Lebanese want return to normality

Independent and opposition Lebanese groups unite in power struggle with the government.

    A Lebanese woman taking part in the March 11 lunch supports the revival of Lebanon (Al Jazeera)

    The March 11 movement chose Beirut's city centre in an effort to revive the once bustling centre after months of economic stagnation and political paralysis. Participants in Sunday's event showed their support.

    "We don't want Lebanon to die," one supporter said. Another called it the "re-birth of Lebanon".

    100 days


    Hezbollah supporters wave Lebanese flags to protest aginst prime minister Siniora [AP]

    Not far from Saturday's luncheon and marking the 100th day of their protest, hundreds of opposition activists are camped out in tents.


    They show no sign of ending their round-the-clock vigil, which has brought Beirut's financial and commercial hub to a virtual standstill.


    The sit-in is organised by a political opposition which includes the Shia Muslim-led groups Hezbollah and Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party.


    They have occupied two squares in the city centre to press demands for more say in government.


    The protest forced several downtown boutiques and restaurants to close since the tents went up just metres away, creating a virtual village.


    The activists, many of whom have made the tents a second home, say they want to topple the government of Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister.


    "Studying is useless as long as Siniora is in government. Studying will make us die of hunger because even if we finish we will never find a job"

    Mohammed Ali Hussein,
    Lebanese student

    On the eve of the 100th day, Siniora, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States, has yet to give in.


    The protesters, undaunted, say they will not move on.


    "We're prepared to stay here forever" and "We won't leave even if takes us 100 years to achieve our aims" are common utterances among the protesters.


    The opposition is locked in a power struggle with the Sunni-led majority coalition behind Siniora's government.


    It accuses the government of refusing to give it veto power in cabinet. But the government denies this was the reason for the opposition's boycott which it says was politically motivated.


    Long-awaited talks between rival leaders last week revived hopes that a deal may be reached soon, which would end the sit-in, see the tent city dismantled and central Beirut regain its buzz.


    Lebanese are survivors


    "Studying is useless as long as Siniora is in government. Studying will make us die of hunger because even if we finish we will never find a job," said Mohammed Ali Hussein, a 20-year-old student from the Bekaa Valley.

    Across from tent city, there is little sign of life. Once trendy restaurants popular among Gulf Arab tourists are now mostly empty or shut. Clothing boutiques also look dismal.


    The March 11 group is an alternative for those
    disaffected by the current situation [EPA] 

    Still some Lebanese are adamant on going about their daily business as normally as they possibly can.


    "Lebanese are survivors. We are here to prove to them that life goes on," Nour Ismael, 23, said.


    Bizarrely, a new cafe recently opened.


    "We opened to provide hope to everyone that the country will keep going on," said Ali Hojeij, operation manager of Costa cafe.


    Though he only gets about 20 customers a day compared to 400 a day in their other Beirut branch, Hojeij is undeterred.


    "Of course we're making a loss [but] it's an investment. We believe everything will go back to the way it was."


    Crisis talks

    Unrest erupted last November when six pro-Syrian ministers handed in their resignations from the cabinet.

    Rival Lebanese leaders met last week for the first time in four months in an effort to end the ongoing political crisis.


    "The opposition is looking for a compromise that will strengthen national unity"

    Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary general

    Saad Hariri, Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader, met Nabih Berri, the opposition speaker, overnight on Friday for their second round of talks in as many days, sparking hopes on Saturday of a breakthrough in a four-month-old political crisis.


    The two men discussed ways out of the crisis that has paralysed the government's legislative programme since November.


    After they first met on Thursday, both men issued identical statements, saying that their meeting had been "positive and identified points of convergence that require further consultation and discussions between the two parties."


    Hezbollah, the Shia-led group which has been spearheading opposition efforts to replace the rump anti-Syrian cabinet of Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, with a government of national unity, said it supported the crisis talks.




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    "The opposition is looking for a compromise that will strengthen national unity," Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, said on Friday evening shortly before the second meeting.


    "We accept compromise, we accept and support the dialogue launched last night."


    Beirut newspapers on Saturday dared to raise hopes of a settlement to the crisis which has seen opposition supporters camped outside the government's Beirut offices since December 1.


    The crisis brought opposing camps out into the streets in January, resulting in running battles.


    The independent Al-Anwar newspaper said the new meeting raised hope that "a settlement is close", while the pro-opposition Al-Akbar newspaper said "the door to a solution is open."


    The pro-government Al-Liwa daily agreed. "Berri and Hariri are stepping up their meetings to clear the way for a settlement before the [Arab] summit" in Riyadh on March 28, it said.


    Only the top-selling An-Nahar daily, also close to the government, took a more cautious line. "The talks could drag on for a long time, even if the intentions are good," it said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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