BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati should either announce his commitment Tuesday to a U.N.-backed court seeking the killers of statesman Rafik Hariri or step down, the March 14 coalition said Sunday in a stern warning as the political battle over the court escalated between the March 8 and March 14 camps.
The March 14 parties, now in the opposition, also planned to launch a political campaign to urge Arab governments and the international community not to cooperate with the government if it fails to comply with the requirements of U.N. Resolution 1757 that established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the massive bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005.
The March 14 position, announced at a conference attended by the coalition’s leaders and politicians at the Bristol Hotel, came amid a political escalation between the March 14 parties and the government over the STL a few days after the tribunal issued its long-awaited indictment accusing four Hezbollah members of involvement in Hariri’s assassination.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, leader of the parliamentary Future bloc, and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, did not attend Sunday’s conference, the latest in the March 14 parties’ meetings to rally public support as part of their promised fierce opposition against what they termed “a Hezbollah-led government.”
To underline the significance March 14 leaders attachment to the STL, the conference was held under the motto: “The tribunal is our way to justice.”
“We were with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and will continue to be with it to achieve justice, protect the Lebanese dignity and safeguard political life from the acts of assassinations. No to Hezbollah’s government, yes to freedom and justice. Yes to coexistence, democracy and the constitution,” said a statement read on behalf of the participants by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
It said the era of the truth and justice has come with the release of the STL’s indictment. “Justice is a guarantee for the Lebanese stability and independence … We refuse that some will come to present us with an unjust and unethical equation saying that justice threatens civil peace,” the statement said. “Justice is a guarantee for all the Lebanese and it poses a challenge only to the criminals.”
The March 14 leaders accused the Mikati government of abandoning in its policy statement the demand to achieve justice in Hariri’s assassination.
Addressing the Lebanese, the statement said: “You are today in front of a government that did not only turn against democracy, but it disavows in its policy statement the demand for justice to which the Lebanese state has committed itself to the Lebanese people and the international community in previous policy statements, especially of the governments of [former] Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri.”
“The most dangerous thing in this government policy is not a renunciation of the justice demand, but evoking the hostility of the citizens and relatives of martyrs and pushing the Lebanese state outside international legitimacy and toward a failed and rogue state. This will cause damage to all the Lebanese without exceptions, regardless of their political affiliations,” the statement said.
“We, from our position in the national and democratic opposition, and after we heard yesterday a logic adopting the domination of arms and force over all the Lebanese, thus confirming the government’s subservience to this logic, we call on the prime minister to declare frankly and directly his commitment in front of Parliament Tuesday morning to Resolution 1757 and his commitment to executive steps for this resolution, or let him and his government step down with no regrets,” it added.
The statement said the Mikati government staged a coup against the Lebanese who fought for justice and freedom and found the STL the appropriate and capable means to bring those responsible for assassinations to justice.
Mikati announced a 30-member Cabinet on June 13, in which Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have a majority, ending a political deadlock that had left the country in a power vacuum for five months.
The Cabinet will appear before Parliament Tuesday, the first of three days of meetings set by Speaker Nabih Berri to debate the government’s policy statement on whose basis it will seek the legislature’s vote of confidence.
The release of the STL’s indictment Thursday came on the same day the Cabinet approved its policy statement which stressed Lebanon’s respect of U.N. resolutions and pledged to follow the tribunal’s path in order to reach the truth in Hariri’s assassination.
Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc last week blasted the government’s policy statement, saying it put Lebanon in a confrontation with the international community and amounted to a coup against the STL.
In what was viewed by Future and March 14 MPs as a vague policy statement on the STL, the government said: “Our government respects international resolutions, thus it is keen to reveal and expose the truth regarding the crime of the assassination of martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his companions. The government will follow the path of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon which was initially established to achieve righteousness and justice, without politicization or revenge, and without any negative impact on Lebanon’s stability, unity and civil peace.”
Sunday’s March 14 conference also came a day after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah rejected the STL’s indictment, vowing never to turn over four party members accused of involvement in Hariri’s assassination. In a defiant speech Saturday night, Nasrallah dismissed the tribunal as an “American-Israeli court,” saying that Lebanese authorities will not be able to arrest the four suspects “even in 300 years.”
Nasrallah confirmed that the four suspects are Hezbollah members. They are “brothers who have an honorable history in resisting the Israeli occupation,” Nasrallah said.
In a clear reference to Hezbollah’s arms, the March 14 statement said, “It is no longer acceptable after all these bitter experiments for illegitimate arms to remain a guardian over the state controlling its national responsibilities.”
Reaffirming adherence to all U.N. resolutions, particularly Resolution 1757, the statement said March 14 parties will begin efforts “to topple the government, which came as a result of a coup, starting from Tuesday unless the prime minister announces his commitment to implement Resolution 1757.”
“The March 14 parties will launch an Arab and international political campaign to bring the republic out of the captivity of [Hezbollah’s] arms and call on Arab governments and the international community not to cooperate with this government if it fails to implement the requirements of Resolution 1757,” it said.
Referring to Hezbollah, which has been accused by Hariri and his March 14 allies of using its weapons to achieve political goals, the statement said the March 14 parties will continue “the struggle to break this predominance based on arms.”
“The March 14 parties will confront this path which is destructive to [sectarian] coexistence, the state and the political system and which began with the armed seizure of the capital in 2008,” the statement said, referring to a brief takeover by Hezbollah’s supporters of Beirut to protest a government decision to dismantle the party’s private telecommunications network.
It blamed the wave of killings and bombings that rocked Lebanon following Hariri’s assassination on the proliferation of illegitimate arms.
The STL has split the Lebanese into two rival camps: The Hezbollah-led March 8 camp which rejects the tribunal and calls for Lebanon to end its cooperation with it, and the March 14 camp which considers the tribunal the only means to reveal the truth in Hariri’s assassination.