Hezbollah to stage protests after unity talks fail

 
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BEIRUT, Nov 12 (Reuters) Hezbollah and its allies will stage peaceful street protests to press their demands after the collapse of Lebanon's all-party talks on giving them more say in government, Hezbollah's deputy chief said today.

Five Shi'ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, yesterday resigned from the cabinet, hours after the talks on the pro-Syrian camp's demand for effective veto power in government were deadlocked.

''This was a first step. There will be other steps that we will discuss in detail with our allies and which we will announce gradually,'' Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Kassem told Reuters by telephone.

He said the talks had failed because anti-Syrian majority leaders had refused to allow others effective participation in running the country.

''The parliamentary majority camp foiled the dialogue because they don't want widescale Lebanese participation in government and they want to monopolise decisions in this country. This is something that we... can't be witnesses to,'' Kassem said.

Asked whether the government would face street protests, Kassem said: ''I can say that this campaign will be varied and effective.

Going down to the streets is one of the important steps that Hezbollah and its allies will take.'' Anti-Syrian leaders have pledged counter-demonstrations should Hezbollah take the political crisis to the streets, raising fears of confrontations and violence at a time of rising tension between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

The United States is not keen to see Hezbollah, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, exert more influence over the government.

The White House on Saturday accused Iran, Syria and Hezbollah of plotting to topple the Lebanese government, which the US administration has held up as an example of emerging democracy in the West Asia.

FEARS ''Our movement is completely peaceful...It will not be a one-off (protest) but rather an action that would be effective on the political issue,'' Kassem said.

Kassem denied that Hezbollah was trying to put hurdles in the way of establishing a special court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Some anti-Syrian politicians have said the talks collapsed over Hezbollah's objections to the court. Kassem said the group had agreed to the tribunal in earlier talks.

''The issue of the court has nothing to do (with the failure of the talks). It was brought up so that the parliamentary majority would not bear the responsibility for the failure of the talks,'' Kassem said.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's killing. Damascus denies involvement.

Lebanon received from the United Nations on Friday a draft document outlining the structure and legal framework of the Hariri tribunal. Siniora had called a cabinet meeting tomorrow to discuss the draft.

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud opposed the cabinet meeting, saying he needed more time to study the draft. Today, he deepened his opposition, saying government had lost its constitutional legitimacy after the resignation of all ministers from one religious faction.

''Any cabinet meeting held by this government shall be absolutely illegal and unconstitutional because what is based on illegal grounds shall be considered null and void,'' Lahoud said.

The anti-Syrian camp has always challenged the legitimacy of Lahoud's position since his term was extended in 2004 at the behest of Damascus.

The 2005 killing of Hariri led to mass protests against Syria.

Under international pressure, Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April last year and anti-Syrian politicians swept to victory in ensuing elections.

A UN commission investigating the murder has implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian security officials.

REUTERS DKA RAI2109

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