Mikati: Cabinet will go, but not now

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Lebanese protesters place a poster of assassinated Internal Security Forces (ISF) intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan on the Martyrs' Statue in downtown Beirut on 20 October 2012, a day after he was killed in a bomb blast. Lebanon's cabinet met in emergency session as scattered protests erupted around the country, a day after Hassan was killed in a car bombing. (Photo: AFP)

Published Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lebanon's prime minister Najib Mikati has suspended a decision to resign after President Michel Suleiman urged him to stay on, pending negotiations with the opposition, Mikati said at a press conference Saturday.

He added that he expected the rest of cabinet to be dissolved, however Suleiman wants to ward off a power vacuum and secure a safe political transition.

Mikati has been under increasing pressure from the opposition to step down from his post after a bomb Friday killed intelligence strongman Wissam al-Hassan, who enjoyed strong backing from March 14. The group held Mikati "personally responsible" for the attack.

He offered his resignation as a "national duty" and due to loyalties to his own sect, Sunnism: "My sect is being targeted," he told the conference. He stopped short of taking personal responsibility for al-Hassan's assassination.

Lebanon has been embroiled in intermittent civil strife since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in a massive blast in 2005, splitting Lebanon into two political camps known as March 14, seen as close to the West, and March 8, considered close to Syria and Iran. Several political players have tried to avoid labeling the discord as sectarian, for fear of rallying communities against one another, harkening back to the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war.

The prime minister--who doubles as a billionaire tycoon--likened al-Hassan's assassination to Hariri's, and said he would not rule out bringing the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon, tasked with prosecuting Hariri's assassins, into al-Hassan's investigations.

“I am determined to follow through with my decision to resign,” Mikati told journalists. While the dissolution of the government has been suspended, Mikati assured that the cabinet would eventually resign.

The prime minister called for an investigation to reveal the truth on Friday’s attack, while urging tire-burning protesters to go back home. "Lebanon is in the eye of the storm...national unity is needed," said Mikati.

Lebanon's opposition will take to the streets to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government in the wake of a massive explosion that killed intelligence strongman Wissam al-Hassan and seven civilians, the March 14 youth coalition said Saturday.

The coalition held Najib Mikati "personally responsible" for al-Hassan's assassination, and called on protesters, who have blocked major roads around the country with burning tires, to make way for people expected to stream into downtown Beirut and demonstrate for the government's resignation.

The demonstration is scheduled to take place at 5 pm Saturday in downtown Beirut's Martyrs Square, which was also the site of million-strong demonstrations in 2005 that catapulted Syria's departure from Lebanon, after being stationed in the country for nearly 30 years.

March 14 is also calling for the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador in Lebanon, and for Hezbollah to turn in four suspects indicted by the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon for former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

Protesters set car tires alight overnight and into Saturday afternoon, cutting off major routes near Saida, inside Beirut, and in Lebanon's second city of Tripoli.

In Tripoli, fighting has broken out between Jabal Mohsen and Bab el-Tabbaneh, and near an army outpost. Two are reported wounded.

Friday's explosion targeting al-Hassan rocked a neighborhood near Beirut's Sassine square, killing eight, including some children, and injuring over 100. It badly damaged at least two buildings, and sent several families scurrying in search for other homes to spend the night in.

(Al-Akhbar)

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