News / Middle East

Lebanese Political Leader Keeps Crisis in Limbo

Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt speaks during a press conference at his house in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 21, 2011.
Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt speaks during a press conference at his house in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 21, 2011.
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Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt has announced his party's support behind Hezbollah, but stopped short of saying whether he would cast his deputies with the opposition, giving them the edge in next week's parliamentary consultations to choose a new prime minister.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt stands to be the kingmaker of the next Lebanese government. The 11 deputies in his bloc given to one camp or the other, will swing the race for prime minister. But a source close to the Jumblatt camp said the allocation of those deputies is still under consultation.

In a speech from his West Beirut home Friday, a tired and tense looking Jumblatt said his party stands by both Syria and the resistance, which is a reference to Hezbollah.  

But he also said he supports statements made Thursday by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri calling for dialogue and respecting the Lebanese government institutions and constitution and discouraging taking the political crisis to the streets.

Lebanon's political crisis has been brewing for months after leaks from the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicated that members of the Shiite group Hezbollah might be indicted by the court which is investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in a massive truck bombing.

The Hezbollah-led opposition does not want Saad Hariri to return as prime minister in a new government. They prefer a Sunni candidate who will end the government's cooperation with the international tribunal. Last week the opposition pulled its ministers from the government causing its collapse. A few days later the tribunal's prosecutor sent his indictment to the pre-trial judge, but the contents remain under seal.

Saudi Arabia and Syria tried to mediate the Lebanese political crisis brought about by the tribunal, but the Saudis said this week they were abandoning efforts.

Jumblatt said that the Arab initiative failed because international powers did not want it to succeed. According to the Druse leader, that initiative supported  ending Lebanon's cooperation with the Tribunal, ceasing its financing and removing Lebanese judges from the court.

After the speech, Boutros Harb, caretaker Minister of Labor from the Hariri coalition, said he did not understand Jumblatt's position. He said he believes the Socialist leader might try to postpone Monday's parliamentary consultations for choosing a new prime minister. But Harb stressed that whatever happens on the political front, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon would go forward.

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