Sunnis hold 'day of rage' over Hizbullah PM nominee

 

SUNNI PROTESTERS blocked Lebanese roads and burned tyres in a “day of rage” against the appointment yesterday of a Hizbullah-backed prime minister to replace Saad Al-Hariri.

“Sunni blood is boiling,” Hariri loyalists chanted at the largest demonstration in Al-Nour square in the northern city of Tripoli, where protesters also burned a satellite van belonging to the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel. Roadblocks and sit-ins spread to the south and Bekaa Valley, as well as southwestern Beirut.

Mr Mikati belongs to the Sunni sect, as the premier must under Lebanon’s fragile sectarian system of powersharing.

But Hizbullah’s mustering of the necessary majority of MPs’ nominations for Mr Mikati prompted accusations that the heavily armed Shia Muslim party had “stolen” the Sunni community’s share of power.

“They took control militarily and politically,” said Osama Itani, who was protesting in Beirut’s Martyrs Square last night, wearing the sky-blue flag of Mr Hariri’s Future Movement as a bandana. “We’ll stay on the streets until we bring Sheikh Saad back.”

Opponents of Hizbullah, which is backed by Iran and Syria and designated “terrorist” by the US State Department, fear the next government could herald global isolation.

“A Hizbullah-controlled government would clearly have an impact on our bilateral relationship with Lebanon,” US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said last night.

The group’s arch-foe Israel has also made clear in the past that all Lebanon could be a target if the militant group ran the government, raising fears here of round two of the 2006 war.

Ministers from Hizbullah’s alliance resigned from Mr Hariri’s national unity government two weeks ago, bringing it down.

The group expects some of its members to be formally accused by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon of assassinating Mr Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005. It wanted Mr Hariri to sever official support for the Hague-based UN court, which he refused to do.

Hizbullah denies involvement in the bombing, which killed 22 others, and decries the court as a US-Israeli plot to destroy it.

If it is indicted, analysts expect an explosion of Sunni-Shia tension, now at its highest since a brief Hizbullah takeover of western Beirut in May 2008 following a crackdown on its communications networks.

Accepting his nomination, Mr Mikati “extended a hand” to all sides in Lebanon, while Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called for the formation of a “national partnership government”.

But Mr Hariri has said he would not join a government headed by candidates named by his rivals.

Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said Mr Mikati was now expected to form a government of technocrats charged with withdrawing Lebanon’s funding and judges from the tribunal and cancelling its protocol.

“But I’m inclined to think Mikati might bow to pressure and resign. The Sunnis will treat him as a pariah – this is political suicide,” Mr Khashan said.

A billionaire telecoms tycoon, Mr Mikati served briefly as prime minister after the Hariri assassination plunged Lebanon into crisis. He joined Mr Hariri’s bloc in 2009.