Hizbullah steps up bid to bring down Lebanese gov't

Opposition supporters plan to renew daily marches outside ministries and public facilities.

hizbullah rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
hizbullah rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition vowed Monday to step up its protest campaign aimed at bringing down the government with daily marches outside ministries and public facilities. Supporters of the opposition have camped out in central Beirut since Dec. 1, turning the area into a city of tents where thousands of people gather daily, shouting anti-government slogans less than 100 meters (yards) from the government building where Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has been living. Druse leader Talal Arslan announced the new measures at a press conference broadcast live by local TV networks after opposition leaders met at the residence of Hizbullah-allied Christian politician Gen. Michel Aoun, in the northern Beirut suburb of Rabieh. Arslan said the escalation would follow a separate protest planned for Tuesday by Lebanese labor unions against tax increases. He urged opposition supporters to join the labor unions. "After that, the opposition will escalate its own campaign in the form of daily marches and pickets in front of all ministries, government departments and public utilities," Arslan said reading from a statement, indicating the action could extend to the airport, port, and other public establishments. Saniora last week announced the increases to the value-added and other taxes as a part of an economic reform package slated to be implemented starting in 2008. He had announced the program ahead of a conference in Paris scheduled for Jan. 25 that aims to raise funds for Lebanon's reconstruction drive in the wake of the summer war between Hizbullah and Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. Representatives of anti-Syrian groups and politicians in Lebanon met later Monday and condemned what they called the "unilateral and destructive behavior" by the opposition. In a statement read by former legislator Fares Soeid, the groups described the escalation as a "renewed coup attempt" and vowed to continue confronting the opposition. Cabinet minister Ahmed Fatfat suggested in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV station that security troops would move against protesters if the marches and demonstrations disrupted freedom of movement and work in government institutions. The opposition is calling for early parliamentary elections on the basis that Saniora's cabinet is unconstitutional and not fully representative of all of Lebanon's 18 sects, following the resignation of all five of its Shiite Muslim members. The five resigned, along with an allied Christian minister, after the government rejected their demands for a veto-wielding share of the Cabinet