming a new government."

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