BEIRUT: Talks on naming a new premier in crisis-hit Lebanon were postponed on Monday, as the prosecutor of a UN court probing the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri was set to submit indictments in the case.
"After assessing the positions of various parties in Lebanon … President Michel Sleiman has decided to postpone parliamentary consultations until Monday, January 24 and Tuesday, January 25, 2011," read a statement released by the president’s office.
Talks with parliamentary groups to name a new prime minister had been scheduled after the powerful militant group Hezbollah forced the collapse of the Western-backed government of Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader.
The government collapse plunged the country into a crisis that many fear could escalate into violence.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies quit the cabinet on Wednesday because of a dispute over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), set up to investigate Rafiq Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor of the Netherlands-based tribunal, which Hezbollah accuses of being part of a US-Israeli plot, is set to submit his findings in the case to a pre-trial judge on Monday, according to Lebanese officials.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said he believes the indictments would implicate members of his party, a scenario he has repeatedly rejected.
In a televised speech late Sunday, Nasrallah vowed his group would defend itself against the likely charges, without giving details.
"We will not allow our reputation and our dignity to be tarnished nor will we allow anyone to conspire against us or to unjustly drench us in Hariri’s blood," Nasrallah said.
"We will act to defend our dignity, our existence and our reputation," he added.
The Shia leader said his party would disclose in coming days how it planned to defend itself in light of the indictments, the contents of which will not immediately be made public.
Nasrallah also said his party and its allies would not nominate Hariri for the premiership and accused the United States of scuttling an initiative by regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a compromise on the standoff over the tribunal.
"The opposition will not name Saad Hariri for premiership," he said while accusing Western states of pulling all stops to ensure the Sunni leader was reappointed.
"As soon as the opposition raised the possibility of naming a candidate other than Hariri, every single Western capital mobilized" to promote the acting premier, Nasrallah said.
Under the proposed Syrian-Saudi pact, he added, the Lebanese government would pull its judges from the court, cut off its share of funding and relinquish its memorandum of understanding with the STL.
That essentially would mean that Lebanese authorities would cease all cooperation with the court.
Nasrallah accused Hariri of backing out of the deal under US pressure.
The Lebanon’s government collapse has sparked a flurry of international diplomatic efforts to contain the political storm that much fear could degenerate into sectarian violence.
France has proposed an international "contact group", similar to that of Bosnia in the 1990s, that would include Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and the United States in an effort to defuse tensions.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed he would participate in the contact group. He also travels Monday to Damascus to meet with Syrian and Qatari leaders on the Lebanon crisis.
US ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, who met with Hariri on Sunday, reiterated her country’s unwavering support for the STL while urging all Lebanese factions "maintain calm and exercise restraint at this critical time."