There were more massive opposition protests today in Lebanon as hundreds of thousands of Hizbullah supporters took to the streets to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Sinora’s government.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, hundreds of thousands more rallied in support of the government.
As Naharnet points out, the opposition has several agendas on display:
The anti-government rally in downtown Beirut, spearheaded by the Shiite Hizbullah, reflected three separate agendas by its main components.
Hizbullah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said the protest, launched on Dec. 1, would continue for as long as 10 months until the anti-government factions achieve veto-powered partnership in the administration to prevent alleged alliance of the country with U.S. President George Bush.
However, parliamentary deputy Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement, pledged that the protesters would “in a few days declare our definite rejection of this government and we would ask for the formation of a transitional cabinet to organize new elections.”
Deputy Ali Hassan Khalil, a ranking leader of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Shiite Amal Movement, stressed on the demand for the formation of a National Unity government to ensure participation in the administration by the various Lebanese factions. He did not call for the resignation of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora.
Aoun’s threat was followed up with this chiller:
He said the Saniora government “does not deserve to stay in power for one hour more â€¦ in a few days we will declare our rejection of this government and we will ask for the formation of a transitional government to organize new elections.”
He threatened that the “barbed wire doest not protect government offices. In the coming days the protest will expand.”
Aoun noted that protesters in Ukraine had stormed parliament building to push for regime change “and no one said that was an illegal move.”
As far as storming the Grand Serail where Siniora’s March 14th government is holed up, Naharnet reports that Hizbullah may be preparing for just such an eventuality:
Meanwhile, the leading newspaper An Nahar reported that Hizbullah purchased thousands of army and police uniforms from a local company trading with such items in south Lebanon.
The respected newspaper did not elaborate on its short report, which sparked concern in security circles that Hizbullah’s trained and tested fighters might use the uniforms as disguise to attack the heavily-guarded government offices, which Saniora and his ministers have been using as residence, across the street from the angry protesters taking part in the city center sit-in.
A ranking security official told Naharnet, that a shipment of uniforms similar to what is used by the Lebanese army and police force has been “imported by a local merchant from India and was recently sold to a local faction.”
There would be many nefarious uses for these uniforms in the hands of Hizbullah, not the least of which would be to break into the Serail and either murder or arrest Siniora and his government. At the very least, it shows how determined Hassan Nasrallah is in achieving his goal of ousting Siniora.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, another large demonstration in support of the government called for the resignation of pro-Syrian puppet Emile Lahoud:
In Tripoli, 80 kilometers north of Beirut, hundreds of thousands of government sympathizers cheered as parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri addressed them through a telephone connection stressing that the Saniora “government would not fall. Lahoud would collapse.”
Hariri, the son of ex-premier Rafik Hariri who was assassinated by a huge blast targeting his motorcade in Beirut on February 2005, reminded sympathizers that Lahoud’s mandate in office was extended for three years by an illegal constitutional amendment under Syrian pressure in 2004.
Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, more than a month after the older Hariri assassination, for which it is blamed by supporters of the Saniora government.
There are many March 14th supporters who want to see Siniora and the government get more aggressive in reining in Hizbullah:
Speaking bluntly and plainly of Hezbollah and its lout-in-chief is what is missing today in Lebanon’s war of words. Calling a hoodlum a Sayyid and referring to his illegal militia as a Resistance is not only mendacious and hypocritical. It is outright dangerous. The March 14 culture is deluding itself thinking flattery and verbal gymnastics will assuage the Hezbollah bogeyman and his frothy mouthpiece. Semantics do matter. And as long as the March 14 jellyfish keep massaging the feelings of thugs and bullies, and as long as they keep spewing jaded rhetorical circumlocutions and euphemisms (to avoid calling a spade a spade), Nasrallah and his goons’ delusions arrogance and jingoist erections will remain on the upswing, until Lebanon is no more!
Siniora has been walking on eggshells when it comes to dealing with Nasrallah and Hizbullah since he came to power. Whether it’s because he fears civil war or simply Hizbullah’s guns doesn’t matter. Nasrallah and Aoun can be as irresponsible as they wish because they know that Siniora will go to great lengths to avoid a direct, armed confrontation.
Neither of those two want a civil war either - at least that’s what they piously proclaim. But as long as they can push Siniora to the wall without fear of any consequences, they will continue to test the Prime Minister’s patience and forbearance. In a way, this is even more dangerous because no one knows what Siniora’s breaking point and just as importantly, the breaking point of the Sunnis might be. At this point, it wouldn’t take much for the streets to erupt.
I can’t shake the feeling that things are moving toward some kind of resolution. With this latest report about the uniforms along with the fact that Nasrallah must know he can’t keep his followers in the streets forever, Hizbullah may feel they have no alternative but to force the issue of Siniora’s resignation by staging some kind of attack on government building. It may appear to be a “spontaneous” outburst by demonstrators. But no one will believe it. And therein lies the seeds of an explosion in violence that would rock the entire Middle East.