fuad saniora 298 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Beirut is a kaleidoscope of contrasts. Tanks and combat troops patrol the streets leading to the government building where Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has been holed up since Friday. Thousands of protesters are living in nearby tents.
Chadi Fakhran maneuvers his taxi along Tariq El-Jdideh Avenue, commonly called Hariri Street after former prime minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated nearly two years ago.
The Sunni neighborhood is surrounded by Shi'ite suburbs and has been the scene of violence. Support for the government and Saniora, and criticism of the demonstrators and their demands, is strong here. Buttons with Hariri's face are taped to the taxi's dashboard and stickers calling for justice in response to his death plaster the back window.
Hariri's assassination led to the establishment of the United Nations tribunal, to which the Lebanese cabinet recently lent its support, but over which pro-Syrian ministers allegedly staged a walk out.
"Hariri spent about 20 years making projects for our country and now Hizbullah wants to destroy them," Fakhran said, adding that if he drove his yellow sedan into the Hizbullah stronghold of Dahiya, he'd have stones thrown at him.
"Only the Lebanese flag can protect us from them," Fakhran said. "They don't want Lebanon, they want Syria and Iran. They want to destroy Lebanon."
It's the same charge put forward by Saniora, who said Sunday, "We must understand, once again, a fundamental fact that [these protests] will lead nowhere, and everyone knows that this will lead nowhere - unless there is a particular foreign power that wants Lebanon once again to get into a major and serious situation."
Sami al-Kura, 43, is outside a restaurant putting up red-and-black posters that read "War no more." Passersby gather to get a closer look.
"Hariri, Hariri," they start chanting, while overhead a huge clock flashes the number of days since his assassination - 659. Similar clocks can be found throughout Beirut.
"I blame Hizbullah for the political situation now in my country," Kura says. "Who asked Nasrallah to make war with Israel? We didn't. Nobody asked us. And now he claims that because of that war he's allowed more political power.
"He says he wants to release the south of Lebanon. I say release us from what? They have 40,000 rockets. For what? We are civilians, we don't need weapons."
Lebanese fear that the longer the anti-government protests continue, the likelier there will be a showdown on the city's streets.
According to Anis Hikati, a campaigner for the Current for the Future movement headed by Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri's son, this won't happen any time soon.
"Our government asked us not to go to the streets and we will listen," he said. "Nothing is going to happen. Our government won't resign and no, there won't be civil war.
"Hizbullah is just sitting there and we laugh at them. They look like animals in the zoo. We will sit and watch them. Sunnis and Christians are people who've studied, who have something to look forward to. But these people are like sheep and cows."