Hizbullah protestors, vowing to topple the cabinet, have briefly besieged
government headquarters in downtown Beirut, holding up Prime Minister Fouad
Saniora and several other ministers inside.
But Saniora, vowing not to "allow any coup against our democratic regime,"
stood rock-solid Friday to the blockade, which eventually eased following a
flurry of diplomatic activity.
As news of the siege reached New York and Saudi Arabia, U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan and King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz telephoned Saniora to express
support for his government.
French President Jacque Chirac and Jordan's King Abdullah II were also among
the leaders who phoned in their support to Saniora's government.
A government source said the blockade was lifted late Friday after diplomatic
"contacts" had been made with pro-Syrian Speaker Nabih Berri as well as the
Lebanese army command.
Youth and Sports Minister Ahmed Fatfat, who was among the ministers holed up
with Saniora, said the Saudi ambassador in Beirut called Berri, an ally of
Hizbullah, the main opposition group, to help "stop the siege".
"Berri played a very positive role ... especially since there were reports
that there would be a break-in" into Saniora's offices, Fatfat told the
pro-government Future television. He was speaking from inside the compound.
The leading daily An Nahar said Saturday that "disciplinary members" from
Hizbullah quickly set up tents around Saniora's offices as the protest
dwindled late Friday afternoon, blocking access to the Grand Serail.
The tents were intended to accommodate protestors who were determined to
adhere to a call by the opposition for an open-ended sit-in until Saniora
The leftist newspaper As Safir quoted a senior protest organizer as saying the
blockade was "spontaneous."
In an apparent effort to avoid friction, Hizbullah deployed thousands of
stewards to patrol the demonstration and prevent clashes with the security
The Lebanese military has instructions to maintain order and not to take sides
in the protest.
Army troops and armored personnel carriers were heavily deployed around
Saniora's offices, where the premier and at least ten of his ministers have
been residing since the Nov. 21 assassination of Industry Minister Pierre
Barbed wire fences as high as two meters were erected around the premises as
heavily-armed troops kept demonstrators around 150 meters away.
Hundreds of thousands of predominantly Hizbullah demonstrators thronged the
streets of central Beirut Friday, waving Lebanese flags and calling for the
ouster of the "corrupt" leadership.
"Saniora's government will not fall due to pressure from the street,"
anti-Syrian parliament majority leader Saad Hariri said in a televised
"However long they continue their protest, it will not fall," he said.
Saniora vowed ahead of the protest not to succumb to pressure from the
opposition, which includes, in addition to the Syrian- and Iranian-backed
Hizbullah, Berri's Amal movement and several other pro-Syrian factions as well
as Christians loyal to former army general Michel Aoun.
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, bolstered by what supporters see as
his group's success in fighting against Israeli forces in the July-August war,
had called for a massive turnout "to rid us of an incapable government that
has failed in its mission."
Aoun told the crowd that Saniora had "made many mistakes" and his government
has "made corruption a daily affair."
After Aoun's speech, several thousand mainly Hizbullah organizers set up a
chain of tents and makeshift toilets to accommodate the protestors.
"We will stay here until the fall of the Saniora government," one organizer
The show of strength by the opposition came hot on the heels of last week's
mass funeral for Gemayel, which brought hundreds of thousands of government
supporters on the streets.
Lebanon's feuding pro- and anti-Syrian factions have reached a dangerous
deadlock that threatens to paralyze all state institutions.
The key pro-Syrian officials in Lebanon's power-sharing regime -- the
president and parliament speaker -- do not recognize the rump anti-Damascus
cabinet left after the pullout of six pro-Syrian ministers last
month.(Naharnet-AFP)(AP photo shows Hizbullah organizers setting up a tent
outside Saniora's offices)
Beirut, 02 Dec 06, 09:00
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