Hizbollah chief vows not to give up Lebanon protests

00.jpgBEIRUT (AFP) — Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed Thursday that the Lebanese opposition will not “surrender” in its mass protests to bring down the Western-backed government.

“Those who are betting on our surrender are having an illusion,” he said.

“We will not go out of the streets before we achieve our objective to save Lebanon,” he said.

“We insist on our demands, for the formation of a real government of national unity… because it is the only means to prevent any foreign tutelage on Lebanon, so that we have Lebanese decision-making.” Nasrallah also said that the protest was “peaceful, civil and civilised”, and pledged that the death of a 20-year-old Shiite opposition supporter after street fights on Sunday would not lead the protesters to violence.

“When they killed Ahmed Mahmoud, they wanted to push us to clashes… I tell them… we refuse civil war and discord,” he said.

Nasrallah’s speech was broadcast live on two big screens to thousands of cheering opposition protesters who have been gathering since Friday outside the government’s offices in central Beirut.

The influential leader of the Tehran-and Damascus-backed Hizbollah last addressed his followers on the eve of the launch of a mass protest that saw hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators take to the streets Friday.

The opposition called Wednesday on Lebanese to “participate en masse in a demonstration Sunday in central Beirut at 3:00pm (1300 GMT) in the hope that this will be a historic day on which our voices are heard”. It also asked Lebanese to “be ready for other forms and means of peaceful protest” to secure the Cabinet’s resignation.

The government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora on Thursday reiterated its appeal for the opposition to return to talks.

“However long it takes, the Lebanese will have to sit back down together,” he said.

The opposition, made up mainly of Christian and Shiite factions, no longer recognises the government after six pro-Syrian ministers resigned last month. The government is backed by an anti-Syrian parliament majority elected in 2005.

The army issued a stern warning against the “dangers of the continuation of the present situation in a tense climate throughout” the country, local press reported, adding that 20,000 troops were being deployed to keep the peace.

The deep political tensions in Beirut and street fights that have killed at least one young Shiite man have raised concerns of a resurgence of sectarian strife in a country still reeling from the 1975-1990 civil war.

Top-selling An-Nahar daily said the pro-Syrian opposition aimed to ramp up the pressure because “the movement launched one week ago has borne no fruit”.

The government and its anti-Syrian parliamentary majority have repeatedly urged a return to talks but have been so far been ignored by the opposition which wants the government replaced with a new unity leadership after six pro-Syrian ministers resigned last month.

“Our government is constitutional and we did not accept the resignation of our colleagues,” said Siniora. “We have to find a solution by sitting down together, away from tension and confessional incitement.” Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun has warned that his camp would escalate its street protests if the government failed to accept demands for a national unity Cabinet.

“We will paralyse the government, we will force it to go into a deep coma,” Aoun told AFP in an interview.

Siniora’s coalition has accused the opposition of seeking to block a Cabinet decision for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri, widely blamed on Syria.

The premier also expressed concern about the heavy deployment in the capital of troops who should be safeguarding Lebanon’s borders after the July-August war between Hizbollah and Israel.

Speaking in Washington after talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, US President George W. Bush reiterated his support for the democratically elected government in Lebanon and told Syria to “stop destabilising the Siniora government.” The French foreign ministry, meanwhile, said the United Nations had been informed of “movements of arms” on the Syria-Lebanon border, but it said these had not been verified.

Hizbollah is suspected by Israel of continuing to receive arms via Syria in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day conflict in August.

The French daily Le Monde quoted a “senior UN figure” as saying there was “a constant and massive rearmament of Hizbollah.” It also quoted a “confidential document” sent to UN headquarters that alleged the existence of a “50-man squad of militants linked to Al Qaeda” charged by Damascus with killing 36 anti-Syrian Lebanese personalities.

Syrian Vice President Farouq Sharaa on Wednesday accused Western officials of meddling in Lebanon’s domestic affairs, after France and Germany issued a joint call for Syria to “stop supporting forces that seek to destabilise Lebanon and the region”. Arab diplomats, fearful of a return to civil strife, have been attempting to mediate the crisis.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal warned that the crisis in Beirut could damage “the stability, unity, security and autonomy of its political power”, at a meeting of Gulf Arab foreign ministers on Thursday.

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