BEIRUT, (AFP) – Lebanese President Michel Sleiman is seeking all-party talks to assess his chances of forming a new government after calls for the premier to quit over a deadly bombing, his office said on Wednesday.
Lebanon has been in crisis since Friday, when a car bomb blamed on Syria killed police intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut.
A high-ranking official in the president’s office told AFP that Sleiman “has begun consultations with the leading figures of the country, in the context of the national dialogue, to discuss the possibility of forming a new government.”
The talks come amid a clamour of calls led by former premier and opposition chief Saad Hariri for Prime Minister Najib Mikati step down over the assassination of Hassan, who had been prominent in pursuing political killings in Lebanon allegedly linked to Syria.
Mikati said on Saturday he had accepted Sleiman’s request that he stay on for the time being in the “national interest.”
The official in Sleiman’s office said that if the envisaged national dialogue “were to result in agreement on the form of a new government that can pull Lebanon out of its impasse, then Mr Mikati could present his resignation and the process of forming the government could begin.”
Mikati, who took office in June 2011 after five months of political wrangling, has made no public statement about his future since his Saturday comments.
The United States and the European Union, both anxious to ward off any further Syrian interference in Lebanon, have separately urged the Lebanese government to avoid creating a political vacuum.
However, Hariri’s March 14 coalition insists that Mikati resign before it will join any national dialogue.
Hassan’s murder has sparked fears of new inter-confessional strife in Lebanon. Much of the Sunni Muslim community opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and most Shiites support him, while Christians are divided on the subject.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the “export of instability from Syria threatens the security of Lebanon now more than ever, and it’s really up to the Lebanese people to choose a government that is going to counter this threat.”
Nuland’s remarks echoed those of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Without pointing a finger, she said during a visit to Beirut on Tuesday that “there are some who are trying to divert attention from the situation in the region by causing problems in Lebanon.”
The Lebanese official said “their message can be summed up as follows: ‘Come to an agreement on a new government and we will support you. We want to see institutions to continue working and oppose any institutional vacuum.”