The candidate for prime minister backed by Iranian-allied Hezbollah won support from lawmakers Tuesday to form Lebanon's next government, a choice that set off a "day of rage" by Sunnis who burned tires and a van belonging to al-Jazeera to protest the Shiite militant group's rising power.
Billionaire businessman and former premier Najib Mikati won a majority of parliament support in two days of voting, defeating Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri as the candidate for the next prime minister. The president will now ask Mikati to try to form a new government that could be controlled by Hezbollah and its allies and give the group an unprecedented level of political power in Lebanon.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah responded to the political developments in a special speech Tuesday afternoon. "These are crucial and sensitive days for Lebanon," he said. "We're in a battle between the forces of those who are
Hariri said on Tuesday he rejected forms of violence and called for calm after his supporters took to the streets in protest against Hezbollah's nomination of Mikati.
"My call for you is a national call. You are angry but you are responsible people. I understand your feelings," he told supporters in a televised speech.
"This anger should not lead us to what disagrees with our values ... our belief that democracy is our refuge," he said.
Nasrallah. 'Crucial and sensitive days' (Photo: Reuters)
Hariri's supporters set fire to a vehicle used by Arab television channel al-Jazeera during protests in the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday, witnesses said.
Journalists from the channel and other reporters said they were taking refuge in a nearby building.
"If the army does not hurry up and help us, we will be in danger," al-Jazeera reporter Majed Abdel-Hadi said in a live call broadcast by the channel.
Thousands of Hariri loyalists called for a "day of rage" after Hezbollah and its allies, who toppled Hariri's government two weeks ago in a dispute about indictments in the investigation of his father's killing, won support for Mikati to replace him.
"Sunni blood is boiling", chanted some protesters, burning pictures of Mikati, a Sunni, and waving blue flags of Hariri's Future Movement, which says it will not serve in any government dominated by the militant Shiite group.
Al-Jazeera vehicle torched (Photo: Al-Jazeera)
Lebanon's power-sharing political system calls for the post of prime minister to be held by a Sunni, and Hariri supporters said any figure who accepted the nomination from Hezbollah to form a new government would be considered a traitor.
In southern Beirut, protesters blocked a road with burning tyres and overturned garbage containers, and a security source said shots were fired in the air when the army intervened. No injuries were reported.
Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman started a second day of consultations on Tuesday with Lebanese parliamentarians to name a prime minister to lead the new government.
Mikati has secured the crucial backing of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, swinging the balance of power in his favour and won endorsement on Tuesday from another prominent Sunni politician, Mohammed Safadi.
Hezbollah and its allies walked out of Hariri's unity government on Jan. 12 in a dispute over still confidential indictments by a UN-backed tribunal which is investigating the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik al-Hariri, the premier's father.
The political deadlock has deepened sectarian divisions in Lebanon, and Hariri supporters protested in several cities on Monday, burning tyres and blocking streets.
Politicians allied to Hezbollah have said the first priority of a government they form would be to cut links with the tribunal, which is expected to accuse Hezbollah members of involvement in the 2005 killing. Hezbollah denies any role.
The demonstrators in Tripoli called for Mikati, a telecoms tycoon who comes from the northern port city, to withdraw his nomination and said the investigation in Rafik Hariri's killing could not be blocked.
One poster read, "Tripoli will not accept the overthrow of the international tribunal."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to his report
- Follow Ynetnews on Facebook