Lebanon opposition calls mass protests

November 30th, 2006 | Posted in Politics

nasrallah and Aoun.jpg

Nasrallah calls for massive turnout Friday to support opposition’s demands for national unity cabinet.

By Sylvie Groult – BEIRUT

The Lebanese opposition called for mass demonstrations Friday in support of its demands for government of national unity but the pro-Western cabinet swiftly rejected the move.

“The opposition forces, on the basis of their constitutional rights, call on all Lebanese, whatever their religious confession, to demonstrate peacefully in an open-ended sit-in from 3 pm (1300 GMT) Friday for a national unity government,” said an opposition statement.

“The opposition forces appeal to demonstrators to brandish only the Lebanese flag and authorised slogans,” the statement added.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose political stock was sharply raised by the resistance put up by his movement’s fighters to Israel’s devastating summer offensive, called for a massive turnout.

“We appeal to all Lebanese, from every region and political movement, to take part in a peaceful and civilised demonstration Friday to rid us of an incapable government that has failed in its mission,” he said in a television broadcast greeted with shots in the air in parts of the capital.

But Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh made clear that the pro-Western government had no intention of giving in to pressure from the street.

“The government will not give in. It rests on a comfortable majority in parliament and among the people and has the support of the Arab world and the international community, apart from Syria,” he said.

Hamadeh renewed the cabinet’s criticism of pro-Damascus President Emile Lahoud, whose term in office was extended until next year through a controversial Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment in 2004.

“Neither the machinations of an illegitimate president kept in office by Syria nor the demonstrations of Hezbollah are going to topple us,” he said.

The six pro-Syrian ministers in the cabinet pulled out two weeks ago in protest at the failure of cross-party talks to agree to their demands for a national unity government, including an allied faction then already in opposition.

The opposition factions had threatened to take to the streets last week but postponed their plans after the November 21 assassination of anti-Syrian industry minister Pierre Gemayel, the sixth Damascus critic slain in the past two years.

His funeral instead brought hundreds of thousands of government supporters on to the streets two days later in an outpouring of anger at neighbouring Syria and its allies among the opposition, including Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The customary mourning period for the slain minister was due to end later Thursday, one week after the funeral.

As well as Hezbollah, the opposition factions include the Shiite Amal party of parliament speaker Nabih Berri, the Christian faction of former prime minister Michel Aoun and supporters of the pro-Syrian president.

Their supporters were angered by what they saw as the abuse of Gemayel’s funeral for political ends.

A brief protest by Hezbollah supporters after last week’s funeral was only halted by the intervention of Nasrallah.

Lebanon’s feuding pro- and anti-Syrian factions have reached a dangerous deadlock that threatens to paralyse all state institutions.

The key pro-Syrian officials in Lebanon’s power-sharing regime – the president and the parliament speaker – do not recognize the rump anti-Damascus cabinet left by the pullout of the Damascus allies.

The pro-Western cabinet in turn challenges the legitimacy of president.

Amid the tensions, Lebanese army chief General Michel Sleiman called Wednesday on his men to “stand ready” to maintain public order in case of mass demonstrations.

“The army will not tolerate any damage to public property or any clashes. It considers it stands at an equal distance from both sides,” he said.

1 Comment »

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Comment by Antonio — May 14th, 2008 @ 11:30 PM

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