[News] Close to 1/4 of Lebanon rallies to urge new government
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 1 19:03:34 EST 2006
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 01, 2006
20:34 MECCA TIME, 17:34 GMT
Beirut rally urges Siniora to quit
Protesters demanded the resignation of Lebanon's
government at a Hezbollah-led rally in Beirut.
In a speech during the protest, Michel Aoun, the
leader of the Free Patriotic Movement party,
said: "I call on the prime minister and his ministers to quit."
The protesters created a sea of Lebanese flags
downtown that spilled onto the surrounding
streets amid the deafening sound of Lebanese nationalist songs.
Many chanted slogans demanding that Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, quit.
Police say around 80,000 protestors turned up for
the demonstrations, while organisers say the figure is around 800,000.
Demonstrators blocked all roads leading to
Siniora's offices, which have been barricaded by
armed Lebanese troops in armoured vehicles.
Organisers said the protesters put up tents on
main roads leading to the Grand Serail building
to force the resignation of Siniora, who was
inside his offices with a group of cabinet ministers.
"These are not Hezbollah supporters, they are
Lebanese from every sect," Al Jazeera's Rula Amin said.
The call for peaceful street action came after a
statements by Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, and other leaders.
"We appeal to all Lebanese, from every region and
political movement, to take part in a peaceful
and civilised demonstration on Friday to rid us
of an incapable government that has failed in its mission," he said.
The Lebanese military has instructions to
maintain order and not take sides during the protest and open-ended sit-in.
Tents, food, medical supplies and electrical
generators are being distributed for what is
expected to be a lengthy display of dissatisfaction.
Ibrahim al-Moussaoui, Al-Manar television's
editor, said protestors will lay siege till the government is brought down.
"The government has let down the people of
Lebanon. Demonstrations will continue till the
government is brought down, if not then people
might resort to civil disobedience."
As well as the Hezbollah, the opposition factions
include the Shia Muslim Amal party of parliament
speaker Nabih Berri, the Christian faction of
Michel Aoun, a former prime minister, and
supporters of the Syrian-backed president.
They had urged the demonstrators to only carry
Lebanese flags rather than those of the political factions.
Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese president, told UK's
Daily Telegraph newspaper that he was confident
that the protests would not be the beginning of
violent confrontations between supporters of the various political factions.
"The resistance [Hezbollah] is not going to shoot
Lebanese people, and there will not be a civil war."
He also criticised the government as "no longer
legal" because it does not adequately represent
the country's religious make-up after the resignation of five Shia ministers.
There has been weeks of political tension between
anti-Syrian groups and Syrian supporters over
proposals for the formation of a unity government.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has appealed to the
Lebanese to rally behind his government.
"The government of the independence ... will
continue to defend freedom and the democratic
regime which are being targeted," Fouad Siniora said.
"We will not allow any coup against our
democratic regime. We are determined to stay the
course, as our government is legitimate and
constitutional ... and enjoys the confidence of parliament."
Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese Druze
and a prominent anti-Syrian MP, denounced the
protest and called for his supporters to stay calm.
"This is an attempted coup but we will remain strong," he said.
"We will stay home, we will hang the Lebanese
flags ... and when they will decide to return to
dialogue, we will welcome that."
Last year massive street protests after the
assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, former prime
minister and critic of Damascus, led to Syria
withdrawing its troops from Lebanon.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
Protesters seek Lebanon PM resignation
By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer 17 minutes ago
Hundreds of thousands of protesters from
Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies massed Friday
in downtown Beirut seeking to force the
resignation of Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad
Saniora, who was holed up in his office ringed by
hundreds of police and combat troops.
The protest, which police estimated at 800,000,
created a sea of Lebanese flags that blanketed
downtown and spilled onto the surrounding
streets. Hezbollah officials put the number at 1
million one-fourth of Lebanon's population.
"Saniora out! We want a free government!"
protesters shouted through loudspeakers. The
crowd roared in approval amid the deafening sound
of Hezbollah revolutionary and nationalist songs.
"We want a clean government," read one placard,
in what has become the opposition's motto.
Launching a long-threatened campaign to force
Lebanon's U.S.-backed government from office,
Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies said the
demonstration would be followed by a wave of
open-ended protests. Hezbollah had threatened
demonstrations unless it and its allies obtained
a veto share of the Cabinet a demand Saniora
and Lebanon's anti-Syrian parties rejected. The
protests now aim to generate enough popular
pressure to paralyze the Saniora government and force it out.
