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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday a dialogue among feuding Lebanese leaders has failed to resolve the country's political crisis and proposed a public referendum or early parliamentary elections as a way out of the four month long stalemate.
Nasrallah also vowed that Hizbullah will keep its weapons until a strong Lebanese army capable of defending the country against Israeli attacks is established. The Hizbullah leader apparently was responding to repeated calls by the country's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority for his group to disarm in line with a UN resolution that ended last summer's Israel-Hizbullah war.
Nasrallah spoke at a ceremony in south Beirut marking the graduation of more than 1,700 Hizbullah supporters from Lebanese universities.
After his speech that lasted more than an hour, he handed certificates to the graduates during the ceremony attended by thousands of people.
"The latest bilateral dialogue has reached a dead end," Nasrallah said, referring to last month's meetings between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader aligned with Hizbullah, and Saad Hariri, the leader of parliament's pro-government majority.
"When we reach a deadlock, the only logic is to resort to the people who are the source of power, rather than resorting to the outside world because the outside world is a party (to the conflict) and is supporting a party,"
Nasrallah said, referring to Arab and Western countries that support the Lebanese government.
"There are two democratic formulas in the world: either a Lebanese public referendum on a solution or early parliamentary elections," the black-turbaned Shiite cleric added.
Anti-Syrian parties, who do not support neighboring Damascus' involvement in Lebanese affairs, won a majority in the 128-member legislature during the 2005 parliamentary elections and have rejected the opposition's demand for early elections. The next elections are due in 2009.
The Hizbullah-led opposition has been campaigning with protests and sit-ins since Dec. 1 in downtown Beirut - just outside the prime minister's office - to try to force him to resign or share power in a national unity Cabinet that would give the opposition veto power.
US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has refused to resign.
Hariri and his allies in the anti-Syrian coalition have rejected the opposition's demand for Cabinet veto power on key decisions, calling it "a political suicide."
Nasrallah said he will no longer accept the opposition's demand for 11 seats in a 30-member Cabinet, saying such an offer is "silly and weak."
The Berri-Hariri meetings came after months of dispute in which feuding politicians traded insults and their supporters clashed in the streets, leading many to fear that the country was returning to the violence of the 1975-90 civil war. Political and sectarian tensions turned violent in January, with nine people were killed in street clashes.
Berri last week called on Saudi Arabia to host a conference of rival Lebanese leaders to reach a solution to the crisis. But this was rejected by pro-Saniora leaders who insisted the country reach its own solution before going to Saudi Arabia.
In his speech, Nasrallah rejected claims that Hizbullah, which has refused to hand over its weapons to the government, was acting like "a state within a state."
Nasrallah vowed to keep Hizbullah weapons until a powerful army capable of defending Lebanon is formed.
"The only solution is that there must be a strong state and a strong army capable of confronting any Israeli aggression on Lebanon," he said.