BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Saturday he suspended his decision to resign and has given the president time to consult the National Dialogue Committee on the matter as the opposition March 14 called for a “day of rage” over the recent killing of a top intelligence officer.
Also Saturday, France urged President Michel Sleiman to avoid a political vacuum in Lebanon and that the Cabinet should continue its mandate while Britain said the international community would help prevent divisions in the country.
“I am committed to my decision [to resign] until the president finalizes his consultations with the National Dialogue Committee but I am still committed to my original decision,” Mikati told reporters after an emergency Cabinet session headed by Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
The session convened to discuss the Friday car bombing in Beirut that claimed the life of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, who headed the police’s Information Branch since its inception in 2006.
Mikati, who held consultations with Sleiman prior to the session, said the president advised him not to resign at the present time “so as not to plunge the country into a state of paralysis.”
“The president has asked for a period of time to allow him to consult with the members of the National Dialogue Committee,” added Mikati, who also warned that the country was going through a major crisis.
The prime minister admitted that his position was complicated by perceptions that the Sunni community in Lebanon was being targeted.
“I am going through a very critical phase because my sect feels that it is being targeted,” he said.
Friday’s attack that left at least five people killed, including Hasan, and wounded 110 others has raised concern of a return to the political assassinations that rattled Lebanon between 2005 and 2008.
Moments before Mikati spoke about his future as head of the government, the opposition March 14 coalition called for a “day of rage” Sunday at Martyrs’ Square in Beirut over Hasan’s killing and to demand that the government quit.
Hasan, 47, will be buried near the tomb of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in a massive car bombing in 2005 as his convey traveled along the capital’s popular coastal road.
Reading the coalition's statement at Central House in Beirut, Future Movement MP Nuhad Mashnouq said the demo would call for the resignation of the Cabinet that was formed in June 2011 and voice a stance against the Syrian government.
“Let tomorrow [Sunday] be ... a day of anger in the face of the butcher [Syrian President] Bashar Assad and the black regime that rules Syria with the power of fire and destruction and wants to export blood and devastation to our country Lebanon,” Mashnouq, an outspoken critic of Damascus, said.
The coalition, which has on previous occasions called on Mikati’s government to resign, held the prime minister personally responsible for Hasan’s death and accused Assad over the assassination.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of slain Rafik Hariri, also called for mass participation for funeral and rally and said Hasan’s work prevented Assad from destabilizing Lebanon.
Hasan played a pivotal role in uncovering several Israeli spy networks as well as bomb plots in north Lebanon allegedly planned by former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha.
The top intelligence official was a key player in the investigation that led to the August arrest of Samaha on charges of collaborating with members of the Syrian regime to plot terror attacks in Lebanon.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, during a news conference minutes after Hariri’s short message, also called on his supporters to attend the gathering in the capital Sunday.
“The battle is now between good and evil, and we should put an end to the political assassinations in the country,” he said.
Geagea, a leading figure in the opposition, also urged the international community and Arab states to halt their support to the present government.
“I call on the Arab and international community to lift the cover off Mikati’s Cabinet that has lost all justifications for its continuation,” he said.
According to Sleiman's office, President Francois Hollande told his counterpart in a letter that it was necessary for government institutions to remain and that the Cabinet continues its work.
Hollande, according to the statement, described Hasan as a big loss for the country and said that the security chief had struggled against chaos.
Sleiman also met with British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher who expressed his country’s condolences and said the international community was ready to support the Lebanese state to deal with the ongoing situation.
Fletcher also discussed with Sleiman ways of strengthening the security forces and supporting the political course in Lebanon, the president’s office said.
During his chat with reporters, Mikati said that Hasan’s killing could not be detached from the recent uncovering of bomb plots in the country, referring to the case of Michel Samaha.
“I do not want to make assumptions but considering the framework of the recently discovered bomb plots and yesterday’s [Friday’s] incident, a logical train of thought would naturally tie these two things together,” he said.
The government decided Saturday to refer Hasan’s case to the Judicial Council and called on the Telecommunications Ministry to hand over all telecoms data since Sept. 19, 2012, to security and judicial authorities.
The judicial body has been referred other assassination cases including those of Dany Chamoun, son of the late Lebanese President Camille Chamoun, Communist Party leader George Hawi, MP Gebran Tueni, journalist Samir Kassir and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Ministers also agreed to modify the structure of the Internal Security Forces and to grant the police’s information wing a legal status.
The March 8 alliance, which dominates Mikati’s Cabinet, has repeatedly questioned the legality of the Information Branch.
Mikati, who hails from the northern city of Tripoli, was nominated on Jan. 25 of 2011 by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance to form the Cabinet that replaced Saad Hariri's toppled government.