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Lebanese government falls

Atul Aneja

After Hizbollah quits over Hariri report


Shia-Sunni tensions may come to the fore

Indictments expected next week


DUBAI: Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman on Thursday asked the outgoing Cabinet to continue in office in a caretaker capacity after the government collapsed on Wednesday following the resignation of more than one-third of the Ministers.

“Since one-third of the Cabinet members quit, the government is now considered resigned,” said Mr. Suleiman in a statement, “For this reason, I request the caretaker government to carry out its duties until a new one is formed.”

Eleven Cabinet Ministers belonging to Hizbollah and its allies resigned on Wednesday over the international investigation on the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

They said the Prime Minister had rejected their demand that an urgent Cabinet session be called to discuss the government's withdrawal from all cooperation with the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The Hizbollah has for long been saying the STL would wrongly indict it for Hariri's assassination. The indictments are expected to be released next week, though a delay in this process cannot be ruled out, observers say.

Analysts point out that indictment of Hizbollah is likely to increase sectarian tensions between the Shia group and Lebanon's Sunni community to which Hariri belonged, evoking fears of resurrection of the bloody Lebanese civil war.

In Washington, where outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri was present on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama slammed Hizbollah for causing the government's collapse.

In the U.S.

The White House accused Hizbollah of “demonstrating their own fear and determination to block the government's ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people”.

Mr. Hariri later left for Paris for consultations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the region, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday discussed over telephone the developments in Lebanon with Mr. Hariri, according to Saudi Arabia's state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

 On his part, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called Mr. Suleiman on Thursday. An editorial in the Al Quds Al Arabi, a  Palestinian daily in Arabic from London, said that “[a] stage of escalation has started” in Lebanon.

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