Lebanese gather for mass protests

Hezbollah-led opposition groups are holding a rally in Beirut to demand the pro-Western government's removal.

    Lebanese soldiers have been ordered to maintain order and not take sides during the protest

    Wide support


    "These are not Hezbollah supporters they are Lebanese from every sect," Al Jazeera's Rula Amin said.

    Opposition groups had threatened to stage protests last week but postponed them after Pierre Gemayel's assassination.

    The anti-Syrian industry minister's funeral turned into a demonstration by hundreds of thousands of government supporters in an outpouring of anger at neighbouring Syria and its allies among the opposition, including Hezbollah.

    The call for peaceful street action came on Thursday in a statement broadcast by Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, on the group's television station Al-Manar.

    "We appeal to all Lebanese, from every region and political movement, to take part in a peaceful and civilised demonstration on Friday to rid us of an incapable government that has failed in its mission," he said.

    Open-ended sit-in

    The Lebanese military has instructions to maintain order and not take sides during the protest and open-ended sit-in.

    Tents, food, medical supplies and electrical generators are being distributed for what is expected to be a lengthy display of dissatisfaction.

    "The resistance [Hezbollah] is not going to shoot Lebanese people, and there will not be a civil war."

    Emile Lahoud,
    President of Lebanon

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    As well as the Hezbollah, the opposition factions include the Shia Muslim Amal party of parliament speaker Nabih Berri, the Christian faction of former prime minister Michel Aoun and supporters of the Syrian-backed president.

    They have urged the demonstrators to only carry Lebanese flags rather than those of the political factions.

    Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese president, told UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper that he was confident that the protests would not be the beginning of violent confrontations between supporters of the various political factions.

    "The resistance [Hezbollah] is not going to shoot Lebanese people, and there will not be a civil war."

    He also criticised the government as "no longer legal" because it does not adequately represent the country's religious make-up after the resignation of five Shia ministers.

    There has been weeks of political tension between anti-Syrian groups and Syrian supporters over proposals for the formation of a unity government and the decision .


    Government appeal

    Meanwhile, the
    prime minister has appealed to the Lebanese to rally behind his government.


    "The government of the independence ... will continue to defend freedom and the democratic regime which are being targeted," Fouad Siniora said.
    "We will not allow any coup against our democratic regime. We are determined to stay the course, as our government is legitimate and constitutional ... and enjoys the confidence of parliament."


    Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese Druze and a prominent anti-Syrian MP, denounced the protest and called for his supporters to stay calm.
    "This is an attempted coup but we will remain strong," he said.

    "We will stay home, we will hang the Lebanese flags ... and when they will decide to return to dialogue, we will welcome that."

    Last year massive street protests after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, five-time prime minister and critic of Damascus, led to Syria withdrawing its troops from Lebanon.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera + Agencies


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