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Lebanese Sunnis React With Anger Over New PM


Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, 25 Jan 2011

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, 25 Jan 2011

Lebanon's president has asked the Hezbollah-backed candidate for prime minister to form a new government, after he won a majority of lawmakers' votes. But outraged supporters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri took to the streets in several cities to protest the appointment. The demonstrations were sometimes violent.

Thousands of angry supporters of Saad Hariri gathered in Tripoli's Nour Square shouting their loyalty to him and saying they would not allow their country to go down "An Iranian path" as they fear will happen in a Hezbollah-controlled government.

The Iranian and Syrian-backed group secured the prime minister's office in a vote of 68 to 60 for their candidate, billionaire businessman Najib Mikati.

Mikati holds one of the parliament seats from Tripoli, where pro-Hariri supporters tore down a banner with his photo and burned it. They also attacked and burned a car belonging to the al-Jazeera satellite channel and invaded an office of a Hariri-rival, Mohammad Safadi, sacking it and putting the blue flag of Mr. Hariri's Future Movement on the balcony.

Meanwhile in areas of Beirut, heavy gunfire was reported and tires were burned on major roads.

Mr. Hariri went on television in the afternoon to call for calm and expressed regret for the violence, saying that is not the way to show Lebanese anger.

Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said he would cooperate fully with all Lebanese to form a new government that protects the unity and sovereignty of the country. He urged all political parties to participate in the new government and said this does not signal the victory of one camp over another.

But pro-Hariri supporters were not assuaged. Many called Mr. Mikati, who won election to parliament on Hariri's ticket, "a traitor." At the Tripoli demonstration, Amal, 27, said Saad Hariri is the only leader for Lebanon.

"He fights for freedom, he does not fight for Syria, he does not fight for blood," said Amal. "What did they [Hezbollah] give us? War? Arms? We do not want it. We want to learn, we want to study. And this is what Saad Hariri wants. We are here to give our blood to him."

Walid, 51, a dentist, says he is worried this is the beginning of a protracted political crisis in Lebanon. "It is going to be a long fight, a long crisis, from now maybe until this summer," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mikati will begin the difficult task of forming a new government.

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