11/13/2006, 00.00
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Sixth minister steps down as opposition goes all out to topple Siniora

by Paul Dakiki

The majority discerns a Syrian bid to return to hegemony in Lebanon and to block the setting up of an international court to try political crimes. While Hezbollah plans street protests, Patriarch Sfeir and the Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council have criticised the resignations.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The sixth Lebanese minister stepped down today. The Environment Minister, Yaacoub Sarraf, is a Christian allied to President Emile Lahoud. Meanwhile Hezbollah has confirmed that it is getting ready to call street protests to bring down the government of Fouad Siniora. The resignation of Sarraf, who in a letter denied the government's constitutional legitimacy, follows that of five ministers who lead the Party of God and the Amal Movement, also Shiite. As the majority and opposition traded charges of political liability for the failure of talks to form a national unity government, Siniora called an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers for today to study a draft accord with the United Nations about the setting up of an international court to try those guilty of political killings in Lebanon in the past two years, starting with that of the ex-prime minister Rafic Hariri.

However, the cabinet meeting was contested by the President of the Republic, Lahoud who, according to his opponents, risks being incriminated by the future international court. The president publicly said, as Sarraf did today, that he held the government meeting to be unconstitutional because of the resignation of five ministers. The Lebanese Constitution is based on the representation in the government of all Lebanon's communities. The government responded to the attack of Lahoud by drawing attention to the fact that the resignations had not been accepted and hence the ministers still formed part of the executive.

This scenario of tension and confusion yesterday prompted the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to say that "society is afflicted by disorder". Meanwhile, economic organisations have threatened to call a general strike, motivated by the exigency of compelling the political world to face up to the needs of a country recently emerged from war.

Cardinal Sfeir, during Sunday mass at Bkerke, implicitly criticized the decision of Hezbollah and Amal to leave the government, talking about "some parties that want to reject international help". He said: "Civil society is afflicted by disorder, which we fear will expand. We fear that those who are seeking to help us will know that we cannot manage our own affairs and we are in constant need of someone to control us."

To add to prevalent confusion, the Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, has praised Siniora's rejection of the resignation of the ministers.  "We ask that the ministers be patient because we want this Cabinet to remain united and we ask Premier Siniora to hold a meeting with those who submitted their resignations," he said in a statement issued yesterday.

For his part, Naim Kassem, deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah, said "other steps" will be taken after street rallies, which the Party of God will discuss with its allies and "announce gradually".

As for the March 14 Forces, which have a majority in Parliament, they have accused Damascus and Tehran of planning to topple the legitimate authorities in Lebanon to re-establish Syrian hegemony over the country of the cedars. Saad Hariri, son of the murdered premier and leader of the March 14 Forces, said the resignations "were not a coincidence. We lament this step and see in it an attempt to foil the formation of the international tribunal." He continued: "Twice we invited the Speaker of Parliament (and of Amal), Nabih Berri, to dialogue and consultations to maintain stability."

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See also
UN renews calls for militia disarmament in tormented Lebanon
Condemnation, participation, anxiety in lead-up to Pierre Gemayel funeral
Sfeir: time to end Hezbollah sit-in in Beirut
Rice in Lebanon: pressure on Syria and for Lahoud deposition
Decision to set up international tribunal greeted with fireworks and bombs


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