BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Sunday called on incumbent President Emile Lahoud to take action if rival political leaders are unable to agree on a consensus president in next week’s election.
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did not say what he wanted the president to do and his call seemed likely to further complicate efforts by parliament to elect a president.
But, the powerful leader appeared to be backing a suggestion that pro-Syrian Lahoud could form a parallel government if there was no agreement on the presidential election.
Lebanon’s presidential election has been postponed from November 12 to November 21 to give the anti-Syrian majority coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition more time to break a deadlock over a compromise candidate. Lahoud’s term expires on November 23.
But there has been little progress towards an agreement and the majority, backed by the United States, has said it would elect a president on its own if there was no deal.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah would consider any such president as an “usurper of power” and labeled the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora “a bunch of thieves and murderers” backed by the United States and Israel.
The parliamentary session to elect a president has already been postponed twice and the impasse has pushed Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. Many Lebanese fear a failure to reach a deal could lead to more bloodshed amid reports that all factions are arming themselves.
“We appeal to his excellency President Emile Lahoud to do what his conscience and national responsibility stipulates… and take a step or a national salvation initiative to stop the country from (sliding into) a vacuum,” Nasrallah said in a live televised address to a crowded Hezbollah rally.
Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel last year, is by far the strongest military force in the country and Nasrallah said the group would not give up its weapons despite international demands.
The United States and the anti-Syrian majority say any new president should be committed to U.N. resolutions that include calls for the disarming of Hezbollah.
“There is no one who can disarm Hezbollah,” Nasrallah said.
The anti-Syrian majority also says Lahoud does not have the constitutional right to take any measures without the approval of the government.
Lahoud’s six-year term was extended in 2004 by another three years at the behest of Syria, a step that enraged the international community.
Lahoud has largely been shunned since then and Syria ended its three-decade-long military presence in Lebanon in 2005 in the wake of widespread outcry after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Damascus has denied any links to Hariri’s killing.
France, leading international efforts to ensure a smooth election — seen as vital to resolving the year-old political dispute that has paralyzed the country — will send Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Beirut later this week.