hariri - AP - January 14 2011
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, January 14, 2011. Photo by AP
Text size
related tags

Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Friday that Lebanon's rival political factions had no alternative to dialogue after Hezbollah and its allies brought down his government.

The showdown between Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, and the Shi'ite Hezbollah could lead to a protracted crisis and raised fears that sectarian tensions may spill onto the streets, fuelled by regional powers who back Lebanon's opposing factions.

In his first public reaction to the collapse of the government on Wednesday, Hariri said he would support President Michel Suleiman's efforts to agree a new government but did not specify if he would be a candidate to lead it.

"There is no alternative for all of us to dialogue, and no side in Lebanon will be able to eliminate the other," Hariri said after talks with Suleiman at the president's office.

Hariri described the resignation of 11 ministers, which brought his government down, as an "unprecedented" move in Lebanese politics.

His government was toppled over a rift with Hezbollah about expected indictments by a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of his father, statesman Rafik al-Hariri.

Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran and Syria, expects the tribunal to accuse its members over the 2005 killing. It has denied involvement and called for Lebanon to withdraw all support for the tribunal.

Tribunal Prosecutor

Saudi-backed Hariri has rejected those demands, and U.S. officials have said the tribunal's work must continue. Sources said on Friday that the tribunal prosecutor will send a draft indictment to the pre-trial judge "imminently".

"Everybody should know that I have never sought power at any price, and that between power and the dignity of my people, I choose the dignity of Lebanon and the Lebanese," Hariri said.

"I will work to the maximum extent with the president to (help) form a new government that commits to the requirements of national consensus," Hariri added.

Hariri was speaking after returning from an international tour including the United States, France and Turkey.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after receiving Hariri that his country was thinking of organizing a series of meetings attended by the United States, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, to tackle Lebanon's crisis.

Analysts have played down the prospect of open armed conflict between Hezbollah and Hariri, but street protests, skirmishes or even a return to the bombings and political killings that followed the 2005 attack could not be ruled out.