Last updated: 24 October, 2012

Clinton warns against power vacuum in Lebanon

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that Syria would exploit any power vacuum in Lebanon, worsening tensions in the Middle East after a deadly bomb blast in Beirut.

“We don’t want to see a vacuum of legitimate political authority that could then be taken advantage of by the Syrians or by others that could create even greater instability and violence,” Clinton told a news conference.

“We call on all parties in Lebanon to support the process that President (Michel) Sleiman is leading to choose a responsible effective, government that can address the threats that (Lebanon) faces and hold accountable those responsible for last week’s bombing.”

The car bombing in Beirut killed police intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan, who led a series of probes linking the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to political assassinations in Lebanon.

Clinton said the United States would not prejudge the outcome of Sleiman’s call for all-party talks on forming a new government.

“This must be a Lebanese process,” she said.

“But the Lebanese people deserve so much better. They deserve to live in peace and they deserve to have a government that reflects their aspirations, not acts as proxies and agents for outside forces.”

The bombing has raised fears about unrest in Lebanon, which is divided between supporters and opponents of Assad, whose country occupied its small neighbor for nearly 30 years.

Hassan’s murder also plunged Lebanon into political crisis, with a Syria-hostile opposition calling for the resignation of the government dominated by the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

The opposition — which has blamed Damascus for Hassan’s killing — has announced that its delegates would boycott all meetings with the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati until he steps down.

Mikati expressed a desire to step down but said Saturday he would stay at Sleiman’s request in the “national interest.”

Sleiman is now canvassing political leaders to assess whether they are prepared to join a dialogue.

While it supports the opposition, the international community reacted by backing Mikati amid fears of a political void.