BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman adjourned Wednesday a Cabinet meeting debating the controversial issue of “false witnesses,” averting a divisive vote that could have threatened the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and escalated Lebanon’s political crisis.
The adjournment of discussions until next week disrupted the meeting and prevented discussion of other items on the agenda after March 8 ministers refused to debate any topic before the issue of “false witnesses” is closed.
Political sources said the March 8 move could indicate that the opposition coalition, which had demanded a vote on whether to refer the case to the Judicial Council, would from now on block any Cabinet meetings before the “false witnesses” issue is settled.
Hariri’s Future Movement and its allies say the issue should be referred to the judiciary after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) releases its indictment.
Sleiman proposed forming an adhoc parliamentary committee to investigate the controversial issue. But the suggestion fell through after March 8 opposed it.
Hariri said the country could not afford further political shocks and called for calm dialogue.
In an indirect criticism of March 14, Hizbullah said earlier Wednesday that certain parties insist on protecting the “false witnesses” who misled investigations into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The insistence of some to protect ‘false witnesses’ and obstruct attempts to put them on trial and uncover those who fabricated them … is a worrying and condemned fact,” Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc said.
The bloc said the course of the STL was undoubtedly politicized and aimed to serve Israeli interests, describing visits by Western envoys to Beirut as attempts to foment strife.
In a similar tone, MP Walid Jumblatt, after meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s political aide Mohammad Nassif in Damascus, warned against Western attempts “to deal a blow to Saudi-Syrian efforts to preserve stability in Lebanon.”
Jumblatt added that the STL proved to be politicized after news reports in Western and Israeli media accused Hizbullah of involvement in the crime.
He said current circumstances were a replica of those preceding the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Meanwhile, in a show of support for the STL, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit that her country would challenge any attempts to hinder the tribunal’s work.
The March 14 Secretariat General said March 8 groups aimed to pressure the government by exploiting the issue of “false witnesses” to eventually force an official decision that relinquishes the state’s commitment to the STL. The secretariat reiterated that the March 14 alliance would pursue every possible effort to defend the STL and Lebanon’s state institutions.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the March 8 coalition could decide to withdraw from the government and consequently assume the responsibility for paralyzing its work but added that March 14 parties would not barter over the STL.
Geagea said his earlier remarks with regard to supporting the STL, even at the expense of government stability were misinterpreted. “The government is more important than anything else, however if the other side wants to threaten withdrawal from the Cabinet … should we continue to support the STL, then they can do that and forget about trying to barter [over the court],” he added.