Lebanese protesters call on Hezbollah to give up weapons

Tens of thousands gather at demonstration marking six years since Saad Hariri formed March 14 movement.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 14, 2011 01:39
3 minute read.
Protesters at a demonstration in Beirut, yesterday

Lebanon protests_311 Reuters. (photo credit: REUTERS/STR New)

Tens of thousands of supporters of Lebanon’s ousted prime minister rallied in Beirut on Sunday calling for Hezbollah to put its weapons under state control.

The demonstration in Martyrs Square was intended as a show of strength for Saad Hariri, who has gone into opposition after the collapse in January of his fractious 14- month unity government, which included Hezbollah ministers.

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“It is impossible for weapons to stay raised against the will of a democratic people and against the truth,” Hariri told the crowd, who waved Lebanese flags and banners of his Future Movement, the largest faction in the March 14 coalition. “We want to put [weapons] under the control and authority of the state because it’s the army which protects us all,” he said in the rally, timed to mark six year’s since the coalition’s founding.

Hariri’s forceful speech – in marked contrast to his muted style as prime minister – escalated the political confrontation with Hezbollah that was triggered by a UN-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah members are expected to be named in still secret indictments issued two months ago by The Hague-based court investigating the killing. Hezbollah has denied any involvement, and brought down Saad Hariri’s government after he refused to cut Lebanon’s links to the court.

“The people want the overthrow of weapons,” demonstrators chanted, playing on the slogans of protesters who overthrew presidents in Egypt and Tunisia and challenged Arab leaders across the region.

Hezbollah, the only Lebanese faction allowed to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war, says it needs them to defend Lebanon from Israeli attack.



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But Hezbollah opponents accuse the group of using weapons to intimidate political rivals, pointing to a May 2008 conflict when gunmen took over parts of West Beirut after the government moved against Hezbollah’s communications network.

After Hariri’s government fell in January, Sunni telecommunications tycoon Najib Mikati was appointed prime ministerdesignate with the backing of Hezbollah and its political allies. Six weeks on, Mikati is still seeking to form a government.

“It is impossible for any of us to once again agree that Lebanon falls under any tutelage, whether it’s tutelage from outside or the tutelage of weapons from inside,” Hariri said. “It is impossible for us to give up our freedom, impossible for us to give up our Arab identity, impossible for us to give up truth and justice,” he said, referring to the tribunal investigating his father’s killing.

Politicians from both sides of Lebanon’s political divide were watching closely to see how many people would turn out to support Hariri.

Lebanon’s fiercely partisan press has also weighed in.

Ibrahim al-Amin, chairman of the board of the Hezbollah-linked daily Al-Akhbar, accused Hariri of collaborating with Israel.

“Saad Hariri said that Israel was the only enemy, but [Israel] is the only force that repeats Hariri’s position on the weapons of the resistance word for word. Israel’s demands of the Arabs, the Lebanese and the world at large are identical to Saad Hariri’s demands regarding the weapons of the resistance,” Amin wrote on March 3, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org).

The same day, Moustafa Aloush, an MP with Al-Mustaqbal – the party founded in 2005 by the elder Hariri – wrote in the party-owned newspaper by the same name that Hezbollah is “a foreign body in Lebanon,” loyal only to Iran.

Aloush also cast doubt on Hezbollah’s claim that its arms are intended as a deterrent against Israel: “For Hezbollah, possessing arms is the only way to achieve superiority over the other elements of Lebanese society in order to circumvent this country’s pluralistic character...

Resistance is a secondary matter as far as it is concerned.”


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