|Promised opposition protest kicks off today in Beirut
|Hizbullah, allies call for peaceful demonstration
Hizbullah and its allies announced Thursday that a much-anticipated demonstration to force the resignation of Premier Fouad Siniora's government and make way for a "more representative" body would begin Friday in the heart of the capital and continue until their demands were met.
"I call upon all the Lebanese people from across the country, sects and classes to join in the massive rally against an incompetent government," Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbullah leader, said in a televised address Thursday on the party's Al-Manar television station.
The announcement came after a tense week in Lebanon, marked by speculation as to when, and in what manner, the protests would take place.
Reminiscent of similar protests held in Beirut's Martyrs Square in 2005 ago that resulted in the resignation of the Syrian-backed government of then-Premier Omar Karami and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon - famously dubbed the "Cedar Revolution" in the Western media - the opposition claims the Siniora government has failed to meet "internal" demands and "has failed to fulfill its promises or achieve anything significant."
"Lebanon, with its [sectarian] makeup, cannot be administered by one side amid difficult internal conditions," Nasrallah said. "Let us call for a national unity government."
"We are not talking about eliminating others," he added, but "negotiations and consultations have reached a dead end because the ruling authority has opted to act unilaterally, despite its inability to rule."
All opposition leaders insisted Friday's protest would be "peaceful and civilized," as the aim was to "proceed in a peaceful, civil, democratic and political manner toward the main goal of a new government."
Nasrallah did not specify whether protesters would camp out on the streets until their demands were met or gather in the core of the capital anew each day.
The opposition released a joint statement ahead of Nasrallah's appearance in which they said they were calling for a demonstration "only after failing to reach any agreements with the ruling parties through dialogue and discussions."
"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 p.m. Friday for a national unity government," the statement said, adding: "The opposition forces appeal to demonstrators to brandish only the Lebanese flag and authorized slogans and avoid any party or sectarian symbols."
A stream of calls soon followed from Hizbullah's allies in the opposition for supporters to join the demonstration to demand a "more representative government," stressing that the public protest would take place in "a peaceful" manner.
President Emile Lahoud reiterated that such demonstrations were constitutional and warned against outside interference.
"The Lebanese Constitution stipulates that it is everyone's right to demonstrate and express their views in a peaceful and civilized manner," a presidential statement said Thursday.
Lahoud warned demonstrators to be aware "of any moves by outsiders to turn the demonstration into a riot."
Marada Party leader and former Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh urged his supporters to make Friday "a historic day."
"Do not fall prey to outside attempts to turn a peaceful demonstration into a riot, and maintain your stance and your demands for a national government founded on fair elections," he said in a statement.
The former minister called on all opposition supporters in the North to begin making their way to the capital at 10 a.m. Friday.
Similar calls were made by Hizbullah and Amal representatives in the South, with a plea for demonstrators to head out in the "early morning" and to "avoid clashes at any cost."
There are fears the demonstration will result in clashes between supporters of the opposition and the parliamentary majority, particularly between Sunni and Shiite in the Downtown core associated with former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Ensuring the demonstration will also include Druze representation, former Minister for the Displaced Talal Arslan called on his supporters to join the demonstration and "help return true sovereignty to Lebanon," saying: "It is time to topple this corrupt government and resurrect the true faces of Lebanon."
"This is a chance for all of Lebanon's voices to be heard," Arslan added.
Speaker Nabih Berri, leader of the Amal movement, was noticeably absent from the statements made Thursday.
Speaking after a meeting with Berri, Hizbullah's key Shiite ally, Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khouja said the speaker was "still trying to find a solution to the crisis, and doesn't believe there are any closed doors or dead ends to dialogue."
The Daily Star