"People have a right to express their political
opinions, but in terms of this being part of the
Iran-Syria inspired coup d'etat against the
government of Lebanon, we're obviously quite
concerned about it," said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said
U.S. diplomats in Beirut had telephoned Lebanese
government officials to offer their support.
"The demonstrations ... are aimed at toppling
Lebanon's legitimate and democratically elected
government," Casey said. "And certainly threats
of intimidation or violence isn't something that
I think anyone would consider democratic or a
constitutional mechanism for changing government."
Heavily armed soldiers and police had closed all
roads to downtown, feverishly unfurling barbed wire and placing barricades.
Despite Hezbollah's assurances the protests will
be peaceful, the heavy security came amid fears
the protests may turn into clashes between pro-
and anti-Syrian factions or that Hezbollah
supporters could try to storm Saniora's government headquarters.
Hezbollah's security men, donning caps, formed
two lines between the protesters and the security forces to prevent clashes.
"I wish that the prime minister and his ministers
were among us today, not hiding behind barbed
wire and army armored carriers. He who has his
people behind him does not need barbed wire,"
Michel Aoun, a Christian leader and Hezbollah ally, told the crowd.
Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has not
made a public appearance since a September rally
for the militant group, could not be seen Friday.
But his speeches, blared through loudspeakers,
drove the crowd wild with cheers.
At the rally, some protesters occasionally cried
"Death to Israel" and "We want Feltman's
government to go," in reference to Lebanon's U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman.
"We don't want the (U.S.) Embassy inside the
prime ministry," said one demonstrator, Mahmoud Zeineddin.
Inside, Saniora went about his schedule, in what
appeared to be a tactic to ignore the throngs
outside. A day earlier, he vowed his government
would not fall but warned that "Lebanon's
independence is threatened and its democratic system is in danger."
A demonstration last week for a slain anti-Syrian
politician also drew hundreds of thousands of
people downtown, filling Martyr's Square. But
Friday's appeared larger, as protesters swarmed
not only that square but others, as well as nearby streets and parking lots.
Supporters planned to set up camp around the
clock in tents erected on a road outside
Saniora's office and in a downtown square.
Hezbollah has tried to depict the protest as
rallying all Lebanese, not just its supporters.
It urged demonstrators to wave only the red and
white Lebanese flag with its green cedar tree, in
contrast to past protests that featured the
group's yellow flag with a fist and Kalashnikov rifle.
The battle is a fallout from the summer war
between Hezbollah and Israel that ravaged parts
of Lebanon. The guerrilla force's strong
resistance against Israeli troops sent its
support among Shiites skyrocketing, emboldening
it to grab more political power. Hezbollah also
feels Saniora did not do enough to support it during the fight.
Pro-government groups, in turn, resent Hezbollah
for sparking the fight by snatching two Israeli
soldiers, dragging Lebanon into war with Israel.
French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, on
a Middle East tour, called Friday for the soldiers' release.
"The liberation of the two soldiers is absolutely
vital," Royal told reporters. She said she might
bring the subject up in meetings later Friday
with Hezbollah officials, though "perhaps not publicly."
Government supporters accuse Syria of being
behind the Hezbollah campaign, trying to regain
its lost influence in its smaller neighbor.
Hezbollah and its allies, in turn, say the
country has fallen under U.S. domination and that
they have lost their rightful portion of power.
Tension have been running high between Sunni
Muslims, who generally support the anti-Syrian
government, and Shiites, who lead the pro-Syrian
opposition, and Lebanon's Christians, who are divided between the two.
In a stark sign of the divide, the spiritual
leader of Lebanon's Sunnis, Grand Mufti Mohammed
Rashid Kabbani, gave Friday prayers at the prime
minister's headquarters in a show of support for Saniora, a Sunni.
"Fear has gripped the Lebanese," Kabbani said,
appealing for the protests to end. "The
constitution guarantees freedom of expression,
but trying to overthrow the government in the
street is a call for stirring up discord among
people, and we will not accept this."
Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassim,
made it clear the fight is against "American
tutelage" and said the protest action will
continue until the government falls.
"We will not let you sell Lebanon, we will
protect the constitution and people of Lebanon,"
Kassim said on television Friday, addressing Saniora.
The United States has made Lebanon a key front in
its attempts to rein in Syria and its ally,
regional powerhouse Iran. President Bush warned
earlier this week that the two countries were trying to destabilize Lebanon.
Lebanon has witnessed a string of assassinations
of anti-Syrian figures over the past two years,
including a prominent Christian government
minister gunned down last week and former prime
minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a February 2005 bombing
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