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French Version

Hizbullah 'plans to start street protests next week'

Hizbullah and its allies will take to the streets next week to force the government's resignation, political sources told the Reuters news agency on Friday, a move that will likely fuel already simmering tension. The protests, which had originally been planned for this week, were postponed following Tuesday's assassination of anti-Syrian Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel in a northern suburb of Beirut.

Hizbullah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have been demanding a bigger say in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet, dominated by members of the March 14 Forces.

The anti-Syrian coalition has rejected the demand, claiming Hizbullah's real aim is to block the formation of an international court into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"We are heading for a confrontation," a senior political source close to the opposition said. "The room for a political solution is very, very tight. There is no room other than going to the street," he added.

The source said the protests would take place in several parts of Lebanon, not just Beirut.

The opposition was considering adding other options to its campaign, including sit-ins, strikes by government workers and the resignation of opposition parliamentarians, he added.

The head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad, said Gemayel's assassination was a shock to all Lebanese and had forced the party to postpone its protests.

"Recent developments delayed our public moves to topple the government, but will never terminate them," Raad said. "If a true political partnership is not realized we will stick to our peaceful and democratic protests toward overthrowing the government," he added.

Raad said Siniora's "stubborn and inflexible mentality" was responsible for the tension in the country, and described the prime minister's "imbalanced and impetuous" handling of matters of threatening Lebanon's unity and identity.

As-Safir newspaper quoted sources close to the FPM's leader, MP Michel Aoun, as saying Friday that "protests might start early next week."

Aoun said during a press conference held following an FPM meeting to discuss Gemayel's assassination that he will proceed with his allies with movements to force the Siniora Cabinet to resign.

"We haven't given up on our demand," Aoun said, in reference to the formation of a national unity government.

"We have decided to participate. The security situation has deteriorated, the political situation has deteriorated and the economic situation as well ... We could have stopped this deterioration if they had listened to us from the beginning," the former general added.

The opposition's demands for the formation of a national unity government began after this past summer's war with Israel - which ended in an August 14 cessation of hostilities brokered by the United Nations.

"But they always come to us late," Aoun said.

The mood in Lebanon is already volatile, with observers warning that street protests might lead to sectarian clashes.

Hundreds of angry Shiites took to the streets in the southern suburbs of Beirut Thursday night to protest insults directed at Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, during the funeral for Gemayel held earlier in the day.

Nasrallah himself had to appeal to the protesters to disperse before the late-night demonstrations ended peacefully.

Asked whether he feared the eruption of violent clashes should further demonstrations be held, Aoun said: "Who brought things to this level? We were asking Siniora for this but he kept ignoring our demands. Siniora and his Cabinet are responsible for this situation, which is worrisome."

Anti-Syrian leaders who addressed hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered for Gemayel's funeral had intensified their attacks on both Nasrallah and Aoun.

While calling on the opposition to return to the fold, the leaders of the March 14 Forces reiterated that they would not submit to its demands.

The anti-Syrian coalition accuses Syria and its allies in Lebanon, namely Hizbullah, of being behind the series of killings and attacks that have plagued the country since the February 2005 killing of Hariri. Damascus and its allies in Lebanon deny any involvement.

However, preliminary reports from a UN inquiry into Hariri's murder have implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials.

Beirut 25-11-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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