- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Western-backed Cabinet yesterday vowed not to cave in to calls to resign after a massive demonstration led by the pro-Syrian group Hezbollah, as protesters camped outside government offices.

The show of force in central Beirut Friday and smaller demonstrations yesterday tightened the political deadlock in the country, which has been nearly paralyzed because of a fierce struggle for supremacy between pro- and anti-Syrian camps within the power-sharing regime.

Nearly 1 million, or one in four Lebanese, thronged the streets of the capital on Friday, calling for the ouster of the “corrupt” leadership and temporarily blocking access to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s government headquarters.

“The massive demonstration … has given Lebanon one of the most difficult tests that the country has known in a long while,” warned the pro-Syrian newspaper Al-Akhbar yesterday.

The Siniora government, which has received strong public backing from Western and some Arab states, pledged not to bow to the opposition led by the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

“The Syrian-Iranian camp, led by Hezbollah, has begun to implement a plot for a coup” in Lebanon, said the pro-government Al-Mustqabal daily, echoing charges made by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton.

The newspaper is owned by the family of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose 2005 murder, blamed on Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies, led to massive street protests that forced Damascus to end a three-decade military presence in Lebanon last year.

Parliamentary Majority Leader Saad Hariri, the slain prime minister’s son, vowed that “the Siniora government will not fall because of pressure from the street. However long they continue their protest, it will not fall.”

Hezbollah-led demonstrators set up tents and several thousand protesters were still camping yesterday on at least two main roads leading to Mr. Siniora’s offices, after the blockade was eased to allow access from side streets.

The rally continued into last night, as mainly Shi’ite demonstrators waved Lebanese flags to the tune of Hezbollah war hymns and most Christian protesters lingered around a camp a short distance away on Martyrs Square.

The Syrian government daily Tishrin called the rally a “message from the Lebanese people to the individual who is monopolizing power and carrying out the orders of the ambassadors of superpowers, whose only concern is to make Israel an unwieldy power capable of defeating all Arab states combined.”

The prime minister appealed yesterday for renewed talks with the opposition over a deadlock that threatens to block the government’s legislative program, including its centerpiece plans for an international tribunal to try the suspects in Mr. Hariri’s slaying.

Only the pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri, whose supporters joined the opposition protest, has the authority to present draft legislation to parliament.

“The sole way of resolving our problems is by sitting down together,” Mr. Siniora said. “I appeal to Mr. Berri to call for a resumption of dialogue.”

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