Lebanon Approves U.N. Report on Hariri Murder

The Lebanese government approves the U.N. tribunal on the Hariri assassination, despite the resignations of six ministers who are either affiliated with or members of the radical Islamic movement Hezbollah.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There's a widening split in the government of Lebanon. Five Shiite Cabinet ministers have resigned. They're either affiliated with or members of pro-Syrian parties, including Hezbollah. And a sixth pro-Syrian minister has also resigned. Hezbollah is threatening mass protests in the streets if Shiites don't get more power.

Michael Young is following this story from Beirut. He's opinion editor of the newspaper The Daily Star in Beirut. And Michael, why did these ministers resign?

Mr. MICHAEL YOUNG (The Daily Star): Well, they would say that they resigned because there was disagreement last week over sharing portfolios in a new government. Hezbollah has wanted to increase its share in the government, its share and that of its political allies. There was essentially a breakdown in negotiations on that.

The reality, I think, is elsewhere. I think they resigned because on Saturday, Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced that today, Monday, the Cabinet would meet to discuss a draft proposal for an international tribunal to try those responsible for the assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005.

I think that the pro-Syrian parties, Hezbollah in the lead, did not want to be part of a government endorsement of that draft proposal for a tribunal.

BLOCK: And that Cabinet meeting did go forward today, despite these resignations.

Mr. YOUNG: Yes it did. The Lebanese government endorsed the U.N. draft proposal, and the process moved forward.

BLOCK: Now, we mentioned that Hezbollah is threatening protests in the streets. Is that likely to happen, do you think?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, Hezbollah has threatened that, but they have stepped back in recent days because they know very well that both sides can essentially play the street. They can go to the street, but so too can the supporters of the government. And there we would have a very real danger of a Shiite versus Sunni confrontation because obviously the main force on the other side, on the side of the government, would be the supporters of Rafiq al-Hariri's son, Saad, and most of them are Sunnis.

So I think that Hezbollah does not want a Sunni/Shiite confrontation, political confrontation, in the street.

BLOCK: Is there thinking that this government will collapse?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, this government benefits from a majority in Parliament. The government certainly doesn't want to resign. I think it will be very reluctant to resign. I think we would enter there an even more dangerous situation than today, because it would be very difficult to create a new government given the political divisions in the country.

So, I don't find it likely that it will resign. On the other hand, it will not be able to function as efficiently. Some kind of political solution must be sought.

BLOCK: What prospects do you think there are for a successful national unity government, and would it necessarily include Hezbollah?

Mr. YOUNG: I think that the prospects for a national unity government always remain. The big question that has been debated in the last week to 10 days in Beirut is whether the majority would grant the minority, meaning Hezbollah and its allies, veto power in any Cabinet voting. That's a key issue. It's very technical, but it's also very important.

I think that there is a willingness all around to expand the government to have a national unity government, but where the sides differ is that Hezbollah wants veto power. It wants more than a third of the Cabinet ministers, which would allow it to block any voting in the Cabinet on vital issues.

This is where everything breaks down. The parliamentary majority does not want to grant Hezbollah that because it doesn't trust the party, and Hezbollah will not join a government unless it gets that ability to block. So that's, I think, really where in the coming weeks we're going to find a great deal of difficulty, and I'm not convinced that there is an easy solution at all to this.

BLOCK: Michael Young, thanks very much.

Mr. YOUNG: Thank you.

BLOCK: Michael Young is the opinion editor of the newspaper The Daily Star in Beirut.

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