BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati hit back Monday at the March 14 parties, accusing them of misleading the public and sabotaging the country, on the eve of what is expected to be a stormy session at Parliament to debate the government’s policy statement.
In an escalating war of words, Mikati accused the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition of launching “a vicious campaign” against him personally and his government even though it has not yet begun functioning.
“This campaign is based on deliberate erroneous beliefs to mislead the public opinion and try to turn it against the new government,” said a statement released by Mikati’s media office.
Referring to the March 14 coalition, which has promised to launch a “fierce opposition” in an attempt to bring down the government, Mikati said that while opposition is legitimate, sabotaging the country is a crime.
“Opposition is a legitimate right, but sabotaging the country is a crime,” Mikati said.
“National responsibility calls on all of us to protect civil peace and stability and not sabotaging or fabricating fictitious heroic acts that would cause tension internally,” the statement said.
“With regard to urging the Arab governments and the international community not to cooperate with this government, it is a matter which reflects the state of disorder and fits of rage in which those who met at the Bristol are living and who were shocked with the formation of the government because they had betted on a continued government vacuum. They targeted the government because of their clear inability to confront in a democratic way the reality of their exit from power,” it added.
Mikati was responding to a clear warning by the March 14 leaders who bluntly told the prime minister to either announce his commitment during Tuesday’s Parliament session to a U.N.-backed court seeking to uncover the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri or step down.
In a statement issued after their meeting at the Bristol Hotel Sunday, the March 14 parties, now in the opposition, also planned to launch a political campaign to urge Arab governments and the international community not to cooperate with the government if it fails to comply with the requirements of U.N. Resolution 1757 that established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
The tough March 14 position came amid a political battle between the March 14 parties and the government over the STL a few days after the tribunal issued its long-awaited indictment accusing four Hezbollah members of involvement in Hariri’s assassination.
In his statement, Mikati accused the March 14 parties of taking advantage of the assassination of Hariri and his companions “to pour their anger and hatred on the government for motives that are no longer hidden.”
Mikati rejected March 14 accusations that his government has renounced in its policy statement the demand to achieve justice in Hariri’s assassination. He said the policy statement clearly states the government’s respect for U.N. resolutions and commitment to uncovering the truth via the STL.
“The height of the misinformation is allegations that the government ignores the blood of martyrs and their dignity and put the Lebanese government outside international legitimacy,” the statement said. Mikati also rejected the March 14 accusations that his Cabinet was the result of “a coup against Lebanese who championed justice and freedom.”
Mikati accused former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of indirectly having acted to reach a political “compromise” in order to stay in power. He recalled the exchange of proposals to reach a political agreement between March 8 and March 14 parties under a Saudi, Syrian, Turkish and Qatari mediation last year that would have led to a reconciliation conference among rival Lebanese factions in Saudi Arabia.
Under the reported compromise, Hariri reportedly agreed to the March 8 alliance’s demands to end cooperation with the STL by withdrawing the Lebanese judges and halting funding to the tribunal. Hariri had earlier said he never signed such a deal.
Mikati’s statement drew swift responses from the Future Movement and the March 14 Secretariat General.
A Future statement rejected Mikati’s insinuation that Hariri sought to compromise “over the blood of martyrs.” It recalled that Hariri had frankly, bravely and responsibly declared that he wanted a reconciliation and forgiveness conference to save Lebanon from divisions and consequently set the stage where there would be no domination of arms over the state and its resources.
Addressing Mikati, the statement said, “But the party [Hezbollah] that brought you to the premiership considers itself bigger than the country, bigger than the world and bigger than justice.” It said Hariri, being the son of the slain leader, cannot at any time find himself as bigger than the country.
The statement said that Saturday’s speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah had provided Mikati with “glorious ammunition” with which he could confront the STL and pre-empt the indictment “similar to the glorious days through which Beirut and the Lebanese had passed on the ill-fated May 7.” It was referring to a brief armed takeover of western Beirut by Hezbollah’s supporters in May 2008 to protest a government decision to dismantle the party’s private telecommunications network. More than 80 people were killed in sectarian street fighting between pro-government and Hezbollah gunmen in Beirut and other areas.
“The Lebanese, who have tested Prime Minister Mikati’s ability in changing his colors and the art of hiding behind the slogans of moderation and centrism, were not surprised with Prime Minister Mikati’s about-face turn against this centrism and his declaration of full integration into the logic in which the supreme leader of the Mikati government talks,” the statement said, clearly referring to Nasrallah.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri warned that Lebanon was going through “most difficult conditions and complicated stage” and called on rival factions to make concessions for the sake of national unity.
In a speech at a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the death of senior Shiite scholar Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Berri said: “In the face of attempts to escalate tension, we see that the time calls on all [parties] to make concessions for the sake of unity and entering the state, but without this meaning denying the people’s right to know the truth with regard to the assassinations, at the forefront of which is the assassination of Hariri and what preceded it and followed it.”
He said the credibility of any investigation or indictment must follow the straight constitutional and legal path. Berri said he will support the government’s stance in dealing with the STL and indictment.
Earlier Monday, a statement issued after Berri chaired a meeting of his parliamentary bloc said the bloc rejected “the language of threats and intimidation and seeking assistance from outside [Lebanon] on national issues and matters related to government’s work.”
Responding to March 14 leaders’ threat to seek the international community’s help against the government, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun said after chairing a meeting of his parliamentary bloc: “We will put them before their responsibilities. The country cannot be threatened. What does the boycott of Lebanon and taking measures against it mean?”
The March 14 Secretariat General accused Mikati of misleading the public opinion with his statement in a bid to portray his government as “keen on ‘achieving right and justice and revealing the truth through the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’ as was contained in Article 14 in its policy statement.”