Lebanon’s Premier Resigns After Dispute on Electoral LawDonna Abu-Nasr and Nadeem Hamid
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Hezbollah-backed billionaire, dissolved his two-year-old administration as spillover from Syria’s civil war threatens to further destabilize the Middle Eastern nation.
“I announce the resignation of the government,” the former telecommunications entrepreneur said in a televised speech late yesterday. “Maybe it’s the only way for Lebanon’s main political powers to take responsibility and unite to take Lebanon out of the unknown.”
Gun, rocket and sniper fire erupted across Tripoli, Mikati’s home city, as supporters rallied in Karami Square and closed all the approach roads after the speech, the state-run National News Agency said. President Michel Suleiman accepted Mikati’s resignation, Al Arabiya TV reported today.
Disagreements over preparations for a June parliamentary election has stoked tension between the Western-backed March 14 group and the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 faction. The two sides also disagreed about the reappointment of General Ashraf Rifi as director-general of interior security after he reached retirement age. He was opposed by Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who heads the parliamentary Future bloc, part of the March 14 group, said the Cabinet’s resignation would set the stage for a new round of national dialogue.
“This resignation should’ve taken place a long time ago,” Siniora told Al Arabiya late yesterday.
The Syrian civil war has led to sporadic clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including fighting in Tripoli that killed four people and wounded at least 10 on March 21. Three days earlier, Syrian jets attacked suspected rebel targets in Lebanon. Mikati has tried to maintain a policy of disengagement from the Syrian crisis.
Mikati founded Investcom, which runs phone networks in emerging markets, with his brother Taha in 1982. MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest mobile-phone operator, bought the company in 2006 for $5.5 billion.
Iran provides Hezbollah with military and financial assistance in a relationship that dates to the early days of the Shiite Muslim-led government in Tehran. Israel says Iran has given Hezbollah rockets.
“Hezbollah is now intervening in the war in Syria, without the permission or agreement of the Lebanese government” Israeli President Shimon Peres said in Brussels on March 7. A week earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said fighters had been sent by Iran and Hezbollah to aid the Assad regime.