Hizbollah rhetoric fans fire of crisis

Lebanon’s Hizbollah 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.Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did not say what he wanted the president to do and his call seemed likely to further complicate efforts 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 Hizbollah-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 Hizbollah would consider any such president as an “usurper of power” and labelled the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora “a bunch of thieves and murderers” backed by the United States and Israel.

“From here, 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 Hizbollah rally.

The majority 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 Rafiq Hariri.

Damascus has denied any links to Hariri’s killing.

The parliamentary session to elect a president had already been postponed twice. 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.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbollah ally, announced the delay in the presidential vote on Saturday.

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