[News] Close to 1/4 of Lebanon rallies to urge new government

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 1 19:03:34 EST 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.

Wide support

"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.

Government appeal

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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